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On Rooftops

by Rocco Romano
Photos by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund

From below, I struggle to keep my eyes to the ground as I walk through abandoned streets. They are watching me. I can feel their eyes. Their gaze is an immense weight I can no longer bear. I fight the urge to turn my head around and behold the black silhouettes perched atop the rooftops. I only saw them once before, though it’s been years since I last caught sight of their eerie vigilance.

They were just watching. 

Did they watch with scrutiny? 

Did they watch with indifference? 

I can’t say.  

I can say, though, for certain, that among all the others who dwell below, I am the one in their sights. “But that was years ago, surely they have lost interest in me,” I say out loud to myself, knowing, despite no one hearing my voice from down below, my voice can be heard from up high. I am tired of my fear. I haven’t been able to look up at the sky and glimpse the clouds.

I can’t follow the flight of birds soaring with outstretched wings. I can’t look up at the height of trees and witness the flowing leaves in the wind.

If I do, I run the risk of seeing them. 

So? A voice whispers inside my head, what do you fear will happen if you see them? “I don’t know,” I admit to myself, quickly feeling a hint of relief.

They have watched you long enough.

It is time for you to watch them.

See how they like it. 

I envy the confidence with which this voice speaks. As envious as I may be, I don’t possess the strength to glimpse what is above me.

Are you not angry at their surveillance?

Are you allowing them to continue their evasive peering into your life?

Has their omnipotence over your existence not fazed you in the slightest? 

Are you the master of your life?

Or are they?

Photo by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund

The words of this unknown voice are hard to ignore, and even harder to deny. I stop in my tracks, and I can’t but presume that up above a black silhouette has stopped in its own tracks, just waiting for my next move. But I disregard this as fact, only speculation. With my head still facing down, I pull out my phone and switch it to the camera, oriented so that my face appears on the screen. I tilt my phone in minute increments away from my face towards the rooftop by my side. Shaded windows of buildings appear as I raise the phone higher, ascending the building story by story. My hand begins to shake as I approach the topmost story of the building, distorting what is displayed on the screen. One more tilt of my wrist and the rooftop will be in view. 

One increment higher and-

The air is sucked from lungs as I glimpse what are atop the building. 

Standing shoulder to shoulder are many, black, humanoid silhouettes, all with heads facing down at me. I drop my phone, and without a moment of thought, I take off in a sprint through the street. 

This time it’s undeniable. 

They were there.

They have always been there.

I look straight ahead, daring not to look to my sides as I visualize them following me. I envision them keeping up with my speed, hurtling over obstacles and shifting between different rooftops as I turn corners and move from one side of the street to the next.

What do you think will happen?

Do you think they will lose you? 

You think you can outrun what is watching from above? 

You can’t escape their sight. 

You can only face them. 

I slow from a sprint until I am still. Again, the unseen voice offers advice impossible to refute. 

Photo by Gabby Estlund

Photo by Gabby Estlund

I muster the deepest breath my lungs can allow. I close my eyes and turn around to face the rooftops. With my eyes still closed, I can sense them up above staring down below at me. With another breath I open my eyes, and they don’t betray me. Still standing shoulder to shoulder, they watch me.

Their faces are featureless, with no eyes with which I can derive a soul.They are statues. Not expressing any form of exhaustion I may have caused them whilst sprinting. 

Their silence is infuriating. 

They have no grasp of the torment they impose upon me. No sign of remorse or reason for having done so. “Hear I am!” I scream at those from above. “If you want me, come and get me.”

They offer no response or recognition of my voice. “Come down and take what’s yours.” I fall to my knees, desperate for a response.

After spending so long avoiding their gaze, I never knew how hard it would be to actually be seen, let alone heard by them. 

Their pulverized silence aggravates me.

“Well if you won’t come to me, I’ll come to you,” I say. I rise to my feet and go to the door of the building in front of me. I lean for the handle and notice no resistance as I pull the door open. I ascend the stairway to the roof, and once there I see no sign of the black silhouettes that were at the edge from which I saw them before. I scan the rooftops of other buildings around me, noticing for the first time nothing staring back. 

I too notice, that for the first time in years, I can see the vast breadth of the sky.

You see, returns the nameless voice, all you had to do was face them.