Sanity slept in one of the wells below the deepest workings of the abandoned mine.
Yris knew because he dreamed of her often, dressed in pink froth and smiling with glass eyes at the abyssal dark. She had left him so many years ago and she had left the child with him. Perhaps she thought it a fair exchange, but she was wrong. Without her, he found being had long since become more than a burden. But he had continued to be, even so.
One hundred years to the day.
Nothing reached out from the past to offer solace. Only the weary shades of loss and bitter disappointment – of hopes raised only to plummet, like burnt out comets no longer trailing their glory and fire. The uncertain light flickered on the marl-plastered wall which held the record of those years. A private diary of his humiliation. Half his life lived out in these caverns.
Yris ran a hand over the protruding notches of stone he had set in the wall at the end of each year, the last still warm to the touch from the rock-melting heat of the energy weapon he had used to fix it in place. He thought about the final vial of life, cradled in its hiding place and wondered if he was right to wait longer.
“Will you at least eat?”
The voice made him turn, startled, but slower than he should. His ears, even with the deft enhancements he had created, no longer warned him of quiet footsteps on the cavern floor. He felt himself a fool for his moment of panic. The child was now a woman, this woman, who held out a bowl of something edible. He had long since stopped asking what. Her expression held pity. It perturbed him.
He should pity her, one who had lived out her whole life in the dark here with him,one who had no haunting memories of sunlight and open skies. No haunting, taunting, memories, echoing with the long silent voices of a lost time. And the laughter. He did remember the laughter – the taunting laughter – and sanity crying.
“You should eat, Gran’pa.” She put the bowl on his table, the one not covered with broken and disembowelled technology others had scavenged so he might build yet another wingless hope. Now she came over. Close to, he remembered this was not the child grown to a woman, this was the child of that woman’s child, also now grown. He could see nothing of sanity in her. His legs weakened as that realization grew stronger.
One hundred years.
The start of the story Tongueless Caverns by E.M. Swift-Hook, a Fortune's Fools story from the Inklings Press anthology Tales From The Underground.