Chapter 8

Copyright © 2022 Norma Rrae.

Luci’s body wilted into the sands at the lake bottom, like a
flower someone forgot to feed. She grasped handfuls of the
water-bogged dirt and tried pulling herself along. Her chest
tightened with each movement since she had no energy left. Her
mind spun with pictures of her mom purposely running from
the car while Luci was unconscious. Another handful of useless
sand. The memory of her father wholeheartedly agreeing to the
trip. Finally, her body settled into a deep indent on the lake floor.

Her head spun from the lack of oxygen and overabundance
of worries.

An all-white fish with bones protruding smacked into Luci’s
leg. The hit broke the threat of unconsciousness. An undercurrent
whipped past her face.

A dozen ghost fish pelted her side, causing Luci to painfully
slither along the silty lake bottom towards the fast-moving funnel.

Daylight shone through the surface far above. Luci grabbed a
ghost fish as it swam past. He was slippery, but she held on. The
fish swam ferociously, pulling her from the watery grave.
It wasn’t Efra’s fault she was drowning. It was hers. She had
given up and succumbed to the weight of her emotions. She was
worried and scared. She was full of fear. But there was no one to
save her, it had to be her.

Luci let go of the ghost fish and grabbed another higher up.
This one pulled her to the undertow, where she belted through the
water. She kicked and pulled water towards herself with her arms.
Fear forces us into action. The idea blossomed in her mind along
with her father’s face when he had happily agreed to her northern
trip. Did he want Luci gone too? Or did he want her to return
stronger? But there was not an ounce of strength left in her soul.

Luci’s muscles were soft, waving like seaweed in the current.
Her arms and legs quivered from exhaustion. She grabbed onto a
ghost fish, but he swam her back towards the bottom.

Fear is a virus that will spread if you let it. The idea released the
weight that had settled in Luci’s mind.

Her mother wouldn’t have wanted this for Luci. Her heart
told her that. Somewhere, she pulled the strength together to save
herself. She had to continue her quest to find her mother.

Luci let go of the fish.

She kicked off one ghost fish to propel to another ghost fish,
then another, until she broke the crust of the water.

Luci vomited water as she climbed onto the floating logs.
She looked back, and a hundred ghost fish watched her below
the surface.

She mouthed the words “thank you” and crawled until she
got to solid ground.

Efra was gone. Jones was gone. And the logs she had waterskied on were tied securely to his underside house across the lake. She
scowled, not sure if she had passed this trial or failed. He had the
wood he required. But he’d stolen something from her, and that
made her angry. The dragonfly breath could have prevented all
that panic and near-drowning. Although, she wondered, would
she have forced herself to learn to swim if she’d had the breath?

Luci lay for several long minutes with her face in the grass on
the shore. She didn’t even care if a spider crawled in her mouth.

She was tired.

Luci rolled over and checked her pocket, but no more plums
were left. She slowly peeled herself off the ground. “For Mom,”
she said.

Luci hiked back to the mines but stayed some distance back.
The sideways dune continued to burn ferociously. The collapsed
tunnel she had escaped through reminded her of the destruction
she’d caused. She apologized, in her mind, to the animals in that
mine. She hoped they had all escaped unscathed.

Luci searched for a route to the labyrinth Efra mentioned. It
was her next best lead. She chose the path that seemed the least
aggressive, away from the mountains and lake towards a forest.

The mint-green grass scratched where her legs were bare,
adding to her emotional state. A moth f lapped around her head as
she walked. The colour of the landscape faded with each step. She
wondered if she was walking into a daymare. Then, as if someone
flicked the light switch off, everything drained to black and grey.
So bland. The moth swooped past Luci’s nose, bursting with an
ashy glitter behind him.

A deep-rooted fear shivered down her spine. She had no
camera to confirm if this was reality or a daymare. A hallucination.
Crazy. She didn’t want to be called crazy.

A different way of living, how could Zavian make it sound
simple? Luci didn’t want a different life, just an everyday life
with her mother, father, and brother. School was fine as well.

She supposed classes could stay in the mix with the occasional
movie night, and everyday life would be sufficient for her heart.
But here she was.

Deeper into the grey world, Luci looked for the white cloud
that she hoped was Keres sent to help. But, unfortunately, the only
clouds above her head were black with silver streaks threatening
rain. She kept her eyes down, trying to fight the idea she might
be losing her mind.

