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Inhumanity by Matt McHugh

A prisoner and jailer separated by differences in understanding so fundamental that even the possibility of compassion is beyond them.

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He could not feel the tree he knew he was leaning against, as if it were not a thing, but simply a force that kept him from falling. All that he could feel was the throb from the left side of his body spreading through him, less like pain now than the probing of invisible fingers. About him, the sounds of the forest‹calls of birds, hiss of wind through leaf and grass‹merged into a single a single, lulling murmur. The canopy of branches overhead seemed more distant than it should have been, and the blue sky leaking through it almost near enough to touch. He looked down to see his left hand thick with his own blood. His blood darkened the ground beneath him and marked the trail he had left crawling to this spot. Without regret or anticipation, he shut his eyes and leaned back his head to wait for what would come next. An unfamiliar feeling moved through him; it was not hunger or anger or pleasure or pain, but just a calm with nothing in it but itself. Even though it was strange to him, it seemed like the right thing to feel now.

Suddenly, they were there—with their awkward steps and maddening voices, their bright faces and aggressive eyes. He wanted to rush at them, chase them away, but he could only scratch at the dirt with the hand and foot that still worked. He could make no sound except a rasping breath. Helpless, he watched as one raised its long gun. If they shot again, they would take him. He would not be able to rest in the dense, heavy calm; they could take him away forever. Struggling, he pulled himself away from calmness back into pain and anger—to charge, to run, to hide, to fight, to do anything but let himself be taken. He heard their horrible voices cry out and the crack of the gun.

Mitch woke with the jolt of the white bullet hitting him. He clawed at the spot on his leg where it should have been, but, of course, was not.


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