Based on the writing prompt: At the age of 16, everyone gets teleported to a room. In front of you is a table with all kinds of food, from apples to gourmet meat. Whatever you take a bite of will determine what powers you get. You are the first person to take a bite out of the table.
Are You Ready to Comply?
The food, they said. Only eat the food.
There is a reason for that. I know that now. I didn't then, not when they led me to a white-washed room and a voice – the spider's voice. I know that now, too – over the intercom told me to choose. I could pick anything, any of the crisp red apples or verdant kale, any of the juicy peaches or savory meats. The possibilities were limitless.
Sixteen is too young to be given that much choice. That much power.
Like you ever had a choice, my brain cackles at my younger self, at all the things I do not yet know.
Only eat the food.
So I took a bite of the table.
I don't know why I did it. The table didn't look appealing: a simple pine top standing on four legs.
Call it a need to rebel. Blame impulse or teenage bad decision. All I know is that as my teeth sunk into the edge of the table, cracking under considerable force, one thought rang through my mind:
They would not take me too.
Splinters cut into my gums, made me bleed. I forced myself to swallow, to fight the wheezing in my throat as wood tore into my insides. I forced myself to smile as the guards started screaming.
As I started screaming.
I haven't stopped screaming.
Do you know what it's like? To see everything? Not just the people, the places, the things. Everything. All the atoms occupying the space in between, rubbing against each other – merging, splitting, exploding in vivid technicolor.
The onslaught never stops, it only grows. As more power is given, the more I see. Every day is more and more and more. Until the walls of my skull can barely contain the expansion of my brain, the vital organ thudding against a cage of fragile bone.
This glass-walled prison is nothing compared to the prison of my mind.
People stand on the outside looking in, so insignificant, so small. They want to know what I know. They want to see what I see.
Children – sixteen years old, ready to be born again – stand in the white-washed room, squint at the harsh light, eat the food, come into their own. I see it all. I feel their powers as my own. The pulling, ripping, tearing at the seams of all they think they know.
Excitement. They are so excited.
They do not know.
Two men enter my glass prison, just as lifeless as the last. No one stays for long. I know what they think, hear what they whisper.
She's gone mad, they say. Take a bite of the foundation of the universe, reserve the worst fate for yourself.
It is not all bad, not when you can cut to the marrow of things. Mysteries strip away under all-seeing eyes.
These men hold their heads high, faces blank. These men want to pretend that nothing can touch them. These men are afraid.
One is more aggressive than the other. He steps forward and asks, Are you ready to comply?
Dragon fruit. Tough exterior, covered in spikes that sprout from skin like thorns on a rosebush. He probably breathes fire too, though not everyone who tastes the bitter seeds gets so lucky.
You cannot manipulate the game of fate. My brain turns this into a melody I hum aloud.
The other frowns. His power is more discreet.
Cheese. Rich in calcium, vitamin D, builds bones as strong as iron. Invincible.
Wouldn't want to take a bite out of him, I cackle. What use is rending his flesh between my teeth when I already have more power than this feeble body can handle?
Mania must make me speak my mind. The men take one step back, then another. They question their decision to get this close. They are too smart, too late.
Are you ready to comply? they ask. Asked. Will ask. Are asking. It all happens at once, again and again, day after day.
They want to know what I cannot put into words. They want to see what I cannot untangle.
What few threads I can pull apart, the blood red cobwebs I can clear before the spider mends her work, horrify. Power with the price of innocence. Newborns picked through and valued only for the destruction they can bring. Excitement met with pain and suffering.
Sixteen is too young to die.
These men, with their fine suits and guns, do not like to hear of their own misgivings. Blind to their own horrors, they are safe so long as they do not question spider's orders. The spider who spins her web, lures her prey with the promise of creating something beautiful. She who is both malevolent and magnificent, who bit the poison apple and became a monster amongst men.
They know these things. This is not what they want to know.
Are you ready to comply?
Ah, and here is pain, my old friend. Shock collar around my neck, charges embedded in the walls if I get too close to escape. Only I know there is no escape. Only I know there is no amount of pain they can inflict to match the agony in my head.
But they are mere mortals, men who only speak the language of compliance.
Half a world away, a child skins their knee and cries for their mother. A businessman misses his train, the smell of carbon and steel acrid in his nose. A sixteen-year-old picks a tomato from a table with three corners and shrieks as her skin sloughs off in molten waves.
Are you ready to comply? the spider whispers to the fly. She plucks on her strings, toying with her food.
Come closer, she says. Comply and all will be well.
I laugh and laugh and laugh through the convulsions and the screams.
How can all be well? She does not know what I know. She cannot see what I see.
And then, the singular focus from all those hours, days, weeks, months, years ago. The reason I still prick my tongue on the splinters that live in my gums. The reason I still bleed when I breathe.
You will not take me too.
The spider roars. The pain crescendos.
The air crackles and pops, electric as an exposed wire. Someone screams. It could be me. I am always screaming. Everything burns, little fires ricocheting like impulses throughout my body, synapses connecting and sparking reactions until finally -
Silence. Blissful silence.
The pain is no more.
I open my eyes to find I am alone. A block of cheese and a single dragon fruit sit at my feet.
I pick the fruit up and take a bite, spikes and all.
Are you ready to comply?
Lips split into a sickle smile. The taste of dragon fruit lingers.