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The boy is weak.

It is not long before they take him. His mother cries, but even she has been expecting this day to come.

They drag him to the Passage. That is what they call it, for it looks to the outside world like nothing but a dark corridor, extending for an unknown length into the black.

The boy begins to weep as they pull him closer and closer. 

“Mama, I don’t want to go.”

“It’s okay, my sweet boy,” she says. “Just think of it as a new adventure, a game. Every day, you play hide and seek and then when night falls, you run home, okay? Okay?

The boy nods. His mother kisses his forehead and looks at him one last time. She smiles, but the boy notices there are tears in her eyes. 

“Are you sad, Mama?”

“No, darling. Why would I be sad?”

“I’m sad,” Nia says, almost whispering. “What if he never comes back? What if he gets lost?”

“He won’t,” her mother assured her. “He’ll be back before you know it.”

The boy wishes he had confidence like her. He is too young to read the despair in his mother’s eyes.

Nia approaches her brother, fighting back tears. 

“I brought you something,” she says gravely, taking his hand. The boy looks down to find a perfect daisy resting on his palm. She must have plucked it from their mother’s precious garden.

“It is not a present,” she clarifies. “I’m only letting you borrow it. You have to return it to me before it wilts. That way you can’t be gone long. Promise?”

The boy gives her a brave smile, much braver than he feels. “I promise.”

Nia throws her arms around him one last time, holding him tightly until the escort taps her on the shoulder. It is time. She steps away reluctantly and the two guards grab the boy’s arms and lift him off the ground between them. 

“No, wait!” he cries. “I don’t want to go! Mama!”

But his mother has turned away and the guards are not slowing down. His sister still pulls and strains, though, digging her heels into the soft ground and yelling for him. The boy cannot hear her over his own screams, but he sees her lips form his name one last time, one last goodbye before her mother grabs both of her skinny arms and pulls her into a stifling embrace.

They drag him onward and he kicks and screams, but it is not enough. The boy is weak. Somewhere along the way, one guard’s elbow makes sharp contact with the boy’s nose and blood streams over his lips. A drop of crimson falls onto the perfect daisy in his tiny fist. It is the last thing the boy sees before he is propelled into the swirling black.


_


For a long while, all the boy can do is lie there, broken and abandoned. He was always the weakest of his siblings, but he had nonetheless believed his parents would protect him. The Passage is nothing more than a scary story to the children of the village. None of them ever seriously entertain the thought that they will be the ones to enter it. The truth is, few do. Only the ones deemed truly useless are thrown in. They are told that it is nothing more than a temporary home for those unfortunate children, but the boy gathered from the adults' hushed tones and worried glances that it is more sinister than that. He now knows that the bedtime story is real and he is utterly alone. 

He remains there, curled up on the ground in despair, until he hears a light rustling noise to his left. Startled, he shoots to his feet, preparing to flee. He realizes very quickly, however, that fleeing will be no easy task because he cannot see but a few feet in front of him. Everything else remains black as pitch, the darkness almost dense enough to touch. The boy can’t make out any sort of cover overhead, but the moonlight clearly does not reach the Passage’s shadowy interior. He hears another rustle, this time coming from the right. Heart racing, he takes a step forward. Another. After several paces with no obstruction, he feels emboldened. Arms out in front of him, he sets out at a light jog -

And runs straight into what feels like a bush full of thorns. The boy screams as a thousand needles pierce his legs, arms, and face. He falls to the ground, shrieking again as the landing drives needles further into his knees. Just then he hears more rustling from the branches overhead, closer this time. Too close. The boy tries to stand, but his body stings and aches with every movement. The sound moves ever closer. The boy can now just barely make out a shape moving through leaves above him. A long cruel beak, talons, the outline of sleek black feathers. A bird, but larger than any bird the boy has ever seen. He only has a moment to panic before the creature falls on him in a flurry of feathers and claws. Beak and talons stab at eyes, elbows, and knees as the boy screams in agony and terror. He tries to roll away, grabbing at the nightmare tearing away his skin, but his muscles have begun to tighten inexplicably and his fingers never manage to grab hold of anything more than tufts of feathers. He wonders what kind of poison the thorns may have put into his body. The thing lands on the boy’s scalp, biting and slicing and ripping at his hair. Blood drips into his eyes, blinding him even more than before, and he knows he is going to die. He wonders at this notion. Just hours ago, death had been little more than myth to him, an abstract figure that came only for the sick and the elderly, never for young boys like himself. Now it is coming for him, sure as the blood seeping from his wounds. He stops fighting, resigned and waiting for the end.

But a face rises unbidden to his mind. A wide-eyed, toothy grin, framed by raven coils. Nia. He remembers now. He has to get back to her.

The boy gradually comes back into himself and finds the monstrous bird perched on his chest, its talons sunk into the tender skin there and its beak gouging insistently at his eyes and nose. The boy’s limbs are almost completely locked, but he holds Nia’s precious face in his mind’s eye and dredges up the strength to lift his head. With a ferocious cry of determination, he lunges and clamps the beast’s sinewy leg between his teeth, biting down as hard as he can and shaking his head vigorously. The bird screeches and continues its barrage of jabs at the boy’s face with renewed fervor. Still, the boy does not let go, not until he hears the bird whimper, a keening, pathetic cry. Losing strength, the boy finally unclamps his aching jaw and releases the monster. The thing hops to the ground and limps around weakly for a moment before taking off with another garbled whimper. The boy lets his head drop back onto the ground and pants as his vision blurs and finally goes black.

