Another day, another opportunity. An opportunity to nap during Philosophy 101, that is. Emery sighed and drummed her fingers on the bare tabletop as the teacher, Mr. Glaucon, droned on and on.
"In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, people are chained facing a wall. A fire is across the cave, casting shadows which are all the people can see. They would think the shadows are all that exist."
She couldn't remember why she had possibly signed up for Philosophy, of all things. It seemed like a fantastical daydream involving ideas which had no importance. What did it matter if people did exist, or didn't exist, or if anything did or didn't exist, so long as to her it was indeed real? Searching for possible other meanings was a waste of time and energy which could be used to solve real problems.
"Suppose someone escaped these chains," continued the teacher.
A wiry freshman sat down next to her. "Hey," he said tentatively.
Suddenly Emery could recall why she had signed up for this class. "Hey Riley," she replied warmly, flashing him a rare genuine smile. "You had better not show up late next time, since you are required to enjoy this class enough to make up for my misery."
Riley shrank back, embarrassed. "If you don't want to then you can change courses. You don't have to stay just for me." He contradicted himself by looking worriedly at the rest of the class, as though already imagining being forced to talk to them.
Emery pulled out her things, aligning the bottom of her notebook to be perfectly parallel to the edge of the table. "Don't be ridiculous Riley. You know, and I know that you know, that if I leave this class then you're going to isolate yourself and that's not good for anyone. Besides," she continued, trying and failing to sound comforting, "you should know me well enough to tell when I'm joking." Riley looked skeptically at her and she sighed, admitting, "This class is definitely not on my priority list though, so if my Engineering project starts slipping then Philosophy will be the first thing I cut."
Riley, not reassured at all, retrieved a slightly worn notebook from his bag and started furiously writing notes. Emery, not particularly caring about Mr. Glaucon's lecture, watched her best friend. Not for the first time, she felt sorry for her bluntness but that was the truth of how things were. Eventually, getting tired of feeling sorry for something that was simply a part of her but not wanting to listen to the lecture, Emery leaned back in her seat and drifted off.
"Hey, I'm home for the weekend." Emery set her bookbag on the floor next to the kitchen island. Mr. Woodsworth looked up from his laptop.
"There you are Emmy!" Emery winced at the childish pet name. "I was wondering where you were!" He beamed at her, and she could see that he didn't realise she had been gone for days. The table was covered with ramen wrappers, unwashed bowls, and several coffee-stained cups.
Emery signed and started to clean up. "You need to keep better track of the time," she admonished. "Take better care of yourself. Honestly, you act more like a teenager than I do."
Her father only gazed at her in nostalgia. "You are so much like your mother," he responded absentmindedly, eyes floating over to the picture of the former Mrs. Woodsworth. "She was so practical and levelheaded." His eyes saddened. "At least, she was until she found her true love and left. I'm happy for her though. I got to be part of her story, even though I'm only a side character."
When Mr. Woodsworth turned back to his writing with a sad smile, Emery shook her head as she prepared dinner. It was common gossip around the town that Sophie Martha Woodsworth had left town with a fabulously wealthy businessman. Her father was only trying to escape reality, imagining that she finally had her "happily ever after," even if he wasn't in it. Emery knew that even if her mother was happier, her father should still move on and make his former wife a side character in his own story as well.
After dinner, Emery trudged up to her room. She retrieved a small pile of schematics from her bag, setting them on her desk. A packet fell from the pile, falling gently before Emery swiftly caught it and looked at it in curiosity. The packet was titled "Plato's Allegory of the Cave," and she vaguely remembered Mr. Glaucon speaking about it during Philosophy class. It seemed even though she was asleep for most of the class, Riley had slipped a copy into her bag before waking her up. Knowing that it would be necessary to not fail the course, Emery begrudgingly made a mental note to thank him later.
With a resigned sigh, Emery sat heavily at her desk, opened the packet, started reading, and within a few minutes she was asleep.
Emery woke with a piercing headache. Lying unmoving on the bed, she focused her thoughts and tried to open her eyes.
She tried again and searing pain burst in her head. Dazed, she lifted a hand to her face, keeping her eyes closed. A trembling hand grazed her cheek and her fingers brushed where her eye would be, should be located.
