She awoke under the shadow of the altar as blood dripped rhythmically from its surface and disappeared into the floor. Its pedestal was a rectangular obelisk of black marble that appeared impossibly tall until she clambered to a standing position and it shrunk to waist height. She remembered walking into this room for a ceremony not an hour ago; now, she realized that it had been left incomplete and began to anxiously pace, glancing around for comfort. The room was a blemishless mirror of itself on all sides, its skin pure white and deep as the body of the ocean. The ceiling held a perfect resemblance to the floor and walls. Something felt missing. At first she was not sure what, her hands carefully inspecting each appendage and finding them all present and accounted for. This would have been a sigh of great relief, but there was a quiet in her chest where the feeling was quelled before it could spark; her breath was absent. Her body had lost its focus, becoming meaningless as the floor underneath it. She was weak and small in the sea of white. She tried again, slowly opening and closing her mouth in a pointless gesture at going through the motions. A snap from inside the altar sounded forth. It carried the disapproving tone of a teacher clicking their tongue. This was assumedly not good. She suddenly noticed two automatic doors to her left and right. They were entirely opaque glass with no mechanisms visible, almost the same color as the walls. She was aware of the strong discomforting compulsion to move forward toward something important and nothing else. She walked instinctively toward the door on the left. It slid open and closed quickly as she passed through, like an eyelid blinking away sleep. Its smooth hiss was muffled by the carpeted floor that began immediately upon leaving the chamber. It had a soft yellow coloring, was spread from wall to wall, and was unremarkable as everything else outside the chamber tended to be. A room that could have been used for Sunday school if it had anything at all in it. In the distance, a chattering of pleasant conversation could be heard. The voices led her through the left of another two automatic doors, through which was a similar room to the last. Folding chairs were arranged in rows before a simple wooden pulpit. It was a familiar sight; as a child she had daydreamed of preaching from it. The other children fantasized of becoming superheroes, but she was better than that; better than them. They were against her for being divinely inspired. She would be made a saint for persevering this martyrdom when she got older. The words she would preach came to her in her sleep. They were drowning in a mechanical cacophony like a thousand miles of connecting wires were transferring terabytes of information to her every second until she awoke. It gave her a headache. When she dreamt, the pulpit hung at the center of a white room from the ceiling like the glimmering lure of an angler fish. She would reach up from the floor toward it and the white light surrounding her would become suffocating and viscous like saliva. The first time she had gone crying to her parents, they told her she could not reach the pulpit for it was not her place. She woke up a little more terrified each time. Eventually she stopped reaching for it and just curled into a ball, listening to the screech and grone of God’s voice. After a year of this, she no longer spoke to anyone else. She was becoming scared of the words God had given her and the inhuman way she sounded when she spoke them, but she was too lonely to stop listening. Even these dreams were becoming distant now. She instinctively shied away from the simple pulpit, her eyes lured down to follow patterns on the carpet. The voices were closer now, silhouetted figures shrinking into the smudged glass of the door to her right. She walked quietly through it without lifting her eyes. There was no one here, only two horizontal strips of parallel stairs. It was ten flights down to the basement. This building was three stories tall. She descended clumsily, each step clicked softly with the tone of a mechanical keyboard and sent a signal through the walls that she could hear buzzing. The stairs above her were in a rigid tooth-like grid with those below. At the bottom of the stairwell was another door identical to the rest. The room through it was lit dimly at the center with a tall lamp, its back arched over a couch and television. She had never seen a television before. There was a bulletin board covered in small rectangular papers on which people had anxiously scribbled prayers that she was too busy to read. The room was rectangular and long so she squeezed past the congestion and kept moving. Another room, this time large and square with two walls jutting out at its center splitting it in half. A motivational poster hung on the wall with an animal she could not identify clawing its way up the side of a mountain to throw itself into a volcano. The words were too small to read, as if she were being mocked. A set of doors could be seen both in front of and behind this interruption at a total of four. She chose one at random and kept moving. This room had a set of four quaint little windows on its left wall, each overlooking more rooms that would ungulate in size every time she looked away from them. This went on for several hours. It may have even gone on for several days. The difference was sanded away and replaced with hallways that stretched from one corner of her mind to another. Perfect cubicles connected together in a pipeline, winding through each other like the tangling of intestines. She knew she could not stop moving, even as the memory of each room she walked through began to weigh on her brain like cinder blocks. Many times she would seize up, squeezing her eyes shut and clench at something in her stomach but instead find a blank wall with no purchase. Another room, too dark to see anything, her eyes unable to adjust. A door before her that was not there opened in a wide grin and blinding light swept across everything, but she walked forward before she could see. Next to her were the silhouettes she had been chasing. They were robed in light, their bodies appearing as abstract towers of billowing smoke. The tallest spoke but did not look at her. It did not have a face underneath its veil. "The girl. Late." She finally gasped forth something sounding similar to "Help me". It did not move for a moment, quietly tensing as if it had solidified in rage at the words she had just uttered. "Don’t speak. You haven't the right.” It was quiet again for a long time, as if tempting her to disagree. A suffocating feeling began to overtake her in the presence of these things. In an instant she felt the cold