Writing prompt: “Never trust a survivor until you find out what they did to stay alive.”
Being trapped twenty meters below the city of Paris, in the intricate labyrinth of the yet to be completed Catacombs, was something Claude quickly found to be a life-or-death situation. He and Étienne, a younger boy perhaps a decade his junior (whom he had quickly become friends with while digging out the endless tunnels of the subterranean Empire of the Dead), had been aimlessly attempting to dig themselves out of a collapsed tunnel. It had been several days at the very least, and their water supply, like their lantern light, had long since extinguished. Nonetheless, the two men continued trying to haul stone after stone, boulder after boulder to the side, praying to eventually break through the wall to cry out for help.
But Claude was famished. Each stone moved took a little more out of his energy reservoir, until he was nearing empty. Soon, if he did not eat, he knew he would collapse and die. Étienne was not feeling much better; his nervous chatter had died down to an occasional grunt, a soft sigh as he strained his slender body. With less words exchanged between the two and the stagnant pitch black darkness veiling them, Claude knew what he had to do. With the minimal energy he had left to expend, he fumbled for the largest rock he could blindly find and the moment, raised it above his head, I brought it instantly crashing down on Étienne’s. Falling wordlessly to the ground with a thud lost in wide expanse of the tunnel, Claude brought the rock forcefully against his friend’s head several more time until he knew he had to be dead.
And then Claude began to eat, tearing the flesh off hungrily from Étienne’s inner arm with a savageness he would have never dreamed was within him. He ate with a burning desire to survive outweighing the immense guilt surfacing deep within his core. I cannot die, he told himself. I will not die.
With a small newfound energy, he began fervently digging his way out, moving rocks for what seemed like hours, until a small hint of illumination could be discerned. Claude pushed through the thin barrier and fell forward into a dim tunnel, then crawled his way toward a light source that gradually became brighter and brighter. Eventually he found several workers’ lanterns hung along a wall, one of which he took before coiling his way through the maze haphazardly, eventually coming to pass rows and rows of grinning skulls staring back at him, mocking Death that he had both escaped and caused. After some time, he heard the soft muffle of feet dragging along the dirt floors and raced toward it.
Claude was brought face-to-face with a worker boy roughly the same age as Étienne, with a similar build and hair colour. He was taken aback by the wide-eyed survivor in front of him, whose face, clothing, and hands were covered in blood. Claude breathlessly explained what happened to him, and the terror-struck boy was left assuming that man in front of him had been badly hurt in a tunnel collapse.
“How many days have you been trapped under here?” the boy asked, the pale pallor of his face a clear indication of the horror Claude’s current state of being elicited. “Were you alone?”
Never trust a survivor until you find out what they did to stay alive.
“I’m not sure how long,” Claude replied. A pause, then, “but I was trapped alone, monsieur.”