| Three young girls were trapped in an old, musty cell, somewhere in the deepest dungeon of some faraway, forbidden fortress. It smelled of damp, and of forgotten things, like a wound never treated and left to fester. Here and there one could hear the snickering of rats, and the scuffling of rat feet. By no means was it the kind of place any group of people would want to find themselves locked up in, much less three young girls.
Outside their prison, a faint, flickering yellow light from an oil lamp stole some of the darkness from the enveloping shadows. It illuminated the bone dry bars that held them in and, just beyond their reach outside the said bars, the rickety table whereupon sat a ring of rusty keys. Though faced with uncertainty, and choked by the fear of never seeing the sun again, the lamplight, and the sight of the ring which held the key to their freedom, ignited a sputtering flame in the girls’ hearts.
The youngest of these girls, and also the smallest, was Miu. Round of face and eyes, with a bob cut that served only to accentuate her childish features, she appeared positively cherubic – the kind of girl who, if brought to tears, would make you want to offer the world to her, if only to see her smile once more.
Although Miu was very afraid, she was also the most optimistic of the three, and thus the most affected by the whispers of hope. “We’ll get out soon,” she said to her two companions, cheerfully. “You’ll see. I bet our friends have already stormed the fortress. I bet they’re looking for us right now.”
“You seem pretty sure of that,” said the second girl, Ilona, who was only a year Miu’s senior. Ilona shared none of her friend’s seemingly baseless enthusiasm.
“I am,” Miu said confidently. She walked over to the bars.
“What are you doing?” Ilona asked her.
“I’m going to stand here, so that when our friends come to rescue us, I’ll be the first to greet them.”
“Nice,” Ilona said, her voice laced with sarcasm. “You do that, then.”
Miu stood, unflinching, behind the bars.
“Our friends there yet?” Ilona asked.
An hour passed.
“So where are they?” Ilona yipped in Miu’s general direction.
“They’re coming,” Miu said silently. “Hello?” she called out.
Outside the cell, the oil lamp sputtered quietly in response.
“Hello!” she cried out once more, her tiny voice gaining in volume. “Please! We’re here! We’re down here! Please help us!”
“Please… you’re coming… aren’t you?”
“They’re not coming,” Ilona said softly, the doubt that had crept into her youngest companion’s voice breaking her heart. She walked over to where Miu stood sobbing. Then, gently, she pushed her aside. “At times like these,” she said to the younger girl, “the only one you can depend on is yourself.” Miu blinked quizzically at her as warm, fat tears rolled down her plump face.
Ilona had straight dark hair that fell just past her chin. Though in many ways as child-like in appearance as Miu, Ilona possessed two of the fiercest dark eyes you would ever come across. They spoke of a brashness that bordered on arrogance, but also of determination, passion, and a genuine desire to help.
Ilona gripped the bars, and gnashed her teeth. Then, with a grunt of effort, she pulled, as hard as she could. Her line of thinking was this: “These bars look positively ancient. I bet I can break ‘em, if I apply enough pressure to the weak spots. And sooner or later, those spots will give.”
And so she pulled and she pushed, she stretched and she heaved, until she was red in the ears and the face with the rush of blood, and her hands purple with bruises and white with blisters. All this in an effort to find the invisible chinks and cracks, which she was cocksure existed, in those bars (for they looked very old – no, antiquated – indeed).
After about an hour of futile wrestling, Ilona, panting, stepped back from the bars. She turned around to see Miu trying very hard not to smile.
“What’s so funny?” she snapped.
“I’m sorry,” Miu said, stifling a giggle.
“You think it’s funny, do you? Well, why don’t you try it?”
“N-no, thank you,” the little one said, chuckling.
At the blackest corner of the prison cell, the third among them observed silently. She had been watching her two companions for near three hours, quietly and patiently, as if awaiting the turn she knew would eventually be hers. And now that all attempts at escape had miserably failed, she knew, without knowing, that it was her time to act.
Slowly, reluctantly, the shadow peeled itself off her skin, as the third girl came forward into the hollow sheen of the lamplight. Miu and Ilona turned and fell dead silent at her approach.
She was tall and unusually pale, with smooth, ebony hair that grew past her shoulders and reached all the way down to the small of her back. To have called her beautiful then would have been an understatement. For there was something about her, especially in the way the lamplight never reflected in her gray eyes, that seemed to transcend beauty, as only death can transcend the pain of being alive.
