This is the FIRST DRAFT of the novel, flaws and all, that I am writing for National Novel Writing Month 2020. Please refer to these posts to see the entire creation of this, from scratch, should you desire. Comments will be closed as of January 1, 2021. For any comments prior to that, please… be kind. This is a first draft! It’s just meant to help inspire anyone to write anything, whether good or bad.
And yet, here he sat, still in wonderment over the idea of a hierarchy to determine right from wrong. Particularly without being able to remember, and killing the prisoners for simply speaking aloud the desire to break free.
The six of them spent the next few days in silence, eating what was left of the Veruxian and keeping to themselves for the most part. Vaeda carried on pretending to eat, hopeful that no one noticed him put the meat back after everyone had finished, so there would be more for them the next time. So long as no one could see in the dark or paid too closely to his ration, he should be fine.
Now that he’d eaten, however, he found himself of two other needs that hadn’t come forth prior: The need to drink, and the need to use the toilet. He noted everyone else walking off on their own every so often and knew all in ways of burying it to hide the evidence, but he still hadn’t had to do it by this point. The need to drink, in particular, had him suddenly feeling as though he’d swallowed sand, that his lungs had filled with the granulated capsules and prevented the crevices from drawing in the necessary oxygen to fuel them.
He licked his lips and tried to swallow, but couldn’t. It had been two days since he’d eaten the small portion that he did, but this was the first sign of any digestion, discomfort, or anything, really.
He looked over to his right, at the red energies that floated next to him as they grew closer, and stood tall as Yaga approached and said, “You are not eating.”
Vaeda’s eyebrows met at the ridge above his nose. His mind flashed a bright, white light, and the storm that was inside of it before cleared just for a moment. That moment left him sitting on that same mountaintop, but basking in the sun, everything about his whereabouts clear as the day he sat in, and everything in his surroundings filling him with peace and fulfillment.
Eyes open may have returned to the darkness, but at least eyes closed had experienced that flash of light, again. It disappeared as quickly as it had come, but he remembered that it was there all the same. His mind urged him to keep hold of what his inner mind spoke, but the mountain in his head was riddled with clouds just as quickly as he had gotten rid of them.
“What’s it to you?” asked Vaeda, his voice unwavering. Yaga didn’t scare him, although he wasn’t sure why he felt such foreboding feelings when he stood in her presence. Something about her energy was off, in a different way than seen by the others.
Those energies shifted to the left as if she had put all of her weight into that foot. “Why aren’t you eating?” she asked, her voice just as steady as his. Eyes closed gave him another flash of her standing there, arms crossed, hip twisted almost out of its socket, wiry red hair caught in the brief light his inner mind ushered.
Before the vision faded this time, Yaga’s face, so soft and blemishless in that blink, turned sour, rotten, and cold. Her young skin decayed into gray wrinkles that cracked across her jawline and moved all the way up to the ridges of her hairline.
And it was all gone, just as quickly as it had come.
But yet again, Vaeda remembered.
Eyes open returned him to the darkness, and the blinks didn’t usher any more messages from eyes closed. Although unease rose in his heart with his questions toward Yaga, specifically, he quieted them. There wasn’t any need to raise them, yet, and he still had to work out his levels of trust with the rest of the group.
Suffice it to say, she was the only one so far who hadn’t garnered any.
“I asked you a question,” Yaga pushed when Vaeda stayed silent in his thoughts.
A wave length in his brain triggered, a physical vibration he actually felt, as though a string had attached to the flesh of his brain and got jolted up by a master tied to the other end. He couldn’t remember what eyes closed had told him about Yaga’s true presence, even though he knew there was something off. He couldn’t remember anything, really.
Maybe it was just because he was hungry.
Maybe he should eat, that could be a good idea.
There was also that most obnoxious feeling of thirst attacking the back of his throat.
And he’d yet to find a corner of this cave to relieve himself…
Vaeda shook his head and cleared his throat. “I’m not hungry,” he said, although he was unsure why it was so hard to force out the words. Then again, he wasn’t all the way sure why he’d thought them in the first place. All he’d had was those few bites of the Veruxian a few days before, surely he’d be ready for some more by now?
“I just worry what might happen if we were attacked again,” said Yaga. “It’s fortunate that you’ve got yourself a weapon now, but what if you lack the energy to summon the needed defense? Omitars are far worse than Veruxians, and if you don’t have the courage to eat the dead humans, I’d wonder if you had the strength to kill them in the first place, either.”
Vaeda swished his tongue around his mouth and urged more saliva to come to it. He didn’t need water. He didn’t need food. Although bodily functions were still a requirement, as soon as he’d passed through the poison he’d consumed, he wouldn’t need to do it again.
“I’m not hungry,” Vaeda said again, although the strings in his brain started to yank from different corners of it, and he felt like words he wished he could say were no longer words he’d be able to. “But I s…” He didn’t want to say any words out loud, but they continued to come out on their own, “But I suppose I should eat something, shouldn’t I?”
Yaga’s energies softened. “There, now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Come, I think there should be enough left over for you.”
She walked away, and Vaeda stood there for a moment. The strings in his head tugged a few of the electrical impulses inside of his brain and pushed him forward, even though he didn’t truly want to. He wasn’t sure what guided him forward, but he followed Yaga without stopping, all the while wishing he could dig his heels in the ground and stay put.
And yet… eating wasn’t so bad, was it? Why did he have such inner turmoil over something he used to love…?
My mind is not my own.
He stopped walking, and Yaga did, too.