A voice shattered her downward spiral of thoughts. “Such a
pity when they’re pretty and sad.”

Luci swivelled her head around, looking for the owner. But,
instead, she saw only that moth, velvet wings swooping among
willow trees with gangly branches that stretched to the ground
like bent over exhausted bodies. The moth steered up into the
tree crowns, blotting the sky, and then disappeared.

“Hello?” Luci called.

A wind brushed the side of her face. Luci saw the moth again.
His little face was centred with two pearl-like eyes, a smidge for
a nose, and a circle for a mouth. He passed with grey bursts on
every swift breeze.

“Suppose a little daft too,” the voice said.

Luci spun angrily. “Pardon me?”

“I can see the simpleness glazing over your eyes. You have no
clue what is happening here, do you?”

“Show yourself if you’re to insult me,” Luci demanded.

“Why would I give away the upper hand to a sad, simple
girl?” the voice asked.

Luci frantically searched beneath curtains made of willow
branches and under piles of leaves. There was no sign of anyone,
yet the voice seemed to follow her. Finally, she frowned and said,

“I am not simple.”

The moth hoovered in front of her face. She flinched at angry
eye markings that f lashed with each downbeat of the moth’s wings.

He landed on a tree branch, causing a light glitter-like substance to
burst. The dust washed away the colour from his surroundings. His
body followed the glitter down, and he grew into a Memegwaan.
But his eye sockets were a rotten f leshy grey, and he blinked
one eye at a time.

“Sad,” he said.

Luci wiped a hand over her face, pulling down on her cheeks
and lips, trying to wipe away the emotion. She didn’t want to speak
to him. She didn’t want to be near him, but she had to try at least.

“I’ve lost my mother, have you seen her? She talks about fairy
garden homes a lot,” Luci said.

“I have not,” he said.

“Do you know where the labyrinth is?” Luci asked.

The Memegwaan lifted a hand and threw grey dust at the
trees that surrounded them both. Luci took a cautious step back.

A tree bent sideways, twisted to darkness from the grey dust, and
pushed her towards the Memegwaan. Luci fought against the tree
limbs that propelled her forward.

She was so close that when he peeled his lips back from gnarly
teeth to answer, she could smell his rancid breath. “I do.”

His triangular head swarmed with millions of tiny hookworms
that suckled from his scalp. Luci gagged as the worms heatedly fell
to the ground. He squashed the fugitives with his foot.

“Could you, uh, tell me, please?” Luci asked.

Willow trees were shaded dusty white, like chalk, and crowded
in to block her. She found herself locked in a small space with the
Memegwaan that gave her an ominous chill. But she needed to
know the location of the labyrinth. She wished for Zavian.

“Sure,” the mean-looking Memegwaan shrugged, “come closer.”

Luci didn’t want to move any closer.

The Memegwaan jerked a branch covered in cobwebs back
and let go causing it to swing straight for Luci’s face. She ducked.

“Why you—”

“Name is Ashier,” the Memegwaan said. “Goodbye.”
He threw his hands up, and more bland glitter flew over Luci.
She sneezed. The tiny particles stretched through the air into
black sheet-like forms that blanketed her. The material was icecold,
like a winter wind stabbing her skin. She cried out. Then
the blackout sheet slid from her face, and Luci realized she’d gone
somewhere else.

She stood on a tall snow-covered mountain. Colours of the
land around her mirrored an antique photo. The celestial sky,
that should swim with stars and streaks of light, was solid drab of
nothing. But the sun was there! A ghastly grey, like a memory of
what the magnificent burning star had once been. It sat on the
horizon with an evening kiss just before it would dip below the
valley. She descended the mountain between mildew-shaded trees.

Withered grasses framed a dried-up riverbed weaving below,
and the tight rope in her chest pulled her in that direction. The air
grew deathly cold near the bottom. Tiny f lakes of snow drifted to
the ground but disappeared before landing. Luci felt confused. She
felt more lost than before. This place was no longer The Otherly,
and she was desperately far from help now. She could taste the
raw panic rising in her throat.

