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  • Writer's pictureS. E. Shinault

Insight: A Short Story by S. E. Shinault




 

Blind in a utopian society, seventeen-year-old Rane lives in isolation with her brother and a robot assistant as her only companions. But one night she wakes to find life is changing forever.

In her world of sightlessness, not everything is as it seems.


 

Noise pulls me from a light sleep. I open my eyes, blinking against the brief, pitch darkness, before it's replaced by a familiar, pervasive blue, a gradient filling my perception. I think it’s blue, anyway. It’s been so long since I’ve seen color as I remember it, as if from another lifetime. Sometimes these dull, mottled hues and random flashes bring back memories which struggle to take shape before me. They were sharp once—the memories—like a picture on a wall. Now, I only have faded outlines. I’ve adjusted to the ever shifting, shapeless, aberrant colors, but in the years since my vision failed, I’ve never gotten used to these muted impressions from a world that was once so vibrant.


I blink again, my sensitive ears detecting a muffled voice beyond my door. 


Eli? His soft-spoken tone is resonating from just down the hall. My brows furrow as I sit up from my bed, covers rustling off of me. What is he doing up so late? 


“Oda?” My words sound unusually loud in the small room, even though I speak just above a whisper.


“Yes, Rane?” Oda responds, her slight mechanical, sing-song voice matching the volume of my own. 


She knows I want to be quiet. Oda is smart for a machine. She had to be to assist me with daily life, though using her was never my idea. Eli, being the protective big brother he is, had Oda designed and programmed for me in secret many years ago, when I was just a girl. He called her my Ocular Disability Assistant. Though I usually get along fine on my own, I have to admit she’s helpful sometimes, if only to keep me company during the long days spent alone in my little underground sanctuary.


“What time is it?” I ask, massaging the back of my neck.


“It is 3:17 AM,” Oda replies. I listen to her whir softly through the air, her metallic, spherule form levitating toward me. “How can I assist? Do I need to fetch Eli for—”


“No,” I whisper harshly. “Quiet. I’m trying to listen.”


Oda’s mechanized humming deepens to a softer, near silent vibration. I pivot my head towards the door, honing in on the sounds.


“You know that they’re coming for her. It’s just a matter of time.”


My breath catches in my throat, but I choose to hold it there. That’s not Eli. I don’t recognize the voice. It’s … older—almost brutish. The sound of it makes my stomach clench.


“I’ve done everything humanly possible to keep her hidden,” Eli says.


The concern in my brother’s voice is evident. But who is he talking to?


“Clearly, that’s not enough anymore,” the stranger continues. “With the Luminaries pushing amendments to our resource allocation laws, management is paying closer attention. They’re getting suspicious that some of those resources are just disappearing without a trace.” 


The word “disappearing” holds emphasis. This man, whoever he is, knows something … something about me. My heart is racing.


“What do you expect me to do, Sulvan?” Eli snaps, but he says it quietly. He’s oblivious to the fact that I’m awake and listening in. “I can’t just let her starve to death down here.”


“Then maybe it would be best to stop hiding,” Sulvan replies, his tone softer now. “I mean, look at you. You’re exhausted trying to protect her, and for what? You know they won’t hurt her.”


“Yeah, they’ll just ‘rehabilitate’ her until she’s a shell of herself,” Eli mutters.


“You know the Luminaries have every citizen’s best interest at heart, even your sister’s.”


“No,” Eli says firmly. “For all they know, she’s dead, and I’d rather keep it that way. They can’t know she’s down here.”


I cover my lips with a quivering hand. Dead? I don’t understand. I’ve always known that Eli has kept me in our little sanctuary because my blindness is problematic to a society where everything else is perfect. But why would anyone think that I’m—


“Listen, Eli,” Sulvan interrupts my thoughts. “We’ve worked together for a long time. You’ve confided a lot in me, and that’s not something I take lightly. Your sister’s … affliction—it seems harmless on its own. But there are still people who remember that little seven-year-old girl running through the streets of Harbor in a fever-induced craze, screaming about memory ghosts and some kind of cataclysm nonsense. You have to admit, it all sounded pretty crazy, and her … the way objects started floating around her… it unsettled a lot of people. Especially considering she fell blind right after that. No one’s dealt with any kind of sickness or disability in over a hundred years, let alone witnessed some impossible display of telekinesis. There was no explanation. Everyone thought she was an imposter … inhuman. It understandably caused a city-wide panic. You know as much as I do that people still talk about it. The Luminaries are just doing what they were elected for and trying to keep our city safe, which includes maintaining peace of mind.”


“Yeah, at what cost?” Eli snaps again. “Rane is innocent.”


I don’t remember anything they’re talking about. Why can’t I remember? 


