Eden lay silent and still on her bed as the shadows watched from every corner of her large drab room. Each stone wall stood tall and featureless. Her latched door seemed to be a world away. And all she could hear was the sound of her breath.
As she gripped her thin blanket, Eden closed her eyes for fear of a presence that seemed to know her every thought. Would it reach for her? How would it feel when she sensed its strong, bony fingers slowly grasp her arm and begin to pull? Or would it simply lurk and watch, unblinking, timing its breath with hers?
She was only five years old. Her dreams were limited to what she knew. And all she knew was this room, the hall, and the places where they met within their house of stone.
Was this a dream? Or was it real life? What would be the difference between lying awake in dread or drifting into a nightmare consisting within the only walls she’d ever experienced?
Ever so slightly, she began to hear a tap.
Would she dare open her eyes?
The tapping seemed to echo and her room appeared to grow.
Desperate to escape, she pried her blanket from her face and opened her eyes while reaching her feet to the floor. Running toward the door, she could feel the sneering shadows tease.
She turned the cold, metallic handle to the right and pulled.
Down the long, dark gray, candle lit hall she ran without looking back until she found her way to the dimly lit study where her father was sitting in his faded, dank armchair.
“What is it?” her father inquired as she stood trembling before him, looking up into his cold, distracted eyes.
“Something’s tapping in my room!” she answered, studying if he’d acknowledge her fear.
Without so much as a glance, her father replied, “There’s nothing tapping in your room. Go back to bed.”
“But there is, Father. I promise I heard it,” she countered, knowing that her protesting probably wouldn’t do much good to convince him otherwise.
“I won’t hear another word of it. There is nothing tapping in your room. Now, off you go,” he said, somewhat annoyed.
As she slowly turned to face the long, tall, dark hall, the faint, flickering light seemed to tease her. With every step toward her distant room, she felt the shadows beckoning her to come, to keep drawing closer, to be alone with them.
She opened her door and peered around the room.
In the far corner was her small stone bed with her thin, worn blanket. The only other features of her room were the closet in the wall opposite her bed and the homely dresser to its left.
And so she stepped into the darkness, leaving her door slightly cracked behind her.
With each step, her heart beat with a growing fear as she neared her bed.
When she could almost grab her bed, she leaped for it, feeling the shadowy hands reach for her ankles and barely miss as she pulled her thin blanket back up over her head once more.
Eden’s beating heart seemed to slow and pound to the rhythm of each tap.
Focusing on each tap, she began to recognize a light wet echo.
As the thin sheen of a distant light from her slightly cracked door reflected off her ceiling, she focused on a darkening spot in the stone.
There was something dripping from her ceiling.
But, she wondered, how could that be if her home was all that there was?
— — —
As her bedroom door screeched open, Eden began to emerge from the blur until she recognized the shape of her mother walking toward her.
“Hello Eden,” her mother began. “It’s time to eat. Your brother is waiting.”
Eden groaned as she stretched her small, thin arms and pulled herself up.
With her mother rummaging through her drawer looking for clothes, Eden stepped onto the hard stone floor and felt a cool, damp pool of water begin to surface between her toes.
“Mother?” she asked, perplexed.
“What is it darling?” her mother replied, finally settling on one of the many plain beige dresses that filled her closet and drawers.
“Why is there water on my floor?”
Seeing the puddle of water around Eden’s feet, her mother’s eyes immediately shot up to the ceiling. Then as if catching herself, she looked back at Eden and replied, “Don’t worry yourself about such things, child.”
“But if this is all that exists, then where did the water come from?”
Taking a deep breath, her mother retorted, “If you must know, then this is a question for your father.”
She followed her mother out into the candlelit hall and into the main living quarters where her father’s study, the family’s gathering room, the kitchen and dining room were. Each room consisted of the same tall, featureless stone walls. And each doorframe in the house had been painted long ago with what appeared to be dark, splotchy blood.
When she entered into the dining room, her older brother Ezra was already seated. Eden could tell he was slightly annoyed, but being her older brother, she knew he’d get over it. He always had a knack for looking out for her. And he was the one person whom she never felt threatened around.
Her father was already gone for the day. Every time she woke up from a long sleep, he would already have disappeared through a door that led to another hall. And Eden never could figure out where he went. But by the time the third meal came along, he would walk back in from the outer hall through the door to receive whatever her mother had prepared for them.