embrace of its palm wrapped around her wrist. It was solid as concrete but the texture danced with ash. It was intertwining with itself like complex systems of wire. The hand not holding her in place formed a spear, pointing at her wrist with an overwhelming clarity of purpose. It was going to take something. As she squirmed, confusion spilling across her face, she was met with nothing but silence. This was being done for reasons beyond her understanding. She opened her mouth to object yet the air was stagnant. Her voice had decided what was to be done already without her consent. There was nothing stuck in her throat, nothing preventing her from screaming, crying, or begging; the moment it pierced into her simply passed as her lips became dry. In a final squeak she managed to utter "it hurts" or a set of guttural noises similar to that. The figures above her held still. A horrible tugging sensation began to creep up her arm. Her warmth leached from her in a wave of serene calm. She wanted to scream and claw it back but it dissipated leaving her alone, something permanently tainted at her core that she was now aware of. She stared blankly into the empty air like a mirror. "Quiet girl." It spoke, goading her to respond although it knew she could not. It was correct. It did not make her angry, or grant her an opportunity for rebellious self defense. She watched blood escape from her forearm in a rush of bright red splattering against her sickly pale skin. Her vision was failing but it was just clear enough to see the altar, sparkling with red like the sun in a cloudless sky. In her mind it was a chasm stretching across the center of the floor a thousand feet wide. The sky rumbled with the sound of a great many fuel pumps pulling at a hungry tank. She called out again and again, squawking like the ungreased cogs of a broken machine. Slowly the energy faded and she collapsed to the ground, her arm still dangling above her head. Suddenly, she heard the door to the chamber open and immediately the figures disappeared. A set of lonely footsteps made their way toward her but they felt as if they were coming from every direction to shove her into the pit. She reminded herself that she was nothing but dust and that no one cared to come after her, and it consoled her somewhat. For a time she was certain she had died until she heard the footsteps stop. She flailed for a moment in shock, but couldn’t tell if she was falling or not. "Don’t worry." Her own voice spoke from somewhere above her. A sensation spread across her pallid skin. She felt her head be lifted cautiously and placed to rest on something cold. "God has taken me?" She spoke clearly and without reservation without realizing. Her voice had returned to her. "There is a poison at the core of your being little one. It can’t be fixed.” A hand brushed its fingers through her hair. She reached up and did the same to the figure holding her. It was like caressing a statue. She began to cry. “I thought I was saved…” She felt the figure above her shake its head. “I don’t know if we can be saved. This place has done a horrible thing to us.” Tears spilled down her cheeks and disappeared from her consciousness as soon as they left her face. They startled her as they sprung to life in the absence of everything else, stinging against her numb skin. Her voice was raspy now, barely held together in her mouth. She couldn’t even taste saliva anymore. “Please just tell me where I’m going.” The voice exhaled shakily. “There isn’t enough space for people like us in heaven. People scared and weak and alone.” She began to reach out for anything to stabilize herself with her other hand, anything in the chamber close enough to grasp, finding only empty space. “How can I not know anything? How can I be so pathetic?” As she spasmed her hand that had been running across the figure’s hair dropped to her chest in a thud. “Only God knows.” She felt something wet hit her cheek from above and realized the figure was crying as well, water and ash mixing on her cheek. “Where is God? I can only feel you and I.” She mumbled to herself. “It’s ok to be scared. Take my hand.” She shakily held her hand in between the two of them and waited. For a moment she was scared nothing was coming; that she would be grasping in the dark forever. Then, slowly its hand appeared from nowhere, interlacing their fingers together. Its icy grip gave very little against her soft skin. She clung desperately to it and for a moment felt sure of nothing, which was at least more certainty than she had known before. She felt the figure she was resting against slowly disappear. Warmth spread from the places she had been held. It found purchase in her chest and spread through her limbs. She felt like a child again, a memory of being held by her mother reappearing for a moment. In the moment her skin was resting on the ground next to the altar, arms entangled in an embrace with herself. She wished the world wasn't so big, and so it shrank until it was only her. And then, she was no one. - Her path is unimportant from this point onward. Between all of them, there are so many years of service that the moment itself is always lost in an assembly line of faces. Actually, her path was unimportant from the day I created her, through all the years I led her back here to slowly be devoured. Yet she somehow found the will to ignore me. After she escaped sacrifice, I had her body moved to the graveyard outside. She was given a stone tablet denoting a life pointless and shallow. There were few buried near her, their bodies separated from each other by thick layers of dirt. Was that satisfying to them? Their absence from me prevented nothing. Their gravestones were like pebbles to me. Maybe they were just happier to be alone, away from the rotting piles of corpses digesting forever inside my stomach. I could do nothing to understand. The sun setting on earth can not be perceived from heaven.
About the Author Leona Ann Nordin - Growing up in the woods of Pennsylvania has given me a taste for loneliness; spending time exploring my thoughts as a narrative brings me comfort in that. The art of storytelling is the most meaningful way I can connect with the world around me, and I can't escape the passion I have for it. I will be writing stories all my life, regardless of popularity, and I hope to see my work published so it can be meaningful to others as well. About the Artist Viggo Krejberg is a 21 Year Old Chicago based Artist. While having worked with several art mediums throughout the years, he's recently found a passion for both digital art and animation. He attributes the influences in his art through his love of Horror, Fantasy, and the Macabre.
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