I know I haven't posted in a while, but Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine published my short story "Senseless" earlier this week, and I'd like to share it here. The story follows an anonymous narrator as they learn the consequences of trusting their senses. See the original publication here. Hope you enjoy!
Centuries of travel full of encounters with dangerous landforms and deceiving aliens convinced me that one—and only one—sense was trustworthy. Even on Earth, water appears to bend an otherwise healthy straw, a nonexistent person always seems to knock on my door, the sweetest chocolate leaves the bitterest aftertaste on my tongue, and I can smell the salty ocean from the middle of a desert. Perhaps these illusions seem insignificant in comparison to the world—something interesting to acknowledge but nothing worth worrying over. I understand if that is what you believe. After all, distrusting the senses you have relied upon throughout your life would be stupidity. But the truth is that you could not be more wrong. You, an infant in the universe’s eyes, are adorably innocent and ignorant, and your life is limited by the world you live in.
Let’s journey to another world.
Pulchra is, in the eyes of any experienced explorer, the universe’s most alluring planet—a more massive version of Saturn with beauty beyond the imagination of any artist. I cannot describe with certainty how the world would look if you were to travel to it today, for its color changes with its season. When I went there, young and naïve, it was lavender, signaling the transition from the warm season to the rainy season. If you travel to Pulchra during this time, I suggest you visit the northernmost region of Pulchra, where the sound of the cool breeze will transport you back home. Let the purple rain fall on your tongue, and embrace the familiar taste. The smell of the golden polar flowers is more alluring than anything you have smelled before. Nonetheless, you must not get too comfortable. The planet seems welcoming but hides dangerous secrets. Though your eyes tell you it is safe to step forward, tapping your foot in front of you reveals that the apparent ground is nothing more than gas. My cursed eyes nearly sent me plummeting to my death, but reflexes and luck saved me. Still, I had to address my near-death experience. Upon leaving the planet of Pulchra, I vowed never again to rely on what I could see.
That left me with my other four senses, right? Not quite.
Let me introduce you to Ozvena, a world of smooth metallic mountains. I imagine it reflects enough light to shine like a star, but I did not look at the planet. An overhanging stench made me want to cough, and there was no water to satisfy my thirst. Standing was nearly impossible, for my shoes had nothing to grip. Indeed, when I ran my index finger across the ground, I could not find a single dent. Any frustration I felt, however, was outweighed by my curiosity about the unique phenomenon fellow explorers spoke of. If you have ever had a cold, you know how it feels to hear every breath you take. Imagine that multiplied by the thousands of echoes Ozvena reflects for every sound. Your heartbeat’s echoes threaten to drive you insane. You cannot take a step without awakening an entire planet. The sounds build upon each other, overwhelming your ears until you are immersed in silence. This is not the silence you experience at night with the light background noise of chirping crickets; nor is it the pin-drop silence of a room in mourning with the occasional sob or sigh. The familiar ringing in your ears does not arrive to fill the void as it normally would. No, this is pure silence. Though you are still producing sounds that continue to echo, the few sound waves not canceling each other out are of a frequency humans cannot comprehend. The only way to verify you are still alive is to feel your pulse in your wrist. Even then, you question your consciousness and sanity. Surrounded by noise but unable to hear, I realized how deceptive my ears were.
I returned to the world of sound but never again trusted my hearing.
Two hundred years later, I spent my thousandth birthday in Torka. Should you voyage there, I encourage you to take off your shoes and bury your feet in the grass, which is nothing less than a natural plush rug. You must also take deep breaths and savor the cozy smell resembling pine wood that fills the air. Still, the most important thing to do on Torka is meet the alien species Phalam. No, they are not little green men. In fact, they are not men at all. Phalam are what we humans would call plants because of their supposedly delicious fruit—though no plant on Earth is as sentient as the intelligent and kind Phalam. One was generous enough to let me taste the smallest of her fruits, and I was foolish enough to accept the offer. The bumpy peel doesn’t tell you what to expect, and the smell—a mix of orange and spice—does not reveal its taste. The juicy, sweet interior convinced me to consume the entire volleyball-sized fruit. Not until a few hours later did I notice how dry my mouth had become. No amount of water could quench my thirst, my lips began to chap, and I kept succumbing to a cruel coughing fit. Unless you wish to experience that for yourself, I implore you to reject any offer of fruit during your trip to Torka. Over the course of the few days that elapsed before I felt normal again, I realized how untrustworthy my tastebuds were.
Thereafter, I relied solely on my senses of smell and touch.
Even this peace crumbled a few decades later when I traveled to an Earth-like planet named Etxera. There, the tree barks had the familiar circular ridges of those on Earth, and a thorn even gave me a blister while I was picking the blackberry-shaped fruits that comprised my first meal there. I presume the fruits tasted much like the berries back home, but I didn’t dare acknowledge what my tongue felt. I also surmise that Etxera is a mixture of blue and green, and I am certain the birds sing familiar songs, but I don’t compare Etxera to Earth because of its appearance or sound. The smell of dirt and rain fill the fresh air. My spring allergies, which I believed I parted with when I left Earth, returned on Etxera, making my nose itch and my eyes water. Foolishly, I trusted the familiarity of the scents. Of all the planets I have introduced to you, this is the only one I would recommend you not travel to. Should you wish to visit a world like Earth, our home planet will serve just as well—without the unnecessary risk. Within days of arriving at Etxera, an odorless chemical clogged my throat. I accumulated enough sense to escape the planet, but when I did, I swore never to rely on my wicked nose again.
You realize, I assume, that I now left myself with one sense: touch.
This sense had never failed me. Take the maze world of Rabirinsu, for instance, where keeping my left hand on the wall always guaranteed me a way out. On the unpredictable planet of Ionadh, I could identify the materials around me by tapping my nails on them or rubbing them between my fingers. Everywhere in the universe, the lack of friction against my shoes told me the ground was ice; pure water felt different from all other substances; and if something felt hot, it usually was.
Surely, you’ve heard of dry ice—carbon dioxide that is cold enough to burn you. I knew of it, of course, but I did not consider it significant enough to warrant me dismissing my sense of touch. That is, until I discovered a world where the air was ruled by the same phenomenon. In hindsight, I believe someone tried to warn me, but I tuned out the deceitful noise from my ears. I likely would have been able to smell the evil chemical had I heeded my nose. On Sowuk, the moon of a small planet, the atmosphere consists of a gas cold enough to burn you. It didn’t take long for my skin to turn tender, and it began peeling soon after. I attempted to escape the nonexistent fire that was killing me. I failed, and my body began to crumble. At that point, I was forced to do something I vowed never to do: resort to the senses I had long abandoned. I opened my deceptive eyes. After centuries of teaching my brain to ignore what I saw, the sensation of seeing liberated me. The purple on my hands and arms reinforced what I already knew. My body was frozen.
I could do nothing.
And to think—I was so close to celebrating my second millennium. Years of accumulating knowledge and wisdom from exploration ended due to my own stupidity. Now, I realize I avoided falling into an endless pit in Pulchra not because I rejected my sight but because I checked my observation with touch. I survived my encounter with Etxera’s toxic air because I could feel myself dying—and I could have avoided it altogether if I acknowledged the planet’s red atmosphere. If I took note of Sowuk’s overly white color or the planet’s ominous odor, I would still be alive. Looking back, my mistake was not that I once trusted my senses but that I chose to reject them. One sense—any one sense—can fool you. Two can, too. But that is why we humans have five senses. In any circumstance, at least one is bound to be honest. One is bound to protect you.
Consider this a friendly warning: trust your senses, but never trust any one sense.