Inkster of the Week - Alex Seaton

Thursday 25th August 2022

Here's a fantastic piece of speculative fiction from Alex Seaton - one of our finest writers and one to watch!

The Foundation of Sangria

They lived their days in paradise. Palm trees dotted over the great rolling landscape, and shopping centres lay nearby their comfortable, two storey, white-picket-fenced homes. During the nights, some would walk peacefully along Crimson Boulevard, arm in arm, looking out upon the ocean shimmering in the fading light of the day. Often, an old fisherman would be there, sitting calmly in his little yellow boat as the waves rocked it backwards and forwards. The people would wave, and he would give a subtle nod of the head and a smile in return.

George would often marvel at the way the warm Sangrian breeze would gently rustle the leaves on the dark oak trees, and how the sun never seemed to disappear, even in the darkest hours of the night. No speck of dirt would ever dare to be seen on any one of the many shiny double-glazed windows in his neighbourhood, and cracks in the road were a rarity.

The streets and stores of Sangria were inviting, with extensive markets on the weekends. In September, the popular Chartreuse Festival took place. Many musicians would perform, playing their instruments gracefully as the busy Sangrians weaved through the crowds, contemplating a new handbag or a bowl of cherries gathered from a farm not far out of the city. George loved this place. He had been to the festival every year since he was brought to Sangria many years ago. He remembered the first time he saw the brilliant velvet costumes, and the fireworks display. He remembered the candy stall that collapsed nearby a very apologetic juggler, and the expressions on the faces of the onlookers. He remembered the clown crafting balloon animals, and the excitable looks of children with painted faces.

Arriving at his new home, he unloaded a stash of sweets onto his bed, admiring it for a while, and sat down quietly in the corner of the room. Everything about his new life was so overwhelming that sometimes, he could do nothing but simply stare mindlessly into the distance. Not contemplating anything. Not even thinking at all. His new family would often find him like this for hours at a time.

Perhaps it was a mistake, they would think. Maybe he can never truly become a Sangrian.

He wondered that himself. But if he wasn’t a Sangrian, he didn’t really know who he was. He couldn’t even try to remember who he was, either. The Purgator IV would wipe away the memories of his former life within seconds if one were ever to even reach his subconscious. He often pulled at the Purgator in frustration, but he knew that if he removed it, he would be banished from Sangria forever, and forced back to wherever he came from.

But he didn’t know where he came from. He didn’t know who his real parents were, or why they had abandoned him in the Merlot corn fields those many years ago. He wouldn’t dare try to remember out of fear of his memories being lost forever.

He could still remember the night in the corn fields, though. Around six years ago, among a trampled area of land and crop, he lay there, helplessly. He remembered the fear he felt of this new world, but there was also a desperate desire within him to be found. He couldn’t stand up to walk; his legs were too weak to support his weight. Exhausted and frustrated, George grabbed a handful of soil and corn, and threw it across the field, screaming with the remainder of his energy. His head hit the damp ground with a thud, and he allowed the brilliant red sunset to drag him deep down into the darkness.

He awoke several hours later, blinded by a flashlight. An old man stooped over him, prodding at his ribs with a wooden cane. He appeared to be looking for any signs of life. George was too tired to react. The prodding continued, and the man said something to him aggressively in a foreign tongue. Again, George didn’t react. The man grew increasingly agitated, and this time, struck him hard with the cane, shattering several of his ribs instantly. George lurched violently in pain, and once again, disappeared back into the darkness.

Everything else after that was fuzzy. He remembered waking up in several hideously white rooms, with unfamiliar faces staring over him, each displaying different expressions he could not recollect. Each would fade in and out of his memory, weaving seamlessly between each other, as if it were only one face displaying all the expressions. One day, another strange face appeared next to him, and began talking calmly in the same foreign tongue he had heard before. This time, he could understand what the woman was saying. But he couldn’t remember what she said.

The woman gave him a home he could live in. It felt special to him then; to have a home and a family, and not be stuck fading in and out of consciousness by the will of the hospital staff. But still, he felt empty. He didn’t feel close to his new family in any way. There was still so much distance between them.

George remembered the first time he went into the city, holding onto the woman’s hand desperately. Many people noticed him, and suddenly had to cross the street to go about some other urgent errand. Others simply raised their heads and walked by, muttering “lousy servant” malevolently under their breath. George didn’t know what they meant by that. He could understand their language after having undergone LRS (Linguistic Restructural Surgery), but he didn’t understand why everyone felt so bitter around him. He began to trail behind the woman, afraid. She squeezed his hand tighter in reassurance.

