Chuck stared at the sign on the building, the words “Kill Yourself” back-lit atop pink, glittery letters. He hadn’t seen the color pink in decades—or any color, for that matter. Everything had become so, well, dark. The walls were always grey, floors dirty and brown, skies overcast and black around the clock. Even the white people wore anything and everything—leather hats, gas masks, motorcycle goggles, black gloves—to cover the color of their skin. It wasn’t that everyone had suddenly become incredibly racist, it was just that no one seemed to care anymore. After the war, when the fallout finally diminished and the people resurfaced, everyone just sort of “gave up” on color and on each other. They simply fought and bred in the mornings, then spent the rest of the day walking around the streets aimlessly, heads down and knuckles dragging along the floor.
Chuck sometimes missed the lighter colors—especially blue, he was always fond of blue—but he couldn’t actually recall what they’d looked like. He’d sometimes spend a few hours trying to think of ways to remember them, often late at night as he lay atop his self-made bed of bones and flesh. He had a feeling purple was kind of “owl-ish,” although he wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. Green was definitely very “envy.” And blue—well, he had no idea what blue looked like. Probably something between owl and envy, yet he was sure it was his favorite.
The day the sign came up caused quite a commotion in the city. On a typical day, the streets were filled with people swaying back and forth, growling nonsensically at one another as they alternated between bouts of violence and bouts of breeding. Occasionally someone would get extra rowdy and throw a rock at a wall, which was always followed by a series of satisfied grunts. That day, however, the city-folk gathered under the sign and admired it in unison. Chuck was among the first to approach, head raised and eyes locked on the big, pink letters. He’d heard stories of pink, even lived a few months before the war in which pink was present, but he had never expected it to look the way it did. He always thought it would be slightly more “Turkish”—yet, when he really thought about it, he realized he had no idea what something being “Turkish” even meant. He had heard it mentioned once before the war, a flash of unnamed color flooding through his mind, but never fully grasped its meaning. The day he stared upon the pink, eyes fixed on each letter, he realized how wrong he’d been, how incredibly un-Turkish the color truly was.
It was beautiful, so bright and vivid. It had a hint of masculinity to it, something he wouldn’t mind wearing atop his leather hat and goggles, or maybe on a cloak draped over his back. It was almost reflective in its color, turning the blackened skies into a whimsical shade of pink. It scared him initially, his body instinctively arching forward as he grunted in threat. An younger man next to him, beard dyed a mournful shade of black, broke into tears as the two of them stood under the lettering. It was almost obscene in its beauty.
The crowd gathered quickly, dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people pouring in from every alley, sewer, and hole imaginable. They all stopped under the tower, eyes reflecting pink under the glowing letters. They were silent at first, thousands of bodies motionless while they stared in confusion. As the minutes grew to hours, so did the volume of the masses. Unfortunately, vocal abilities had taken a significant hit over the years of apathy resulting in the conversations consisting primarily of moans, consonants, and the occasional grunt. Reading, moreover, had taken an even more debilitating blow: there were just a handful of people remaining who could comprehend words longer than single letter, Chuck amongst those few. He had learned when he was young, just a few years prior to the first attack. His mother had taught him, he reluctantly spending his evenings studying the form of each letter. The other city-folk flocked to him to explain what it meant, to tell him what it said. “Kill yourself,” he’d reply, eyes pink in reflection. They nodded knowingly in response, then moved on to the next reader to grunt and motion the same question to them.
It was a few days later that Chuck learned the color had been re-discovered by the what remained of the city’s government, the result of them hitting random buttons with disinterest for months on end. The actual sign had been installed in the night by a team of black-armored men, shadowy figures that stood guard atop it. They seemed out of place, their erect posture reminding him of the way his father used to stand before the war. It was later in the week that a series of voices, speaking in actual words and sentences, explained the sign was part of a campaign to re-introduce color to the world and establish a means for population control. The crowd of city-folk nodded in unison as the voice echoed through the streets, faces visibly distorted in confusion and a lack of understanding.
Chuck was somewhat familiar with the phrase “kill yourself.” He recalled hearing it uttered once in the pre-war days, although he couldn’t quite stitch together exactly when or why, or even what it meant. He remembered a tall, skinny man with a sign shouting it at people passing by, something about the “end of times” along with it, but the phrase had just as little meaning to him then as it did now. He repeated it to himself, stressing each syllable as he did so. It felt good, soothing. Whatever “killing yourself” was, he definitely wanted to give it a shot.
Chuck stared up at the big, pink letters, the beauty of the color still almost blinding to him. The massive line of people had moved forward slightly while he reminisced about the past week, faces around him eager with excitement, the air filled with delighted grunts. He took a step forward, peeking his head around the corner of the big, black tower ahead of him, the words “Go on, kill yourself” written in what he learned was orange above it. They had installed the second color just a day before, promising they’d introduce two more exclusive colors to those who agreed to kill themselves. Blue and purple they said, the crowd erupting in cheers after a few minutes of silence spent trying to understand what was said. Chuck took a deep breath, left foot tapping as he waited for his chance to see something other than the darkness, and then enjoy a nice, quick “suicide,” as the voice had called it.
You’ve created quite the post-apocalyptic city here, Zach. I enjoyed the layers of your story and the sad way the government chose to treat the survivors. It makes for interesting reading.