An elk bugled in the distance, and she wondered if she was
back on Earth, but then a freezing wind crashed through the
dead trees with a sound like a banshee screaming, and Luci knew
she was now even further from Earth. She jumped then ran the
remainder of the way down the mountain.

At the bottom, she lowered herself into the dried riverbed
to escape wind gusts. Luci ran towards the sunset and ignored
the roar that grew in the distance. She couldn’t handle any
more setbacks. But the grey land decided otherwise as the sound
increased, until she heard it as rushing water.

Luci searched the blackening landscape and found the source.
It was water!

As if floodgates had opened, a massive wave rushed down the
dry riverbed straight for her.

Luci bolted to the edge. The wave’s roar drowned out the
sound of her heart pounding. She risked a glance back that caused
her to falter then fall.

Luci crashed hard. Sharp pebbles dug into the soft skin on her
knees. She braced for impact from the enormous wave that chased
her down the dry river bed.

But then nothing happened.

The water should have hit by now. But, instead, Luci gasped
when she rolled over and saw the water sitting impossibly high
in the sky as if stopped by an equally impossible invisible wall.

An ominous face stared at her through the wavering liquid
partition. She took the opportunity and clambered out of the
riverbed, breathless. The moment both her feet were on the land,
the water crashed and smoothed out to f low gently.

Luci stood and brushed herself off. At least the run had
warmed her blood for a moment. Her feet felt less numb from
the cold. She looked up to see a large willow tree covered with
long cobwebs that mirrored one she vaguely remembered from
The Otherly. In the cobwebs, she saw the same livid face from
the water wall open its mouth in a soundless scream.

Luci screamed. She ducked under the white billows hanging
off the ghostly tree to move away from the face, but it shifted from
one tree to the next to keep watch.

A branch heavier than her dread broke off, landing with a loud
thump. The branch tore open a slit in the air as if the atmosphere
were simply a cloth backdrop. Cobwebs spewed through the cut.
Luci frantically clawed the mess away to see what was inside the tear.
It appeared to be an entryway to a dark place.

Her mouth went dry, and her inner voice silenced. This dark
place felt like her daymares solidified. The rope in her chest
jerked her forward. Luci tore at the small opening, making it large enough to climb through against her better judgement. It was the
taught rope in her chest that insisted.

She pushed through swatches of thick webbing. The deeper
she walked, the darker it became.

All she could see was darkness; the taste was dampness, and the
only sound was a distant voice whispering. Then heels clicked on a
tile floor—tap, tap, tap. The sound drew closer, but she saw nothing.

A woman’s confident voice called, “Girl.”

The darkness held Luci with sticky black cobwebs. She
struggled for several long minutes before her arm finally burst
free. When she caught sight of her hand out of the darkness,
though, she shrieked.

The cobwebs ate the colour out of her flesh. They fed on the
pigment until it was a grey ashy tone.

“Girl, this way,” the reassuring voice said.

“Where?” Luci asked.

Her voice foreign, full of panic. The cobwebs crawled up her
throat and into her mouth.

A polished seed of hysteria planted itself in Luci’s mind. She
pushed against the cocoon, making little progress, inch by inch.

“Come on, girl. Some distance further. I cannot see you,”
the voice said.

Luci flailed her hands until she hit something. A wall. She
felt around for a door handle, but her hands pushed deeper into
the dark material.

“Where are you?” Luci asked.

“That’s it, rip the screen,” the voice said.

Maybe this nothing she walked through was the by-product
of her mind snapping.

Luci scared herself with the sound of her voice. “What screen?
I can’t see. I’m stuck.”

She dug her fingers into the black sheet of webbing and
pulled. It stretched and rebounded, too strong for her. Then a tearing sound. Luci pulled harder, pushing all her frustration of
losing her mother into the rubber-like wall. She grabbed handfuls
and tore.

The voice was encouraging. “That’s it. You’re almost through.”

She smelled soot, the remnants of a coal fire. Then, finally,
the sheet tore, echoing a rip of tinfoil, and she broke through,
collapsing on a hard tile floor.

Luci laughed with relief as the peach hue returned to her skin.
She was in a chamber where the air tasted stale, and all the noise
in the coal-dusted space sounded muff led. Even her breathing
was different.

A woman in a nurse’s uniform, long ivory hair sweeping
the floor as she walked a circle around Luci, heels clicking. Tap,
tap, tap.