“What are you doing?” she asked, and he heard the accusation in her tone.
Something was off. Vaeda shook his head. “I think I’ll pass on food for the night.”
He turned and walked away.
“Wait, where are you going?” asked Yaga, now with a hint of panic in her voice.
Vaeda closed his eyes and envisioned the path before him, but found himself in a room. He put out his hands and felt along the walls for a pathway, but couldn’t find one. What was happening? Why couldn’t he find his way out of here?
Vaeda gasped relief as he fell into Go’Ranashu’s arms. Go’Ranashu pulled him closer and Vaeda allowed a moment to even his breathing. His mind had begun to move in circles, and the cave seemed to emulate that same border of psychosis.
Focus on your exhale, Vaeda told himself. The exhale makes you safe.
It was true; although he couldn’t remember where he’d learned it in his conscious mind, he still knew, somewhere in the back of it, that it held the truth. A longer exhale, as opposed to a longer inhale, told the body it was safe. It steadied any pain or hyperventilation, and provided the relaxation Vaeda needed in this moment.
“What is wrong?” asked Go’Ranashu.
“Where is Yaga?” Vaeda asked, looking around to see if she still followed him.
“Yaga?” asked Go’Ranashu. “She is back at the camp with the rest of us.”
“No,” said Vaeda. “She was just here a moment ago. She was trying to get me to eat.”
Go’Ranashu laughed. “That doesn’t sound like a reason for you to be running around in circles and screaming to yourself.”
Vaeda pushed aside the growing frustration inside of him. “It isn’t that,” he insisted. “There’s something about her, something off I can’t quite put my finger on. It was like she was in my mind Go’Ranashu, like she tried to control or influence my thoughts, or —”
“Vaeda, Vaeda, Vaeda!”
On the third attempt at speaking his name to try and interrupt him, Go’Ranashu gave him the slightest little shake to catch his attention.
“Yaga has not left our circle. Only you have. The five of us have spoken about where to move next. It is actually Yaga who had the most suggestions, and finally seems willing to put some thought into the idea of us all getting out of here.”
Vaeda froze for a moment, then started shaking his head.
“No,” he said, adamantly. “No, she was just with me a moment ago, Go’Ranashu.”
“Even if she was,” said Go’Ranashu, “if all she did was try to get you to eat, I don’t understand what you’re so upset about. Let’s go,” he offered, maintaining the gentleness in his voice. “The others will want to know you are safe, as well. You can’t keep wandering off the way you do, you know. We may not know each other well, but some of us do actually care where you scamper off to.”
Vaeda followed Go’Ranashu, but this time of his own will. He couldn’t fathom the thought of Yaga not having stood near him moments ago. If that were true, would it be equally the same to think that of Go’Ranashu now? What if neither of them were with him?
What if none of them were?
Vaeda shuddered and hugged himself as another wave of gooseflesh tingled across his skin. He focused on Go’Ranashu’s soothing energies, forcefully attempting to maintain the idea that they were there. They existed, and not just in his mind.
Eyes closed showed him Go’Ranashu, the tall and agile beast that he was, and once more filled him with trust. Out of anybody present, thus far, Go’Ranashu was the only one Vaeda had felt that with, and steadily chose to lean toward that trust more and more.
“Are you really here?” he asked aloud.
Go’Ranashu stopped walking, and Vaeda followed suit. “It’s funny you ask,” he whispered. “I was going to ask you the same question.”
He started walking again, but Vaeda stood behind for a moment. He looked down again at his energies, black as the cave that surrounded him, and considered the possibility. His mind wandered in a thousand directions, after all. He couldn’t make hold of one singular thought. Nothing surrounding him seemed to real.
What if he didn’t actually exist, after all?
He brushed away that thought as soon as it came, but it was quickly followed by another:
What if he actually deserved his punishment?
His stomach caught in his throat.
He’d been so focused on wondering what he’d done that he’d never actually stopped to consider the thought he deserved this punishment. That led him back to his same wonder about who decided what was right or wrong. He couldn’t imagine he’d taken the life of another; and even if that were the case, he thought he was more than making up for it by not eating his fellow humans down here.
He thought again about Yaga, and the uncertainty he felt around her. Of Runavan, and his ability to have survived these caves longer than potentially anyone else down here. Longer than any of them, at least. Cochava and Surid held no qualms with the kill, either, and Vaeda wondered if it was more about survival skills or the actual enjoyment of another life.
That still left Go’Ranashu, out of all of it. He killed down here, as well, but Vaeda still found himself full of trust toward him.
Killing wasn’t the only crime that resulted in prisoners winding up in the Lanniswell Hollow, but Vaeda, for the life of him, couldn’t remember one reason he’d ever heard for someone getting thrown down here. So much of him felt like discussions of the Hollow happened frequently, but he couldn’t think of any reason he’d ever heard of someone eating thrown away down here.
He rubbed his fingertips together, just to make sure he could still feel them. He sighed out a breath of relief when he did, but he stopped just as quickly as he’d started. What if these fingers had committed unspeakable crimes? What if the brain he couldn’t make sense of had thought up actions even the most vile of criminals had crafted?
The most vile of criminals that landed themselves in the Lanniswell Hollow, just like him.
Maybe he shouldn’t want to remember what he did to get down here.
Maybe it wasn’t right of him to put any thought into any idea of hope.
There had to be a reason that’s what everybody else said.
Maybe they really all were the worst of humankind.
Maybe he really did deserve everything that happened to him in this prison from here on out.