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A New Great Wall

Austin DeMarco lives outside of Washington, DC with his wife and a cat who is alternately lazy and a dervish of manic energy. This is his fifth appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

I woke one Saturday morning to discover my neighbor Rosalyn building a wall in the yard between our houses. She laid each brick in a pattern of alternating rows with no mortar to fill the gaps, taking care to align each new brick precisely with the last. I watched her work from my kitchen window, sipping my morning coffee and wondering. Rosalyn and I were distantly near, like most neighbors are, and I could not imagine why she would feel the need to build a wall between us. By the time I had emptied the cup, my curiosity was too great, and I went outside to ask what she was doing.
"Building a wall," she answered plainly, not deigning to look up from her work.
"But why?" I asked. Rosalyn gave no answer, just continued to stack bricks until I gave up and went back inside.
I went to the gym and came home and still she was building the wall. I ate lunch, did the laundry, cleaned the house. Rosalyn did not stop stacking bricks. I wondered where her husband was; given the inexhaustible supply of bricks at my neighbor's feet, I imagined him wandering town with the green wheelbarrow he used when tending their garden each spring, filling it with bricks which he would deliver for his wife to stack.
By Sunday morning, the wall already spanned our yard, and Rosalyn had begun working in the street. At first, cars went around the growing wall, but when her work reached the opposite sidewalk, they instead turned around and went back the way they'd come, stymied. Rosalyn, unnoticing, continued to stack.
On Monday, I went to work as usual. I wondered if anyone had complained yet about Rosalyn's wall. It didn't bother me any. The school where I taught tenth-grade composition was fifteen minutes away on my side of the wall, her project not even a mild inconvenience to my usual routine. I paused only a moment in the driveway to watch my neighbor, standing on her tiptoes, tirelessly lay brick on top of brick.
Most of my classes were half empty that day, many students conspicuously absent. Except study hall. I had more students then; apparently, the calculus teacher had not shown up that morning, and they had no place else to go.
On Tuesday, I skipped school and followed the wall. By then, it had crossed most of the neighbor's yard and, at the opposite end, disappeared into the woods behind my house. I chose to take the easier path, walking in a straight line from the unfinished end of the wall, passing through yards and crossing streets indiscriminately for three blocks before I came to another pile of bricks.
This one was under the care of a man I had never met; I estimated he was about sixty, approaching retirement but not quite there. He knelt on my side of the wall, stacking methodically. I asked him what he was doing. He answered, "Building a wall," but like Rosalyn, would say no more.
None of the news channels had anything to say about the wall. They were all too busy arguing about the latest political scandal to care, and it wasn't until the wall was finished eight days later that anyone seemed to take notice.
The wall wrapped around the entire globe, ten feet high and perfectly straight. Of course, I couldn't verify this for myself, but I've seen images of it in the arctic, in the desert, even standing over the ocean, always exactly ten feet high. How they managed so thorough a construction, I don't think I'll ever know. Some of the remaining faculty at school think it was aliens, but I'm not so sure.
What the people on the other side are doing, we can only speculate; their TV and radio stations have gone dark, and all mail from that side has stopped. Flights which might otherwise have gone over the wall have been canceled.
I might once have thought to tear down the wall. It would be so easy to remove the mortar-less bricks until the whole thing tumbles apart, but I'm scared to try. I've heard sounds, noises at night I can't identify. I'm certain they're coming from the other side. I don't talk about it with anyone else, but I can tell they hear it too.
A lot of people think the wall is for the best. Whatever is on the other side, better it's over there instead of here with us. No one gives much thought to the people, like Rosalyn, on the other side. How have their lives changed since the wall? What do they think happened to us?
Lisa, my best friend from college, lives on the other side of the wall. I haven't told anyone. We hadn't seen each other in years and talked infrequently, mostly on Facebook, but she's been in my mind a lot lately. I've gone through our old photos of our time together on the swim team, our overdecorated dorm room, the two of us lounging and laughing on the campus green.
Why had we been placed on different sides of the wall, I wondered. Was it a quirk of geography or, as my coworkers seemed to think, was everyone on the other side too dangerous or too "other" to live in a civilized society such as ours? Could I believe that Lisa would fit such a description?
It's now two weeks since the wall was finished. On Saturday, I stop at the hardware store--the current one; our old store is still on the other side--to buy nails and wood and a saw. That night, I stay in my garage and work until dawn without stopping, and the sun is full in the sky before I'm done.
Stepping back, I look at what I've made. Should I ever have the courage to use it, the wall may one day have a door.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

Author Comments

While writing this story, I thought a lot about the metaphorical walls we place between ourselves and our neighbors. They're often subtle, the reasons for their construction unknown even to the builders, and once erected, nearly impossible to tear down. Even so, I wanted to end the story on a note of hope, if only more of us could be as courageous as this story's narrator in the end.

- Austin DeMarco
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