“Samantha?” Ilona asked, her heart in her throat for a moment. Although she and Samantha were constant companions, she had never gotten quite used to being sneaked up on by her taller friend.
“Let me try,” Samantha said, her voice like the mist settling on a grave on a cold, grey morning.
“Okay,” Ilona said, moving aside. Miu stepped three, four steps back.
Samantha stood close to the bars. She reached forward with her right forearm, inserting it, all the way to the elbow, in the gap between two bars. Then, she turned her forearm, positioning it so that she could stretch her hand backwards into the gap between the next two bars.
She turned to Ilona. “I’ll need your help with this.”
Ilona, puzzled, nevertheless stepped forward next to Samantha.
“Take my hand,” Samantha said. Ilona obeyed mutely. “Now. I need you to hold on tight. And I need you to pull, as hard as you can until… until it cracks.”
“What?” Ilona gasped, shaken.
“I need you to break my arm.”
“No way!” Ilona cried, suddenly able to read her cellmate’s mind. “Can’t… can’t you just break it yourself? I mean, you can use your right hand to, um, break your left arm…”
“I can do that,” Samantha whispered, “but this plan will work much better if I break my right. I’m right-handed.”
“Oh. Y-yeah. Um. All right.”
“Will you do it?”
“I… I don’t suppose I have much of a choice, do I?”
Ilona gripped her friend’s right hand, and closed her eyes, tight. Then, as practiced as she was with pulling with all her might, having spent the last hour trying to pry open the bars… she pulled with all her might. There was a loud, sickening crack as the arm broke against the bar. Disgusted, she let go and opened her eyes.
Samantha’s broken forearm now hung loosely, by a thread of sinew, to her elbow.
“Oh God,” Ilona muttered. “That’s so gross.”
Miu had covered her eyes.
Samantha turned to face them, saying nothing.
“D-doesn’t that hurt?” Ilona said, flabbergasted that Samantha wasn’t screaming and running around in circles.
“It’s uncomfortable,” said Samantha, simply. “This won’t do. We have to severe the arm completely.”
“Well what the hell do you want me to do?” Ilona yelled. “Bite it off?”
“No. Just pull. Again. Please.”
“Shit!” Ilona said, now with tears in her eyes as well. Grinding her teeth, she grabbed hold of the dangling right arm, and pulled, once more. She did so with so much force that she lost her balance, and was flung to the far wall. When she opened her eyes, she saw the arm lying on the floor at her feet. This time, it had come off completely.
Samantha nodded, satisfied. Then, as if it was still attached to her body, the broken arm began to move, scuttling like a spider on its legs, across the dusty prison floor, and out the bars. Miu shrieked.
Samantha’s grey eyes locked on the ring of keys on top of the weathered table. The hand skittered towards it, the fingers grabbing at the table legs. Dexterously, the fingers began to climb, hooking and swinging. The hand moved up and up, slowly but surely.
“Quite the acrobat,” Ilona said, staring, aghast in morbid fascination.
The hand was on top of the table. Deftly the fingers picked up the ring. The keys jingled as the hand took a flying leap off the table (eliciting another terrified shriek from Miu) and on to the floor just in front of the cell.
“Take the keys,” Samantha told Ilona. The latter did so.
Samantha picked up her severed forearm and began the task of reattaching it to her elbow, muscles and tendons and bone intertwining and stitching together.
“I… I can’t believe that that doesn’t hurt you,” Ilona said, pausing to look at her companion.
A slight grimace rippled through Samantha’s otherwise smooth, almost ethereal features. “It hurts,” she admitted.
“Then why’d you do it?”
“At times like these, the only one you can depend on is yourself,” Samantha said, echoing the other’s earlier statement.
“Y-yeah! But… you didn’t have to go that far!”
“I had to.”
“Because it was the only way,” she said, looking at Ilona. And the latter, for all the horror she had witnessed in the last few minutes, was not prepared for what she saw in those pale, gray eyes: loss and incredible sadness, a soul trapped in untold, unfathomable depths of loneliness where no light, and no warmth, ever reached. A soul yearning for freedom but finding itself left behind, far, far behind by time, memory, and hope.
“Now, have you found the right key?” Samantha asked, her voice last breath’s faint whisper.
“I… I believe so,” Ilona replied quietly, shuddering from a sudden chill.
“Good. Then let’s get out of here.”
Ilona twisted the key in the lock, and the bars, as a whole, came open.
They were free.