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Salt

Bones heal, blood dries, and salt... only belongs to the sea.

By Iris KohlPublished 2 months ago 8 min read
2

I am a scientist. That means that - no matter what you have been told - this is the truth, as I know it. They get to change the facts. I don’t. I can't afford the luxury of making an angel of myself. My life revolves around hypotheses, formulae, and conclusions – cold, pure, and true.

An example? Right now, all I can smell is salt. That can’t be right because they told me all the oceans burned. Therefore, there are two probable alternatives: either I am insane, which is one thing that they could never prove - or there is still a sea out there, somewhere. That is a simple, scientific conclusion.

Another conclusion: I don’t get to leave this place. I do get a window – and they reminded me many times over how lucky I was to have it. But it faces the sky. The sky here is always an unnaturally matte shade of sterling silver, unblemished by a single shadow. They even painted the walls to match, so that borders of my window get lost in the walls. It may as well not exist.

Ironically, I once chose to live in a place like this. It was a long time ago, back when I was given choices in matters such as these. That place was almost as dull as this one: four bland walls, a door - always locked when I needed it open, always unlocked when I needed it shut - and a single window. In those days, I was buried in the depths of the city and skyscrapers blocked any chance of sunlight entering my apartment. Yet the gloominess did little to distract me from the fact that I was finally in a place of my own. Of course, there were a few drawbacks - I soon learned that freedom and chaos went hand in hand, and some nights I would lie awake hearing voices muttering in the streets beneath me, or glass shattering - one night I even heard a scream – but it was a small price to pay. I was more than willing.

You don't know what I would give to go back to those days. All those years ago, storms and borders were the only things that kept me up at night. People referred to my generation as omega, the last, as if this was the worst our world could get. Nations fractured in my childhood, and atlases became adorned with spider-webbed cracks not unlike the windows of that first apartment. I grew up witnessing the creation of new names for the strength of storms. And yet, that was the worst of it. My generation is generally characterized by hopelessness. But of the two things that haunted us, the revenge of nature and the capacity of humanity to destroy itself, I was determined to put at least one of those things to rest.

A few months ago, no one had ever heard of my name. It was almost a source of entertainment, listening to people butcher the pronunciation of my field. But their lack of respect didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that for every second I wasted being caught up on trivialities like pronunciation, more people died.

In the past, they always seemed so optimistic about what was waiting for their children and grandchildren. I wonder, if someone tried to describe to them what a category 10 hurricane can do to a city, would they have believed them? Some psychopath tried to make poetry out of the ruin, saying half the storm surge is tears... "all that salt left over when the tides finally fall is completely separate from the sea"... We were beginning to realize that our struggles against each other were a losing game. Wars couldn’t be won. Anyone who said otherwise has forgotten that never in our history had war ended. A struggle against nature, on the other hand, was a game we had been playing for a long, long time. And I was utterly convinced that we could win. Storms could be tamed. Even in those early days, in that tiny apartment, I knew it was possible - and I was determined to dedicate every moment of my life to find out how.

I remained nameless for a long time, but eventually my work began to catch the attention of some very powerful people. They called themselves my ‘angels’ because they knew as well as I, that I had nothing without them. All my resources came from them. Frankly, the world would be a better place today if they had never showed up, although the world doesn't tend to remember that small detail… but at the time, they were quite literally my angels from heaven.

They were angels when they were quiet, at least. Unfortunately, they were also the ones that felt personally responsible for reminding me that I was running out of time. I was holding back. I was being selfish. I held in my hands the power to save millions of people, and I wasn’t using it. When they opened their mouths they sounded more like demons.

I shouldn’t hear an albatross calling now, but I do. They told me there were no birds left. It must be the wind. The contours of this building do strange things to its pitch. It’s like people are talking to me. Ghosts.

There’s no one here. No people. No sound, besides the ghosts talking.

I never believed in ghosts, before. Like I said, everything was factual. The fact is, I was alone when I finally made my discovery. I remember, it was raining outside - just heavy enough for the first few surges of adrenaline to enter my veins. The rain darkened my laboratory so much that my computer and its daily run of calculations was a blinding light. Then the room went dark. Bright again. Dark. The screen flashed two little words, over and over. They changed everything. Model successful. I was frozen in time staring at them. Angels ran into the room, almost as if they had been waiting at the door - but I barely paid attention to them. I was in awe of it all. One by one they congratulated me and the reality set in of what I had done. Decades of research was over. I had created a device that could dismantle a hurricane.

The jealous Earth gave me a little less than a week to celebrate my victory. Then she sent her demons in retaliation. A low over the Pacific Ocean rapidly become a nightmarish spiral of wind and rain set to uproot the foundations of our city. Every hour, sirens were screeching in my ears. They were all I could hear.

My laboratory filled with more people. Most of them I didn't recognize. Everyone knew my name, though. They all screamed at me. What was I waiting for? The sight of the hurricane did something to them. To me too, I admit. As the wind began to tear at the edges of the city, we became shadows of ourselves, driven purely by fear. They listed off the name of every family member they had, every distant relation. Photographs were practically thrown at my face. They mistook my silence for apathy, so they spoke of the homeless, the children in the orphanages – every damn cliché. They told me they were all going to die because of me. My hesitation was their death sentence.

And I know, to them, I was withholding their ‘savior’. They looked at my device like it was a single button to end all of their problems. They just couldn’t understand… believe me, I wanted to save them! I really did. But I didn’t know this device – not really. It was a prototype, a theory. It didn’t even have a name yet! There was no data, no tests, and no way of knowing what it would actually do if I released it into the atmosphere. I am a scientist. Hope is not enough.

It didn't matter. At some point, I gave into their fear.

I used to have a much larger window, in my laboratory. It was big enough that you could see the entire horizon. From this window, all these nameless people watched with me as my device disappear into the clouds. I counted one hundred and twelve seconds where the merciless sky continued to swell like a gateway to Hell. In the reflection of the glass, the Angels grew paler and paler with each count. Then the wind stopped.

I wanted to help them. I promise, all I ever wanted was to help them. No one believes that.

There is no simple way to explain what happened next. I don’t understand it at all, and I have tried over and over to find some kind of explanation – but there isn’t one. One second, we were watching a silent, shapeless sky. For one second, the device had worked. We were alive. We were safe.

Then the glass shattered. There was no oxygen. The sky became a Van Gogh painting, set alight in a blaze of color. I fell. They fell. The sky was falling to pieces. I don’t know how I’m still alive.

They told me I killed two billion people that day. In one second. One stupid decision. That was all it took… but they must be lying. There had to be more survivors than that. When I was lifted from the rubble, I was taken to a camp and there were thousands of people there. They weren’t healthy…I don’t even know how some of them could breathe…but they were alive...

These aren't tears. Why would I cry for people who are okay? They’re fine, I’m certain. Bones heal, blood… dries. The salt… the salt belongs to the sea, I know it. The poets may try to convince you otherwise, but they've always stretched reality into something far more terrible than it is. I’m confident sea breezes can travel a long way. Even if you can’t hear the waves. Surely. I’m a scientist. I know these things.

There is an albatross circling the updrafts. It’s so high it looks little more than a speck. I wonder if it can see me through behind the bars across my window.

Short Story
2

About the Creator

Iris Kohl

🌄Wanderer+Storyteller

🌊Sometimes I rant about my terrible decisions.

🪷Other times I attempt to translate the things I’ve seen into stories.

🏔️Knowing strangers hear my story holds me accountable to keeping this journey going.

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  • Charles Turner2 months ago

    I like this immensely. I plan to view more of your work in days to come.

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