Luci’s soft copper curls floated in the air around her face as if
there were no gravity.

“Wh-what is this place?” Luci asked.

The woman answered by grabbing Luci’s hands and yanking
her to her feet. Luci pulled free with some effort, then asked,
“Are you Keres?”

The woman’s face came to life slowly. Every section lit up separately, like the gradual turning on of neon bulbs in a gymnasium. A strange smile spread along her lips. The movement exposed deep wrinkles packed with sooty dust, the only colour on her bone-white face.
Her black eyes twisted like kaleidoscopes with wisps shooting
out occasionally. Her limp hair didn’t move when she spoke with
a bobbing head. The words spun from her mouth like cold silk
against Luci’s ears. “No, girl, but I could tell you something else
entirely,” the woman said.

“What’s that?” Luci asked.

The woman shrugged, causing sharp cracks and pops. “It’s
not time to say.”

Luci looked around for the exit. She didn’t want to wait
around for the right time to learn the information. “How did I
get in here?”

“With your energy,” she said.


“It takes a special breed to enter. I’ve sensed you. Up there,
walking around in The Otherly. I wanted to meet you,” the
woman said.

Luci swallowed. “What do you want to tell me?”

The woman smirked. “Well, aren’t you a cut-to-the-chase
type of lady?”

“I, uh, I’m trying to find my mom. Now, please, how do I
get back? I need to go.”

“My dear, there is no leaving,” the woman said.

Luci swallowed hard, “I’ve heard this fact already. I only need
to complete one more trial before the door out of The Otherly

“You’re not in The Otherly anymore.”

Luci already knew this in her subconscious. “Where am I? I
mean, where are we?” she asked.

Darkness hid everything behind the woman, yet her pasty
skin eerily glowed.

The woman lifted the cardboard nurse’s cap from her head
like a greeting. “Can’t you see where you are?”

“It’s too dark. I can’t see anything,” Luci said.

The woman replaced the cap to her head, pinched something
invisible in the air, and pulled. Click. A single bulb appeared,
swinging from a chain, which gave a burst of moving light,
revealing all that was hidden in the shadows.

Luci stood in a chamber with fire-scorched stone walls and piles
of soot swept up to the corners. The room wasn’t square or octagon
but had thousands of walls, jutting in every possible direction. It
was a myriagon. Rows of iron beds packed the single room. Each enclosed bed had a small opening where the occupant’s head sat
free on a table. The heavily chained lids creaked as balloons pulsed
with artificial breath inside the iron lungs. The soft wheezing that
filled the room made her feel nauseous.

Luci stepped towards the nearest bed. “Who are these people?”
she asked.


Luci jumped back. “What do you mean?”

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” The woman leaned towards
Luci and inhaled deeply through her nose. “You smell new. How
old are you?”

“That’s none of your business,” Luci snapped, stepping back
from the woman. She backed into an iron lung where a frail
woman tried to free her arm. The impact caused a pop, and Luci
realized the ailing woman’s shoulder had dislocated. Luci tasted
bile in her throat. The woman in heels ignored Luci’s distress and
stepped closer again.

“My name’s Chamier,” she said.

Chamier lifted her hand to her chin as if posing for a fashion
photo, then asked, “What’s your name?”

Luci frantically looked around for an exit. Chamier tapped
her toe incessantly, waiting for an answer.


“If you say so, girl.”

“Well, it certainly isn’t girl,” Luci said.

She wanted to flee this place. But she couldn’t tell where she’d
entered or where she could leave. The chamber stretched further
whenever she squinted into the distance. Maybe this was a trial?
A painful moan demanded Luci’s attention. She noticed a man
staring at her with thin hair clinging in patches on his scalp. Each
breath drained the small fat deposits on his face. Chamier’s word
echoed in Luci’s mind, food.

“Well, you certainly don’t smell like a Luci,” Chamier said.

She was intent on standing too close and waving her hand through
the girl’s floating hair.

Luci didn’t like the way Chamier spoke. The word selection
of “smell” and speaking of these people as “food”. Luci tried to
appear casual as she turned away and touched a set of chains on
a nearby iron bed. The weight of the chains sent a shivering fear
down her neck. Something felt very wrong.