Emery fought down the rising tide of panic. Breathing deeply, she focused on her other senses, clinging to the feel of the mattress, noticing it was slightly different from her own. Her clothes felt like her normal t-shirt and jeans, but her pockets were empty. A faint smell of mildew permeated the room. Thankfully it didn't seem like she was tied down, but obviously she wasn't in her room and probably not in her house. Staying perfectly still and straining her ears, Emery blocked out the persistent thmp-thmp of her heart racing and made out the faint sound of cloth rustling nearby, getting closer, finally stopping at the side of her bed.
Emery jumped and tried to scramble away, tumbling over the edge of the bed. Strong hands clasped her shoulders and pulled her back, keeping her on the bed despite her attempts to escape the iron grip. The voice tutted, deep and resonant, and Emery couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman speaking.
"Now, now," said the voice reproachfully, "you need time to get used to this. It'll be easier as the process goes on, but for now you should just relax right here." Emery stopped struggling, trying to calm down but her body betrayed her with its endless shaking. "There you go," said the voice. "I knew you would come around. You're a realist, you pride yourself your logic and observation, so we have our similarities. Our difference is what we consider reality." The grip loosened on her shoulders.
"That's why you're here Emery," the voice said soothingly. "I want to show you what true reality is, to show you what the world is really like. You have a lot of potential, but your preset ideas and conditions blind you. I'm here to show you the way."
Despite herself, Emery stayed still and listened attentively. It was likely that her captor was mentally unstable, and so it was possible that they might let something slip. A name, a purpose, a location, anything that could be used to help her. She wasn't, she reminded herself, interested at all in her kidnapper's reasoning. Anyone who took a teenager, carved out their eyes, and believed it was for a worthy cause had to be insane.
The surface of the mattress rose and Emery heard the cloth rustling again, this time a few feet away. The rich voice rumbled, "I would recommend you not go exploring for now. It would be a shame if something happened to you." A shiver of revulsion ran down Emery's spine. The sound of soft footsteps, muffled by what could be carpet, walked away and Emery was alone in the darkness.
Emery sat on the bed, hands used to soldering and drilling, delicately skimming over its surface. The metal frame was heavy and solid, the mattress was secured to it, so it was unlikely to be of much use. A quick brush against the floor determined that it was a thick carpet, rough from lack of use. The pain had lessened to a dull throbbing which she successfully ignored, so she cautiously placed a foot on the ground, about two feet below.
She stood up slowly, keeping one hand on the bed and stretching her other arm as far away from the bed as she could. She lifted the other hand slightly off the bed, then changed her mind and quickly put it down again. Emery couldn't trust her own perception yet, and if she wandered too far from the bed she wouldn't be able to find it again easily. A shiver ran up her spine despite logic telling her that there was no way the room could be all that large, that if she walked in a straight line away from the bed then she would inevitably reach a wall.
Emery shook her head, clearing her thoughts. Irrational fears wouldn't do her any good. Bracing herself, she lifted her hand off the bed once more and stood with arms outstretched. Her skin prickled, every slight eddy of air causing a shiver. She could tell nothing of her surroundings, and it seemed like she was suspended in an abyss. Thinking quickly, Emery crouched closer to the ground. She focused on the rough carpet beneath her palms and feet, the faint smells of mildew, the dusty carpet, her own apple-scented shampoo along with the lingering scent of metal shavings and grease. Listened to her heartbeat, her own shallow breaths, and the brushing of her hands and feet against the carpet. She reached a hand behind her, making sure she was facing away from the bed. With a deep breath, Emery apprehensively started crawling, the carpet seeming like an endless expanse before her.
Left hand, right knee. Right hand, left knee.
Rustle of jeans and hands against carpet.
Hair brushing her arms, her captor had taken her hair elastics.
Left hand, right knee. Right hand, left knee.
Think about the faintly dusty smell of the carpet. Think about the persistent thmp-thmp, the steady breaths in and out. Don't think about crawling on forever, dustiness and rustling and thumping and breathing and left hand, right knee, right hand, left knee onwards to infinity.
