Marco walked closer to his friend

“Marco walked closer to his friend. He remembered the story Elvis had told him back in Fort Djemila, how his girlfriend had died in a car crash. "I had no idea you lost your brother," Marco said. He placed a hand on Elvis’s shoulder. "I’m sorry for your loss."

Elvis nodded. "I guess that’s why I sing so much. Why I don’t like being serious. Because I don’t want to turn into that. A hollow man. But if we ever go home, after seeing all this . . ." He swept his arms around him. "These tunnels, this war, the monsters in the darkness . . . How can we ever be happy again? How can we ever sing, dance, be like we were, even if we make it back home?"

Lailani spoke in a soft voice. "There can still be joy after pain. I suffered all my life. My life was like these tunnels, dark, twisting, full of suffering." She raised her scarred wrists. "I tried to kill myself once. But I found some light. I found some joy. The pain stays with you always. Always. Even if we go home, the pain will still be there, forever scars inside us, as true as these scars on my wrists. So no, we won’t ever be as we were. But that doesn’t mean there can’t also be some light among the shadows. The world still has some beauty in it, even with all the fucking shit all over. I believe that now. I have to."

After that, they walked in silence for a long time, each soldier lost in his or her thoughts, remembering home.


They kept walking until they reached a doorway.

They froze.

A doorway. An actual metal door, not just a crude tunnel. Two soldiers flattened themselves against the walls, guns at the ready, while Ben-Ari grabbed the doorknob and shoved the door open. They peered inside to see a metal chamber full of pipes, control panels, generators, and drills. The train tracks ran through the chamber. There were a thousand places here for scum to hide, and the soldiers stepped in slowly, guns raised, flashlights shining. A metal trough ran alongside one wall, full of bubbling molten metal. A few veined blobs clung to the ceiling and vents, casting their dim orange glow.

"Scum lanterns," Marco said. "The bastards were here, or were here not long ago."

"Fucking scum." Addy grimaced and pointed. "What is that? Is that a kid?"

They looked. Marco covered his mouth, nauseous. Something like a burnt corpse, not very large, lay between a few pipes, charred black. If there had been limbs, they were gone, and the face was burned away.

"Maybe it was one of those things like in Ben-Ari’s pack," Marco said.

As if in answer to his question, Lieutenant Ben-Ari’s backpack rustled.

"What the fuck," Addy whispered. "Did the thing in her backpack hear you? Understand you?"

Ben-Ari shrugged off her backpack, knelt, and opened it. They all gathered around. Inside, the blanket they had wrapped around the fleshy blob was writhing. Ben-Ari scooped up the bundle and unwrapped the blanket.

The lieutenant screamed and dropped the creature.

The room spun.

Marco couldn’t breathe.

A dream. It has to be a dream. Oh God, please let this be a dream.

The fleshy creature lay on the floor, mouth smacking, eyes blinking. It had no arms, no legs, but it had a face. Marco’s face.

"Why is it you?" Addy whispered, pale, fingers trembling. "Oh God, Marco, why is it you?"

He couldn’t breathe. He gasped for air. "Don’t hurt it," he whispered. "Don’t . . ."

But Addy, grimacing, knelt and lifted the blob with his face. She ran and tossed it into the vault of molten metal.

The creature screamed. It screamed so loudly the sound echoed through the chamber, louder than any man could cry. They covered their ears as the scream rose higher and higher, ripping through the air, a siren, until finally it faded and the thing with Marco’s face melted in the metal.

They all needed to sit down after that. The soldiers found a little chamber with chairs and a table behind a glass wall. They sat, breathing deeply, shuddering, unable to speak for long moments.

"What was that thing?" Addy finally said, then glared at Lailani. "And don’t say a demon."”