Elli had never thought that the walls were strange. Really, she didn’t think of them as walls precisely; they simply marked where her world ended. After all, they had always been there, looming grayishly about one hundred feet from her back door. Occasionally, strange shapes would appear at the top of the wall, silhouetted by bright lights so that she could never say what they looked like. The sky was a perfect circle of blue or gray, depending on the weather, and it hung rather flatly overhead. Elli’s house had pristine white walls with a red tile roof, exactly like the other four houses in her little slice of existence. There was one other child besides Elli, but he was a baby who barely spoke.
Not that anyone else said much either. The adults seemed happy enough she supposed and treated her with kindness, but they all looked at each other knowingly, with resignation.
Elli couldn’t understand why that was so; they had everything they needed here: food, water, clothing, each other. The weather was even cooperative for the most part, raining just often enough to keep the trees and flowers alive, and never getting cold enough to warrant anything heavier than a long-sleeved shirt.
She had to admit, though, it did get a little boring occasionally. But, just as soon as she thought she would cry with boredom, a new toy would appear, or a new type of flower for her to discover. When she asked her mother where these things came from, she would go tight-lipped, then relax, and say gently that they were gifts from Above.
What ‘Above’ was, precisely, no one could (or would) tell her. So she made it up.
Elli thought that Above was quite mysterious, but it must be benevolent because it gave her so many gifts. She would talk to Above sometimes, but it never answered; it only came with more presents when she had tired of the old. Often, Above’s presents to Elli were in the form new discoveries, and very occasionally in the form of an actual toy.
One day, Above gave Elli a mysterious gift: a sketchbook and three pencils. She was unsure what to do with them at first, but after some experimentation she discovered that one end of the pencil made a mark, and the other end could make the mark disappear. That discovery alone delighted her, and for a while, she busied herself simply with the process of marking and erasing.
Next, Elli started to put the marks together in ways that pleased her, and eventually filled the entire sketchbook with abstract drawings. She thought she would erase them all and start over the next day, but when she woke up that morning, another sketchbook and three new pencils were stacked on top of the old. She squealed with glee.
Elli took the sketchbook out to her favorite tree that day, and as she sat in its shade, it occurred to her that she might be able to replicate what she saw around her on her paper.
Elli began to draw.
She explored everywhere for things to draw, and as she followed the curve of the concrete wall late that afternoon, she saw a strange object on the ground, half hidden by a large bush.
Bending down to take a closer look, she noticed that whatever the object was, it was flush with the ground and seemed to have space below it. Elli thought that was odd; she had always assumed the ground was utterly solid, and to find that there was a seemingly endless hole underneath was disconcerting. She set her sketchbook and pencils down and reached out for the object.
It was covered in a reddish dust that came off on her fingers. She grabbed the grate and pulled a bit. It rattled invitingly. Acting on impulse, Elli grabbed the cover with both hands and heaved; it was heavy, but not unmanageable, and she soon had it off and found herself staring down a dark tube. She knelt down, stuck her head in, and shouted. The echo of her shout leapt away down the tunnel.
Elli backed away from the hole and sat down, contemplating her discovery. One thing was certain: her little world was not as little as she had thought.
Eventually, Elli decided that the peculiar hole would have to wait. She was getting hungry, and the thought of her mother’s cooking enticed her. So, with some effort, Elli pulled the cover back over the hole and dusted her hands. It would be waiting for her to explore tomorrow.
The next morning, Elli raced out to the hole and dragged the off the cover. Again, she shouted and listened to the echo of her voice leave her behind.
She wondered where the echo went.
Finally, curiosity got the better of her, and dragging her sketchbook and pencils with her, she lowered herself into the darkness.
As her feet touched the bottom, she noticed that the hole had become tall enough for her to stand in. Looking up, she realized that she would not be able to go back that way. She shook off that thought, and turned her face to the darkness.
The tunnel was damp, so Elli slid her sketchbook protectively under the front of her shirt. The further she got from her entry point, the darker it became, until she could no longer see anything.
For the first time in her life, Ellie knew fear.
She thought of her friend, Above.
I don’t like this; I really don’t like this, Elli said to Above in the darkness. Can you hear me, Above? I’d like a gift to help me get out of here. Please?
No answer came, but Elli knew that that was what would happen. Above never spoke to her. She felt wetness well up in her eyes, felt it trail down her face, and touched it with her fingertips. Her fear abated a little as she stood in the darkness and nothing extraordinary happened. Elli sniffed.
Picking up her courage, she continued forward in the darkness, feeling her way along the damp walls of the tunnel. Suddenly, she heard a loud scraping noise overhead. She jumped back, stumbled over her feet, and dropped her sketchbook in a puddle. A sliver of light appeared in the ceiling, widening as the scraping noise continued. Elli looked up, frozen, fear returning vengefully. Light filled her section of tunnel. She looked up, blinking at its brightness.
A strangely elongated hand appeared, silhouetted against the light, reaching out for her. Elli gasped. It’s all right, the hand said, I will help you. I am here to get you out of the tunnel. Elli didn’t move. Another strange hand appeared, and together, they reached for her, grasped her, and hauled her out of the darkness.
Elli looked at the owner of the hands, into a face entirely unlike any she had seen before; the eyes were much too large, and the irises were an iridescent purple. It didn’t have a nose, and its mouth was decidedly small. It looked upon her with what she could only fathom was worry and concern. There were others, standing, watching.
Who are you? Elli asked.
We are Above, it said.
And Elli knew nothing at all.
Prose, not poetry, I know. And several years old at that. Wrote this after reading Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five."