This story available on Jan 16, 2021
Hall of Windows,
Hall of Lights
Donna J.W. Munro
It never ends.
Each door, each step, each shuddering gaze through the shatter-proof windows echoes the days before and the days that will come.
My door opens onto the end of the hallway. Outside of its heavy, metal reinforced surface, the shining tile paths lead to food, to socializing around checkers and television, to group discussion meetings and doctors and pills and a padded consciousness without controls. I'm one of many sinking souls floating in this sea of madness.
"Sephie? Time for your walk," Nurse Myna, sang from outside my door. The shoes she wore sluffed and sighed across the floor, a sidewinding sound.
A sucked in breath to steady my heart's stuttering trot, then I push up from the narrow white sheeted cot. My head swims, but I follow her voice, watching my feet, never looking up at her face. I can't. I've seen her shadow writhing on the wall. I let my fingers tangle in my long brown hair and my eyes shift to watch the windows set in the white doors we passed. Some of the windows fill with a sparkling light, because behind them the inmate's precious freedom shines within the bubble of safety.
But here and there, some faces pressed against the windows.
Faces I once knew.
Or maybe I dreamed that life.
Shining faces. Powerful brows and grit teeth.
Enemies, lovers, friends, mother. None of us managed out in the world.
"Here we are," Myna said, pushing open the door to the little garden they let those of us with the talent for green tend.
"Thank you," I say and duck my head without looking at her. Poor Myna. She can't help how she was made. That she cares for us, day by day, shows we can change. Even if the world rejects us.
"I'll be back for you," she says, then whispers, "I'll bring him out if you want. Shall I?"
My love. I nod shyly, then turn to tend my peonies, heads nodding into the pink cup of my hand. Their fluttering petals widen in my warm gaze. I tilt my face up to catch the rays of the sun. Our poor dead sun. How could it be what it once was without Heli pulling it across the sky? He had faded away in his room, white walls swallowing his brightness until there was nothing of him left.
Maybe I should let myself fade as he did.
Sometimes, when mother ignores my questions and mutters to herself about seasons past, I worry that she'll let go, too.
Would we all be better faded into the nothing that we've inherited?
Behind me, the door snickes open and closed. I feel the wave of cold I'd grown to love all those years ago.
"My love?" I whisper and turn, hoping that Myna had left us alone.
He sits in his chair, staring off into something only his eyes see. My dark Lord. Skin brown as the earth he ruled. Eyes full of the glitter of minerals and gems– his own treasures. But the lips that spoke all the words that won me, hang slack. Stupid with drool and medicine's rictus. His hands curl in his lap, clean and dead.
I pluck my peonies into a bundle and carry them to him. Once I'd hated him. He'd stolen me from my mother and friends, dragged me down into the earth, trapped me there with him. Once he'd tricked me into being his. Oh, how I'd hated him.
But he loved me soft and with patience. I'd found it easier to soften to him, all those years ago, than to keep fighting. I'd been his queen.
I lay the flowers in his lap and lean in, staring into his broken gaze.
When we first got here, I'd fought to be with him. I'd scratched and screamed, but Myna made me understand. We were sick. All of us. He had to heal and so did I.
"My Lord?" I ask again, trying to get him to acknowledge me.
I kiss his lips, then leave him there, walking back into the hall where Myna waits for me.
I shake my head. "He'll be gone soon."
We walk together down the hall, back to my room, years of memories between us. Thousands of them.
So many of us behind doors and windows, remembering what we used to be, taking pills to keep our minds from breaking. Forbidden from the world. Forgotten.
Should I let myself fade into a drugged oblivious like my love?
"Myna," I say, staring at the sagging skin of my hands, all the beauty of my youth gone in these harsh florescent lights and the static filled air, dry as the breath as hell. "Myna, do you regret caring for us? You could be with your sisters in the next place instead of caring for us."
"I'm useful here," she says, her honeyed voice a warm salve on my brittle nerves. "I will see them again. This cannot last forever."
Cannot last forever. I'd never thought of that. My mind clung to the old ways and a belief that they'd want us back. They'd come looking for us someday, throw open the doors and let us lead them down the hall. They'd give me seeds to plant. They'd ask him to shelter their souls in the folds of his cape.
Perhaps hope is madness.
For the first time since I'd come here, I feel the truth flowing down my face. Tears as hot as blood, yet my teeth chatter.
Cannot last forever.
"No more, Myna. No more medicine. No more checkers. No more waiting. I don't want to fade away like my love."
"I'm useful," Myna said back, her lovely hands curl softly into a nest as she faces me. Her hands were always the kindness I looked to. Not her face. She'd been the enemy of heroes. The scourge of the righteous. She and her sisters had been a curse. Cursed by us. Yet she'd become our savior. Our liberator. Maybe she'd always been and the humans had been the villains all along. Who knows?
"I don't want to fade, Myna."
I don't look up, not yet. I reach for her hands and clutch them in mine, the warmth so soothing to me.
"I am useful to you," she says and frees one hand to curl it around my chin, gently pulling me up to finally look at her face. Her face is mine, from when I was a girl. So bright and beautiful. The hanks of hair swirl around her head, writhing like snakes, light shining from within. My cells bathe in her warmth and release their grip.
Donna J. W. Munro’s pieces are published in Dark Moon Digest # 34, Flash Fiction Magazine, Astounding Outpost, Nothing’s Sacred Magazine IV and V, Corvid Queen, Hazard Yet Forward (2012), Enter the Apocalypse (2017), Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths II (2018), Terror Politico (2019), Burning Love, Bleeding Hearts (2020), Borderlands 7 (2020), Gray Sisters Vol 1(2020) and others. Her upcoming novel, Revelations: Poppet Cycle 1, will be published by Omnium Gatherum in 2020. Contact her at https://www.donnajwmunro.com or @DonnaJWMunro on Twitter.
Interview available on Jan 28, 2021