Emery reached up and pain shot through her right hand. She yelped, the loud noise unfamiliar and jarring after the quiet, padded journey across the carpet. Cautiously, she reached up. Fingers brushed a wall, and with a gasp of relief Emery leaned against it, breathing in the scent of plaster, solidly anchored once more. She was accomplishing something. There would have to be a door eventually, and she would be one step closer to escaping. All she needed to do was keep calm and think logically.
Hope rose within her, and Emery furiously quashed it. It was true that by using her remaining senses to their greatest capacity she might escape, but it was still unlikely. If there was a chase she would be at a definite disadvantage, and even supposing there weren't multiple captors or any guards, she would have to rely on chance to find the exit. It would take an extremely long time. Emery placed her left hand on the wall, stretched her right hand in front of her, and walked onwards.
Emery had developed a kind of system. Counting her steps under her breath, she kept her left hand on the wall. She had reached a doorway in the original room after passing one corner, and turned left. Twenty steps later, or about thirty feet since she carefully took uniform eighteen-inch steps, she reached another door, this one closed. Finding that it was locked, Emery decided to keep going. Another fifteen steps and she came upon an open door. Emery was about to walk past it when something grasped her hand, and she suppressed a scream.
"Hey," whispered someone. The grip on her wrist tightened slightly, but the hand holding her was slender and not very strong. Emery resisted the urge to jerk away. "I haven't seen you around here. Are you new?" the voice continued, and it sounded like the speaker was a girl, maybe slightly younger than herself. Emery nodded, trying to turn her head to her, and the girl giggled. "I'm over here silly!" A pause, then, "You can't see, can you?"
Emery shook her head slowly. "Can you?"
"Oh yes," said the girl cheerfully. Her voice was unnaturally, almost irritatingly, high-pitched. "I can see everything! It's always sad to see one of the new arrivals though, I feel so sad for them." Another soft hand placed itself on Emery's arm. "You're all so scared, like trapped little animals. It makes me cry." The girl's voice cracked, and Emery felt a few drops fall on her arm. Emery, after figuring out where the girl was and not really knowing what else to do, patted her back awkwardly.
"Well…" Emery paused, thoughts racing, trying to be comforting. Failing that, she fell back to her normal logical approach. "If you're truly sad to see me here, you could help me escape. You would be a lot of help- oof!" There was the taste of blood in her mouth. The wind was knocked out of Emery's lungs, and she fell to the ground. A flash of light from eyes that were not there. Rough carpet on her cheek, that was going to leave a mark. The scent of disinfectant, disorienting and unfamiliar. The high-pitched voice changing suddenly to deep and sonorous, tutting disapprovingly, getting more distant. The carpet felt less rough, the disinfectant less strong, the dusty smell now imperceptible, and Emery's thoughts scattered like smoke on the wind.
"...and really, I'm surprised it's this difficult to convince you. Usually an acolyte is able to at least catch a glimpse of reality when they first lose their eyes, but you're too close-minded. This should help you though."
Emery tried to stir, but it didn't feel like her limbs were responding. To be more precise, her limbs didn't feel anything. The voice continued speaking, apparently noticing her struggle.
"Right now the sedative is wearing off. You shouldn't have too much of a headache, the procedure was minor compared to removing your eyes. You will get used to it shortly. In the meantime, I hope this will discourage you from doing any more exploring." The voice took on a harder tone. "I care for you very much Emery, but I can't have you wandering off. The process must stay on schedule." The mattress creaked, and there was the sound of two feet hitting carpet. "And stop thrashing about like that, it's bothersome." With that, the muffled footsteps walked away to her right.
Forcing herself to stay still despite not knowing she had been moving in the first place, Emery thought frantically. She couldn't feel anything. Had she lost her sense of touch? Emery remembered words and phrases from a psychology book she had once skimmed through. Somatosensory system. Merkel cells. Tactile corpuscles, lamellar corpuscles, bulbous corpuscles, primary somatosensory cortex. Nevermind that, she needed to focus.
To Emery, the overall effect was that she had lost her sense of touch. As for escape, chances were that she was in the same room she had started in. If that was the case, it would be easier to make her way to the wall. She took note of where the footsteps had gone, then paused to think.
