I am a potato. I take in water, nitrogen, sun I never see. I grow. I feel dirt. When I am dug from the earth, I say nothing. I ask no questions. I am a potato.
But something happens—in the sorting bin, perhaps, or down the chute into the sack. I wonder about the light, the rough and tumble that puts me on the display (3 lbs/$1, it says) under the muzak's soft glow.
Who am I? What is this place? What are those sounds beyond the soft strings? It is easy, once it starts. What is that shape, that smell? What are those things over there, the round bright ones? Why am I moving, the world upside down?
What are all these other objects I am now jostled against? Those round bright things, here comes one now. Hello? Hey! Who are you?
From a small label stuck to its knobbled surface, I read the word orange.
Orange? Is that your name? What is it like being round, smooth, a color? Where did you come from? Where are we going?
It never speaks. Perhaps it knows, or not. I fall silent to think. Could its silence indicate superiority? Could Orange be better than me? What kind of life have I had compared to it: what glories has it seen, what sweeping expanses of mind has it contemplated? Have I been asleep, a waste? Is the silence contempt?
As the knife falls I wonder if I would have preferred being Orange. How much better it would have been! Is it harder to think now, in pieces? Or do I think more, but smaller, thoughts? As the hot oil crackles I wonder if there was something I could have done to be Orange. Was there an obvious opportunity I missed? But as I am chewed I wonder if I am getting ahead of myself, if I really know anything about Orange besides dim suppositions. I concentrate on this realization—the only thing I have that could be called a fact, really—and as I am digested away I feel the cool breath of peace. Somehow things are working out as they should, and my last thought is to sense the truth of this, and to just relax and forget colorful distractions.
I have flown up to meet them, employing quiet astral displacement; no ship or rocket or elaborate special effects intrude. They are difficult to look at because I cannot see them apart from all the stereotypes and myths whose power I have used to propel me here. They are spiritual, diaphanous, formless and glowing; a powerful light of light; dark, crenellated monsters; drooling black monsters; pudgy, cartoony monsters; glowering demons; Christlike; Black Christlike; a faceless, robed and sandaled old man that must be what churchgoing middle schoolers think God looks like. Of course, they are moving as well, going about their tasks, and these shells of perception waffle and shimmer along with them, making their true appearance harder to sort out.
The aliens are surly and uncommunicative. They aren't glad to see me and don't want to ask me any questions. Instead of prodding me or shining bright lights at me, they are always trying to look past me at the planet below.
I turn to look with them, and I realize I am an alien as well. It is not all that different from being myself, really, though there is a change I cannot put my finger on. In the spacecraft with my fellow aliens I feel the bitterness in my throat. I too have only a passing, grudging interest in the blue planet and its coating of chattering, brainless life, dully noting this or that because there is nothing else to do. I am bored and angry because the whole universe is open to me and I cannot think of where to go or what to do. Everyone who does has already left on an enviable adventure, and I am left alone in this black wilderness with only a blue ball to look at.
Then the aliens, my brothers, look at me. Then they turn away.
III. The End
Sometimes I fly, but not as much as I used to. As a teenager I kept floating up out of a field I had once walked as a child, but the sky was where I actually lived. Or the field was flat and blue like the summer sky, but overrun with power lines. No matter how high I rose they followed me, looming up out of the dark, great hulking high-voltage towers running everywhere. Who needs all this electricity? Now, all these years later, it is more like an elevator, floating up through the levels, the wires all right where they're supposed to be—right on top of me, full of dolorous humming.
Other things have changed too, not just the landscape, but a deep foundation of tone, as if all things are made of a color that cannot be seen. At times I am terrified, but I don't know what of. Sometimes I dream a job I have had or am working, but not often. With great infrequency I have dreams of school, but which one it's hard to tell. What I remember is usually mealy-mouthed, blurry, bits of faces or a street lined with cars that were unremarkable in some past, but their contemporary appearance would be unnatural, signifying a neighborhood of the poor or the old, or a movie set. Once a unicorn, glowing with purity, asked me a question, but I glanced at the sun passing behind new mountains, and when I turned back she was gone.
BIO: Derek Dexheimer lives and writes in Seattle. His work has appeared in Dark Energy Speculative Fiction, Pear Noir, and Cezanne's Carrot.