From Wystie’s prompt to the August 9th call for prompts – “Exotic, erotic, and/or exogenous”
The halls of the internment camp – voluntary relocation center – were nearly empty. In the first couple weeks here, they’d been full and bouncing, as people, antsy in the confined space, a repurposed abandoned high school building, had wandered from room to room, visiting, meeting new people, just looking for an excuse to get out of their barracks.
As the days (“This will only be for a little while, until we get back on our feet.”) wore on to weeks (“People are scared right now; this is for your own protection, you understand”) and now were flipping over to months (“Just keep your head down. Here. Plant a garden. Do something useful.”), the air of frenzied activity had faded. The excitement of the new, however terrifying and strange, had waned.
Now people stayed, listless, in their barracks, and moved, listlessly, to the meal hall for their bland and unsatisfying meals. They had allowed themselves to be trapped here, for the sake of frightened humanity. They had built the cage themselves, to show that they were not the threat that the others were. And now they milled like cattle, waiting for the slaughter.
“Hey, Synthie.” The chipper voice interrupted Cynthia’s morose musings. Only a few people called her that obnoxious nickname, and only one of them was here, in the voluntary relocation center with her, so she didn’t bother looking any direction but up.
“Hey, Airhead.” Aaron was dangling upside down from one of the HVAC conduits, his favorite style of travel. “You’re going to freak the guards out again.”
“Let them freak. They want to treat us like animals, I’m gonna act like an animal.” His tail flipped down to trail in her face. “Have fun with it. I mean, we’re stuck in this dump through no fault of our own; are we supposed to just lay down and die?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what they want. Or stay quiet long enough that they can just brick us up in here.” The Cask of Amontillado probably hadn’t been the best bedtime reading, but there was only so much available in the former school’s library.
“Bah, we’ll get out when enough of us are ready to leave. They don’t know enough about us to really keep up locked up effectively.”
“They seem to be doing a good enough job so far.”
“Everyone who’s here came voluntarily. You heard what happened with the prison they tried to set up.” He wiggled his tail temptingly in her face. “Come on up, Synthie. Stop worrying so much.”
She tugged lightly on the offending tail. “Unlike you, I don’t stick to the ceiling.”
“Oh, you know you can get up here. You’re just worried about the guards.”
“As you should be,” she retorted, more sharply than she really wanted to. “They get rough when they’re nervous.”
“They’re always nervous.” And they were always rough. And they weren’t going to get any better, were they?
“You have a point.” She reached for a shadow, found a nice set of them up above the conduits, and slowly wove them into a net around the pipes.
“I always have a point. That’s my job, to be as pointy as inhumanly possible.” He swayed cheerfully.
“No, that’s Sarah, over in the Science section. She has those spikes…”
“Ah, but I have the pointiest mind.”
“Pointy-headed, I’ll give you.” She pulled herself up towards the ceiling with her net of shadows. “Do you care about anything, Aaron?”
“What, just because I’m not sitting around fretting and waiting to die? Of course I do.”
“Yeah?” She braided a few dark, dusty shadows into a swing, and hung a few feet from him. Upside-down, his face was more expressive. “Like what?”
“Like this place. Like being treated like animals. Like the war going on outside.”
She shook her head in exasperation. “You’re just parroting my worries back at me.”
“Hey, just because I don’t wander around with a storm cloud hanging over my head…”
“That’s just my shadows, Airhead.”
“…wander around moping like a miserable moppet, doesn’t mean I don’t have worries.”
“And you deal with them by hanging from the ceiling.”
“What, your way is any better?” He had a point, but she didn’t want to say that, so she settled for not answering at all. “Look, we’re trapped in a cage. We’re treated like interesting but potentially really dangerous animals. I’ve even seen some cameras tucked up in the rafters here, where they don’t expect us to go.”
So had Cynthia. The ones she’d found didn’t work anymore. “So you’ve said. Cages. Animals.” It was all so very dreary.
His upside-down leer lit up the gloom suddenly. “So why not make like the Discovery Channel?”
Next in this sub-setting: Invisibles.