Those Who Stray from the Void

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Nathan Ousey

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As long as Lavender could remember, her village was always on the move. It acted more like a campsite than an actual settlement; all of the main structures were either put on wheels for travel or were set up like tents. The people could never stay in one place for too long, lest they fall prey to the Void. It grew closer each day.

Lavender’s world, or so she’d been told, was once a peaceful setting where villages were few and far between. There was nothing but vast plains and beautiful vegetation all around them. Most of the people took up either farming or gardening. Flowers, in particular, were idolized; it was custom to name children after them in hopes that they might blossom into something pristine and elegant. Lavender was the last one to be named by this tradition, aside from her childhood friend, a boy named Hya—short for Hyacinth. Roughly the same age, she and Hya were called the “last two buds of their generation." She often talked with him about how much they lamented this title. It made it sound like they were a source of hope, as if they could save their people when they grew older. But there was hardly any hope left. No blossoming flower could help their people now.

Hanging some clothes up to dry in the crisp air, Lavender silently cursed when she noticed she accidentally mixed the colors of two brightly-dyed shirts, one blue and the other yellow, into a gross, murky green. That’s what they get for using plant dye on literally everything, she thought, trying to convince herself it wasn’t her fault.

Her village had been on the move for two days, but they recently came across another village and met with them, which meant that Lavender was tasked with washing the clothes of complete strangers. She looked around to see if anyone had noticed her blunder. To her horror, it seemed that the chief of this new village had been watching her.

“Careful with those,” he scolded. “I was skeptical from the start about sharing the resources of my people with your own. Don’t make me regret my decision by seeing all of my clothes ruined.”

Lavender wondered why anyone could possibly be concerned with decorations and appearances in the age that she lived in. Her entire day-to-day lifestyle was rooted in survival. She and every other able-bodied person had to constantly work to make sure the village was one step ahead of its impending doom. She often wondered what the point of struggling against fate was, though she was disgusted in herself for thinking that way.

Her words left her mouth before she could think. “I’m very sorry, but maybe there are more important things to be worried about. How are people so upset about their clothes when there is a much bigger threat following us wherever we go?”

Her mother walked outside halfway through her outburst. “Lavender! You apologize to Chief Thorn. He was one of the first to see the Void, so I think he knows more than anyone.” She turned and bowed to Thorn. “I apologize for my daughter; it is just her adolescence springing up.”

Lavender should have been furious, but instead her eyes widened in curiosity.

“You were one of the first? What was it like?”

To her surprise, he answered. “Hmmph. Very well. It started as a small dot, no bigger than an acorn. It just kind of hung there in the air. But even then, we could tell it was growing, threatening to consume everything it touched. The Void looks like a dark sphere, but if you try hard enough you can see that it actually has no color at all. Just by looking at it, you can tell that it contains absolutely nothing. That’s right, for years now we have been running from nothing.” He laughed.

Lavender thanked him, bowing politely, and let his words ferment in her for the rest of that day. Of course, the Void wasn’t a tiny dot anymore. She only saw it a few times in her life, but from a distance. Her village was usually at least a day or two’s travel away from it. It had grown to resemble almost a gigantic wall of darkness, with just the slightest curvature at the top. It was horribly imposing, like the universe decided it was time to go back to square one and start creation from scratch again.

Performing tasks for members of the new village consumed the rest of Lavender’s day. Helping her mother do chores for the men of another settlement was equally degrading and exhausting, and the hours felt like years. She was finally able to breathe easier once the sun started to disappear from the sky, which happened much earlier since the Void would obstruct it from view before it reached the horizon. Lavender wanted to get as much sleep as possible since her village would be on the move again bright in the morning.

She slept soundly in her cotton bed for three hours before she was woken up. A boy was sitting beside her and repeatedly poked her with a stick. It was Hya, his messy hair all over the place.

“Wake up, Lav. Do you want to go on a little adventure?”

She mumbled something incoherent, then asked, “Go where?”

“To see the Void.”

She snuck out of the settlement with him and followed him over the hilly plains. True, it was probably the best time to see it; since they were going to travel in the next day, it was closer than usual. She and Hya walked for about two hours before they reached it.

Up close, it indeed looked like a black wall. But just like Chief Thorn said, it seemed to contain true nothingness: the absence of time, space, and reality itself. Lavender was wholly captivated by it, and Hya seemed the same way.

“Y’know Lav, doesn’t it sound kind of nice? Nothingness. It’s reassuring, like there are no worries or struggles. At our village, I’m expected to learn how to keep everything going so that I can lead everyone when I’m older. It’s a lot of pressure. And I know you have a lot of work to deal with, too.”

Lavender wasn’t sure how to respond. It was strange to stand so close to the Void, since it shaped the entire lifestyle of her people these days. So much fear towards a growing orb that would eventually erase everything they loved. Even now, Lavender made sure to keep a safe distance, worried that it might start growing at a faster rate. The only person who didn’t seem scared of the Void was Hya.

“It’s almost impossible to imagine,” he continued. “What nothing must be like. But here it is, right in front of us. Before we were born, we were nothing. If only we could remember what that was like...”

As bizarre as he sounded, Lavender found herself nodding. These kinds of thoughts were probably common for every person that lived in this age, where all they could do was keep escaping the collapse of existence. She always tried not to think too deeply about what the Void was, since she figured it wouldn’t be practical in helping her people. Apparently, Hya had done a lot of thinking.

Hya took a step forward. “I don’t want to run anymore. It’s a waste of time to keep thinking about nothingness when I will eventually be nothing. I’m glad you came with me, even if you didn’t have much to say. Don’t try to stop me.”

At this last sentence, Lavender quickly turned to him. “What are you—”

Hya hopped off the ledge they were standing on, then kept moving towards the barrier between reality and nothing. Lavender called out, screamed louder than she ever had before, but stayed where she was. Hya gave her one last look—a gaze that was so blank it told her everything—and walked into the Void, his body disappearing into the darkness.

Lavender breathed heavily. She clutched the dirt beneath her, hoping she would just shrink into the ground and become a plant. She didn’t want to walk back alone and explain what happened to her friend, and why she didn’t stop him. She hated to admit it, but she understood what Hya felt and why he wanted to be erased.

No, she thought. She lifted herself off the ground, standing upright at the small cliff. These thoughts are a weakness. She would destroy herself if she kept circulating thoughts in her head, just as Hya did. She needed to listen to her pure instincts to survive, to persevere against the forces of nature.

She slid down the cliff, not caring as the dirt flew up into her clothes. She walked towards the Void until she was merely a few meters away. Staring intensely into the vast nothingness like it was her old enemy, she swore she would not succumb to defeat.

And so, she declared: “I will evade you to my last breath, even if you chase me to the end of the world.”

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