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Monday 8 August 2022


Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

     It was an entity of its own; a colossal, infernal force screaming its way up from the centre of her soul, roaring louder with every rattle of the shackles and brush of the cold bars. It breathed. It lived. It destroyed. Its very pulse was like thunder, its aura like decay. The iron ceiling collapsed, though it didn't fall. The ground split open, though it didn't crack. The sky blackened, though the sun shone on.
    And inside, she was aflame.

    The aurochs' fingers wrapped tighter around the bars. For the moment, there were no eyes to see her tremble, nor to watch her thrash inside her lifelong cage, screaming and raging while desperation sank its claws deeper into her heart. The bars were rusting; her hands and horns were already stained red. But for all her wild force, they didn't give way. The iron was still too strong - or she was growing weak.
    She grit her teeth tighter; her jaw already ached.
    Her mind unhinged that little bit more.
    Wide-eyed and tear-streaked, she shook the bars even harder and slammed her horns against them, as though she honestly believed that this time they might finally break. But they didn't. Of course they didn't. And she felt the pressure build even higher in that blinding disappointment.
    She was going to explode. She could feel it, as yet more of the world crumbled away around her. Something was going to rip itself free, and she had no control over it at all. It was already eroding her, and its strength was overwhelming. As stifling as fire wind. The urgency it forged was almost tangible, grasping her firmly by the throat and squeezing until she could barely gasp through the tears.
    'Out. Out. Out...'
    It was all her mind could offer. She had to get out. She had to escape. She couldn't stay here, not with this hunting her. She wanted. She needed. But the doom that straddled her shoulders, poking her eyes and tugging at her lips like wretched little gremlins, was paralysing. Her thoughts didn't move, they just looped back and tangled within themselves while she fought and wore herself down. Over and over and over they knotted, for days, maybe weeks, offering nothing and subduing only when her master returned from his work - but in that numbness, everything else of her died along with it.
    It never stopped. And she doubted she had the strength to last it out. Her freedom was still too far out of reach; the entity would win before then. She was sure it would win. And she'd begun to wonder if it might not be easier to just...let it. Give in. Stop fighting and rest, at last...
    She was so tired...
    In that faltering moment, the relentless pounding in her skull finally took over, and her tears stopped as she released the bars and slumped against the cold metal, glad for the relief. A cool breeze swept through her shadowed cage, tugging her long, knotted mane over her eyes. She breathed deep of it, smelling phantoms; the trees and the grass she could barely remember and wanted, despite her growing defeat, to know again.
    Hysterics, peace, hysterics. This was how it went. It was a cycle of minutes. But as frantic and helpless as the hysterics were, it was the peaceful moments she feared the most. Because it was then that the entity began to whisper through the roar.
    And so she sat there, heavy and defeated, listening to those whispers, too tired to do anything else. And just like every time before, whatever corner of her mind still worked took this moment of calm to snatch at ideas, to grasp and rationalise any and every option to give her as many routes as possible, laying obscene beside ordinary until they all took on the same shape and cast the same shadow. Until every idea belonged. Until every idea was reasonable.
    Hysteria had warped everything into a world of black and white. Wants and Needs became blurred, and no option was good or bad; they were either conceived, or not. And with that freedom of open thought came a silence that deafened and split an abyss open beneath her. It was only ever then that the entity showed itself, writhing in the thick, black depths.
    She stared into that abyss increasingly often. She'd become familiar with it; she listened to it and agreed with it. Took comfort from it.
    But it hadn't pulled her in. And neither had she pushed herself away.
    The release it offered, the rest...she knew it wasn't the right path, but it had been conceived, it had been rationalised, and now it remained. One path, of many. One option, of many.
    She inched that little bit closer to it now, curious as it whispered its white noise through the breeze, like a discordant lullaby. Her hand reached through the bars towards it, fingers swirling through the empty space while she wondered if that suddenly gentle entity might just reach back.
    Then, with another crack of thunder, the world jolted.
    A deafening roar shook her bones and ripped a scream from her throat. Her hand snatched back to cover her ears, but it was futile. The roar came from within her, and its fury was devastating.
    And...familiar...immensely... A sound, she realised, she'd been hearing all along...
    Her guard dropped and the power immediately swelled again - but from everywhere but that abyss. And the roar followed, from everywhere but that abyss.
    Then, dazed, in that chilling, peaceful place in the centre of her mind, understanding tolled.
    The grip around her throat. The urgency. The desperation...
    That strength, and that abyss...they were not One. They were battling within her. And her life was the prize.
    The overwhelming power was her own. It yearned to carry her to freedom, and the Wild itself called to her upon its untameable roar.
    But the whispers, the darkness, the strangling aura of decay...they yearned to rule her, and to end her. They were not her own. Not in any lasting way. They could never have been. They were something else. A poison. An infection. One more thing she had to fight.
    Yet the two argued in harmony. Without focus, they appeared as one. How easy it would be to misunderstand them, to hear the inescapable lure of the whispers boomed in the roaring voice, to see the urgency of her power's desire to envelop her and flee from it instead, to feel the very strength of her blazing soul and attribute it to the abyss itself...
    It would be her biggest mistake.
    The aurochs' furious tears hadn't returned. The clarity was there, and this time, her eyes were open.
    She pulled herself away from the bars and sat, centred within her cage, breathing deep.
    Hold on. Wait. Find patience. Don't look into the black, and contain that screaming, blazing power. She'd kept it under control for this long, and she was so nearly there.
    Everything felt out of her hands - but her survival was not.
    She had a choice.
    And that choice hinged fully on the difference between Want and Need.

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2022 Kim Wedlock


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