“It’s not her fault she got sick,” Eli says. “I had no choice but to fake her death and bring her down here. Even being so isolated, it’s a better life than she would’ve had. Besides, her episodes have gotten less frequent with age. It’s been almost eleven years since it happened. She’s not hurting anyone down here, so why can’t the Luminaries and their Sentinels just leave it in the past?”


“Because it shook our entire society to its core for months. Have you forgotten how dangerous that was?”


This can’t be real. I don’t remember what they’re talking about. Memory ghosts? Cataclysms? Faking death? I feel sick. 


Eli scoffs. “The only danger these people have ever been in is‌ from their own complacency. Even you have to agree there’s something off about the Luminaries.”


“We can’t speak like that, Eli,” Sulvan hissed. “Unless you want to pay a visit to the rehabilitation center yourself.”


My chest feels tight, and I wheeze. The voices of my brother and the other man become indistinct murmurs. Colors … turning red behind my eyelids, fighting with the blue. The gradient is getting darker, deeper, like a violet abyss. I grip my head in my hands. Out of nowhere, I have a splitting headache.


“I detect an elevated heart-rate and increased perspiration,” Oda speaks up, making me jump despite her soft, almost sympathetic tone. “Is there something I can do to ease your distress?”


I ignore her. I … am I losing my mind? This is all some kind of vivid hallucination, right? There’s no way that Eli has been keeping me underground all this time because I almost caused Harbor to collapse when I was just a kid. My lungs are twisting into a knot. I struggle to breathe.


A flash of white startles me, somehow dazzling my darkened gaze. I blink rapidly. The faint, dark outline of a person stands at the foot of my bed. But wait … how can I see them? 


“Oda?”


“Yes, Rane?”


“Who is in my room?”


“Only you and I,” Oda says, sounding confused.


“There’s someone standing right there!” 


I’m on the verge of hyperventilating. The colors are too bright now, swirling with frantic energy around this stranger. How can I be blind and yet I’m seeing a person stand right before my eyes?


I lunge to the edge of my bed and heave the contents of my stomach onto the floor. The room is spinning along with the streams of colored light. The air is too thick. I can’t breathe. Am I dying? Is this what death feels like? I vaguely recall feeling like this once before.


The figure reaches for me. I feel a prickly sensation where it touches my shoulder before shockwaves of energy rock my body.


A memory crashes over me like a suffocating wave, and this one is sharp. So sharp that I feel my bare feet pound against pavement while a fever stings my skin, and my throat is raw from screaming. But, it’s not my voice. It’s the voice of a little girl. It echoes through my head.


“They’re everywhere! They’re trying to warn us! Please, listen to them!”


I see with absolute clarity right now. This is what it was like? Before my eyes failed me forever?


But, this is scary. Sentinels are chasing me. And there are shadows everywhere, reaching, beckoning. Where is Eli? What do I do? I have to keep running … have to keep—



 


I let out a gasp, but it turns into a cough as I inhale dust. It tastes metallic, earthy, and leaves grit between my teeth. The world is a familiar, hazy blue again, with faint hints of green and brown around the corners of my perception. I’m on the ground, but I don’t remember why. A gentle rustling sound finds my ears. My fingers clench into a fist, scraping soil into my fingernails. I’m … outside? How did I get here?


“Eli?” I rasp, coughing into the dirt. I lift my head. The movement makes me dizzy, but then … I feel something. Warmth. It cascades over my body, rippling from my scalp to my shoulders to the base of my spine, encompassing me.


“You finally decided to join us.”


I jerk, heart in my throat, and turn toward the deep, unearthly voice. “Who’s there?”


“Who I am isn’t of any great importance. Not anymore, anyway.”


I cough the last of the dust from my lungs and stand on wobbly legs. Blades of grass tickle my bare feet, and my night clothes are damp with sweat. I blink, thinking maybe it will come back—that sharpness, the clarity. But there’s only the blue.


“We’ve been calling to you for some time now.” 


My mouth is dry. “You’re … a memory ghost,” I say as I turn in a small circle.


“We have been called such before. Though we prefer the term visitant.”


“You were the ones I saw that day, when I was just a kid.”


“Yes, we appeared to you, as you were the only one who could listen. You could see beyond the veil. But you disappeared before anything could come of it.”


I don’t understand it, but a pang of guilt settles in my heart. “I tried to remember,” I whisper to him, “but I couldn’t. Something’s wrong with me. There’s always been something wrong with me…”


“There’s nothing wrong with you, child,” the voice says softly, and for the first time in years, I feel affirmed, accepted. Though doubt still trickles into my thoughts.