The meals were never much to speak about. They were typically a bland amalgamation of flavors and textures with very little aroma. And like Eden’s beige dresses or Ezra’s beige trousers, there wasn’t much to look at either.
Of course, this was by design.
Her father would warn them quite regularly about the dangers of the senses.
“If we engage our desires, then we get drawn away into indulging our flesh,” he would explain. “And all those who indulge in the flesh will one day experience destruction in the flesh.”
What that meant, Eden wasn’t exactly sure. But she knew enough to fear the experience of pleasure. And so her entire existence was contained within these plain, featureless stone walls.
— — —
As breakfast ended, Eden followed Ezra into the playroom where they were allowed to entertain themselves quietly with a few select toys.
They sat still and silent on the hard stone floor until their mother entered the room holding the list of play rules.
“Each child shall be given one toy with which to play,” she began. “He or she must exhibit the proper levels of delight, without bringing too much attention to the toy itself.”
Eden never could make sense of the rules. To her, they seemed like random, unrelated expectations that offered very little reward for following and yet carried the harshest of penalties for disobeying.
“If at any point the child shows too much emotion, or too much excitement for the toy, the toy shall be removed and the child shall be beaten.”
With this, their mother left the room, while Eden and Ezra remained staring awkwardly down at a stack of stone blocks.
Eden began to gather the blocks together and place them in a circle. “I want to build a tall room,” she said quietly.
Ezra knelt beside her and gently placed his hand on her small back. “Can I help?” he asked.
“Of course,” Eden replied. “You always make the best rooms.”
So the two children, side by side, began stacking the stone blocks in a circle, row on top of row, until the most amazing tower stood in front of them, three feet off the ground.
As Eden admired what they had built, she asked, “What do you suppose would happen if we could keep building?”
“What do you mean?” replied Ezra.
“I mean, what if we had more blocks? What if we could build our toy room to the top of our real room, and then keep going?”
“That’s impossible,” Ezra countered. “There’s nothing more than what we see.”
“But what if there was more? What if there was something up there, or down below us, or out past our walls?”
“Have you seen these places?” Ezra asked.
“No,” Eden replied, shoulders beginning to slump. “But how do you explain where Father disappears to every day?”
Ezra glanced toward the door. “I saw out the door once.”
Eden’s eyes widened. “Really? When was this? What happened? Did he know you saw?”
“I had gotten up early once, before Mother came to my room. I was in the kitchen when Father stopped at the front door, opened it up, and walked out.”
“What did you see?” Eden asked expectantly.
Ezra sat with her, pursing his lips. “Just another hall.”
“So there is more out there than our rooms,” Eden corrected him. “If there’s another hall out there, then surely it leads to somewhere.”
“Perhaps,” Ezra reflected. “Perhaps there are other rooms. But we can never go there. Only Father is allowed to do that.”
Eden looked down at their small stone tower. It wasn’t enough. There had to be more than this. She poked at the top of the tower. And a few stones began to topple. She batted at the next level and more stones began to fall. Her eyes began to light up and she began to laugh.
“More!” she exclaimed, hitting the stone blocks and watching them fall.
Ezra began to laugh as well.
Then suddenly they noticed a presence towering over them in the doorway. Their mother stood there, steely eyed and tight jawed.
“What do you think you’re doing?” their mother demanded.
Ezra spoke up, “We’re just building a room.”
“You’re doing it wrong! You’re supposed to build it the right way. Build with dignity. You’re showing too much emotion,” their mother scolded.
Eden sat frozen, watching this familiar scene unfold. She knew it wasn’t going to go well for Ezra. She’d seen this play itself out many times before.
“Off to your room!” she told Ezra. “Your father will hear about this!”
And with that, Ezra stormed past her, strode down the hall, and disappeared into his room.
“Clean it up,” she said to Eden. And then she left.
— — —
As Eden and her mother and father sat down for dinner, the air was thick. It seemed to happen more often than not lately that Ezra would not be allowed at the table. His absence weighed heavily on Eden. How could they enjoy their meal when Ezra was alone and hungry? How could they pretend that he wasn’t hurting? But even heavier than Ezra’s absence was her father’s presence.
He always seemed afraid, tense, as if something or someone was out to get him. Their living space seemed to bear the weight of a reality beyond what Eden knew. And it was especially evident during the silence of meals.
