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Beyond The Wall

Arisia'17 Student Writing Contest - 2nd Place Winner

Beyond The Wall

By Catalina Sinotte

Out of the facility, out of that goddamn suit, and into the city. The moment she stepped through the lab's disinfection chambers and the weekend began, well, that was the highlight to Nancy's day, always ecstatic to see the looming skyscrapers from her taxi window. They lived up to their name that was for sure, gently tapping the dark blue of the expansive universe, the stars the only lights up above. Any streak seen was always a shooting star, never anything else, but there were nights where Nancy wondered what it would be like to fly amongst the galaxies and see the city from a giant's perspective. To maybe, just maybe, see beyond The Wall. Not that there was anything there, but still, curiosity crept up even on the most cautious of souls.

The Wall had been there since before Nancy's grandmother was born, tall and foreboding, a constant reminder of history's mistakes. A nuclear wasteland was hidden behind the metal barrier protecting the people of Nova Hampshire from radiation and sandstorms. That's all that was there, sand and radiation, save for the one or two small winged lizards that had managed to survive--and be mutated beyond belief. The amount of times Nancy's employer TERRA plopped the specimens in front of her and expected a detailed analysis of a lizard-rat-bird hybrid, well,  let's just say it happened a lot. The poor mutated creatures she examined reminded Nancy every time that beyond The Wall was everything but fun. Even in the dead of night The Wall's form was intimidating, a shadow in the already existing dark, gray surface expansive and overwhelming. Just looking at it made Nancy's throat clench and stomach churn, fearing the 'what if's that existed behind its protection. It was taller than any skyscraper in the city, taller than everything. Standing beside it, hand on the cool gray surface, always made Nancy feel incredibly small.    
The taxi ground to a halt right outside one of the largest buildings in the city. Nancy slipped through the door, happy to be home, happy to be able to sleep, but as the elevator hit each and every floor, she was reminded of what awaited her in the apartment. A ding, a step, and a word of self-motivation all fueled Nancy's entrance into her home, closing the door with a soft click. She really wasn't all too surprised to see the ginger-haired girl standing in the center of the living room, eyes trained on the television.
"You're awake." It was matter-of-fact, more Nancy acknowledging the girl's presence if anything.

She didn't answer, head instead snapping toward the noise. Bare feet shuffled slightly in the small circle of safety, shards of glass near surrounding them. Around the slender frame a large blue shirt cascaded downward, a waterfall of blue fabric that enveloped her figure. It was Nancy's ex-boyfriend's shirt she had forced the girl to change into, the older clothes stained with blood and dirt. With their height differences and the need to mutilate the back by cutting two large holes, the shirt really was the only option. Glass littered the floor near the window's empty skeleton, metal storm grate pulled to block the wandering winds of the sky. Perhaps Nancy should have cleaned it up before leaving for work, but being late was last on her list. Nancy's feet tentatively took each and every step, attempting to make their way back to the door for two necessities: an escape route and a dustpan.
"Who are you?" Nancy asked. There was a long pause, the only communication through eye contact. "Hello? I helped you out. You are literally wearing my clothes and slept in my bed. The least you could do would be tell me your name."

During the silence Nancy shifted her gaze to the television. It was muted, but flashing red colors flickered about the screen, the words 'Breaking News' loud and proud. Either the girl in front of her had an identical twin who was not making any friends with the law, or Nancy was harboring a fugitive. Nancy sucked in a breath, turning towards the present ginger hair and gaunt face, wondering why she even bothered to help place dozens of bandages on every scrape instead of calling the police. Sure, the redhead was attractive, but Nancy hadn't focused on that, hadn't even looked her in the eyes for the first hour she'd been traipsing around the apartment. What kept Nancy distracted was infinitely more eye catching. It was the reason the holes were sliced out of the shirt, the reason the girl had managed to even make it to the 32nd floor of the skyscraper, the reason the police were the last to call in Nancy's mind: the beautiful autumn wings sprouting from the girl's back. They awkwardly avoided bumping into any furniture, fidgeting and wiggling at the slightest of sound. As a biologist, Nancy wanted to take a closer look. As a normal person, Nancy didn't want to believe they were real.

"Who are you?" Nancy repeated. Weapon at the ready, a dustpan and flimsy brush, she faced the bird girl.

