Selling/Sold
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The Journal of the Walk, Monday, October 3rd

I stay off the beaten path for a smattering of reasons.

When every need is provided for, I become complacent. I skip a day or two in my journal, when I could've been out exploring and meeting new faces. I also eat many more pastries — unfortunately they are not so common when foraging, and in my experience finding pastries in the bush inevitably leads to witches. But I digress.

Nature is also a place where the wild reigns supreme, and no matter how many times I ask nicely, nature doesn't seem to want to follow me to urban living. The birds of the sky and the ground and the sea avoid the blaze of society — at least, most of them did when they encountered the behemoth that stood before me some days ago.

As I had been traveling in the direction of the giant I would soon discover, I noticed the dulling of the chroma surrounding myself. I feared that my encounter with the Triadic Serpent a week ago had brought on a fit of color blindness, but I soon found out this was not the case. Greens turned to browns — not the brown of sturdy bark but the brown of bareness. As the foliage began to clear, I found one of my boots to have gotten stuck in a hole in the ground. After escaping its clutches, I noticed multiple pits in the ground, around a foot in diameter for the largest among them. Upon inspection, I found they were much deeper and uniform than anything natural, certainly not the craftsmanship of the hardy burrowing owl. Unless you gave a colony of the owls stimulants.

Eventually, soon after I broke through the tree line by nightfall, which consisted of around two trees, many fallen trees, and one very stubborn crabgrass, I came upon a cliff. What I beheld was endless creation: a sprawl deserving of the title The City. Spread out in all directions, endless in scope, like a circuit board designed by twelve computer scientists that hated each other, completely alien in function to one like me. Blocky skyscrapers rose from the circuits in the distance, likely taller than the cliff I stood upon. The City glowed in pure defiance of the night, holograms and screens littering every building and street that I could see. Not even the cliff could stop its spread, as skyscrapers grew out of the vertical cliffside perpendicularly. I realized that there were people living under the ground underneath my feet, since the buildings continued into the cliff, and the holes I encountered were assuredly vents.

Like I said, I typically avoid cities, but at that moment I thought of the honorable pigeon. A pigeon cares not for the unpleasantries a city brings, so I shouldn't either.

Clambering down the horizontal buildings on the cliff face turned out to be easier than I first thought, as they were toppled and built upon each other as if a child had flung building blocks across the cliff canvas and a skilled painter stroked with stairs, ladders, and slopes afterwards. Around halfway down I reached a cloud layer I hadn't noticed from the top, and as I passed through it and made it to the other side, I realized they were storm clouds. The City had its own weather system.

Every tear from the sky reflected hundreds of neon signs, large screens, and three-dimensional images (also neon in most cases), begging for my attention. The media surrounding me was almost blinding, ranging from the vast majority being advertisements for products I couldn't even begin to describe to a small amount of what I will put as 'scandalous entertainment.' Muted music that I had never heard before seeped out from hidden speakers, strangely similar to lightning. Everything else was incredibly dark in comparison, in fact, almost every material I had seen was pitch black. The streets were cramped and spacious at the same time. There clearly was a large amount of room but the crowds and the tall buildings and the constant rain made it all feel so claustrophobic, as if everything was shoving me towards the next piece of media proudly displayed throughout the city.

Yes, there were crowds. The people wore the city on their clothes, that is to say almost all clothing was completely black. All heads were trained downwards but I couldn't get a read on any of their expressions because every single person wore strange masks, very similar to Ancient Greek theatre masks, made of stone, silver, bronze, electrum, or gold, turned up into grotesque representations of emotion, wide mouths and cookie-cutter ovate eyes, incredibly detailed but still anonymous, they stood out among the black ocean.

As I walked within the crowds, I noticed one more thing: everyone moved to the beat of the music. Marching together like an army, heads bobbing up and down and up and down and up and down. I wasn't sure if I should join them or not; I've never been much of a follower.

Thankfully, I was saved from my decision by the sighting of something strange. A bright yellow wooden door in-set into a wall with seemingly no other features to denote what the door was for. My interest was piqued, so I did the gentlemanly thing and knocked. Oddly, the crowd around me almost imperceptibly but quickly shifted to move around myself and the door rather than continue to move past.

The door swung open violently, nearly giving me a free delimbing in the process. Out of the opening shoved a mahogany desk that rattled violently, the sounds of inner machinery working overtime escaping its wooden confines. On both sides more surface areas popped out, and with a final sputter and a pop a barebones metal arm holding an umbrella rushed out of one of the front drawers to cover myself. The crowds passing me by seemed nonplussed with what occurred.