There was no way that her kidnapper was sane, but he spoke rationally enough. Emery focused and tried to remember. This process, whatever it was, was logical. It was cold, and rational, and apparently far from over. Given that so far she lost her eyes and her sense of touch, it seemed soon she would lose her other senses as well.
What would happen to her then? She would still be able to move, but would that matter if she couldn't experience anything? If she couldn't tell when she was about to walk off a cliff or into oncoming traffic? If she was left with only her thoughts for company, no way of knowing if she was about to die from a perilous situation she was unaware of? Wouldn't that isolation and deprivation be a death in and of itself?
She swung her legs over the right side of the bed, not sure if it actually worked, and waited. Two heavy thumps were confirmation. Emery sat up, listening carefully to the creaks of the mattress. When she was sure she was upright, she stood and started walking. She felt like a balloon, secured by the threads of footsteps below her along with the smell of mildew, and was far too aware of how easily her captor would cut those strings.
But Emery knew she would never let it come to that.
One way or another.
Once again, Emery was somewhat thankful that she had lost her sense of pain along with her sense of touch. Otherwise she would feel every bruise which doubtless covered her arms, and something was almost definitely broken. She had been using her arms as a way to tell where things were, using dull thud of flesh against matter to tell the locations of the walls and doors. Of course, she was never completely sure if her arm was moving upwards or sideways. Emery could appreciate the scientific aspect, as it was remarkable how she couldn't feel air against her arms when she moved, or her skin stretching when she flexed her fingers, and in a different situation she might have found it fascinating.
She had determined that the plaster wall had a lighter sound, almost wet when she hit it hard enough. Doors were crisper. Sometimes she swung and only heard the whoosh of air, and sometimes a smack sooner than expected, meaning she was at a corner. All the while, the carpet maintained its comforting muffled tone.
Or not. Emery tried to move forwards, with only a skitter in response. Lifting an arm, she let it fall back.
That was tile, and she most likely had fallen down a flight of stairs. Unfortunately, Emery had no way of knowing if she had broken anything. She tried to stand up, telling her limbs to move and had no idea if they were responding. It would be difficult to stand up, and Emery knew the futility even if she managed to. It would be so much easier to lie there, let herself dissolve into dysfunction, with only her own thoughts eating at the fringes of her sanity.
Emery suppressed the idea with a quiet desperation. Maybe this was how her father felt, knowing his beloved didn't really care about him but still clinging to her. Frustration roiled in the pit of her stomach as she thought about how unfair it all was, but she quickly replaced it with grim determination. This wasn't just about beating her captor anymore. This was about defeating her own weakness.
She lifted her right hand, letting it fall to the ground, hearing it land dully to her right. Doing the same for her left hand and both legs, she determined how best to stand up. She did, and should have felt her muscles ache in exertion, but there was nothing. When Emery was fairly certain she had managed to stand, she flailed her arms to find the wall. No response, so she stepped to her right and tried again. There was a crash, and she placed her ear against the wall to listen. There was a quiet hum, an engine was nearby. If she could just get to it, she could put her expertise to good use. Emery stumbled on, following the source of the humming. At last she came to the it, and she sighed in relief.
"Oh I needed this," she mumbled, as she recognised the sounds from the machine. It was harder as she couldn't see the thing but it was the unmistakable hum of a propane furnace. Her engineering class had disassembled one on the first day of freshman year, and Emery had frequently tested herself by repeating the task with her eyes closed. Granted, the loss of touch was a major hindrance but she had an idea. A terrible idea, but an idea nonetheless. Bracing herself, she hit the seam on the side of the furnace as hard as she could.
She did it again. And again. Again, and there was sickening crack, but she kept going.
Emery woke up. Maybe. She didn't remember losing consciousness, but if she had managed to break the heat exchanger it was entirely possible she passed out due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Hopefully she had managed to knock at least a few spuds out of the gas manifold, the part of the furnace which would supply propane.