Slowly, the girl lifted up a hand, a lanky finger softly pointing out the windows.

"What?" Nancy felt her arms drop.

The ginger-haired girl urged further, noting Nancy's raised brows, shaking her hand a few times.

Outside the window was more city, not really an answer to what Nancy had asked. There was nothing but buildings, streets, and The Wall—no name for the girl.

Maybe she doesn't speak English? she realized, breaking out her rudimentary hand gestures. "Nancy," she spoke slowly, thumb on her chest, tapping for emphasis.

There was a flash of understanding. The intruder pressed that wiry finger to her sternum, nodding all the while. "Bahia." The word rolled off her tongue, foreign and unclear, almost guttural, yet it flowed so smoothly Nancy found herself wanting to hear it again. The girl shook that limp finger once more,
towards the outside.

"What do you mean? Are you from the city?"

The bandaged face twisted, a grimace gracing her lips, mouth slightly parting, "Wol."

Nancy froze. "Wol?"


"Wol? Like...The Wall? What do you mean?"

A nod.

"What are you trying to say?" she urged. A pause. A hand reached forward, mimicking Bahia. More slowly, she said, "You are from... beyond...  The Wall?"

Another nod.

There was a long moment of nothingness—no words, no questions. "Stop messing with me," Nancy laughed, awkward and short in the air of the room. "There's nothing beyond The Wall. I've done tours of it just like everyone else in this city; there's only wasteland and radiation. Nice try, though. You really had me going with the wings and everything. They are really lifelike. Is this some sort of prank?"
Bahia's face subtly reddened, bandages peppered about showing the contrast. Whether she understood or not, she insisted once again. "Wol."

"I'm sorry, Bahia," Nancy cringed as she butchered the name, "but there is absolutely no way you are from beyond The Wall."


A pounding on the door interrupted any further debating, every part of Bahia freezing. Nancy stayed calm, pausing, confused that there would be a visitor at such an hour. She near tiptoed over, brown eye pressing hard against the peephole. The police on the other end were not a big surprise considering the conspicuous events of Bahia crashing through her apartment window that morning. Nancy's fingers reached for the doorknob, concluding that the police would be the best to resolve this situation. Bahia's lanky hand whipped out, however, grabbing Nancy's own, grip more powerful than it had appeared. Dragged swiftly across the expanse of her living room, Nancy screamed. She watched the door shudder as the men behind it attempted to break it off the hinges. With a slam the window opened, loud enough to match the winds outside. Nancy had no time to react, no time to fight it, as she was tossed out the 32nd floor with no means to land.

Faint shouts of the officers entering the room faded while the distance between Nancy and the window grew larger and larger . This is what I get for being nice, she thought. When strong hands grabbed her once again and threw her onto something—someone—soft, Nancy considered for a moment whether or not she had entered heaven. Nancy's white knuckled hands were wrapped as tightly around Bahia's neck and as her legs wound around her waist. Nancy refused to open her eyes knowing she was stuck with the same dark city and same psychopathic mutant as they plummeted to their certain death.

Like an umbrella, the wings burst open, keeping them afloat and lifting the two girls upward. They worked. Holy shit, they worked, Nancy cried to herself. They're real. Nancy didn't look down, couldn't look down, but as she felt herself spiral higher and higher, one eye popped itself open. The city was now a toy set, the roles reversed between the stars and building lights, and for once in Nancy's life she felt closer to the galaxies far away. There was an updrift, carrying Bahia and her passenger to the lip of The Wall and onto its flat surface, so high above the ground the city was near forgettable. For a moment, Nancy ignored that this was kidnapping. No, in her awestruck state, stunned at the world and the sheer absurdness of being atop The Wall, Nancy let herself be dragged over to the edge that separated the city and the nuclear wasteland. Standing at the other side, the edge of radiation, the dead-zone, Nancy paused, uncomprehending.
It was clear, even in the moonlight, that there was no desert beyond The Wall, only a sea of trees.
For all her life and the lives of those before her The Wall had existed. Built for a nuclear war centuries ago that had destroyed nearly all of the country formerly known as the United States, The Wall was intended to keep the remaining people safe from radiation and contain the area. Nancy had done the tours, looked through The Wall's windows to see the barren wasteland, had done goddamn experiments on the few creatures from beyond—experiments that always had to do with testing the conditions of organisms, detailing their features, deformities, the traits of common diseases they carried… their… wings.


