This story is by C. M. Townsend and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Orion, a beautiful planet, enriched by its spiritual hosts. Our elders spoke of a connection to the astral plane; a realm beyond the physical and its ties between past and present, heritage and future. Our innate duty belonged to Orion’s core. Tend to the planet, and our hosts would look kindly on us in the afterlife.
A peace shattered by the actions of a few. Peace was a figment of past memories . . . when Elons were free.
“You’ll never catch me!” Jirab shouted, racing through the tunnels, building distance between the laughter from behind.
“No fair! You’re too fast!” Innoir wheezed, laboured breaths echoing in the morning silence.
Most Elons were still asleep. My boys, however, were never in bed past dawn. Twins. I was so lucky to have Innoir and Jirab. Rambunctious ten-year-olds darting in and out of any room, bouncing off walls, crawling under stone ‘caves’ and between rock ‘avalanches’. Their imagination endless. I couldn’t take my eyes off their moving bodies, Jirab ducking behind me as Innoir rounded the corner. It wasn’t the first time I’d been used as a shield.
“Listen closely, young one.” Grandma said. “There was a time when Elons didn’t fear the light. We didn’t always live below the surface.”
“But, Grandma. Why can’t we look at the sun?”
“Tundra. Do you remember your lessons about the Great Rebellion?”
“Of course, Grandma. The Lost Souls of our people. They took control, fuelled by greed and power.”
Jirab made for the exit, Innoir fast on his heels, and they would have slipped out of sight were it not for an elder appearing first. Both boys stalled, sliding to a stop inches away from collision.
“Boys. I’ve told you to watch out before. One day you’re going to hurt someone.” The rushed apologies, muttered almost simultaneously in the seconds before both dashed away had me smiling. Their excitement infectious.
Grandma smiled. “Elons are harmonious by nature. We were never meant for conflict. The Lost Souls . . . They contained a desire for more, thus angering the hosts. Our humble roots were no longer enough. My father tried to appeal to their sense of responsibility and community, but he failed. As did the rest of us.”
“I don’t understand. If no one agreed, how did they win?”
“Well, my dear. Fear is a powerful weapon.”
“Why were we afraid?”
Grandma sighed. “Dictators—for that is who the Lost Souls were—are cruel people, Tundra. They are not concerned with the welfare of those around them. What we could do for them . . . That is all we amounted to. Our most sacred connection was used against us.”
“The astral bond.”
“Yes.” Her gaze remained distant, almost lost in the memory. “Our bond, forged during birth, links us to the hosts. The Lost Souls threatened the worst atrocity any Elon could commit: the severance of our bond. Without it, one cannot transcend to our ancestors of old. A bond-less Elon is sentenced to a life cut off from our higher form, incapable of leaving this world, bodies no more than a decaying shell. There is no crueller fate than an emptiness that cannot be filled.
“For years, we suffered under torturous conditions, toiling away under the burning sun, deprived of sustenance. Slaves to our own people. There comes a time where you must stand, and as is with all rebellions, the time comes where the oppressed rise up. My father led the Elons in a fight for our freedom . . .”
“But he lost.” The pain in her eyes was answer enough. “Why, Grandma? If they weren’t afraid to challenge the Lost Souls’ right to lead, why could they not regain control?”
“I wish it were that simple. You see, Tundra, no rebellion comes without retribution. For every act of dissidence, my father and his follower’s were held responsible. The Lost Souls believed that by employing such horrific punishments, they could deter further dissension amongst the prisoners. The diminished health amongst us, the unexplained illnesses meant nothing. Forced labour was everything. What they didn’t count on was the strength of those enslaved. Our need to restore our freedom rivalled that of the Lost Souls. Punishments were swift. Soon the resistance burned out, the threats against our young forcing most into submission.”
Twenty years had passed since I last sat in Grandma’s room.
“Rumours of a new rebellion shattered the night the Lost Souls came for my father.”