The only sound was the scraping of plates, the smacking of lips, and swallowing throats. Each person looked down at their food and hurried through it for who knows what.
Eden longed for something she had never tasted. She wished that her father and mother would simply look at her with kindness, that she could sit in their laps and hear stories. Of course, there were temporary moments like this. But they always seemed to fade like a dream. And in her world, who could tell the difference between a dream and reality anymore?
What she did know was that Ezra was not there. She imagined him lying in the far corner of his empty room, just like she would soon be lying in hers. Only, her belly would be full, while his would feel just as empty as his room was.
As Eden finished her last bite, her Mother said, “Off to bed now. Father will be in shortly.”
— — —
The dim presence of the candle lit hall crept into her room as Eden lay on her stone bed waiting for her father to enter. Eventually, fear would come. But for now, she felt mostly anticipation as she enjoyed receiving some sort of attention from her father, however fleeting it may have been.
He would occasionally come into her room at night to talk to her about how the home was to be structured or about the dangers of play. And even though his stories would often leave her feeling confused and unsettled, she still desired his presence and approval.
She lay there, staring up at the dark ceiling, wondering how the water had found its way into her room the night before. Was there something beyond the ceiling?
Her father’s tall dark figure stepped into the light of the open door and slowly began walking toward her. Staring down at her, head slightly cocked, he watched.
“Father,” Eden asked. “Is there something beyond our space? Something, up there?”
Her father stepped closer and knelt at her small stone bed. “Yes, there is more than this.”
His confirmation of what she had been beginning to suspect was both intriguing and unsettling.
“Long ago, these walls were built to give us a space to live. But there is also space above and below us.”
Eden lay silent and still, listening to every word.
“We are always being watched. Every smallest move, every slightest glance, even the words we speak are known to them. And at any moment, they can come to take us. If you believe this to be true, then when they come for you, they will take you through the door that leads to the space above. There you will feast, sing, play and rest for as long as you’d like. You’ll even meet the one who arranged all of this. But if you do not believe this to be true, then when they come for you, they will drag you through the door that leads below. There, you will be strapped down and tortured in the dark with a pain beyond anything you could imagine.”
With a pounding heart, Eden’s trembling voice whispered, “I believe.”
“Good,” her father replied with a sense of relief.
— — —
When Eden opened her eyes in her large, vacant room, she felt a desperate pull to tell Ezra what her father had told her hours before. She walked across the shadowy room, opened the door to the long hall, and began to step toward her brother’s room.
After a few quiet knocks, she was met by silence. Then with heart pounding, she reached for the handle and gently turned it. As the door to Ezra’s room opened, she looked around his similarly empty room to discover that he was nowhere to be seen.
Eden quickly turned, and then walked out the door and down the hall with her soul frozen in slow motion. Finally reaching the kitchen, she saw her mother and father seated at the table with tears trickling down their cheeks.
It was then that she knew. Ezra had been taken.
“Where is he!” Eden cried out.
With her father’s face turned away, her mother slowly glanced up toward her.
“Oh Eden, he’s gone.”
“But where is he? Why did they take him? Somebody has to do something!” Eden sobbed.
“It’s not that simple,” her mother said. “Once they take you, there is no return.”
Eden’s heart pounded in her skin.
With trembling lips, her mother said, “He made his choices while he was here. And there’s nothing we can do about that any more.”
Suddenly, her father stood up, took a deep breath with his back toward Eden, turned around without saying a word, and walked toward the door.
When the door closed behind him, Eden turned around, walked back to her empty room, and collapsed in her bed.
— — —
As she began to emerge from the blur, Eden couldn’t remember when she had stopped crying. How could her parents not do anything about it, she wondered. Why were they so resigned to accept their reality? Surely there had to be something they could do.
She slowly stood up and began walking across her room to her door.
When she reached the hall, she noticed the dry stretching on her cheeks from her tears. She glanced into the playroom. Nobody was there. She stepped toward the kitchen. But nobody was there either.
Her pace began to pick up. Room after room was empty. But as she creaked open the door to Ezra’s room, there she saw her mother with tissues in her hand, asleep on the bed.
As if hearing an unspoken whisper beckoning her, she turned, walked to the end of the hall, and stared at the front door.
Reaching out for the door, she turned the handle, and pulled.
Peering out into the hall that her father disappeared into every day, Eden noticed that it looked the same as the hall in her home. The only color dancing on the plain cement box was from the shadows of the candles that lined the walls.
