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Note by Sietse: This story seems to have been written sometime in the 103rd year after the Great Invasion. It is the perfect example of my fears. Please continue with caution.

| It’d been a hundred years since the last invasion. We lost our fears. The monsters were still there, nagging at the backs of our minds. But they were memories from a distant past. Drawings in our history books. Most of us hadn’t seen them with our own two eyes. It’s scary how our minds can convince us of the lies we tell ourselves. Our grandparents warned us. They spoke to us about the Great Invasion. The deaths. So much bloodshed. But how were we to understand their pain and suffering when we hadn’t lived it? We lived comfortable lives within the confines of a big city. High walls wrapped around the outer perisphere. We rarely even got that far out from the center of the city. That was where the monsters would attack, or so our parents warned us. Stories they told to scare us, we thought.

As we grew older, that big city wasn’t all that big anymore, and our eyes turned towards the walls. They were the only escape from this hellhole. Because that was what this city was to us. The smell on the streets was sickening. The prices of food were so high that most of us were poor. And even the rich didn’t have the money or resources for a proper bath. So we went to the walls and we scaled them. We looked over the great barrier to see what was beyond. Land. Forest. Plains. Something glistening in the far distance. It looked like water. A lot of it. There was so much beauty, and no monsters. One of us had brought a book full of drawings. His grandfather, a man who’d fought the monsters and lived to tell the tales, had made them.

There were no gates in the walls. We were prisoners in our own little world without even knowing it. Until that first day we stood on the walls. There was a greater world out there, something far larger than the city we grew up and lived in. It was green and blue and so many other colours, pleasant and welcoming. A change from the mud and dirt. The dried sand. The smog clouding our vision a little more every day. A change from the stench of piss and poop and humanity. Here, atop the walls, we could breathe through our noses. Freely. That first day, we just stood there, breathing in and out the fresh air.

Over the next few weeks, we snuck away when we could. We climbed atop the walls and stared off into the distance. Everyone had warned us, “There are monsters out there! Be careful! Don’t go near the walls!” So we searched for them. To the East, to the West, to the North, and to the South. We searched for anything that would suggest their presence. A large print in the ground, something moving in the distance, maybe even spotting one in the flesh. But none of that happened. There were no monsters. Not here. Not that we could see.

I don’t remember who went first. All I remember is how fast my heart was pounding in my chest. It blocked my throat. It felt like I couldn’t breathe as I saw them descent. The sweat dripped down my forehead, down my nose, and then over the edge and down the side of the wall it fell. My hands were trembling. I was biting on my tongue, trying to get my knees to stop wobbling. But they reached the bottom. There was no monster waiting for them. They looked up and I saw happiness. I saw an emotion I wanted to feel. So I grabbed the rope. I was the third to go down. Or maybe the fourth. I don’t remember that well, it seems. But I climbed down the side of the wall by a rope we’d worked on since the first day we climbed up the wall.

When my feet touched the grass, before I even hit the ground, that was a moment I’ll never forget. I wasn’t wearing shoes, none of us were. I felt the wet, soft grass wriggling between my toes, tickling. I let myself further down into the grass. The grass that grew up to my waist and higher. I couldn’t see where my feet were and found my heart right back in my throat, where it was when I watched them go down first. But again. Nothing happened. I looked around and saw my friends running, jumping, rolling around in the grass. I could hear them shout. Happy shouts. Full of joy and without any worry. There were no monsters attacking them. There were no monsters. There were no monsters. It was an odd realization. Our single greatest fear from the moment we were born vanished completely at that exact moment. There were no monsters.

We never planned to leave the city, until we stood in the grass, looking at each other. There was always that fear when we were planning to go down and check the outside. A fear the monsters would come and have us running back up the walls. Maybe it weren’t even monsters, and something completely mundane. There was, however, one thing we didn’t expect. We didn’t expect this grass to be so soft. We didn’t expect the air to be so clean. So we turned our backs to the city and told each other not to turn back, for what was behind us was the true horror. The real monster. Our lives cooped up in a tin of steel and stone, prisoners, slaves of our own lives. So our gaze went in the opposite direction. There was a forest, off in the distance. We could chop for wood and make a simple camp. We could hunt for wildlife. We could live our lives.

