CLARITY

Warner, sitting on his magma sofa, lifted a vial from his table made from ice. Static fuzz from the flatscreen bathed him in eerie light. He forced the lid off the vial with his thumb and poured its contents into a tumbler containing multicolored juice. He brought the tumbler close to his lips and weighed his options one last time. He watched the liquid through the glass as he tilted it this way and that. His left leg assured him, "Do it, nobody will blame you. There's nothing left for you."

His right leg protested, "Warner, I want to see more and do more. There's so much bliss, you only have to go out and grab it." Its voice leaked with sympathy within Warner's head. "You don't want to do this."

Warner downed the juice with one draught. The fuzz of the flatscreen expanded outward and consumed his surroundings. A stinging tugged at his throat and he felt his body sagging sideways. His fingers loosened and the tumbler fell to the floor and broke into pieces. The soft magma cushioning his head cooled to smooth, hard stone and Warner closed his weary eyes.

Warner awoke all at once. He shot up from the hard, grey surface he had been laying on. He found shards of opaque glass dully sparkling on the floor around him, remnants of the dropped tumbler. In front of him was a plain and featureless block and beyond that an inanimate flatscreen protruded from the plain and otherwise featureless wall. He sat up and cradled his head in clammy hands.

Warner groped along the block in front of him until he found the emptied vial. He read the label. It identified the contents by a solitary letter C. "Some help," Warner muttered to his silent legs. With effort he lifted himself from where he sat and surveyed the room. It was his living room, he decided, but the colors had vacated every surface like blood drained from cheeks. He found the plain and featureless rectangle which had served as a remote control for his flatscreen and discovered that its sleek button-strewn face was replaced with solid grey. He threw it at the wall.

It took him a while to distinguish the telephone from the rest of the blocky grey shapes inhabiting the counters lining what was once a lively kitchen. The phone, like the remote control, had become inert. He prodded it with his fingers anyway and lifted the grey block to his ear as he would have if it were responsive. The only sound to reach him from the phone was the echo of his own blood flowing through his temples. It sounded to him like a running faucet.

Warner dropped the phone on the floor and stormed out of his home. It must be a malfunction of the wiring, he decided. The power went out. Not that the power had ever gone out before, but it was all he could think of without the counsel of his legs. The power must also be out for everyone on his floor of the complex since along the hallway the doors which were normally decorate with diverse images had been replaced with a uniform grey. He rapped on the door across from his and his neighbor Porsche answered the door. "What? What's the matter?" She rubbed sleep from her eyes. "Do you know what time it is?"

Warner looked past Porsche into her home, which was as bleak as his own. He saw black stains on its floor, uncharacteristic of the cleanliness-obsessed Porsche he knew. "I think the power's gone out and it looks like it went out in your home, too."

Porsche giggled. "You're funny. The power never goes off, and everything here is working fine." She leaned closer to Warner so that her nose was almost rubbing against his. Warner held his breath, worried that the loudness and rhythm of it could betray the onset of frustrated panic. "Your eyes look funny. You should get some sleep, neighbor."

"You're right, I probably should." Warner backed away and nerves made him avoid eye contact. He said, "You're sure everything's normal in there?"

"Same as it ever was," Porsche answered.

"Okay", Warner said. "Thanks." He stumbled down the hall to where the elevator would be. Porsche shrugged and shut her door behind him. The elevator didn't open automatically today, probably because of the power. He reached for the handle and pulled its door to the side then descended the stairs within. The elevator must be out of service today, Warner mused. When he arrived in the lobby of his complex he noticed that the attendant was absent from the front desk. The attendant had never been absent before, not even in the dead of night. He saw that the windows and glass doors were opaque and he wondered that they must have required power to stay transparent.

Warner pushed open the doors at the building's entrance and shambled into unlit twilight. The sky was an unbroken sheet of black with no sign of the constellations and galaxies which had always painted the city in a wild spectrum of colors. The buildings around him, like his complex, were contained within plain and featureless rectangular shells all colored the same shade of grey. There was no sign of their multitude of windows or of their varied architectures. Panic pulled on the reins of of Warner's mind. Had the power failed for the entire city? Had it ceased for the entire world? He ran on the sidewalk until the aching in his legs grew strong enough to resemble voices. There were but a few other pedestrians with anywhere to go in the early morning and all were too absorbed in their own matters to have noticed the sprinting man.