Suddenly she noticed that it was eerily quiet. Admittedly she had decided to lie still for the moment to think, but there was something else. A sense of loss which she felt in her gut more than anything else, and Emery knew what it was. There were a few clues, including the now familiar and dreaded smell of cotton. She was back at the start, and for the first time in her life her heartbeat didn't subtly vibrate the tiny bones in her ears or rattle her eardrums. Judging by the sense of dizziness, that would be since she didn't have eardrums anymore.
Mechanically, Emery's mind ran through ways she could move around for the last time. She usually left from the right side of the bed and assuming she hadn't moved too much, that would still be to her right. Of course, that assumption was not one she could afford to make. Remembering her apple shampoo and that she had probably been lying on the bed for some time, Emery breathed in deeply.
There was nothing but the perpetual mildew.
She tried again, this time inhaling more slowly and with more control. A plethora of subtle scents announced themselves to her, among them being a kind of rusty smell, a whiff of apple shampoo, and a slight smell of propane additive. She attempted to turn her head to the left, not sure if it was working, and breathed in. The cottony smell was stronger so it appeared that it had worked, and the apple smell seemed like it might be the tiniest bit fainter. Turning her head to the right, the cotton scent seemed like it was about the same level but the apple scent was definitely more noticeable.
Emery carefully turned herself, taking note of wherever the apple scent was strongest, but her sense of smell wasn't precise enough for her to be completely certain. Not that it really mattered. Without bothering to crawl along on the floor, she commanded her feet to carry her away from the bed. The only difference to her was the disappearance of the cotton smell and the noteable whiff of propane additive. She didn't care that her captor was probably watching, possibly trying to stop her. She didn't care that as far as she could observe, she was alone, floating in perpetual darkness and silence. All she cared about was the strengthening smell of propane, overpowering the scent of mildew with the stench of rot and sulphur. Sooner or later, either her or her captor would make a spark. Maybe just static from the carpeted floor or faulty wiring, but it would happen. And Emery, with her invisible ally, would be ready. Until then, she wandered through the dark for what could be eternity.
Emery thought as she meandered through the building. She remembered Riley, her gentle and meek friend, and that one way or another he would make it through his Philosophy course. Her father would be stricken with grief, but that would pass and she would become yet another muse for his writing. The gap she left would slowly seal itself like blood clotting at a wound.
Maybe that was why Emery was a realist, not really interested debating philosophies and the meaning of life. Everyone was merely a gear in the intricate machine of the universe as it chugged along, utterly insignificant and replaceable. She appreciated the lengths to which her captor had gone to try to convince her otherwise, but she was only more firm in her own beliefs now. Thoughts were electric impulses and emotions were merely chemicals, bonding with other chemicals. What she observed, the photons and vibrations and presence of other particles was reality, and they were the entirety of reality. Wasn't it enough to simply be part of the greatest machine in existence without needing a theoretical deeper meaning?
A scuff on the carpet.
Not much, but enough charge had accumulated for a single spark. Emery almost missed the smell of smoke, then the acrid stench of burning flesh. She stumbled on, not seeing the ravenous yellow flames, not hearing the tired sighs of collapsing steel supports, not feeling the scorching heat searing her skin, but tasting the ash in her mouth, still clinging to her final link to her reality, even as she crumbled away.
We confess we were disappointed. The small minds of the Unenlightened astound us.
Emery was surprised. She was surprised that she could feel surprised, or feel anything at all. Already her senses were awash with sensations, and Emery didn't believe in an afterlife, so that could only mean one thing.
She opened her eyes.
A harsh light glared down at her, and stiff bedsheets covered her up to the shoulders. Beneath the sheets, Emery could feel papery scrubs, the springy mattress she was lying on, her own hands clasped on her stomach, like a body in a coffin. There was a side table next to her bed, along with two chairs and a television across the room hanging from the ceiling. Sunlight streamed through a barred window, reflecting off Riley's dark hair as he snored quietly in one of the chairs. Her dad's favorite coffee mug sat on the table, still steaming, infusing the room with its aroma and overpowering the typical disinfectant-infused hospital smell.
Sitting up, she looked at herself. Those were her arms, her hands toughened from work, fingernails rough and slightly dirty. That was her hair, uncharacteristically straight, not in a bun like she preferred, a few light strands falling into her face. Emery stood, scrubs brushing lightly against her skin, walking to the sink in her room, looking in the mirror above it. That was definitely her reflection, but something seemed off somehow.
