by James Page
In the darkness, they fed upon each other.
Coiling and writhing in the depths, the spot of sunlight moving down one wall and up the other, grazing their faces for a minute a day and then passing on. The smaller looked to the larger, and planned its next move. He turned briefly to the brightness above, slowly fading into night now. He could see the light and he longed for it after so many years of tiny glances; it was only a matter of time now.
There was no food down there, not as far as their memory stretched, but they had grown nonetheless. Slowly at first, almost imperceptibly. Evidently they could live without food. Nevertheless, hunger was eating away at them from the inside. Eventually, in rage and in desperation, one snapped the other, removing a chunk of its arm. As the wounded cowered in the corner, the attacker stood up at the bottom of that well and stretched towards the opening above, and it grew, higher than before, in mere seconds. It bathed in the sunlight its hand could now reach, turned towards its twin, smiled, and crawled back to its corner of the shadows.
After that, they had both used the other as meat. To satisfy their hunger and their desire to approach the light was now joined by another motivation: competition. The larger from that first attack had always had the edge, and the smaller had stayed that way for years on end, unable to fight back as effectively as its twin, not only smaller but less cunning from the start.
There was only one feature on the wall of the well: a stone ladder leading out to the world above. The lowest rung had remained well out of reach of either twin for all their time down there, but that didn’t stop them trying, jumping at it when they thought the others back was turned. All attempts as futile as trying to float away on a cloud of air. But they were getting closer, inch by inch.
The smaller twin was sleeping when the sun hit the bottom rung of the ladder that day. The larger approached silently, and reached his hand up, a small hiss as his claws slid up the stones. It stretched, and his hand slipped into a dent in the wall. His eyes widened, and as he looked up, he could see his hand on the bottom rung. As victory started to flow beam after beam through the larger twin, he turned to his sleeping companion to give one final wry smile.
But his twin was not in its corner. He was not sleeping.
Claws in his leg were more surprising than painful; after so many teeth marks, claws made little difference. But they moving too fast to react. By the time he had struck downwards, the claws were on his back, and before his brain could piece it all together, it was too late.
The smaller leapt from the larger back, and landed two rungs up the ladder.
Its claws swiped for the third rung, but before he could grasp, teeth were in his leg, pulling him back downwards to the bottom of the well. The pain was immense, but down in that darkness, pain was a ubiquity. Moreover, he still had one leg free. He kicked at the bottom rung, with the taloned edge of its foot, and it crumbled beneath him. The teeth bit in harder, so the smaller started to pull and tear away. He may have to leave his foot behind, but in their battles he had suffered from worse. With the world above to supply him, he could recover.
The foot fell away, and the larger twin with it, a great thud ringing out from the bottom of the well. Another three rungs up, the smaller looked back below, one last wry smile. After all their battles, after all of the larger twin’s gains, the smaller’s failures had left him with one advantage, his agility. Perhaps the larger one was not the more cunning after all.
One rung after the other, the creature slowly pulled itself to the brightness it had been longing for all its remembered life, spurred on by the cries of anguish from its partner below, now without food, without fuel for the growth that had defined its life, unable to ever reach another rung.
One grey, bloody claw appeared from the top of the well, and then another, pulling the creature out of the well. It looked to the horizon, and understood nothing. That was no problem, it had time now. It would learn how to walk in the world, and the world would learn how to walk beneath it.
It took one step, and then another, and soon there was nothing left but the footprints in the stained sand and the cries from below, both slowly disappearing into nothing.