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Flight from Destruction
She led me down a staircase, her dark wings brushing the sides. Our footsteps echoed off of the dirty walls of the staircase, and as we descended the temperature dropped and a putrid stench wafted through the air.
"Welcome to the hellhole," Leigha said with a grim smile, gesturing to the room around us. Shrieks of pain and sadness occasionally echoed from the dark corners of the room. My eyes had yet to adjust to the black gloom, but already the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I could hear my heart pounding; instinctively, I knew this place held nothing but horrors.
We were in a dank, rotting cellar. It lacked windows, and the only light was that coming from the door we had just entered by. All around us were disgusting figures, mutants that might have once been humans. A small girl sat on a chair, staring at the wall in front of her. Every once and a while she would let out a scream; a terrible, inhuman scream that was incredibly high-pitched and lasted for nearly thirty seconds. Then she would remain completely silent. In several cages were near human-looking things, but always with something wrong. One had pure-white skin, and cuts all over his body; his face was entirely blank. Another turned to face us, and I saw it had no pupils, just a blank whiteness in her eyeballs. A few others were enormously mutated or thin as twigs, or just lying on the floor, broken like a corpse but still breathing. A couple cages confined people that seemed hypnotized- they stared ahead, reciting meaningless phrases, or carving symbols over and over into the dirt at their feet. Near the back of the room in near darkness, shrieking and wailing, several people were tied to the wall with gigantic iron chains on their wrists and ankles, with one of those chains wrapped around a glistening neck. All these people seemed to embody the feeling of death.
As Leigha and I walked past, a few glanced at us but most of them continued whatever torturous activity that they never seemed able to relent from. I guess that their minds were so deadened that nothing mattered anymore. The only ones that seemed to register our arrival were the semi-animals. A man with slavering jaws, and evil yellow eyes rammed himself into the thick, rusted bars of his cage, along with a few other creatures similar to him. Leigha continued to stride on, and then stopped, motionless. Her wings shrank back and pressed against her back. She was staring at a small depression in the dirt floor. It was surrounded by thin grimy feathers, dark droplets of what appeared to be dried blood, small rotting vermin carcasses, and on top of it all lay a pair of heavy iron chains, nailed into the cement wall on one end and ending in wide heavy shackles.
I stared at Leigha, at her wrists. I knew what those bruises on her wrist were; those bruises that she claimed had come from a fall. Here was where she had lain, starving and alone, surrounded by creeps and darkness in this nightmarish place. I couldn't begin to imagine it. Her quiet voice broke through my thoughts,
"At first, I was so scared. I woke up here, and the first thing I knew was a scream, probably from that girl you saw near the front. I remembered some big men, a thump on the back of my head, and that was all at first. Just that memory, it was all I could think about." Her voice cracked, and for a few minutes her hollow eyes stared at the ground.
"The first part was the worst. I just sat here, waiting for something to happen. I had no idea how much time had passed since I was abducted. Minutes, hours, days? I couldn't begin to guess. My back was really sore, but I just assumed it was from lying on the dirt and being battered so much. But when I tried to lay back down I couldn't. I kept looking for whatever was on the ground underneath me, but I couldn't find anything." Her voice was high and tight, her fists clenched.
"It was then that I found them. I touched the feathers for the first time, and I didn't understand. But when I did understand, I screamed so long, and so loud. I couldn't believe it; I didn't know why my wings were there. But they were."
"At first, I hated them. I thought of my wings like the chains; they were something attached to me that didn't belong, something that belonged to the evil ones that was touching me. Those evil ones that never revealed themselves, but whose presence pervaded my every waking moment. Those wings were the most revolting things to me. I lay on the ground crying, pulling on them, yanking out fistfuls of feathers. Then I screamed louder, because it hurt, so I knew that they were attached to me, they were part of me."
"But eventually, I grew to love them. They are beautiful wings, you know. I eventually came to regard them as some fantastic miracle, and it seemed to me, if that kind of miracle could occur, then another kind could." I looked at Leigha's face, and I knew that she was not in the present. To her, we were back in her darkest hour.
"I thought those men might come back, at least to explain things to me, but they never did. The door never opened, light never came in, no one ever got out. I guessed I had probably been in there a day, and I was ravenously hungry. I've never been that hungry in my life. It wasn't human hunger; I felt like a wild animal. I killed all the mice and rats and bugs that came near me, and I ate them. I probably would have even killed you, if you had come near me that night." With the heavy shadows and gaunt expression on her face, she looked more than capable of murder. I wondered briefly what it was like to eat rats. But at least this morning she was back in the cafeteria, so...
"Do you want to know how I got out?" Leigha asked, a humorless smile on her face, answering my unspoken query.
