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Wending down through stone, and loam

lies land where men may find a home —

we wind our way through tunnels tight

and do not stray up-to the Light.

William left his level.

It’s more complicated than that, but it’ll have to do.

He moved through the old stone corridors, eyes wide, ears attentive to the sound of beasts. Everybody knew if you walked up into the Light Level, you got et. No ceremony to it, no songs — just crunched up and et like a crumb of biscuit: buh-bye idiot.

That’s what made it so exciting. Everybody talked about how Light was dangerous and Light would burn you. His dad especially had told him that the Light was where the most dangerous monsters got borned out of. Things with too many legs and great big torsos, and hair all over ‘em like an uncle from the low-low you don’t talk to any more.

“I’m scared of no demons!” he said, very quietly.  

William went – up-and-up through the big dark. It hurt his eyes up this high. There was no Light but it was subtly brighter, and his eyes wasn’t made for that kinda bright. Mankind was borned in the lowest of low after all — far below the gods on the surface, beneath the angels who lived only a level down, beneath the monsters and demons what lived all the ways in between where Light was found. Man’s eyes weren’t not made for Light, which is what made William wanna see it so bad.

His pastor’s words echoed in his head, and his dad’s, and his teachers’, and his mum’s especially — Man was made in the low-low and he belonged in the low-low only.

He’d lost count of the level, but he hadn’t seen any demons yet so it was okay. He sat down and had a drink of water, and et a biscuit. Munch munch munch his teeth went, and the biscuit was all gone. He looked around for monsters, but didn’t see even a single beastly hair. They all said there would be monsters. What a crooked con. He picked up a handful of dirt, and let it run between his fingers. It mixed with the biscuit crumbs, and the two become the same. They pattered against the ground, and it was as if he’d done nothing at all.

Somebody coughed. It weren’t really a human cough, except it was just a little bit.

“Hello?” he said.

The cough coughed at him.

“Are you a monster?” he said.

The cough coughed in the negative, and he understood.

The hallway lay ahead of him, long and empty. He strained his eyes, and saw a closed stone door. He stood up, brushed the dirt-crumbs off himself, and wandered over. He touched the old door. It was rough-hewn, and it hurt his eyes to look at.

“Are you a demon?” he said. “You gotta tell me if you are. The pastor said so.”

There was no response, but the hairs on his arms wen’ all goosepimpley. His daddy would whoop him hard if he saw any of this, but that’s what made it all so exciting. This was an old place, from when things got made and not just lived-on-in. Nobody made things no more, because that’s how things like Light got made. You lived and then you stopped living, or kept on living but somewhere that nobody could see you any more — the stories weren’t clear on that.

William’s head went round-and-round, and he stumbled for a moment. The soft dirt of the tunnel floor came up at him. Falling didn’t hurt, but he was very embarrassed. He pushed himself up and glared at the door.

“Hey!” he said. “Hey idiot! F-“

He stopped to make sure his dad or the pastor weren’t listening.

“Fuck you!”

It felt good to say it. He half expected the door to tell him off, but it didn’t even cough. He punched it and it hurt his fingers but also felt pretty good.

“Yeah,” he said. “You big idiot door. You fucking baby. I bet you don’t even open.”

The door opened.

It was Dark in there. Not dark mind, but Dark — low-low kinda dark like inside the mouth of a great beast. A blast of foetid air made William gag. He’d smelled that smell before in the pantry, when you didn’t eat the biscuits and they went bad. They had a carrot in the pantry once, and nobody wanted to eat it because it was the wrong colour, so it went bad and black and it smelled kinda like the Dark but also not really. William knew this was a Bad Room where he was not meant to go.

He went in.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. There were white things buried in the dirt. Vast white things that were maybe bones, but bones too big to come from a man. They were the off-white-yellow of bones picked clean and left for too long. They hurt his eyes to look at. There were great big tooth marks in some of ’em, but only the ones close to the big skull — like the demon had et itself up.

He knew he wasn’t allowed to touch the bones. He touched the bones.

His head went round-round again, but he didn’t fall. Something washed over him, and he [i]saw[/i] darkness, and hunger, and a thousand years locked in a cage waiting to be set free until even he magic sustaining him wore off, and the hunger gnawed at him, and he bit deeply into himself and felt the rich iron-wash of his own blood and–

It was done. There was nothing in the room but William, and the bones. He thought about crying for a moment, then sucked in a big ole breath.

“I’m scared of no demons,” he said, very quietly.

The Dark did not respond.

William sat, and did not know where to go.

Published inProse Fiction

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