It was November and the city within the city was silent. The people were using the winter’s violent bite as an excuse to stay indoors, safe from the fake outside. But there was one house that always concealed its occupant.
Inside the house it was warm and bright; there was nothing to be afraid of in there. The fire in the sitting room still crackled merrily away as if nothing had changed, the pictures on the walls still smiled down on you, and the old grandfather clock still chimed out the hours. Inside the bedroom a boy sat at the foot of his bed, knees folded into himself, gently rocking in time with his ragged breathing.
Inside his head was a storm. It roiled and reeled and left him an incoherent mess of anxiety and fear. Who knows how long he sat there, murmuring into the dark, behind the thick, mottled curtains shading the harshness outside his window. He could no longer remember what it was like to breathe freely. He had always struggled with a fear of close spaces coupled with a fear of the outside, but the affliction had worsened since the wall went up. Now, trapped and suffocated, he wheezed and his chest racked, cold sweat clinging to him every minute despite the autumn chill.
At first glance there was nothing amiss on the quiet streets outside, but if you listened to the silence, really listened, you felt the oppressive crush of the wall, then you saw this was not the real Outside. This was their outside, in which they were confined, rats in a cage.
Most people ignored the wall. They went about their business, moving with nervous rapidity, averting their eyes. The only ones who paid it any heed were the children. Little Eva with the yellow curls ignored the insistent tugs from her grandmother as they walked to collect their rations. Before the wall went up she would make this walk with her mother every morning. But now food only came from Outside on Thursday at dawn, so every week they joined the glum procession of their neighbourhood. Eva wondered whether her mamma felt the same damp chill settling over the streets. Maybe out there it was warm and sunny, maybe the birds still sang. Eva looked up at the looming grey mass and wondered whether any bird could fly high enough to reach them over the wall.
The elderly man stood on the same spot on the hill he had stood on each day since the wall went up. On the Outside, he knew she stood in the same place. He had no proof of this – but he believed it to be true with every living fibre of his body. No one knew why the wall went up, or why some were sent to the Outside. But the old man knew he would be dead long before it came down again, if it ever did. Outside the tears dried like icicles on his face in the autumn air. Inside his heart was breaking.
Alice Wilson is a writer from Melbourne. Her writing on social issues and culture have appeared in the digital news platform the Yarra Reporter. As an editor-in-training – she is currently completing a masters in writing and publishing – she is a part of the team at Bowen Street Press, an independent publishing imprint in Melbourne.