Thin Air — a short story
With the soul-crushing beginning of rot, death and decay in the dome, is it only a matter of time before all is lost?
Haiden’s lungs took in the heavy air in the room as he scribbled notes onto various helpings of scrap paper; his brilliant mind was still no stranger to crime scenes for desks and towers of notes. His work on flora was borne from messy desks and city-like structures within his room back home. He used to be enraptured by the plant life that surrounded his country cottage. Haiden’s heart used to race at the possibility of catching a glimpse of a bee pollinating the plants that hugged his house, or the sound of grass blades waving in harmony with the encouragement of the wind.
But, as he took in another breath, the weight in his lungs rooted him back to reality - the smell of cigarettes coming back like a blade to his throat, daring him to dream of his home again. Now his days consisted of the repetitiveness that kills the human spirit, the kind that strangles it. Haiden had always loved his research on flora, but his new focus had turned him into a banner for parade. Thousands of eyes peered back at him each day as he discussed his theories on flora and its possible growth on other planets, key facts like carbon’s stability and ability to host life. It was the sense of hope that they wanted, even if it was just a spark. It was at that point that he truly woke up from his notes and looked down to see nothing of interest, the same facts he had been spurting out to the audience again and again. When he looked up, the walls were edging closer to the desk — they dared to go further — inching closer and closer until Haiden’s head began to spiral. A throbbing started in his head and soon he had to take in fresh air. The throbbing drummed into his skull and got louder and louder as he stumbled over to the window, like the light at the end of the tunnel the window promised relief and Haiden held it to that promise as he gripped the latch and pulled, a click sounded from somewhere and the window hissed open.
‘WINDOW TIMER SET TO TWO MINUTES BEFORE AUTOMATIC LOCK’ Boomed out of a bodiless mouth, the cold tone in its announcement unrivalled by any human. Haiden surveyed the large glass dome that was presented before him. All the windows from every room of the hotel led out into the structure. The different floors presented faces at varied levels, people who like Haiden, had the need for this change in environment. From his fifth floor room Haiden was able to observe the dome almost in its entirety. Soil sat at the bottom, dark with moisture and flaunting an overabundance of grass shimmering in the light that cascaded from the humming bulbs above. Haiden’s sight fell down to spot the moss that found itself amongst the grass, but then began to climb the trunk of the tree, a redwood that stood central and proud, a beacon to those looking in on the dome. A whirr and a clunk greeted everyone’s ears as water began to sprinkle from above. The redwood took the brunt of the droplets, some fell to the ground and others onto the giant leaves of the plants that accompanied the distinguished tree. The air was rich and thick, Haiden sighed with relief, he felt like a few years had been handed back to him. But as he watched the plants drink like kings he could not help but feel a slight tinge of envy. The dream-like state enveloped him again as he reached out his scrawny arm, pale in the warm but artificial light.
‘REMAIN BEHIND WINDOW OR RESEALING WILL COMMENCE IMMEDIATELY, FORTY THREE SECONDS REMAINING.’ He recoiled his arm back behind the window, the glimmer of hope stuffed back into the recesses of his mind. For the remaining seconds Haiden took in all the air he could and studied every plant and slight sound that was preserved within the dome. The robotic but forceful voice interrupted silence with a ten-second countdown and as he drank in every last bit of the scene. Haiden glanced down at the grass below, honing in on the one thing that crushed his soul; the beginning of rot, death and decay, small at that moment in time, but inevitable for the rest of the plant life within the dome. Haiden knew this, he had seen it with the flora back at home, it was what was happening to the rest of the plant life around the world. In the end, it was only a matter of time until all was lost. Hissing rasped in his ears and the window slowly began to reseal, the air in the room once again began to thicken and with a whirr and a clunk, Haiden was left alone, that final image burned into his mind.
Streetlights strafed over the car like an x-ray scanning the contents inside. The slow, methodical trundle of the car’s wheels was the only sound that broke the silence of its solemn interior. Haiden cocked his head back into the cushioned headrest as he first looked at the car window’s reflection. He greeted a worn face, barely well-kept auburn hair, someone that had an appearance that exceeded their years within the universe. The bags under his faded blue eyes were colour-coded purple, barely visible in the reflection, an external advertisement of his dampening resolve.
Haiden then stared past himself, bored by his own complexion. His eyes danced between every cable that passed on the bridge, only managing to refocus past them after some time. Jagged structures stuck out either side of the estuary, foreign bodies stabbed into the earth. Tower blocks, the dots of light painted on them the only demonstrations of life within their shoddy interiors. Domes of light rose to meet their brutalist cousins, radiating light that stung Haiden’s eyes and produced a sickliness within his stomach. Each “beacon of hope” as the people called it, housed the last scraps of plant life, the last scrapings that the human race clawed at and begged for; he felt it, he lurched forward in his seat. He pressed his hand against the cool glass of the window, his brain full of the beauty of the plants, the clean air, freedom.
Haiden awoke with a sharp inhale.
“Apologies Mr. Axtell, first O2 tank’s on its last fumes, switching now” crackled from the driver’s seat and to the back of the car. An all too familiar hissing added to the sounds of the car and then a gasp as Haiden grabbed every bit of crisp air he could manage.
“Thank you…sorry for making such a scene,” He croaked. A grunt of amusement transmitted through the speakers. Haiden steadily leaned back into the chair and allowed his heart to slow back down. He shifted his weight back to the window. His gaze floated upwards and met the tips of skyscrapers above, tubular walkways cut across his view every so often, a web way in between the buildings, the people within sealed away from the reality outside. The streets below were pressed underneath the shadows of the structures above, almost barren apart from the occasional figure: Always dressed formally, their gloomy faces hard to make out within the plastic masks that clung to their faces. This was his life, this was the human race, no-one knew what it was that killed the plants and what had thinned the air. Whatever it was, he knew and everyone knew, we dragged it from hell ourselves and every bit of suffering was due.
The driver soon announced that the Southampton School of Science was nearby. Before the announcement Haiden was never able to tell its proximity, the hive like city was copy and pasted throughout. His reality only existed within places to sleep and places to teach, the rest was being shuttled between the two. However, whenever the car found itself on a bridge, there were moments of clarity, like swimming up for a breath. It was then that Haiden looked to the sky and thought about his work. He saw the stars in the sky and the cities below that were trapped in an eternal twilight. Maybe there was hope, maybe his research meant something after all, at least he wanted to believe that, everyone wanted to believe that. And as they approached the school, Haiden pushed past the webs and looked into the sky. The spark of hope was back, even if he was tricking himself.
‘We need to escape,’ he thought to himself, ‘Now.’ Everything outside slowed down as the car came to a halt, a large circular building leaned over it.