At one end of the hall was large door with a strange carving of a table overhead. At the other end was another door with the carving of a cross. Eden recognized that symbol because it appeared at some place in every room of her home. In the middle of the hall was one more door. But this one had no carving.
She wondered why.
So she quietly made her way to the featureless door, and began to open it.
Peeking through the crack, she opened it wider as she saw a long, much taller hall stretching straight ahead. At the end of this hall was an opening to what looked like a much larger room, larger than any room in her home.
Despite the thumping of her chest, Eden pushed her way through the doorway and found herself walking straight ahead toward the large room. When she reached the opening, her eyes widened at the sight. It looked much like her bedroom with plain cement walls, ceiling, and floor. But lining all of the walls were openings into different halls.
Were there others? She wondered.
Why is nobody around? Why is it so quiet?
Just then, she heard the echo of a distant laugher. It sounded like it was coming from a child like her. Then she heard it again.
It was coming from one of the hallways across the way. So she stepped out into the wide space and began to walk through the shadows toward the hall where she had heard the sound.
When she reached the entrance, she noticed a thin light coming from an open door down the hall. The giggling continued to grow with every step until she reached the door and peaked around the corner.
Immediately, she was stunned by the large bright white lights on the other side of the room, and darted her head back behind the door.
Then as she squinted her eyes back around the corner, she noticed on the floor in front of one of the lights sat a young girl, not much older than herself, playing with a stack of colored blocks. Mesmerized at the sight of the color, Eden continued to stare until suddenly the little girl looked up and caught her eye.
Frightened, Eden froze back behind the door and closed her eyes tight.
When she opened them, there stood the little girl in front of her.
“What’s wrong?” asked the girl. “Don’t be afraid. What’s your name?”
Eden stuttered, but was able to answer.
“My name is Anabeth,” the girl replied back. You want to play? Come on in!”
Eden quietly followed Anabeth into the room toward the colored toys, but could not keep her eyes off of the large white lights.
“What’s wrong? Haven’t you ever seen a window before?” Anabeth asked.
“A what?” Eden replied.
“A window. It’s how we see what’s outside,” Anabeth explained, somewhat confused over Eden’s hesitancy.
Each window was covered by a white fabric that allowed the light to shine in, without allowing anyone on the inside to catch a clear glimpse of the outside.
“What’s out there?” Eden asked.
“I’m not completely sure. But I know there are many different colors. And everything seems to move like magic. We’re not supposed to look too much. But every once in a while I try to peak out when nobody is looking. Do you want to try?”
Eden paused. “I don’t know. Where’d you get those toys?”
“Oh these blocks? My parents gave them to me. They’re kind of plain and boring,” Anabeth complained.
“Plain and boring?” Eden asked, surprised. “They look way more cool than what my parents let me play with.”
After few moments of eyeing the toys, Eden said, “I should probably get back. I’m not supposed to leave.”
“I play in here most afternoons. Come back sometime!” Anabeth called out as Eden hurried away.
— — —
Eden made her way quietly toward the hall with the door to her home. She slowly crept up to the door, looking up at its towering disapproval with regret. Silence seemed to wait on the other side.
Then she wrapped her fingers around the cold handle, and stepped forward.
“Where have you been?” her mother sternly demanded. “Do you have any idea the danger that you put yourself in?”
Eden stood still, feeling the weight of her mother’s glare hovering over her. What should she say? What could she say? She felt in her bones that she wanted to run, to be anywhere else other than here. Now that she knew there was somewhere else than here, all she wanted was to be there, wherever it was.
“Say something! Where were you?” her mother scolded again.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Eden replied, rocking back and forth uncomfortably.
“Eden! That’s not going to work this time!” her mother seethed. “If you don’t tell me right now where you were, then I’ll have your father beat you so hard you won’t be able to sit for a week!”
“I played with a friend!” Eden blurted out.
The room was thick with tension as her mother seemed uncertain of how to respond.
“What friend? Where were you? What did you do together?”
Eden thought carefully, knowing that if she didn’t select the right words, it might set her mother off again. “Her name is Anabeth. We played with some toys near the windows.”
Eden’s mother buried her face in her hands. “What did the toys look like?” she asked.
“They were very colorful,” Eden responded.