There were seven of us, each with a big backpack full of goods and tools. We walked, expecting to hit the forest by nightfall. But no one had ever taught us how far away something can be. There was no need for it in the big city. It took us two days to reach the edge of the forest. Two days in which we were full of hope. There were berries we found along the way and rabbits for a bit of meat. It tasted so much better than the delicacy we ate back at home. Rat stew. Just the thought has me gagging again. Another two days came and went as we searched for a place to call home. Somewhere near the forest with a nice plateau to build our huts on. And through all of this, through nearly a week of travel and building and breathing in fresh air, the thought of monsters escaped our minds. We were free, free of the monsters in our minds.

An entire month passed. We made ourselves busy every day. We worked to build a new home. It wasn’t something society forced upon us. No, we built something we thought was beautiful. We were proud to call this home. And with that pride came something else, something primal. It was the need to share. We wanted to show the world what beautiful things we’d built. The perfect lives we were living. And our world, as hard as it was to accept, was that big city. We felt our eyes go in that direction, time and time again, and I knew that all of us wanted to go back. We wanted to go and tell everyone we’d left behind of the world we’d found beyond their high walls. And to this end, our minds convinced us this was the right play. So two of my friends left early that morning. They would go on a nine-day roundtrip to tell everyone they could of this place. Maybe more would join us. Then we could share this beauty with them.

There were more people coming. They had to! This place was too beautiful. Too perfect. When our friends told them about it, they’d come. Or so we convinced ourselves. So in preparation for their arrival, we got about making a feast. We hunted for meat and scavenged for fruits and vegetables. There was no telling how many people would come, but we believed there’d be many. So we prepared for many. It never struck us that anything else might happen. We started working on makeshift huts, a place for the newcomers to sleep in, until they helped build something better down the line. It just made sense. It did to us.

Time flies when you’re busy. The sun came up and went down again, while we were labouring away, working as hard as we could to get everything ready in time for the feast. But we weren’t even halfway of where we wanted to be when the sun came up for the ninth time. That was the day. We’d secretly been hoping the night before would be the night, but we knew the chances were slim. Our two friends would have to scale the walls and inform our family and other friends. That’d take time. That was why we weren’t worried yet. In hindsight. We should’ve been. The signs were everywhere. But when you’re busy working towards that singular goal that is in front of your eyes, you don’t see the obvious. You gloss over them and move on.

By day 11 we got worried. We weren’t worried that our friends were eaten by the monsters. There were no monsters. Except for those in the big city. Maybe someone had seen us cross the boundary. But then they’d come here. Or perhaps their parents forbade them. We were good children. It made sense. Whatever the case, our food was going bad. And maybe they’d come tomorrow. Or the day after. We had to be ready. So we set out again, in search of food, hunting and scavenging. That was when I found it. The ruins of a village. Grass and earth had done a good job hiding the horror. I was confident I’d find bodies if I dug around a bit. A thought that came to me later. Because in that moment, when I saw the scar of four claws ripping through the entire town, I fell back. I scrambled away. Tears flowed from my eyes and I screamed and yelled for my friends. “Monsters! MONSTERS!”

They heard my screams and yelling as I scared all wildlife away. All three of my friends met up with me at our home. Our safe haven. All three were still there. All three. I looked around. There were only three. With me that made four. One was missing. Maybe they hadn’t heard the screams. Or perhaps they’d gone in the direction of the big city in search of our other two friends. There had to be a good explanation. I nodded to myself, reminding myself of the beauty we were living in. Of the fact that I hadn’t seen a single sign of monsters. Well, except for just now. That was definitely a sign of monsters. But it was just one. I told myself that if there really were monsters, I’d find more signs.

Hindsight is so much easier. Three friends were missing and there were now clear signs of monsters. I suddenly found them everywhere I looked. Deep imprints after an especially large rain storm. Trees damaged by claws. Piles of poop that were larger than of any normal animal we’d learned of. The heavy breathing in the air. Things that we put to the back of our minds. Signs of a time long since behind us. Including that town. I went back to look at it several times over the next few days. I was scared for nothing. There were no monsters here. All that was here were the ruins of a town. And whatever had happened to this town, it’d happened so long ago that it was not something I had to worry about.