"Yes." I had a morbid feeling of curiosity.
"Are you sure? It's really disgusting. I mean, like, truly gnarly."
“I insist," I said, trying not to fill my mind with visions of more horrors that might have occurred down here. She nodded, and continued her gruesome story.
"The shackles only stayed on because of my thumbs. Otherwise they would have slid right off."
"So you broke your thumbs?" I cried, horrified. Before I would not have thought it possible to break one’s own bones, but this underground perdition defied reality
"I nearly did. I thought about it, I was seriously about to try it. But then I thought of another plan,” She actually smiled at this point, thought it was a twisted one that lacked all sense of humor, “I killed a rat, peeled open its nasty little body, and used its fat to grease the shackles." I nearly gagged, thinking about rubbing rat guts all over my wrists.
"That's all you had to do," I asked, "Just grease your wrists and they slide right off?"
"Well, they didn't slide right off. I had to pound on them and pull on them, but yes, they eventually fell off.
"I didn't know what to do at first. I hadn't thought of what I would do once I was free. I was just surviving at that point, running on instinct. But my mind cleared once I took off those shackles. I lay there for a few hours more, shaky and scared. Then -I don't know why I hadn’t done it earlier- I just got up on my feet and walked toward the door."
"How did you know where the door was?"
"By then, my eyes had long since adjusted to the blackness, and I could see basic shapes, and the door has a crack in it, so it was lighter near the door. That door is unlocked, you know. It always was. But everyone down here is so trapped inside themselves or iron bars that they simply can’t leave.
"I ran up the stairs, two at a time. At the top, I met one of those evil men that had imprisoned me. I hadn’t seen any of them up to that point, but I could just tell; he looked like hate, smelled like death, and cursed like a pirate. He was carrying someone, a teenage boy. The boy had a lot of dark hair, and he had lots of scratches all over his pallid face. He was unconscious, and several of his fingers were hacked off. I knew what they were planning to do. I killed them both, killed the man out of hate and the boy to bring him peace. The other evil man was closer to the door. I snuck up behind him, stabbed him with the knife he had been holding, and left him there to die. Then I flew. I don't know how; I had never flown before. But somehow the ability to fly came to me, and I rose up into the night sky.” She sighed staring up at the ceiling, reliving that moment of freedom.
“The stars were so beautiful last night. For a time, I believed that I would never see them again. I found some campgrounds, stole food from there and ate it. Then I flew to my house, climbed through the window, grabbed my school stuff and arrived in the parking lot this Monday morning, just before the bell rang. I snuck in through the door by the gym, and used athletic tape to bind my wings. It hurt a bit, but at that point I was thankful I was even in the school at all to bear the pain. And with my hoodie, you couldn’t even tell, could you?"
I stared at her open-mouthed. Her week-long absence, her sudden change to an almost reckless personality, the need for my constant company, they all made sense now.
"Why did you come back to school?" I asked her, "Why didn't you just rest at home?"
She smiled sadly. "I wanted to forget this place,” she gestured to the walls around us, “All the energy, all the movement, all the light in the school helped me. School is something normal, and its normalcy helped to bring me to my senses. The simple joy of being able to attend school made the day I got back the best day of my life."
"So why did you take me here?” I asked, “Why did you come back to this awful hole?"
"To end this place. It needs to be gone," she replied. I totally understood why she would want that, but I didn't know how she was going to do that.
"How exactly are you going to 'end' it? And what are we going to do with all of these people?"
"We - or at least, I - are going to bomb this place. Everyone here is going to die." She said it so matter-of-factly, it was disturbing.
"Kill them all?!" I cried, horrified, "You can't just kill them! They didn't put themselves here, they deserve to be saved! And where did you get a bomb?" She sighed heavily,
"There’s this thing called the Internet, which features detailed schematics and ingredient lists. I can, and will, kill them all. All I had to do is put a knock-out gas in the bomb, and they won't even know what happens. Maybe they do deserve to be saved, but they can't. Do you see any of them running for the door? Are any of those that aren't tied down trying to escape? No; they don't know how to live, they can't. What they deserve is the quiet and peace of death." She turned her steely gaze back to the room. I turned with her, to face all of the humans, victims of misfortune, of their diseased minds, and of this place. I realized she was right. The door we had come through was wide open, but no one even looked at it. They were utterly lost inside their tortured minds. There was nothing new left for these poor creatures but to die.
She knew that I understood. She gingerly withdrew a small bag from her pocket, which I supposed contained the bomb, and then put it in the center of the room. She laid out the fuse as we walked back towards the door.
"Good-bye, brothers and sisters," she called softly into the gloom. She then closed the door and lit the fuse.
As we left the house, we heard a soft boom, and a hundred cursed souls exploded into the night.