“Eden, now you listen carefully,” her mother warned. “Those people out there, they claim to be one of us. But they aren’t truly like us. They are given to their flesh, addicted to color, to sound, to touch, to fragrance, to rich food and drink, and to senseless speculation.”
“But mother, they …”
“Don’t interrupt me!” Her mother scolded. “You know what happens if you pursue the pleasures of the body.”
Eden looked down, but nodded knowingly.
“If you pursue the pleasures of the flesh, then you will be punished in the flesh. I don’t want to see that happen to you. So don’t you ever let me catch you wandering out that door again!”
— — —
Eden couldn’t shake the memory of playing with Anabeth, the fear of what happened to Ezra, and the curiosity for the world beyond her walls. Her mother and father didn’t like to answer her questions. In fact, they seemed agitated and impatient whenever questions would arise. It was as if Eden had never wandered out, as if Ezra had never existed, and as if there was nothing besides them doing whatever they were doing within their walls.
But one day, as her mother was resting, Eden couldn’t wait any longer. She reached her trembling arm toward the door and turned the handle.
When she stepped out into the hall, she noticed the two doors once again on either side of the hall—one with the carving of a table and the other with the carving of a cross. Then she made her way to the featureless door that led to the much taller hall and the large, open room.
Everything was quiet.
She walked quickly down the long hall toward the large opening, slowing down just before she reached the corner. Once again, seeing nobody, she focused straight toward the hall where she had first met Anabeth.
Her pace picked up as she strode toward the door where Anabeth had been playing. She turned the corner, faced the light from the large, curtained windows, but saw no one.
The room was empty. Fear began to grip her body as she realized she was all alone and she wasn’t going to find any of the answers to her questions.
Or was she?
She slowly crept toward the curtains, wondering what world of colors she might see.
Lifting her hand and feeling the heavy, stiff fabric between her fingers, Eden began to pull the curtains toward her.
Suddenly, her shoulder felt the grip of a large, strong hand whipping her around.
“Who are you?” the grown man growled. “Where are you from? What are you doing here?”
Just then another man stepped through the door, with steely eyes focusing down on her. After a brief moment, he nodded at the man who was gripping her arm, and hurried off.
“Do you have any idea how much danger you’re in?” the man asked Eden.
Eden struggled to find the words. “But I thought we could have more fun over here. I thought we could be free here.”
“Of course we’re more free than where you came from,” he answered. “But the dangers are still there.”
He began to loosen his grip.
“So how are you more free then?” Eden inquired.
“We aren’t as extreme as the halls where you come from,” he replied.
“But you still believe that if you pursue the pleasures of the flesh, you’ll be punished in the flesh?”
“Of course,” he exclaimed. “That which is done in the body must be punished in the body.”
The man walked over toward the window and began to peer out. But as he was instructing her, his words began to fade while she slipped her way out the door and through the hall.
— — —
With heart pounding, Eden ran through the large center room toward her hall. She couldn’t tell if the echoes of footsteps on the walls were of her own or from somebody chasing her. But she dared not look back.
When she reached the first hall, she noticed the featureless door that led to her hall was closed. She’d have to slow down to open it.
Feeling the invisible arms reaching for her, she slowed down, opened the door, and jumped through. Then as she darted for her door, she realized it was already open. But there was no where else she could go.
Eden darted inside, slamming the door behind her and ran from room to room, looking for her mother. But she was nowhere to be found.
The more she ran, the deeper her heart sank. Her worst nightmare was being realized. Her mother’s place was in their home. But she was gone.
Eden knew that whoever had taken her mother would soon come back for her. So she turned toward the front door, closed her eyes, and opened it.
Her hallway seemed bigger than ever. The featureless door was still closed. She knew she couldn’t go out that way because the men no doubt would be looking for her there. But when she turned toward the door with the cross, she could see the splotches of fresh blood on its frame.
The only other place to run was through the door that featured the carving of a table.
So she forced her feet forward, approached the door, and reached out.
— — —
Eden closed the door behind her as she peered into the darkness and saw a stone staircase winding down to the left. Placing her hands on the jagged walls to steady her, she stepped forward and downward.
In the distance, she could hear the sounds of weeping mixed with screams. But she felt safer there, hidden in the dark. Her eyes began to adjust as a dim, flickering light from down below seemed to greet her.
When she reached the bottom step, she squinted her eyes and saw a catacomb filled with stone tables. On each table, a person was chained.
Eden looked around, but saw nobody guarding the area. So she slowly approached the table directly underneath her home.