_

The boy wakes with an empty stomach and a parched throat. The bird is gone, but he waits for some time nonetheless, listening for any sounds suggesting the approach of a predator. Nothing. He is alone.

Reassured, he begins the agonizing process of standing up. His joints creak and his limbs feel stiff and unused, but whatever poison the thorns injected into his body seems to have run its course. He drags himself to his feet slowly, careful not to pull at any of his wounds, and tests his feet. They both sting and ache, but the boy sees Nia’s sweet face and knows he must press on for her. He has to return her-

Her daisy. It’s gone.

_


Two weeks pass. The boy is afraid, remembering the bloodthirsty bird, but it has not returned, nor have any other malevolent creatures attempted to make a meal of him. He dreams of his sister’s tinkling laugh, his father’s calloused hands, and his mother’s gentle eyes, longs for them. He thinks they will return someday. He does not understand that he no longer exists in that life. This is the way of things. 

His eyes have finally begun to adjust to the murky perpetual darkness of the Passage and he can now see several feet in every direction. When his hunger becomes unbearable, he eats anything growing on the walls around him that seems vaguely edible; leaves, berries, twigs when he has no other options. Sometimes he keeps it down, other times he spends hours heaving up the meager contents of his shrunken stomach. Water is scarce, only appearing in dirty streams and puddles. He does not know where the water comes from, as there is no rain. 

This is how the boy lives for a long while.


_


The young man waits patiently. He has set snares all along the Passage walls, a skill he learned from his father long ago in what now seems like a different life. It took him many weeks to notice the small mottled creatures that scuttled around when they thought he was asleep and it took many tries to perfect the snares, but now the young man rarely goes hungry. He has developed a taste for the creatures. They look like rabbits. They are not rabbits.

Every night, the young man thinks of his sister. He is beginning to forget what she looks like.


_


The man stumbles ever onward. He no longer yearns for his old home, but he still searches for a way out. It gives him purpose.

The Passage loves the man, for he knows its secrets. He has taken time to learn it like none of the others ever have. The creatures of the Passage fear and respect him. He has slain many of their kind, but they do not fault him for this, for they have slain many of his. Everything must come to an end.


_


The old man walks and walks, slowing but never stopping. He needs to rest, but he will not, cannot allow it. If he stops now, he may never get up again and he must reach his destination before his clock runs out. 

Clocks. The old man remembers clocks. 

He does not remember what he is searching for.

He fights, but it is getting difficult to ward off the exhaustion now. He counts his steps, one, two, three, six, four, five…

No, that isn’t right.

He collapses, finally, wondering vaguely if this is the last time.


_


The old man wakes to warmth on his face. Not the thick, stale heat that sometimes radiates from the Passage’s walls, but the sweet, natural warmth of something the old man has not seen or felt in decades.  

Sunlight.

The old man rolls over and sees that a portion of the wall to his right is gone. The Passage has opened.

Through the opening, the old man sees another world, another life. Blue sky, swaying grass, tall, sturdy constructs of stone and wood and unfamiliar materials…

Houses, the old man remembers.

An offering. A gift for the only soul the Passage has ever loved.

Something on the ground at the very edge of the opening catches the old man’s eye. Crawling on hands and knees, the old man reaches for it with trembling fingers. A single daisy. How beautiful. For a moment, the old man feels as though he has forgotten something, a very important something. A simple name, a smile brimming with mischief…

He reaches for that something, but the harder he tries, the quicker it fades, crumbling to ash and sand and scattering on the wind. The old man weeps, for he knows it will not come back and even after all his years in the Passage, he has never felt so alone.

A crow screeches overhead, startling the old man from his thoughts. He looks back down at the daisy, no longer sure what he was thinking about. But what a pretty flower it is.

Carrying his gift with him, the old man walks back through the mouth of the Passage and into the inky black.




June 06, 2020 03:44

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6 comments

Talia Vander
01:26 Jun 11, 2020

Hi Clyde, I'm trying out the whole critique circle thing :) I love how a simple flower connects the whole passage, as he forgets everything else about his life before. The concept of the Passage is really interesting as if it is a creature all its own. Although, I do find it odd that no one else is ever mentioned in the passage with him, if useless children are typically sent there to die. Is there never anyone else after him, or do they fade with the effects of time too? Just something I was wondering.

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Clyde Roan
02:51 Jun 11, 2020

Thanks for the feedback! In regards to your question, my intention was that all the other children die relatively quickly and this boy is the only one the Passage takes a liking to, allowing him to live. I definitely did not do a good job of clarifying that beyond the brief mention of the creatures killing the boy’s kind. I was kind of in a rush to finish this one and it definitely did not get all the revisions it needed. I decided to submit it anyway, but I have since realized that I left out a lot of helpful information. Thanks for read...

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Tvisha Yerra
03:11 Jun 08, 2020

Such a beautiful story! The descriptions were amazing, and I loved the connections throughout. 👏

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Clyde Roan
06:45 Jun 08, 2020

Thank you!

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Tvisha Yerra
16:53 Jun 08, 2020

:)

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Katy S.
16:01 Jun 11, 2020

Very creative and a pleasure to read! I like the idea of the sentient passage allowing him to live.

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