“But, my blindness—”


“—is merely a blessing in disguise,” the voice interrupts. A pressure settles on my shoulder, like a warm, comforting hand. “You are of two realities: those who see and those who do not. You bridge the gap. Your lack of vision for the physical makes you attuned to the things of the spiritual. When you were young, they called you too sensitive, but it was only because you held an awareness that they didn’t. The day your fever took hold, the day you lost your sight, was the day of your reawakening. You finally understood our warnings. The Luminaries knew this, and they tried to silence you because you threatened their authority. They have deceived everyone into believing that you thrive in a utopia, ensuring that all have forgotten the strife that brought you here. Except for you. You resisted them. But the others are blind to the strife that is coming.”


My hands are shaking as much as my voice. “What do you mean?”


“You already know, Rane,” the man replies gently. “The war. Seen and unseen will collide. The remnants of our kind will battle the Luminaries along with the humans under their influence. It will be a culling of what remains of mankind, and only those who received the gift of insight will survive. Those like you, and like us. Now come. Your vision will gradually return to its former clarity in due time. Spare yourself the heartache of watching this world suffer in the coming carnage. We will depart for the unseen realm.”


I swallow, thoughts racing through my head. “I-I can’t. My brother … he’s still back there.”


“That man is not your brother,” the voice says quickly, and I snap my head around toward the figure in disbelief. “I understand this may come as a shock, but you are not of this world. You are one of us—a visitant spirit made flesh. I know if you search your memories, you’ll find this to be true.”


I sway where I stand, feeling sick to my stomach again. 


“Look deeper, Rane. All your life, even before your blindness, you differed from the rest. You had an intuition that was unmatched.”


“You mean I’m not human?” It’s strange. The more he says, the more I believe he speaks the truth, no matter how absurd it sounds.


“Many years ago, you chose to go to them, despite all of us begging you not to. You took on the physical form of a young girl. Eli, the man you call brother, found you and took you in. Not long after that, your memory failed you, and the lies of the Luminaries drew you in, just like they had with all the other humans. Though you could sense the unrest between our realm and the physical realm, you didn’t realize what it was at the time. Your transformation from spirit to flesh had been so violent that it altered your consciousness. We thought we lost you. We continued trying to speak to you through the veil until we finally broke through during your seventh human year. After that, you did your best to warn them, as was your initial purpose, but the stress was too great. You lost use of your eyes, and your memories were scattered, leaving you with a fragmented sense of self. You were without your insight for a while, but now it seems to have returned to you. Your memory will surely follow.”


I shake my head, in awe of what I’m hearing. “So, a war is coming, and it will destroy everything and everyone that remains?”


“Yes. You knew this before. You were conscious of the dangers of entering the physical realm and the potential impact on humanity if your mission failed.”


“So, you’re saying there’s still a chance I could help them?”


“No, Rane. Humanity is lost. You tried your best, but it’s time to move on.”


I lower my head, my pulse thrumming in my ears as the weight of my thoughts settle, and words like fire pool across my tongue. “Humanity is only lost if I leave.”


Silence fills the conversation before he speaks again. “If you stay, you will have no choice but to fight—and perish—alongside the humans.”


I lift my face to the warmth of the sun and close my sightless eyes. “I’ve lived what feels like a lifetime among them, struggling alongside them. And I love my brother. After everything he sacrificed to protect me, I can’t abandon him now.”


“Foolish,” the visitant begins with disappointment laced in his voice, before his tone softens. “But, commendable. I leave you to your chosen fate, child. Only a select few visitants will remain behind for the final stand. If you hope to survive, you must unite them to your cause. Otherwise, there will be nothing left of humanity to fight for.”


I inhale, filling my lungs with my resolve. “I understand.”


“Then before I leave, a gift…”


Fingers, feathery soft, brush against my forehead and trail down to my eyes. A blaze of white flashes across my perception and I stagger backwards from the force. I manage to keep my feet under me, blinking.


The gradient melts into a blur. Then, vibrant hues burst forth behind my eyes, forming complex patterns and shapes. Once indistinguishable colors now dance with clarity, weaving together in a mesmerizing display. With each passing moment, textures emerge, inviting me to touch and explore. I’m so enthralled, the other senses I’ve come to rely on so heavily seem overshadowed by the intricacies of sight. An overwhelming sense of awe washes over me. I remember now—the ease and beauty of vision. I blink again, and the world snaps into focus. My eyes are met with a grassy hill and a solitary tree silhouetted against a vivid golden sunrise.


I can see.


The feeling of wonder is short-lived when I look over and watch the ethereal figure of the visitant look on me with pity before he vanishes into thin air.


Not one instant after, a distant boom rumbles the earth beneath my bare feet. I turn toward the noise. Smoke … coming from Harbor, somewhere within the walls. The acrid cloud is carried by a growing wind, and I can smell it from here. My breath grows shallow.


I didn’t expect it to start this soon…




Copyright © 2024 by S. E. Shinault


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