A body lay, trembling but still. She could see tubes needled into its veins. Its ribs delicately covered in a thin, paper like skin that seemed to glow.
As she stepped closer to the body, she noticed that its eye lids had been removed, its teeth had been mostly ground down. But its eyes stared straight ahead.
When Eden heard a hum from the ceiling above, she looked up and noticed a tube running down and connecting to the body’s head.
Suddenly the body let out a guttural shriek. The chains began to shake as its teeth clenched and its eyes darted back and forth.
Eden wanted to run, but was frozen in pity for the poor, helpless creature.
“Who could do such a thing?” she wondered. “What is this place?”
Then she noticed the eyes were fixed on her.
The body let out a gut clenching bellow. “Eeee!” It cried.
Eden moved closer.
“Eeeden,” she could hear the body trying to say.
“Ezra?” Eden replied. “Is that you?”
“Eeeden,” she could hear it say again.
“Ezra! We have to get you out of here!”
“No,” he said. “I’m gone. You have to go! You must protect yourself.”
“We have to get father and mother! They will know what to do!”
The machine in the ceiling began to hum again as Ezra’s body tensed up, eyes darted around, teeth clenched, and throat screeched.
Eden’s screams echoed off the catacomb walls, becoming drowned in the wailing of countless suffering souls.
She couldn’t bare to see him like this. She had to find her father and mother. But there was only one more place to go.
— — —
Eden stood before the blood stained door with the carving of a cross. When she opened it, she could hear the sounds of singing and laughter bouncing off the brightly lit stone staircase winding up toward the right.
She had to find her parents. So she ran through the light as the laughter and singing grew. When she reached the top, it opened up into a large ball room filled with dancing, food and wine.
Eden worked her way through a sea of adults, calling out for her parents. But nobody acknowledged her, or even seemed to know she was there.
Pillars filled with water shimmered in colors she had never imagined. Directly over where her home below would be, she noticed one had been broken and its water spilled out onto the floor below.
Some of the dancers were dressed with wings that were covered with eyes. They wore masks on their faces of creatures that Eden had never seen before.
At the far end of the room, she could see a tall, golden throne with a bearded man sitting on it, gleaming from ear to ear. Around the main throne were smaller thrones.
But everyone seemed to be fawning over the man on the largest, highest throne.
“Eden?” She heard a soft voice ask.
She turned. And there stood her mother, dressed in the finest gown Eden had ever seen.
“Mother!” Eden cried out, running for her.
“Mother! We have to help Ezra! He’s chained up in a dungeon and is being tortured! We have to free him!”
Her mother looked down at her, head slightly cocked.
“What?” she asked.
“Ezra has been taken to a dungeon and is being tortured! We have to rescue him!”
But something in her mother’s eyes seemed distant and unconnected.
“Who?” her mother asked.
Eden repeated, “Ezra!”
“I’m sorry, I. I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Eden asked. “He’s your son! He’s my brother!”
Her mother continued looking down at her and began to reveal the slightest smile, “But I don’t have a son. I’ve never had a son.”
All around her, the singing and laughter roared. Eden stood frozen, as her mother turned her face away and walked on to accept a glass of wine.
Tears began to flood down Eden’s cheeks. What could she possibly do now?
Then one of the creatures reached down, lifted her chin, and studied her face. “Come with me,” the creature said.
Eden followed as they walked over toward a gathering circle of people who seemed to be waiting in anticipation. At the center of their circle was a stone table, on which sat an orb.
The creature let go of Eden’s hand at the edge of the gathering and walked toward the orb.
“I will show you the punishment of the inhabitants who gave into their flesh!” the creature announced.
Everyone around began to cheer.
“Behold! The abominations have fallen!” The creature declared. “The unclean and impure are brought low! They boast of their thrones, but lie on their backs! Woe to them and all who pity them! For we know that the suffering of their torment is a reminder of the undeserved joys of glory we now receive! So rejoice! Rejoice over them! Drink your wine and be merry as they writhe and burn, for great is the King’s grace toward you!”
Eden looked on as the orb revealed the face of Ezra, with lidless eyes staring straight ahead. As Ezra began to clench and yelp, the gathered crowed cheered and applauded.
As Ezra’s teeth gnashed, the sound of music swept through the room.
“Isn’t this great?” She heard heard someone ask eagerly.
