A Secret Cruelness
Things have been this way for a very long time. So long, that it isn't even worth talking about the way things were before. So long, that change seems impossible, or at the very least, incredibly pointless. But as the story goes, in that long ago time, war raged uncontrollably in every land. Armies of every nation fought and bled on battlefields, in the cities, and in the people's homes. When the bloodshed had claimed so much life that there was barely anyone left who was willing to continue the fighting, all became still and quiet.
And I guess the people thought this was a pretty good way to live. So everyone that was left formed a community, with a council created with equality and peace in mind. They came up with three simple laws that every resident was expected to follow. One - Do not harm a fellow resident, in body or mind. Two - The council settles all disputes, no matter how large or small. Three - No one leaves.
The first law was easy. After all they had suffered, the original community members were quick to agree that kindness must prevail. The second law was just practical, since human beings will always have disagreements. And whatever the council decides, stands. No appeals, no arguing. The third law was born from a place of fear and pain. They feared that if anyone left and tried to return, they would be tainted by the outside world - which had become a lawless, terrifying place - and bring back unwanted attitudes or people. But the real reason for the third law was to preserve our secret, for the community was carefully hidden, and hasn't been discovered in all the years it has existed. We have no militia, no peace force, no law enforcement whatsoever. The only way the community works, is if the people patrol themselves. We all must be of one mind, and agree to follow the laws, or the system falls apart. If someone is in breach of the three laws, they should be reported to the council. Most of the time when this happens, a small reprimand does the trick. The person repents of their harsh words or for laying their hands on another resident, all is forgiven, and the world keeps turning.
No one has broken the third law. No one has even tried. At least, not since I've been alive. I don't even know what would happen if someone was caught trying to leave. The only way in or out of the community is through the tunnel. And to get to the tunnel entrance, you would have to go through the Harmony House.
The Harmony House is where the members of the council live and operate. So you can see how precarious it would be if someone wanted to leave. But no one in their right mind would want to leave a place like this. No war, no fear, no violence of any kind. It's a paradise and everyone lives in peace. Everyone is happy.
I want out.
And maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I'm deviant and evil inside. But I don't belong. I never have. Every day of my life is a struggle. I hide my anger and my sadness. I push down my dreams and hopes for the future. I'm suffocating. The three laws did away with armies and militias, war and famine; but they also drove out the human soul. I intend to find mine. Right now.
I'm at the door. Harmony House lays quiet. The moon is but a sliver tonight, though the stars shine brightly. I have been practicing being silent. I have been sneaking up on people for weeks. Mostly, they just give a yelp when they notice I'm there, and then walk away giggling to themselves for being silly. Yesterday, I followed Mr. Hanover around for a solid thirty minutes before he realized I was there. Of course, he assumed I had only been standing there a few moments. That's when I knew. The time had come to leave. It was now or never.
The door opens silently. I slip inside and close the heavy slab of wood behind me and continue down the short hall. At the back of the house, another heavy wooden door marks the tunnel entrance. Everyone knows it's here, for everyone has had cause to meet with the council, and when you meet with the council, you have to walk by this very door. Etched into the wood is the story of the original residents. Why they formed the community, the three laws. It's a warning, as much as it is a history. But all it's ever been to me is a calling. I need to know what's out there. And yes, maybe I'll regret it. Maybe I'll die tomorrow, alone and scared. But I think I'll regret it more if I stay, and die an old woman, having always wondered what might have happened if I had left. So I place my hand on the latch and slowly pull the door open. It's not locked, but I'm not surprised. I take a deep breath and step through. One step, two steps, three steps. I don’t even pause to close the door behind me. I’ve done it, I’m out.
And then I lose my footing as the stone suddenly becomes slick. I hit the ground and slide down the slope, trying to gain purchase on anything I can, but the tunnel floor slopes down at a steep angle, and I plummet downward. Suddenly I hit a pool of thick liquid, perhaps muddy water, deep enough to suck me all the way under and not reveal its true depth. I break the surface, gasping for air, and try to orient myself. I look up and see a light emanating from the tunnel door, which seems much closer than it should be. It felt like I slid so far away, but I mostly just slid downward, so now the door hovers in the air above me. The light is not a good sign, and neither is the figure that now stands at its center. I can’t make out who it is due to the back lighting. But I know the voice.
“You have broken the third law.” She is a member of the counsil. The woman with the golden hair and bright green eyes, but I am too panicked to recall her name. I swim around frantically, trying to find a way out. There must be a way out. “I’m afraid there is no way out Taretha.” I stop my thrashing. She knows who I am. Which means she saw me walking through the house. Did I ever even have a chance? “This door is not the way out of the community. It is a façade. A decoy. It’s purpose is to keep us safe and to entrap those who wish to endanger us.”
“I don’t want to endanger you. I just want to leave. I swear I won’t speak of the community to anyone. Please, help me out of here.” My legs are growing tired, treading in the thickened water, and I am starting to notice the pervasive smell that I had been to startled to notice before.
“You won’t be down there forever. Just long enough. The community will be saddened to hear that you were lost to the Night Plague. It’s rare, but it does happen from time to time. It has such a sudden onset, especially in young people like yourself.”
And now I know. People have tried to leave. I am not the first to walk through this door, to fall to this watery pit, to hear her voice as she tells me I am going to die here.
“Why.” It’s all I can muster.
“The third law is the most important law. But it is also the hardest to enforce. And however much I dislike that word, it must be done. Secrecy is our back bone, Taretha. Those who attempt to leave cannot be allowed back into the community. Once the seed of wanderlust is planted, it shall stay forever, growing more and more every day. A person with something like that sprouting in their heart cannot be allowed inside our walls. Neither can they be allowed to leave and expose us. So we let nature take its course. The violent world lured you here, and curiosity has sealed your fate. The world is cruel because people are cruel. The only way to truly have peace, is for some people to sacrifice their ignorance and embrace a secret cruelness.” I’m crying now, trying to keep my head above water. Trying to understand how everything I ever thought could be so wrong. “If I may make a suggestion.” Her voice is kind, filled with sorrow. “When you are too tired to keep your head up, it’s said that breathing in the water is the quickest way to end it.”
She turns and closes the door, sealing me in darkness, the sounds of my screams echoing around me.