Out from the darkness loomed an individual that must've been seven or eight feet tall, wearing one long black cloak that slightly shimmered. Her mask was a dented bronze, stylized to look like the sun with rays coming off of its circular face, and a much too wide smile formed into it. I couldn't see her legs behind the desk, or really any body part underneath that cloak.

"HELLLOOOooo-" And suddenly the individual recoiled, then continued, but more reserved, "Oooooh wow. Why isn't your face covered?"

"Why would I cover my face?"

"Because it's indecent."

"Why is it indecent?"

"Someone might know."

"Know what?"

"What your face looks like."

"And that's bad why…?"

"Because it's indecent."

I sighed.

"Not to worry, my friend! you can take this one from me, on the house." From underneath the cloak came a clicking sound as a metal claw snaked out of one of its folds, holding a stone face that resembled a pigeon. Serendipity.

While I placed it upon my head, it being as heavy as you would think a stone mask would be, the solar identified individual before me had begun frantically placing items out on the desk. Clicking metal snakes — I counted five out at the same time once — placing everything before me. She apparently was a merchant, but as I looked at the various bottles and capsules of strange glowing substances, I had no idea what was being sold.

"Welcome to my humble store. I have everything you might want to purchase here. This," she plucked up a vial full of green goop, " is the greatest fear of your worst enemy. I have memory recall," a bottle with hyperbolic, orange-colored pills inside, "conceptual common cold," which appeared to be a temporary tattoo that quietly blinked, "the feeling of Sonder," which appeared to be an unopened can of ginger ale (???), "and much much more!" As she spoke, she swayed back and forth, her head curving to a new position first and then the body quietly clicking into place underneath it a second later. She reminded me of the king vulture, rousing her feathers to impress me, but much more unnatural.

"Memory recall?" I inquired. It would be an interesting experience reliving some of the encounters I've had on this journey.

"Yes! You can reexperience any memory through the easy ingestion of just one capsule." Her voice sounded trained, like she had attempted to sell this item many times before. "What are you selling in exchange?" she asked.

"I'm not selling anything."

She scoffed. "Everyone is selling something."

"Well, I am not," I retorted. A wanderer like me has no need for commerce, unless of course I do need commerce. "Can't I just pay you?"

"NO! What is wrong with you? Payment was banned a long time ago. We only sell now," she sighed. "So, what are you selling?"

"I don't have anything to se-"

Suddenly a spiderweb of claws flung out of the cloak, clasping onto every part of the doorframe. The merchant's masked face flung towards mine, stopping mere centimeters from my stone beak. I could hear her raspy breathing, closer to the clicks of her own appendages, as she spit her words, "Then you are nothing." She swung back into the doorway and quickly began to sweep the items on the desk into her cloak.

"W-wait! I'm looking for something I think you're selling." She paused; mask directed towards the ground. "I'm looking for 'What happened to this city? What happened to you?' Do you have any of that?"

"What are you selling?"

I thought for a moment, then said, "A listening ear."

She didn't move, mask still directed towards the ground, but she did begin to speak. "I was here, before The City. It was still a city, but I just lived in it. I sold too, but I sold labor. I sold myself to the concept of friendship. I sold myself to the concept of love. I sold myself to the concept of me. Once a city become The City, I still sold. There was no choice of what to sell, and no one is buying anymore. Thank you for your patronage."

At that, the merchant, the desk, and the products all collapsed inward, and the door snapped shut.

In the strange silence that can be created by the loudness of a crowd, I looked up at the nearest advertisement, squinting in its harsh glow. I realized the item it was praising was completely unrecognizable, a meaningless mishmash of shapes and color. The individual advertising the product wore a faker smile than all the masks around me.

Then I noticed another sticking point: not a single individual in the crowd looked to the screens. Just like the merchant at the end of our strange conversation, heads craned downwards like… well, like a crane.

What is the point of selling unrecognizable products if no one is paying attention? If the ads exist, that must mean someone out there is buying, but in a city of only selling, how is that possible? And how does the inhuman merchant play into this, selling concepts and emotion because she has nothing else left to sell? Wrapping one's face in false expression to hide what? Is your face something that must be sold as well? I can hardly wrap my mind around someone who only sees life in terms of selling, where "someone is always selling something" is always true in every case of every something.

As for my mask, I think I will gift it to a friend after I make my way out of The City. No transaction needed.

NeonTree
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