It all happened not too long ago, and I have never looked upon the bustling streets of the metropolis that I call my home the same way again. The emperor had just gotten into power and the cityscape had drastically changed in just a short while. The once dirty but familiar roads got cleaned up. From litter getting picked up to flowerpots being put down on every corner, a high-saturation filter seemed to be placed over everything. The world seemed a bit brighter and happier.

If it wasn’t for it being a bit too nice.

In the light of the fabricated euphoria, the emptiness of its civilians showed its contrast. Though, just like with the darkness, it did not take long before the people with the grey faces seemed to become fewer too.

In the light, none dared turning their head towards the pitch-black alleyways, where figures of the dark lurked. The goners, we called them. None of us knew who they were, where they came from, or why they were not being removed. But no one was brave enough to approach them, or at least, no one we had ever heard from again was.

I was happy. Really.

Life was good: I had a good salary, got along well with my co-workers, had nice friends, and was dating a straight up sweet man.

I was happy. Until she walked into my life.

She took my happiness away the moment she graced me with her presence.

Her name - she told me - was Sky, and she was the embodiment of the world: of everything raw and pure. Her hair was springy and wild, it seemed to move like the wind, twisting and turning and twirling in each direction. The complexion of her skin was a deep shade of mahogany, like the colour the ancient forest trees used to have before the empire cut them down. And her eyes; reflecting an intense azure encompassing the depth of all the heavens and waters, were steel-set; like they could pierce through every veil of deceit. However, as beautiful and strong as they were, it was also impossible to overlook the immense sadness they bore underneath it all.

She had been a new worker in the office of the ministry of justice - my office. She had replaced Tyler, who had gotten increasingly grey up to the day when he suddenly stopped showing up to work. He had been placed in a different department, they said, as he and his family had moved to a different part of town to rebuild their happiness. I never heard from him again. Though, admittedly, I could also not bother thinking about him, not with Sky sitting right in front of me now.

The talking started about work-related things, but gradually the talking turned to chatting. We started going around on the sun-lit terraces of the cute pavement cafés after work, chatting about light-hearted fun. The weather, her life as a single, the sweet pastries we were eating that day. However, the lightness of our conversations did not match the intensity in her look as she observed me. I, of course, did not notice at the time the way her eyes were studying and contemplating.

Blind as I was.

Over the span of what felt like days, but were most likely months, the tiny shops we visited turned into something darker. More and more often she took me to secluded spaces. Sometimes it was just the two of us, sometimes there were others. She called them “her favourite spots to think” with a bright smile, but that statement felt more fabricated than the city’s plastic horizon. It went on until I couldn’t even quite remember the taste of strawberry cream or sugared coffee. Whenever we went to one of Sky’s “favourite places” I would not be able to utter even one word, although she did her best to reassure me by lightly touching my hand. The atmosphere was grim, dark like a suffocating cloud of smoke whilst still sharp enough to cut you down if you were to make one wrong move. The other people present emanated strange auras, like they contained no life, though they were walking and talking like normal humans. In a way they seemed like the men and women walking the irradiated streets of the capital, yet vastly different.

One day, when we left one of the old factory buildings and as I  took a deep breath in and out,  in hopes of clearing my lungs from the sombre mood, Sky started talking. She had asked me all these questions; what did I think of the place? Of the people? Weren’t they so interesting? And then; What did I think of the capital, of the emperor? Of my job? Of the pink hallways and plastic plants in the city buildings? Was I happy? Was I not?

I didn’t answer.

She stopped and her look shifted from sparkling and bubbly to whatever she wore during the abandoned-warehouse meetings. I suddenly saw the look she had during our first meeting: hardened and determined. Intense in a way I could not, or maybe did not want to, comprehend. 

It terrified me.

Then her eyes softened, and she reached for my wrist. Before I knew it, my body moved on its own as I  yanked my arm away. She sucked in a sharp breath and started speaking again. My guts twisted as I heard her utter my name, full of emotion and at the same time, devoid of all the love she previously radiated. My fingers and toes curled as my body tensed up all over, my pulse quickened as adrenaline started rushing through my veins and I couldn’t hear anything anymore.

Before I knew it, I was running. I remember running as fast as my feet could bear without tripping over myself. My thoughts were racing but none I am able to recall at this time - everything was an inconsistent mess of pleas, memories, emotions, and doubts. I ran until my shoes touched bright cement and I lost all focus. Instantly, my legs gave out and I involuntarily dove face down onto the ground. I rolled for a few metres before coming to a halt, as I sprawled my limbs onto the ground and forced my breathing to slow down, I looked up to the deep turquoise one last time before everything went black.

After that, I never saw Sky again. She didn’t come to work the next day and never called. When I went to check on the old buildings, there was no trace of the lifeless living and the air felt clearer. The gloomy vibes could only be sensed in the corners and would slip away like little mice whenever you got too close. A few days after I last went, the government invaded the place and cleaned it up; made it more fitting to the rest of the city.

And just like that, with the vibrant vermilion walls, the lustrous lime green furniture, and bold blush floors, every trace of Sky and all that she encompassed was erased. Just like that, every bit of graveness and powerful energy that she brought into the world, into my life, disappeared. Instead, it was replaced by more joy, comfort, and bliss.

I still often think about Sky, about how she was not always as untroubled as she showcased. I miss that the most about her, that she would not be scared to feel anxious. When I walk through the streets - between the gleeful civilians - I can’t help but feel uneasy myself, too. It must show on my face; the guards come up to stop me and give me a pat on the shoulder. They tell me just two words:

“Cheer up 🙂 ”