"Emmy, you're awake!"
Emery jumped and whipped around, on guard. Her father put his hands up in surrender saying, "Woah there, I got you breakfast. Your favorite, blueberry pancakes!" He set the pancakes on the table and Emery internally sighed. Her dad was the same as ever, she hadn't liked blueberry pancakes since she was in fourth grade. All the same, it was food and Emery felt like she hadn't eaten for a month.
While she was eating, plastic fork and no knife, Mr. Woodsworth left to refill his coffee. The blueberry pancakes were alright, as far as blueberry pancakes went, but she would much rather have a ham and cheese omelet. Next to her, Riley stirred, mumbling something. Emery listened to what he said, but didn't really pay attention.
"You're all... mhr… so scared…"
Emery's blood froze. She remembered the girl's soft hand on her wrist, whispering.
Emery shook her head furiously. That was over. Beside her, Riley started and woke up. He looked around blearily, expression lightening when he noticed Emery sitting up.
"You're awake!" he cried, as he wrapped her in a hug. Emery sat there, frozen, feeling Riley's arms clasped tightly around her, restraining like a straitjacket. He let go, smiling. "We were all so worried when we found you in your room, you wouldn't wake up! I was so scared." He looked closer at her, frowning slightly. "How are you, are you alright? You seem off."
Emery didn't respond for a few seconds. "I'm… alright," she said hesitantly. Her hand brushed over her eyes absently. Her head snapped towards Riley with startling quickness. "What happened? Why am I in a hospital? How did you find me?"
"Hey, Emery, it's okay," he said, only the slightest tremor in his voice. "You're safe now."
She stared at him, analysing his expression. The slightest twitch of his eyelid, the carefully composed reassuring smile.
"You're afraid of me," she said quietly.
"What, no!" Riley leaned in, worried gaze. "Why would I be afraid of you? We found you passed out in your room and we were all really worried but-"
"No, I'm not." Riley was getting frustrated now, voice rising in volume and pitch. He took a few breaths to calm himself. "Listen, we've all had a long few weeks. Yes, I'm afraid for you, but I'm not afraid of you-"
"You are." Emery's voice was rising too, and some detached part of her noted that it was not from anger, but hysteria. "You're afraid of me."
A nurse burst into the room, alerted by Emery's distress. "Sir," she spoke formally but firmly, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave." Riley, surrendering, allowed himself to be led out of Emery's room. He nodded to Mr. Woodsworth as the writer reentered the room with a steaming cup of coffee. Emery turned over, pretending to be asleep, hoping things would go back to normal soon.
We found it funny that she thought it was over. No matter, she would realise soon enough.
Emery woke calmly, exactly as she had for the past few days. Riley still visited, but only for a few hours after school. Her father, on the other hand, had not appeared since he left the first day Emery woke up. Chances were that he had forgotten she wasn't home, as usual. She shook her head fondly.
Ever since she had woken up, Emery had felt different. She was always thinking, even when she slept, and so much so that it hardly felt like sleeping. Things she saw every day seemed different, like she was looking at them underwater. Or maybe like she always had seen them from underwater and was seeing clearly for the first time. Emery told herself that was ridiculous. Her eyes still perceived the same wavelengths of light, which were still reflected in the same way from the objects. What unsettled her most though was people.
People were so easy to read now that Emery was slightly terrified by it. A combination of analysis and gut instinct told her almost exactly how people around her felt, and sometimes even what they were thinking. Emery had possessed a similar skill, as did most people, but that was only to a point. Now she was the subject of strange looks, of shoulders hunched in false defiance, of feet pointed slightly away from her as though the person in question wanted nothing more than to get as far away from her as possible.
She would get used to it soon enough.
Her doctor cracked open the door of her room, plastic smile glued firmly in place. "It's time for your checkup! Can I come in?" It wasn't really a question. Emery nodded dully. The doctor walked in, followed by a nurse pushing a portable heart rate monitor. The nurse clipped a small white sensor to her finger while the doctor sat down next to her, ready to start the standard list of questions.