“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” Luci said

“It means your mother is a dreadful liar,” Chamier said.

“Pardon me?”

Chamier suddenly looked behind her as if called, but Luci
hadn’t heard a thing except for chains rattling.

“If your mother said your name is Luci, she lied. I can smell
the deceit on you. You feel it too, sometimes, don’t you? That
tightness in your chest you don’t understand. You try to prevent
something from uncoiling since you don’t want to know the
truth. It scares you. The truth of what’s hidden.” Chamier paused,
sniffed deeply, and then said, “Behind the ref lection of the water.
Between the waves of the f low of your life.”

Luci’s heart faltered. She forced her legs to walk to the next
iron lung, mostly to get away from Chamier but also to escape
what she felt was true. The Otherly had beckoned her, and the
truth was unravelling in her chest too fast. Luci stared down at a
deformed creature that looked vaguely like a brown bear. His fur
was bleached white, and his ears appeared chewed or dissolved.
Luci kept her face towards the iron lung but shot her eyes around,
secretly looking for an exit. “Why are these …” she hesitated,
unsure she wanted to know the answer, “people here?” she asked.

The occupants of the iron lungs were mere outlines of people
and animals holding on to the last tendril of life. Creatures of
all types left to rot until all that was left were bony structures
containing their tattered souls. Decrepit animals and withered people alike moaned throughout the chamber. A silent tear slid down Luci’s cheek.

“They’re ill,” Chamier said.

Luci stepped between rows. “Ill?” she repeated.

Chamier hovered close behind Luci, and she felt cold fingers
breeze through her hair, which made her pick up the pace.

Of all the iron-caged beds, not one appeared vacant. Some
prisoners followed Luci’s movements with glazed-over eyes,
mouths creaking open, while others slept. Or perhaps they were
dead. But all trapped in the same nightmare. A feeling of dread
told Luci she should not be here. There was no trial to complete.
Chamier’s fingers crawled along Luci’s arm. “They are
undergoing heal time.”

“What do they need to be healed from?” Luci asked.

“It is not what. It is why,” Chamier said.

The next bed held a woman with eyes sealed shut by crusty
blood tears. Her eyeballs rolled behind the lids as if dreaming, but
Luci felt they were more likely rolling in pain. Red tears trailed
down her cheeks to pool in her hair.

Luci reached out to wipe a tear from the woman’s cheek, but
Chamier briskly pulled her hand away. “Why do they need to
be healed?”

Luci knew she had taken the bait, but she didn’t want to travel
any further into this chamber. The faces became less human the
deeper she went. Deeply pained cries rattled Luci down to her
core. The directional rope turned against her and choked the
air out of her chest. Before she realized what was happening,
a wheeze escaped her lips that matched the sound made by the
iron lungs. She covered her ears. She wanted to scream for them
to stop.

Chamier suddenly clapped her hands, and the room full of
painful screams muted as if a silencing blanket dropped. The

faces twisted in pain when the wheezing stopped as if something
invisible had snuffed out their breath.

Chamier’s words slithered into Luci’s ear like a worm. “Life
is a virus. They need to be relieved of that curse.”

Luci had to force words over her sandpaper-like tongue to
say, “That’s horrible.” What she wanted to say was this made no
sense. Chamier spoke like she was curing them, but it looked like
she was killing them.

“Indeed, life is a horrible thing,” Chamier said.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Isn’t it better to drain the virus of life? Eat it away to create
powerful living energy rather than have it wasted?”

Luci turned and stared Chamier down. “Death. What you
speak of is killing them.”

“Not quite. A keeper’s power drains when holding planes of
existence together like this one or The Otherly. Even Equilibrium,”
Chamier pointed up, “requires an immense amount of magic. Up
there takes energy from down here. So, where do I get energy?
This place functions because of me, and I feed off it, or, well, the
energy their lives give me.”

“This isn’t right,” Luci said.

Chamier dug her fingers into Luci’s bare arm. Again, the cold
seeped in. Again, Luci tried to pull away, but this time, she failed.

“What is it you wanted to tell me?” Luci asked.

Chamier casually played with the strands of Luci’s f loating
hair. The girl felt nauseous when she realized her hair danced,
airborne, since she was full of the energy Chamier sought.
The fresh scent of living power was what the woman had been
smelling. Luci had to escape. Now.