Eden looked up and saw the eyes of her father, bright and filled with confidence. “Ezra has finally become undone!” he celebrated. “He is receiving the punishment of the flesh that he deserves!”
Eden looked at him in stunned silence.
“Watch him!” he cried out with glee. “Every time he wriggles and writhes, it reminds me of how good it feels to finally drink and dance!” Then her father turned his face away and strode toward the orb to catch a closer look.
— — —
Somehow, amidst the noise, Eden had found her way back toward the stone staircase and began walking home.
She wondered where she should go. Of course, she could stay with her parents and have plenty provided for her. But how could she live there?
She could hide in the catacombs with Ezra and the others who had been condemned. But how could she live there?
Perhaps she could find another place to stay in the rooms and halls. But how could she live there?
Eden had no idea what was on the other side of the windows. She had been told all her life of the dangers that crouch on the other side. Her parents had instilled in her that their world alone held good news and a satisfaction of the soul that no fleshly comforts could ever touch. And she knew if she were ever to get caught, she could find herself flat backed on a stone table like Ezra.
But despite the fear she felt for what grew beyond the walls, there was something in her that wondered: Could she live there? If she could, would there be someone out there who could help rescue Ezra so he could heal and be with her too? And if they could rescue Ezra, could they bring her parents to their senses?
She pushed through the blood stained door, took one last look at her childhood home, breathed in deep, and then opened the next door and walked steadily through the long hall.
When she reached the room where she had met Anabeth, she saw Anabeth playing with the colored blocks on the floor near the window.
“Oh hi!” Anabeth looked up. “Do you want to play?”
Eden slowly walked toward her and stood silently.
“Let’s play!” Anabeth offered, holding out one of the colored blocks to her.
“I can’t” answered Eden. “I have to go.”
“Why?” Anabeth asked, seemingly confused.
“There’s really nothing good here. It hurts too much, and I have to get help for my family,” Eden replied.
“But where else would you go?” Anabeth asked.
Eden looked toward the window.
“No. You can’t do that,” Anabeth warned. “You know the danger of leaving.”
“You don’t understand,” Eden said. “The danger is already here. It’s all around us. And it touches everything.”
“It’s not that bad though. Maybe you should hang out with us on our hall. I’m sure we could find a place for you here. We’re not like the people you’ve been with before,” Anabeth pleaded.
“But you’re still here!” Eden gritted through her teeth. “You’re still controlled by the same threats. You still face the same danger that we faced!”
“It’s better than what’s coming for those out there though!” Anabeth shouted.
“How do you know that!” Eden began to bawl. “You’ve only been told that. But you don’t know!”
Then Eden reached for the block that Anabeth had been holding, marched toward the window, ripped open the curtain, and shattered the glass.
“Please, please stay,” Anabeth pleaded.
But Eden had already made up her mind. It was time to leave home.
She reached her arms up to the window sill. “Can you help me up?”
Through a tear of her own, Anabeth resigned. “Sure. But I’ll be here when you come back.”
Eden placed her foot in Anabeth’s hand, pulled herself up, and knew she’d never go back again until she found someone who could rescue Ezra.
— — —
She felt the thud of the ground as she landed in the tall, swishy grass.
A warm sensation touched her skin that seemed to emanate from a bright light high overhead.
As Eden began walking away, she could feel the breeze on her cheeks. In the distance, she saw a line of trees that seemed like a good place to find cover. So she ran.
Without looking back, she ran through the tall grass, feeling it brush her legs.
The closer she got to the trees, she could hear the squeaks of little creatures in the branches high above.
Then when she reached the edge of the forest, she jumped behind a tree, breathing heavily.
As she caught her breath, she slowly turned her face back toward the direction where she had run. In the distance, she could see a large concrete building, with just a few windows around the sides.
“Where’d you come from?” A woman’s voice asked. “How’d you get all the way out here? Where’s your home?”
Eden whipped around and saw an elderly woman, with shining white hair, dressed in colors that looked like the trees, and holding a walking stick that was wrapped in red serpents.
Something about the woman seemed dangerous. But she also felt drawn.
“I came from there,” Eden answered, pointing to the concrete building behind her.
The old woman looked up, squinting.
Did she know something? Or did she not know anything? Could she be trusted? Eden wasn’t quite sure.
Then the woman walked over, knelt down to see Eden face to face, and replied, “Oh come on. No one lives there.”