“Did Great Grandpa escape?” I asked, stomach twisting at the image of unforgiving hands, torn clothes, blood. “Did they kill-”
The words were as familiar as if she’d recited them only now, voice laced with the pain of seeing her father torn from his bed and hauled across the dry ground. A wound torn open. The guilt and desperation of Elons young and old, forced to bear witness, weighed on her shoulders until the day of her passing.
Jirab and Innoir crouched beside the wall, glued to the shadows. “Have you not learned I can’t be fooled?” My lips rose, itching to smile when they froze.
“How did you-” Innoir asked.
“You ran by only minutes ago, and now you sneak past?” Neither had an answer. “Where are you going?”
“Latnamy’s room.” Jirab said.
If they were with her they couldn’t be in that much trouble. She always reined them in. Truth be told, Latnamy was the only reason they weren’t attached to the ceiling. “Be careful not to wake the neighbours.” I laughed at their synchronised ‘we won’t’ before sprinting into the distance.
“My father was to be made an example.” Grandma whispered. “The Lost Souls severed his astral bond. The hosts could no longer remain silent, nor would they condone such crimes. Our right to the land broken, blinded by the sun we once loved, exiled to an underground prison. An entire civilisation brought down by corruption and greed. Generations of Elons were stripped of their vision, two more born without ever having seen beyond these walls.”
I’d always hoped that one day I could take Grandma home. Her true home. To breathe the fresh air, visit the bubbling brooks and mountaintops I’d only dreamt of . . . Dreams that were dashed with every child who returned blind. ‘Stay away from the hatches.’ The rule had been in place for longer than she knew, instilled since birth. There were always those who disappeared in the early and late hours of the day, warnings ignored in favour of the call to adventure. At the first drop of sunlight, the tunnels were drowned in screams. Parents ran. Every time.
‘A danger to all within’, the elders said. To open the hatches was forbidden under threat of exile. To be cast aside, forced to cultivate a life of their own in the forgotten tunnels below. Sealed behind a locked door. No Elon was made to live in isolation. Harsh but necessary. The Lost Souls must not be born again. Two years since the last child slipped through. Two years of sealing off the exits.
Two years of no hope.
A heart-breaking scream pierced the air. Waking every Elon to a wave of panic, footsteps echoed in the distance. The walls shouldn’t be this bright, illuminated by . . . sunlight. No. Please don’t let it happen again. Who could have been so foolish?
My heart stopped. I’d know those voices anywhere.
“I can’t see!” Jirab cried.
I had to find them. There was only one thought in mind: run. How could they have broken the seal? Latnamy . . . Never had I expected them to lie. My worst fears were realised as Jirab stumbled forward, crashing into my arms with tear stained cheeks. “Where’s your brother?”
“I don’t know!”
Innoir must still be near the hatch. Light flooded in, revealing the dangers that lay ahead. Why wasn’t he here? Why hadn’t he said anything? Had he fallen? By all that was merciful, please don’t let him be hurt. Elons crowded around. I couldn’t bring myself to face the Elders. Blinded, exiled. I couldn’t lose my boys. Born when I needed them most. The tense silence was broken only by muffled tears and . . . my gasp. Could it be true? The bright smile, the gleaming eyes . . . “Innoir.”
“You have to see this!” Innoir vibrated with excitement, words laced with wonder. “It’s all there!”
He was really here. Standing by the light’s edge, promising an end to their exile. A hand in mine drew my attention to the relieved smile of my eldest son. Jirab’s whispered ’I can see you’ brought tears to my eyes. Generations had grown up in these tunnels, unaccustomed to the harsh sunlight. Time. That’s all the boys needed. Time for their eyes to adjust. Jirab guided me forward until I stood beneath the improvised ladder. Tentatively, I climbed. The world beyond was drowned in white, the gradual dim leaving behind everything I had ever dreamed of. Rushing water, soaring trees, icy mountaintops lining the horizon. Elons long since blinded cheered as their sight returned.
Our new home.
This is for you Grandma.