What would the whispers say tonight?
They always came out after the parties. After the music stopped but the masks were still on, when the guests scattered into the hushed streets to forget the hours that'd just passed.
She never quite managed that trick, and the costs were adding up.
Ash snow, the constant flaking from the sky-wide planet up above, blanketed her path home. Too many times had they cored the world, hunting for things that would never come to her or the people here. Too many times and yet not enough, not enough because they were here still.
Hello, little one.
She was not so little anymore, though the whispers never seemed to care.
Decided to join us?
Around her, great black structures loomed, their half-finished skeletons as ghostly as the voices that came to her from inside them. She kept her eyes straight ahead, along the narrow path, tied to the flakes shuffled with her boots.
Come on now, it's not so bad in here. You'll have friends.
She had friends at the party. People that waited to see her.
Lies. We know you. You're like us.
Maybe. That she couldn't deny. Most others left the party with vehicles, with groups heading back towards their compounds. A sanctioned life played out by the rules.
You don't have to do what they want.
Didn't she, though? How long could you fight what you couldn't leave, what you couldn't change?
The skeleton scaffolds would disappear after another few minutes walking and the whispers with them. She would find herself home, safely sitting on a stiff chair and waiting for the next shift. A screen would shine, and in it she would disappear, leaving behind these questions, these concerns.
A coward's path. You could take another.
The whispers had taken her friends. The others like her, born outside the lines and forever kept there, allowed to live on societies scraps.
But she had earned the right to the parties. That was something, wasn't it?
Only to the ones who do not matter. We do, little one. You could too, if you came with us.
To go where? Out there, beyond the girders to a place they were not allowed to visit? She would lose her house, the parties, the screen. She would lose the life she had.
And gain a better one. Quickly now, the time is coming. Your time is coming.
The whisper only said that because she approached the path's end, where it joined with the squat, curved houses marking her zone. Where the whispers wouldn't follow.
How many times, little one, will you push us away?
She had lost count. As she reached the path's end, the woman looked out at the metal forest as she always did, seeking a source, seeking an answer for the voices that spoke to her. Did they linger there, just behind the bars, or scamper above along the silver-black catwalks?
Step away, and you will find us. You will join us.
The path wasn't large. Another step and she could be off. Another step and she could be with her friends, among the whispers. Another step and she could be a voice in the dark, a lure to lost walkers like herself.
And much more than that besides. All you need to do is walk.
Overhead, the planet in the sky crackled. A puff, so small to her and so massive to that world, rose like a slow-blooming flower. Tomorrow's ash would be strong. She would need to shovel out her doorway. An early rise required to get to her shift on time.
Turning, she set her feet back on the path, stepping beyond the steel ruin towards her home.
Next time, little one. Next time.
Yes. Next time.
Artwork by grandfailure
Story by A. R. Knight