We spent another day peering into the distance, looking through the trees in the hopes of finding our friends. Maybe they just got lost. These woods were confusing at times, sort of. Never enough to get any of us lost, but still. Maybe. Then it happened. It was the exact moment that there was no more denying. A loud scream cut through the air and hit us. It felt like my body ruptured. My vision turned dark and my ears started ringing, the sweet iron taste of blood on my tongue. I grabbed my ears and tumbled to the ground, screaming and yelling in pain. Then it all went dark.

I thought that was the end. Somewhere deep inside, even while unconscious, I had enough understanding to know that should’ve been the end. There was a monster and it’d found its next meal. And though I wasn’t conscious, it still felt like I was waiting for it to eat me. But then I woke up. I opened my eyes and everything looked good. Our home was still there. Jack and Jill were still unconscious, but they looked fine otherwise. And. My eyes went wide and my heart stopped beating. Thomas was gone. And there was blood. Oh god, there was so much blood. It was everywhere. Our home was coated in it. I was coated in it. My hands started trembling and the pain finally arrived in my brain. I lifted my hand up. Three fingers were missing. The world spun before my eyes again before it disappeared in darkness and my consciousness slipped away.

Jack, Jill, and I. We looked in the direction our friends had fled in. They hadn’t come back. They hadn’t come back. Then we looked at our hands. Jack missed one finger. Jill two. Me three. From the pinky up to the middle finger. It looked clean. On purpose. It was done by someone who knew what they were doing. It was done by a monster. There were monsters. There really were monsters. We looked at each other, hoping someone else would have the answer. It was dawn. The first rays of the sun started coming up. We had to move, or do something. Anything to get away from here! But in one direction were the ruins of an old town and to the other our friends were lost. So we looked in the other two directions. Neither seemed inviting. But something heavy was coming our way. We could feel the earth trembling under its weight, beating to a faster drum. We had to run!

One finger meant one day. We learned that quickly. As the sun rose up high in the sky, and we were running through the woods, searching for a way out, it attacked again. This monster that towered over the trees. Its claws sunk deep into the hard, stone packed ground. There were deformities that didn’t make any sense. Even in that instant, because that was all it was, we saw them. The monster looked mangled, with one eye missing. Its eyes that were set back on its skull, making space for a jaw that by all rights shouldn’t be that big. Nor should it have such big teeth. Nor so many fangs. It ran faster than we did. Jack didn’t stand a chance. None of us did. But it left us alone. To it, this was a game. To us, it was our lives.

Two fingers meant two days. We didn’t run. It’d proven pointless. So we hid. We found a quiet corner, somewhere far out of the way. There was an opening into the ground. It didn’t go deep, but it was enough to hide. We didn’t stop there. After hiding in the hole, we started digging. We still had several more hours. The farther away we got, the better our hiding spot, the bigger our chances of survival. Or so we thought. We were still digging when the claw tore through the ground. It looked effortless as it accurately wrapped around Jill, who was right in front of me, and lifted her up out of the ground. I was exposed to, allowing me to look up and into the jaws of this monster. Drool dripped down from its mouth, wetting the earth. Three rows of teeth chumped down on Jill. Blood flowing from its mouth and onto me. But I was petrified. Scared stiff. All I could do was watch. Helpless.

Three fingers means three days. That much is clear by now. I’ve given up hope. There’s no escaping this. I’m writing this from my new home, the one I worked so hard on building. Friends, humans, anyone who reads these words, please heed my warning. Turning back. The walls are there for a reason. It isn’t greener on the other side. It is red and full of death and pain and agony. I’ve watched my friends, the only people I cared about, die. They were torn apart, ripped apart, and toyed with. We were its toys. In a few hours it’s my turn. I’ll be the final item on its menu. But I won’t be alive for that. I’m not doing that to myself. This is my farewell. Please, don’t be me. |

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