“I can help you,” Chamier said.

Luci didn’t want this woman’s help. “How?”

“Didn’t you listen to anything I just told you?” Chamier said,
her voice rising in anger. “I can cure you of this virus.”

She grabbed Luci by both shoulders and shook her so hard
that everything blurred. Then Chamier let go, and Luci slammed
backwards into an iron lung. She wrenched her back by her hair,
shook her again, then tossed her like a rag doll into the same iron
lung. Luci’s head hurt. A bolt above her head, covered in rust
bites, snapped free from the impact.

A man half-rolled out of his iron confinement, but his legs
remained trapped. He lifted his ghastly large head on a fingerwidth
neck and opened his mouth. Leeches fell free. His coarse
voice scared Luci into action when he said, “Flee, run, go!” He
struggled to free himself. Luci grabbed him by the arms and tried
to help. Instead, Chamier’s body slammed Luci away.

She crashed into the next bed over and something cracked in
her shoulder. A f lash of pain made Luci fear she would pass out.
Chamier tackled the man. He screamed for Luci to escape as
Chamier stuffed him back into the soul-eating bed. Luci wanted
to help him, but Chamier was already slamming the lid back down
on the iron bed. Luci wouldn’t let his valiant attempt go to waste.

Even in blinding pain, she jumped up and sprinted away. She ran to
the nearest wall, searching for anything resembling an exit. There
was nothing. She ran through a row of iron lungs to a second wall.
Still no sign of a door or the seam she entered through.

Luci scanned the chamber. Every row of iron lungs looked
identical. A perpendicular line appeared at the end of each,
creating an endless loop of torture beds. She couldn’t even see
Chamier. Luci crouched to hide behind an iron bed, out of breath,
scared, and very much in pain.

“You have to escape,” a voice croaked.

Luci looked up at the creature who barely resembled a woman.
Dark pits remained where her ears should have been, but there
was still a small flap of skin to hold pearl earrings. Her eyes were
sunk so far back they sat on either side of her head, just above her ears. Grotesque but desperate to get information across to Luci,
she forced words between each breath.
“Leave. While you still can.”

“What’s happened here?” Luci asked. Her nerves made her
want to scream the words. But, instead, she stuffed her fist against
her mouth to stifle the need to cry out.

“Discarded by The Otherly. Tossed away. We were locked here.
The nurse came. If we leave, she’ll drag us back. If we stay, we’ll
become something evil. Help us. Please,” the woman pleaded.

“How do I help?” Luci asked.

A pause, the lung shuddered with a breath. “You need to

Luci peeked around the edge of the iron bed but still didn’t
see any sign of Chamier. “What do I need to know?”

“The name of this place.” Breath. “If you learn it,” breath,
“you can seal it.”

“What’s the name?” Luci asked.

“I do not know,” the woman whispered. The iron lung
stopped breathing for another long moment, then resumed. “Only
keepers know.”

“OK,” Luci said, “OK, I will find out. I’ll seal this place.”

The woman closed her eyes. Luci put a hand on her hot
forehead to comfort her. Blood gurgled between her teeth, and
the wheeze of her iron lung stopped. Luci hit it to make the
breathing start again.

The single bulb swung in the distance, washing light over the
area. Luci saw the seam where she’d entered. In an instant, she
was on her toes, ready to dash for the light. But she felt a strange
tickle on the top of her head. Her hand went up instinctively. A
stiff tuft of something was stuck, just there in her hair. She gripped
the object, which made a sickening crunch sound. Bile rose in
her throat. She pulled the thing from her hair and opened her
palm. To her fright, it was a pasty white spider. She flung it to the ground, disgusted. The spider sprawled out on its back with
its legs kicking in the air, making an awful squealing.

The spider found its centre of gravity and jumped back to its
feet. Legs bent for a split second before it lunged at Luci’s face.
She swatted the spider away in mid-air with adrenaline-driven
accuracy. It flew through the air and landed with a splat, then
scurried under the closest iron bed.

Gross. Luci shuddered. She turned a corner, and Chamier’s
face was right there, staring straight into the girl’s energized soul.
Luci fell to her butt and yelled, “Stay away from me!”

“Too late for that,” Chamier said.

