by Briley Wycoff
Photo from Pexels
The small screen flashed contrastingly bright colors against the face of the young boy staring down at it. Occasionally, a sliver of light escaped the ever-concealing clouds outside and shone through the window into the dimly lit room. There was little noise from the empty streets in front of the small apartment complex. The temperatures were comfortable and the evening air inviting.
Out of place in the undisturbed quiet, a small shadow rose up against the brick wall that made up the north side of the apartment. Wearing baggy overalls and carrying a worn backpack filled to the brim with a collection of odds and ends, a thin, but well-muscled, girl knocked on the silver door. She stepped back slowly to give the resident adequate space should he choose to answer.
KNOCK - FRONT DOOR - PRESS 1 TO ANSWER
The words ran across the top of the screen and repeated several times before the boy reluctantly pulled himself away from his distraction long enough to read what it said. Almost regretfully, he paused his efforts and pulled up the keypad with a swipe, typing in the requested number.
WELCOME TO APT. #32005 - YOU MAY NOW ENTER - LEAVE SHOES ON THE MAT
An electronic panel suddenly lit up and began playing instruction for the guest to follow. A series of clicks and whirls indicated that the door was unlocking. Slowly, it swung inward and light flooded onto the shadowed porch, momentarily blinding the young girl. When her eyes adequately adjusted, she walked in. Behind her, she heard the door return to its original place in the frame.
Glancing at her worn shoes in slight embarrassment, she didn't bother following the third piece of instruction.
The sound echoed down the immaculate hallway and caught her attention. She was unsure whether to follow the noise or wait until someone came to her. It had been a while since the last time she was allowed indoors.
She could hear no one coming to meet her, so she distracted herself by observing her surroundings. The white walls were elegantly framed by a dark grey border. The hall was lit, but no light bulbs or switches were visible. The brightness appeared to be coming from all directions, yet from nowhere at all. It was as if the walls themselves were luminescent. She couldn't help but feel that she was in some sort of dream, especially after having walked for so many hours. At least out there, she thought to herself, the light came from a definable source.
Another small sound snapped her out of her thought, and she paused briefly before continuing her visual exploration. A screen similar to the one on the front door caught her attention. This one played a series of electronic photos in succession. The first portrayed a man, his age only determinable by the white-grey hair reaching his broad shoulders. Another showed a young couple, likely in their mid-twenties, holding hands and smiling at each other with an expression unfamiliar to the young viewer. The next showed the same couple, though they were no longer alone. Their faces practically glowed as they stared down at a small boy with curly blonde locks. Several more images indicated the passing of time as the child grew and became more independent.
The family portraits, initially taken in intervals of a month or two, began to appear less frequently. The boy grew, as did the length of time between visual documentations. Soon, the photos were not the only thing spreading out inconsistently. There were fewer pictures of the three people together. After the boy appeared to reach the age of four or five, the photos began to show only him. Occasionally, the adults made an appearance, but never together.
TEXT FROM "SUSAN" - U ok? Door? - CLICK TO RESPOND
The boy startled at the sound of the notification and suddenly remembered that he had just let someone into his house. With a longing look and a drawn-out stretch, he pressed the 'power' button and slid the device into its designated pocket in his pants. The neon blue numbers on the clock nearby told him it was nearly 22:00. He hadn't realized how tired he was until he stood there, blinking rapidly in a rushed attempt to focus in the dimly-lit room.
He stretched again and, yawning, began walking down the hallway toward the front door, still struggling to focus on what he was seeing.
Their eyes met at the same time, neither quite knowing what to say or do. The images they were each presented threw them into a state of incertitude.
The girl was startled into an uncomfortable lack of words, and she could only continue to stare. The boy from the pictures had looked more alive on the screen than he did in person. His blonde hair was disheveled and plastered to the left side of his head as if he had slept on it. The lack of a shirt exposed his pale skin and slightly rotund belly, contrasting intensely against the girl's tanned arms and face.
Clearing her throat, the girl tried at an explanation. "Erm, hello. I was wondering if, um, you, I mean - .” She trailed off, uncertain what she wanted to say. Fortunately, a sharp and sudden voice pierced through the moment.
"Evan, you never answered my text. Who was at the door? If it was my delivery, you better not have touched it. I need that for work, you know."
The voice, similar to the light, sounded down the hallway without any real source of projection. It seemed that the speaker must be standing right next to them, yet, somehow, a million miles away. The girl felt her heart begin to race as she glanced around in each direction, looking nervously for the person who must be speaking.
The boy seemed remarkably less startled, however, and rolled his eyes in undisguised annoyance as he pulled out his device from the pocket it had rested in. Finger moving with an agility that seemed out of place with the rest of his body, he quickly responded to whatever had spoken moments before without ever opening his mouth.
Still overwhelmed by all that had happened in the few minutes she had been inside the apartment, the girl replayed the events in her head, trying to decipher what it meant. Glancing up, the boy looked at her in confusion, and she realized she had been staring. Snapping herself into reality, she once again attempted to speak.
Her voice came out in a squeak as she explained her plight. "I, err - could I? Um, I would like to, if I could, of course, maybe - stay? For the night, I mean. Sleep here, you know, until tomorrow, probably. Would that be okay? Just for the night, of course."
Raising her eyes in hopeful anticipation, she saw that the boy wasn't even looking at her. Rather, he had distracted himself with something on the small screen he had been carrying. In a way, the girl was relieved that he hadn't noticed her rambling and stuttering, which she always tended to do when nervous. However, she wholeheartedly dreaded the idea of having to try and say it all again.
She waved at him, attempting to get his attention, hoping that he really had been listening and would answer quickly, because the silence was hurting more than being rejected and thrown out onto the street would have. Despite her inner pleadings, she knew she shouldn't have hoped so strongly. Even if he had heard her, he chose not to acknowledge it and continued staring at the small rectangle of light that seemed to fit so perfectly within his thin hands.
The girl's frustration began to well up inside of her, and the pain of the past few days added a weight that nearly caused her to crumple. Hot tears filled her eyes and her cheeks started burning as she used all of her might to prevent herself from crying. She hated that this was her world. She hated that she had to search for a place to stay every night because there simply wasn't enough home to go around. The efficiency of society had destroyed the progression of people. The brightness of their eyes had been replaced by the brightness on the screens. In searching for a better life, living had lost its meaning.
Tears poured unrestricted down her face and began collecting on the unforgiving ground. Turning away to hide her face in shame and embarrassment, she walked back toward the front door that had provided hopeful possibility only minutes before.
Sensing her movement, a small screen on the wall lit up, and a bright green button presented itself. She pressed it without a second thought and listened as the familiar sound of the door opening started up again.
Stepping out into the evening light that couldn't have felt more inviting, she adjusted her eyes as the door slowly shut behind her, diminishing the light. She was completely alone of the street, but felt as if she were surrounded by a million people, compared to the crowded loneliness that existed indoors. Tragically, despite being the only living thing she could see, it felt so much more alive out in the glow of the moon than it ever could inside the building.
Discouraged, she set out walking down the road, the occasional tear still slipping.
In the darkness of false light, the boy stood unmoving in the hallway, only glancing at the place where his unexpected visitor once stood when a notification ran across the screen.
WARNING - WET FLOOR AHEAD - PRESS 3 TO NOTIFY CLEANING BOT