Turning her head, Nancy looked at the fiery wings, but this time she moved past their enrapturing layers upon layers of feathers. Bahia's face was scarred, not just by new wounds but by older ones—wounds matching the signature marks of diseases, diseases Nancy worked with for years, diseases she tested in the organisms plopped in front of her, diseases and disorders that ended with her mucking around in the animal and bacterial genomes, diseases and disorders that had begun to be eradicated in the world.
"What is the point of lying to us about this?" Nancy whispered, "Why were they having me examine these organisms? Why lie and say there was no human life beyond The Wall? If life really is sustainable beyond The Wall, if there's not enough radiation to kill anything… then what's mutating all these organisms?"

Nancy's eyes searched the land beyond The Wall, green and lush, nothing like what she had seen in books, through the windows inside The Wall, and in school.

Don't tell me, Nancy nearly whispered to herself, Is TERRA using this world beyond The Wall… as a giant experiment? It made sense: the diseases and attempted cures being tested on the animals all miraculously working successfully on humans, the mutated organisms being all sorts of different hybrids, the fact that her entire world had been lied to. The government let the truth beyond The Wall be hidden from public view, and there was no way there wasn't something incredibly immoral occurring. Nancy looked at Bahia, at the girl with wings of fire, at the scarred and ragged features, knowing that someone had taken humans' dream to fly too far by modifying the poor girl's genetics, blending it with that of bird.
"I'm so sorry," Nancy began. "We need to tell someone about this. We need to let the world know what's going on. People can't be lied to like this anymore!"

Bahia didn't respond, probably not even understanding. A loud bang reverberated throughout the top of The Wall and the bird girl shifted her legs, ready to take off. There was a shout, officers appearing from some hidden stairwell and Nancy recalled the sheer amount of armed guards always stationed throughout the monument. They surrounded the two girls, guns drawn and voices loud.
"Freeze where you are right now!"

Nancy, having wanted to be saved by these men and women previously, now wanted anything but. Did they know? Did they know that they had been lied to, that there were people beyond The Wall? Did they? Still, Nancy froze, knowing that there was no use fighting. She turned to her right to look at Bahia, the girl's eyes wide and body shaking. Like a rabbit attempting to escape the hound, the ginger-haired girl's bare feet slapped against the surface of The Wall. Bahia flapped her wings, stumbling away from Nancy and away from the guards. She cried from deep within her chest and scrambled to leap into the air alone, wings stretching to their limits. With a chorus of gunshots she returned to the ground, crumpled and defeated.

Nancy screamed. "What are you doing! Do you see what's there? The wings? We've been lied to! There are people beyond The Wall! There's life! There's—"

"Cuff her," the tallest man of the bunch commanded, metal shackles closing tight around Nancy's wrists.

She wanted to cry out, wanted to attempt to stir the men to listen, but as her face met the cold surface of The Wall and a knee was placed firmly on her back Nancy's main focus was on breathing than any sort of communication. From her position on the ground she could see Bahia's crumpled form, wings the color of the autumn foliage wrapped around her body like a blanket. The backdrop of stars and nothingness behind Bahia gave the girl her final flight, amongst the stars as she lay unmoving.

The man from before's boots came into view. "She's dead." A pause, the slight hum of someone responding on the phone, someone who was not happy at all. "Yes, I am aware of how much time you put into this. It's not my fault; she was running towards my men. Of course they're going to shoot!" He took a step, foot kicking the ground as he listened. "How about instead of me retraining my men you actually contain your freaky experiments. Listen, I'll find you someone. I know it took you a long time, but mistakes happen. We keep your business private, that should be enough for you. We're done here."

"How can you do that?" Nancy whispered, "Kill her and lie to the world like it means nothing." She couldn't stop the words from slipping out, not after seeing what the government was hiding and the lies unraveling.

There was a click of a phone, and a long pause. "Oh. How convenient," the man hummed.  

Nancy heard the creak of his bones and rustle of his pant legs, knees cracking as he crouched down beside her head. A hand gripped the single braid of her hair, yanking the girl's face off of the ground and forcing her eyes to meet the man's icy blue gaze. "If you've ever wanted to fly, now's your chance. We need to make a new girl with wings."