An Inconvenient Wall

Aram punched the wall again, mostly out of frustration, but also out of a morbid need to commit to his foolish experiment. Yes, his knuckles were split and raw and his hands were shattered, but he consumed enough painkillers to ignore such inconveniences, and the wall at least splintered with every thousand blows – he had very recently left a small crack in the wall, imperceptible to the eye, that he was extremely proud of.

Exhausting himself, seeing no further results, and perhaps a little bored, Aram collected the powdery slivers of jeweled rainbow that fell in a small pile upon the obsidian floors, careful not to cut himself, and cupped the slowly melting frost up first to his own lips, and then carefully up to his companion’s.

“Here, drink.”

A bruised and ruined face rose from the dark to slurp messily from Aram’s bloody hands, then fell back to a prone position, speaking with a voice that emanated from the walls of their confines, “We will die here, Aram. Do not waste your last moments in desperation.”

“Nonsense.” Aram shook his hands dry, the oily half-melted mass mingling with his blood to fall as pink crystals. “It is only a matter of time before we break out.”

How long had he been trying to persuade himself of that? How long had they been down here? Their rations should have been enough for days… but they had been reduced to consuming the walls of their prison for nourishment. The bitterness of the splintered wall grew sweet with time, and whatever contaminated the ice to make it glimmer and shimmer so did not seem to poison them any faster than they were dying anyway.

Aram sat and observed the wall, the almost-translucent sheet of warped glass that had somehow grown and crystalized over the mouth of the small cave in which they found themselves. While the rest of the cave was deep and black, like volcanic glass, the wall itself was absurdly not. Before he resolved himself to beating down the obstacle with the bloody stumps of his ruined fists, he used to stare at it, seeing his friends and family approach from the other side to pray for and chide him in his personal hell. Past memories played like an old, grainy film, a showcase of his worst feelings and thoughts. False futures would emerge from that oily light, tantalizing and tempting him to… do what? He was trapped in a cave.

Aram didn’t realize that he had fallen asleep, and wondered for how long his dreams were so radiant, so cruelly real, so vastly infinitesimal when considered from a view that spanned eons.

And since when has the blood running freely from his knuckles begun to resemble the oily secretions of the wall?

Aram awoke to find his companion was missing. Devoured by the floor, he suspected, but he put the thought aside. The walls were rippling again, pulsing an irregular rhythm that made the walls shudder in the ten-million colors of the rainbow. It was mocking him for still being alive – for not killing himself within the week like last time (the splinters from the wall are so sharp), or refusing to starve like the time before (those splinters were so bitter, but grew sweet with time).

Aram rose from the darkness pooling on the floor, facing the shimmering wall with something between contempt and exhaustion. He stepped forward, raising a shattered fist to hammer at the wall once more. He had already resolved to live this time for as long as possible, to force the wall to kill him, if it could.

It could.

Aram awoke, choking on his own blood.

No, choking on his respirator. He spat it out and sat up, looking around, noting with a vague sense of incredulity that this was becoming predictable if he would only control his physiology and temper his ragged breath and racing mind.

Judging from the weight of his backpack, he began again with several days of rations and his ice axe (the rations would be depleted within the week, the ice axe broken within the day, likely out of spite). His companion was still lying prone near the wall, but there was nothing he could do about that – his companion was always dead when Aram first wakes.

No, there was something far more important to examine. The confirmation of an absurd hypothesis and a long-running experiment.

Aram stood and approached the gleaming wall that looked as much like liquid as it resembled solid ice. He checked with his hands as much as his eyes, his rough fingers running along the eerily smooth surface, not yet bruised, not yet shattered, until…

He drew back with a sharp hiss.

A cut on his finger. A crack in the wall.

Aram smiled, then raised a fist to strike the wall again.

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