The people of the pit didn’t understand why they had to die.
“The black pit,” Somebody said.
“Why’s it gotta be black,” Somebody Else said.
“Because I can’t see you,” Somebody said.
Nobody could see anybody, but everybody had heard the news loud and clear. It came from above, from crackling old speakers, an old man’s voice. It said that death was upon the people of the pit and the lives they knew didn’t matter, but the lives that they thought they were going to know, no death could take that away. The voice coughed, the speakers buzzed a moment, and then everything was gone.
Somebody Else said, “Fuck that.”
Somebody said, “I’m with ya.”
Somebody Else and Somebody pushed through the sea of everybody. Some of the members of the sea would say excuse me or pardon me and some of them would shout an exaggerated ouch, or “fuck you, pal.” Some of them wept. After a while of pushing, the sea wouldn’t yield, and it didn’t feel like people anymore.
“It’s mud,” Somebody said.
“I’m already climbing it,” Somebody Else said.
When they were both up about ten feet, clawing and clinging, finding strength they never knew they had, they stopped. Somebody Else and Somebody felt each other’s thought, or they each thought they felt each other’s thought.
“Hey,” Somebody Else shouted to the sea, “It’s a scalable wall.”
“Come on,” Somebody shouted. He channeled the great battle cries of movies he’d seen, the energy of Hollywood’s William Wallace, Robin Hood, Leonidas . . . “We climb!”
Then the people of the pit shouted back. They shouted they couldn’t find the wall, they couldn’t grab the wall, they couldn’t shit anywhere, there’s no place to shit!? And they couldn’t see anything, and they couldn’t think. Then they started yelling shut up at Somebody Else and Somebody. Then they were yelling shut up at everybody else.
Somebody Else and Somebody continued climbing by themselves. As they climbed, their muscles became sore and they thought of letting go, and they thought maybe the sea would catch them. They weren’t sure, but maybe if they kept going they could go so high they’d die from the fall. They’d be too tired to climb up or down and they’d be trapped. What did they do? They climbed.
They couldn’t credit courage for this direction. Their bodies had found a mechanical rhythm. As much as their brains fired fear to their chests, the mechanics of their arms and legs pushed, pulled, reset, pushed, pulled, reset.
After a while, they couldn’t hear the sea. Not knowing how far they had climbed and not knowing how far they had to go, they were alone in space, in a whole other reality, in a reality that had nowhere to stand or rest. Above and below them were death and the unknown, and in front of them was mud to cling to, but was it mud? They wondered for a moment what the hell was mud. They wondered for a moment what the word vertical really meant. What bullshit is the difference between vertical and horizontal? The mud in front of them and the empty space behind them: it was all the same.
Somebody Else laughed, and then Somebody laughed with him. They were still real, they both thought.
Sometime between forever and yesterday, they each swung their hands up and missed the wall. There wasn’t any more wall to grab. They pulled and pushed themselves up and stumbled into a new reality of flat land — a floor of mud and a pit of mud behind them. About twenty yards out, there was a light post illuminating nothing but itself and the ground around it. They went to it without a thought about what it meant. They just wanted light.
In the first light that they had seen in days, Somebody saw Somebody Else and Somebody Else saw Somebody.
Somebody Else was a big black guy. Somebody was a big white guy. They were men that worked out hard and often. They felt instantly the camaraderie of muscled men. They shook hands.
“Jonathan,” Somebody Else said.
“Well shit,” Somebody said, “That’s my name, too.”
They smiled at each other for a while. They looked back toward the pit, but it was hidden in the darkness. It was all flat land it seemed now, but the sound of the pit, the crowd with nowhere to shit, came to them like a whisper. Did they care? They weren’t sure, yet. They looked back at each other, still smiling.
“We’re free,” Jonathan said.
“Should we save them?” Jonathan said.
“Fuck! Because they’re people, because you have a chance to be heroes, because you’re not even free yet!”
They both looked up and saw the crackling speaker wired to the light post.
“I’ll go by Jon,” the black guy said. “You go by Jonathan.”
“Right,” the white guy said. “Now let’s do this.”
“Shit,” the somebody in the speaker said.
JOE SCOTT is from Wichita, KS. He currently lives in Seattle, WA. His fiction has appeared in Arcadia, Midwest Literary Magazine, and Short, Fast & Deadly. He is also a prep cook.