Warner ran toward the place where he had bought the vial labeled C. He spent a few moments recovering his spent strength before shambling in the direction of the dealer's home. Hewitt, the dealer, was an old friend of Warner's. He enjoyed Hewitt's propensity for wearing exciting patterns of facial hair - different each time Warner saw him - and colorful, loose robes. Hewitt dealt in less reputable medicines, the sort you wouldn't be able to get out of an approved dispensary. Warner had been purchasing recreational drugs from Hewitt for a long time and Cyanide was his most recent request. Everybody bought from some dealer or another these days even though they could get in bad trouble if the government developed a grudge against them. It was against the law to use unapproved drugs, but the law only cared when someone also upset it in more consequential ways.

Warner shambled into the complex which Hewitt lived in. He climbed the unpowered elevator, which had become stairs to allow him access to other floors despite, and knocked hard on Hewitt's lifeless grey door. When Hewitt answered a light and not unpleasant aroma of smoke drifted outward and tickled Warner's nostrils. He fought to suppress a sneeze; it was the first interruption of his odorless unpowered world since waking. There were colors, too, inside Hewitt's home, and Hewitt's were the first clothes Warner had seen since waking that were of any design but solid, unadulterated grey. It was also the first time Warner had seen Hewitt with a clean-shaven face.

Warner remarked, "You shaved."

Hewitt said, "I always shave. You feeling okay?"

"The power isn't out in your home."

"Of course it's not." Hewitt looked concerned. "The power never goes off, man." Warner didn't have anything to add so Hewitt invited him in.

Warner stepped in and Hewitt closed the door behind him. He guided Warner to a seat on a colorful and fluffy sofa. "You want something to drink? A hit of something nice?"

"No. Thanks."

"I'm just going to get myself something, then." Hewitt disappeared through a curtain of black and white beads and returned with two long glasses containing transparent fluid Warner didn't recognize and insisted that he take one. "It's water, man. You look like you need it."

Hewitt said, "What were you talking about before? With the power going out?"

Warner gulped at the water. "Everything is grey," he said. "Everything but your things in here. I thought maybe they lost power and that was making them lose their colors and shapes. Usually my legs know better than I do but they stopped talking to me."

"Your legs stopped talking to you? Man, you take any weird shit lately?"

Warner added, "I did take that stuff you sold me a few days ago."

"The Cyanide? No you didn't, you would be dead."

"Yeah." Warner thought that maybe he was in hell.

"Shit," Hewitt said. "Shit! I think I gave you the wrong stuff, man. What'd it say on the vial?"

"Just a big C."

"Aw shit. I think I gave you Clarity instead." Hewitt laughed. "You should owe me big time, I sell Clarity for way more than Cyanide." He watched a glum expression crawl along Warner's face and added, "I'm sorry, man. Clarity is like putting on a foil hat, except you can't take it off. I guess it's not for everyone. No more make-believe for you, man."

"What? I just want my Cyanide."

"It keeps the electromagnetic fields out of your head. You know? The government ones."

"I really just want my Cyanide." Warner stared down at his hands. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Whatever, man." Hewitt went again through the curtain of beads and returned with a vial. This vial's label was a solitary C but where the Clarity's label was a dark blue this vial's label was a piercing orange. "You gonna pay me for it?"

"I didn't want any Clarity. It just makes things worse."

"I had the feeling you wouldn't. Shit, I guess I can't blame you." He checked the label once more before giving the vial to Warner. "Yeah, I got it right this time. You're really sure?"

"I'm really sure." Warner got up from the sofa. "Thanks."

Hewitt showed him the door and watched Warner leave by the elevator. "Good luck, man," he called after him.

The plain grey buildings and the plain grey people slid by Warner. He said to his legs, "At least I can get it right this time." He missed being able to talk with them when he was afraid. It wasn't long before he was back in his complex. He climbed the unpowered elevator then went into his home. He set the vial on the block that used to be his icy table and picked up the shards of his broken tumbler. He dumped them in a featureless trash bin.

Warner found another tumbler in his kitchen and filled it with transparent liquid that used to be multicolored juice. Now it smelled just like Hewitt's water. He felt disappointed that he couldn't go out with a drink that tasted nice. He returned with it to his hard, featureless sofa and he poured the cyanide in.

The tumbler shook in front of his lips. He clenched his eyes shut and drank. A stinging tugged at his throat and he felt his body sagging sideways. Colors clawed their way out from the screen of grey around him and his awareness become flooded with vivid white light. Warner's fingers loosened and the tumbler fell to the floor and broke into pieces. The hardness beneath him gave way to comfortable warmth and Warner closed his weary eyes.

Written by Sophie Kirschner