Better Off Inside

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Light penetrates my eyes. For a moment I gaze up, squint through the bars of a prison abandoned for centuries, and consider my escape. Then the light begins to burn and I look away.

The bars have rusted through, have even crumbled to powder in places. Yet I remain.

All of us remain.

Part of the prison’s success was the way the guards got into our heads, the way they convinced us we deserved persecution, that we were better off inside.

The world is dangerous for a monster like you. We locked you away for your own good.

Humanity ultimately forgot us, as humanity forgets so many things. They were free, we were not. Out of sight, out of mind. I imagine our existence became the subject of legend, that once enough time had passed even the legend began to fade. I don’t remember how long we’ve been down here, nor do I remember when they stopped sending their guards. I only know they don’t hold power over us any longer.

But we won’t leave, because fear has become our new jailor.

Don’t you think I yearn to be free? Don’t you think I would give my soul to break out of this cage that binds me beneath the Earth, to crawl through the shaft that connects us to the surface and enjoy fresh sunshine once again?

Ask any of us and we’ll tell you the same thing: we fear what will happen if we leave, what you’ll do to us if we’re discovered again.

You enjoy your light above. We’ll make the darkness our own.

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Grace

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Grace clutches a ragged teddy bear to her chest. It reminds her of her parents. The memories are bittersweet.

She gazes up, squints when her eyes reach the bright lines of yellow light that penetrate the wooden slats a hundred feet above. She blinks away tears.

She sidles to the right, her long dress brushing the dirt beneath her legs, and she feels the tug of iron chains binding her to the stone wall. She expects it, though it continues to fill her with despair. She returns to her previous position and the chains slacken. She closes her eyes and dozes.

She never meant them harm. She came after her parents died and left her orphaned in the woods outside their village. They took her in, fed her, clothed her. They took her to church. Taught her to pray. Then they discovered she was different.

They called her a demon. Spat on her. Beat her. Dug a prison beneath the earth, clapped her in chains and left her there to rot.

For the first few days she’d cried out in disbelief. Trembling and wailing, she begged them between racking sobs to take her back. She promised to be good, but nobody listened. She was an uncomfortable truth that was better off buried and forgotten.

She heard their whispers, knew they expected her to die. Yet years passed without food or water and she survived. They said it was unnatural, that she was the spawn of Satan. Every now and then, one of them would gaze down through the wooden slats, peer into her tear-streaked eyes and look away.

A generation passed. The children grew up and ventured out in search of a better life, and one by one the remaining inhabitants grew old and died. The last of them to peer down into her prison had white wispy hair and a thin grey beard. He cocked his head at her, hesitated, moved closer as if wondering what to do. Then he gritted his teeth, clutched his chest, closed his eyes and collapsed.

The first years of her life had been filled with love and light. She’d danced beneath the trees, sustained by the sun, the wind, the earth and the sky, a child of wild nature-born magic. But bound beneath the earth in isolation, her good nature soured. Her heart grew hard, and spite consumed her until her only wish was to set the world on fire, to look on with delight as the skin of those who imprisoned her crackled, blistered and popped.

She knows that one day she’ll be free. Perhaps her chains will rust through completely and she’ll dig herself out. Or perhaps someone will wander by unknowing and rescue her. It’s only a matter of time.

Grace dons a wicked smile.

The villagers could have bred a saint. Instead, they bred a monster.

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The Tunnel

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There is a tunnel, buried beneath the layers of the world, outside time, outside creation. It is dank and musty. It is covered in slime, moss and lichen, pregnant with rot and decay. The walls are smeared with the stale blood of creatures that were extinct billions of years before the Big Bang.

It is a prison, erected to contain a race of pestilence and destruction that had once spanned the breadth of creation. They spread like cancer, defiling everything in their path, a cosmological blight that nearly brought all of reality to its knees. Entire universes fell in the attempt to take them down, and only when the Immortals came were they finally forced to yield.

If death could have stopped them, the Immortals never would have built it. But they would only have assumed another form, and their evil would have continued to dominate. The only way to protect the cosmos was to quarantine them, to lock them away forever in a tomb of stone, fortified with wards and seals to prevent their escape. The Immortals gave their very life essence to strengthen and uphold it, to keep the walls solid and substantial against their feral outraged cries.

But now the place lies in ruins, corrupted and forgotten, those who built it having moved on. When the prisoners were abandoned, they wondered if their captors even remembered they were there.

The seals weaken with the passing of the ages. In some places, they are stretched so thin that the prisoners can once more sense the outside. They scratch at the walls with insubstantial claws, and they give, ever so slightly, in tiny imperceptible increments.

Time has made them hungry. The Immortals thought starvation would break them, make them weak and vulnerable. But it only strengthened their resolve to ravage the cosmos once more.

Now they sense a breach, a rip in the fabric of their prison, and they rush at it with teeth bared, picking and tearing, prying and pulling. They work with grim anticipation.

They know the walls are about to come down.

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