There was so much George didn’t understand about Sangria. He didn’t know much about himself, either. He didn’t know why he had found himself in the corn fields, or why the old man had beaten his starving body as hard as he did. As George grew older, the pain of not knowing where he came from grew greater and greater. He was afraid he would be punished if he asked, or that his memory would be wiped completely, leaving him feeling empty again, lying back in the Merlot corn fields, desperate to be found. But it drove him mad. The memories of his previous life were now completely gone, and the Purgator IV had now been made redundant, but George still felt a strong connection to his previous life.

He sought to follow that connection.

On a late Sunday afternoon in August, George stared out his bedroom window, watching as his parents drove off to the market to buy the groceries for the week ahead. Once they were well out of sight, he grabbed his bike from the workshop, and rode towards the setting sun. He didn’t really know where he was going - it was more instinctual. He was worried that he was going in the wrong direction, but his fears were fortunately eased when he saw a sign pointing towards the Merlot village. He turned off into Mahogany Avenue, and continued cycling for several minutes, but nothing around him felt familiar at all. The day was now fading, and the blood-red sunset illuminated the houses all around him. He was growing wearier now, and he knew he had to take a break. He pulled up on the side of a dirt road, and sat down for a while, feeling hopeless. What was the point, anyway? If he ever even managed to find the field, nothing could possibly tell him anything about his previous life. The warm, summer breeze was ever the more present, and as he began to lie down, he was reminded of the same breeze the night he spent in the corn fields almost seven years ago.

George could once again feel himself floating away into the darkness. But he knew he had to keep going. Shakily, he stood up, and leaned on his bike, allowing it to hold his weight. After a while, he looked up, and realised he had arrived where he had come so far to be.

The crops in the field were now dead, but George still knew exactly where he was going. Carefully climbing over the barbed wire fence of the farm, he trudged through the field, allowing his body to become controlled by the voice in his head telling him where to go. Eventually, he reached the spot, and knelt down, looking for any kind of signs that would suggest how he had arrived there. The ground beneath him was disturbed, as if it had once been dug up. He looked around him for some kind of spade, but he couldn’t find one. Carefully, he began to dust off the loose bits of soil around the dug-up area. Small shards of bone were drawn up as he did this, which he examined and put to one side. George was terrified as to what else he might find, but he knew he had to keep digging. Suddenly, as he brushed off the last of the loose soil, the newly formed hole began to expand downwards, rumbling violently and blowing up dust and dirt all around him. He thrust himself backwards, afraid of falling in.

The rumbling stopped, but it was replaced by distant screaming. Eventually, he built up enough courage to look down into the hole.

Now he knew where he had come from.

The Foundation.

The Foundation tortured. It destroyed dreams and ruined lives. Stacked one on top of the other, and sorted into neat and tidy rows, were The Servants, waiting, the screams stifled by the cars and trains of the busy world above them. Below them was The Pit. It burned them, eventually it would take them, destroying what little life they had experienced, yet it offered them no light to see their final days disappear before their eyes. Its vast form appeared to extend forever. Nobody could escape from it. Sangria would be destroyed if they tried.

The Pit punished The Servants mercilessly, the burning heat it emitted slicing playfully at them. It took them when all who were below had already burned to a crisp. Above them, other servants waited long for their daily helping of burnt, diseased flesh, which were passed up through the conveyor-belt like system of bodies. The days were long and hot, and air was a luxury. The only thing that could ease their pain was the knowledge that they, too, would soon reach the bottom of The Pit, and begin their next duty as sustenance for The Foundation. Others were dug up earlier, and harvested from the ground to be skinned and used as an article of clothing, or the wallpaper of a home to be built on Crimson Boulevard.

Sangrians associated little guilt with this. After all, it was inevitable that The Pit would burn right through The Foundation, and would bring Sangria to its knees. Those in The Foundation were lucky for the food they now had access to, anyway. No matter how awful they thought their lives were, the alternative was much worse.

George looked on as he watched his family suffer. They tried to yell something up to him, but their tongue was now foreign to him. He knew there was nothing he could do. They would die, and eventually, so would he. He stood up, and began to walk away. But the ground beneath him began to rumble again. There was no going back now. Soon, more and more Sangrians would learn of the truth about The Foundation. The Foundation had to be destroyed.

And so did Sangria.

In the final moments of their lives, the people who walked peacefully down the bloodstained Crimson Boulevard, mowed their lawns every fortnight, and proudly displayed their white picket fences of bone to the world, finally saw The Foundation of Sangria.