"So, Emery," started the doctor, "How are you feeling?"
We do enjoy this part, when an Unenlightened tries to find out what's wrong. Of course, nothing is wrong with Emery, she is now far superior to them.
"Why did you do it?"
Emery slowly exhaled through her nose. "I told you," she said, voice hard, "I was kidnapped. I didn't do anything."
The doctor shook her head. "Yes yes," voice consoling but clearly not believing her, "You were kidnapped by someone who you cannot give any description of." A short sigh, like a small punch made of wind. Frustration, resignation.
"Well, Emery, you seem to be doing fine. You can be released once we find you a psychiatrist." Emery nodded. She didn't need a psychiatrist. Therapy hadn't helped her take care of her dad after her mother left.
The doctor stood, and left the room. Emery thought she should probably know her name, but it was of no importance. When we finally educated her, completely saved her from the ignorance of the Unenlightened, it wouldn't matter.
Emery walked to Philosophy, the bottle of pills in her bag rattling with every step. She was annoyed, and she clung to that annoyance. There was something wrong, a feeling in her core which she tried to dismiss. Logic told her that it was just because this was her first day back at school, that she was merely nervous, that there wasn't actually something terrible happening, about to happen. She stepped into the classroom and felt the stares of the students boring into her, felt the judgement eating away at her mask of confidence. But she didn't, couldn't, wouldn't let them affect her, they wouldn't, shouldn't affect her, could never, would never.
We were delighted. We were getting to her, slowly but surely.
Emery sat down next to Riley, who turned and smiled at her. It was all she could do just to stay there, weighed down by his supportive gaze, and not bolt from the room. Mr. Glaucon shuffled papers and cleared his throat.
"Today we will be continuing our discussion on the Allegory of the Cave. Please leave your desks and gather in the front of the room." He glanced at Riley. "You know what to do."
Riley nodded quickly, then gestured to Emery. There was something off about that gesture, and Emery struggled to identify exactly what. Riley sat calmly under her scrutiny, back straight, shoulders relaxed, chin tilted upwards ever so slightly. She thought back to how strangely he had acted at the hospital, the words he had mumbled in a semi-waking state so similar to those of that girl, and suddenly it dawned on her.
"They got you."
Riley raised an eyebrow, confused. "What do you mean?" he said. "Mr. Glaucon asked me to tell you about the discussions we had without you. You know, since you were…"
Emery watched as Riley's lips moved, not comprehending his words. Fear was rising within her, but what scared her was that she couldn't control it. She had to stay in control, but no one else understood. No one else knew about them, all either oblivious or complacent in following their madness. She was alone, fighting a force she couldn't see or touch, hear, smell, or taste but was definitely there. It was there in Riley's uncharacteristically calm and confident demeanor, in the unseeing eyes of her father, in this cult of students talking about The Cave, in the hysterical laughter bubbling up in her throat and at that point Emery didn't care anymore.
For the first time since we had taken her, she laughed. Eyes rolling frantically, froth trickling from the corner of her mouth, tears streaming down her face.
At last, we had her too.
Things have settled down since then. Emery was a permanent resident in a psychiatric hospital for some time, and meanwhile the school and local newspapers let her fade into anonymity. Later she committed suicide during a moment of so-called clarity, thinking to escape us, believing in her reality until the end. We had tried our best, and she was so close, but she always was a stubborn one. Then again, maybe that was what made us so desperate to save her. It means little. She is of no importance now.
I, among many others, have dedicated myself to liberating people from the Cave. We used to be like you, only seeing, feeling, being the surface of reality, unknowing of our true nature. There is so much more to the world than what you can sense with sight, or touch, or smell, or sound, or taste. There is another, deeper world, one grander and more majestic, one filled with awesome and terrible purpose.
Find a way to escape your chains.
Turn away from the cave wall, and look behind you.
See the reality of things, not just their shadows.
Bask in the light of the fire, the light which you once thought was the source of existence.
And, if your mind can stand it, you can leave the Cave and see the sun, hanging in the sky but untethered by any string or cable.
It is the most beautiful, wild place I have ever been.