“What you’re doing here is wrong. These people’s lives are
their own, not for you to drain for your powers. They should be
released back to Earth,” Luci yelled.

Fuelled by the sorrow of a pleading woman, Luci jumped
up and stood toe to toe with Chamier. She hoped her tall frame
would intimidate Chamier. But, instead, the woman tilted her
head to the side, like a puppy misunderstanding a command,
then pushed Luci to the ground with surprising strength. She
was strong. But Luci was angry. “You can’t keep me down. I will
find a way to stop what you’re doing here. I will find a way to
free these captives.”

Chamier laughed. The lids on the iron lungs banged. “No,
you won’t. I’m the keeper, girl,” she snarled. “Every Otherian
knows no one ever leaves here.”

The spider crawled out from under the iron lung. Chamier
plucked him off the f loor with her long twisted nails. The spider
kicked and squealed in the air as she held him up, examining
the insect. Then she swallowed him whole with an exaggerated
gulp. Chamier fell to the ground on her hands and knees. On
contact, each appendage melted into the soot-covered floor. They
stretched into long spikes, elbows snapping at alarming angles and
stretching impossibly thin.

Chamier’s sneer petrified Luci in place. The fear forced her to
watch. The courage she had felt a moment ago dissipated.
Chamier kicked her legs out like a donkey, and they doubled
into four. Then doubled again into eight. She slammed each new
one down with a ground-shaking bang. She stood twice the
size as before, now a giant white spider with hundreds of black
kaleidoscope eyes.

“I love the darkness, and it loves me,” Chamier declared.

Then, far away, the single bulb burst into shards. Total darkness.

“You fall in love with the solitude, the power, and the glare of a
dark corner.”

Luci crawled between the iron lungs unobserved, since
Chamier was distracted by her monologue.

“This place is not for the faint of heart. At the core is a heart
that wants to devour your soul.” Chamier’s words sounded further

Luci rolled through cobwebs under an iron bed. Then she felt
a breeze roll along the ground on the other side. Luci turned to
face the gust and smelled water. Never had she enjoyed the scent
of water until now.

“Obscured from light, hidden in cracks and twisted shadows
that you don’t want to see. Obscure is the way of the wicked black
heart in this place. And its beat matches mine,” Chamier said, her
colourful words strung through the air like aurora borealis.

Luci saw a sliver of light. Was that the seam she entered
through? Luci crawled frantically. It seemed far away but
occasionally sparkled, reminding Luci there was a chance.

Chamier hollered, “It’s perfect for me, and I am perfect for
it!” Her words caused a screaming uproar from the beings trapped
in the iron lungs as if electric prods stabbed them at Chamier’s
will. She towered over the beds like a giant grown with vanity.
Luci caught a glimpse of Chamier. Her giant spider legs pushed open piles of ash that burst into the air. Chamier was looking for her.
“This place is a centrefold for anywhere, a luminous ebony
sheen between everything. A perfect parallel universe where you
can hide to attack anyone,” Chamier said.
She’d lost all her human features. Her back legs spun a black
web that sparkled in the darkness as if electrified.

“Here should be claimed the place of miracles,” Chamier said.
Luci jumped and ran the last distance to the seam in the
far wall while Chamier was distracted. A crackling behind her
warned Luci that Chamier had thrown the web; it was f lying
straight for her. Luci dropped and rolled. The trap missed.
Chamier shrieked while kicking several iron lungs away.

Luci bolted. A second shadowy web revealed its approach with a
whistle. Luci rolled under an iron bed to dodge the attack. She
was close. She could see the pieces of glass on the floor from the
broken bulb.

Luci refused to become another decrepit survivor fated to live
until this demon drained her life energy away.

The ground shook as Chamier charged. Gone was the slight
click of heels. Now it was eight crashing spider legs that echoed
through the chamber. An iron lung burst open from the force of
Chamier’s footsteps. The casket spat out a corpse. Luci screamed
as it seemed to jump at her. There was nothing left to the being
except a fleshy hand that held a rose. Luci skidded to a stop to not
crash into the skeleton.

“Take the rose,” a voice whispered in her ear. The bone
mouth didn’t budge, but she felt the wind from the spoken words.
She grabbed the rose without thinking, stuffed it in her pocket
and lunged at the blank wall that held a sliver of hope.


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