Remember This When They Find You, by Margaret Dunlap


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When they find you, they take you in. They give you a warm blanket. They put you to bed in a small room on a cot that is not very comfortable, except compared to no bed at all, which is what you had before. The cot is not actively uncomfortable. It is merely a bed that does not care about your comfort. 

In time, you will come to appreciate its honesty. 

Not that they will lie to you. Not exactly. Not directly.

They do not speak.

If they did, they would say you are not a prisoner. It is true that you are not locked in the room. You are free to come and go from it as you like. But whenever you leave, you always return, whether you intend to or not.

If they spoke, they would invite you to eat in their refectory, or (if you find you cannot bear their silence) you may remain in your room and a tray will appear.

You will never see anyone deliver it. It does not matter how long you stay in your room refusing to leave the not-comfortable bed. It does not matter how vigilant you are, watching in the darkness and the light. For a moment, your attention must have wandered, because the tray wasn’t there, and then there it was.

If you don’t trust the tray, you are free to leave it for as long as you like. Let it sit there, untouched, by the door. Refuse to lift its linen cover. Resist the tempting smells until your nose is deadened to them. 

Eventually your hunger will threaten to gnaw through you, and at that moment the food will be waiting: fresh and hot, or cold and crisp as it should be. Exactly how you would want it. 

The food is the lie. 

Don’t feel bad. They put it there because they know self-starvation is too bitter a victory for most to stomach. 

If you had wanted to die, you never would have let them find you. 

Once you accept the lie of the food—a battle you conceded the moment they found you in the cold, before you even knew there was a war on—they will consume you in turn.

At first, you won’t notice. But gradually, all the sharp edges around you fade away. 

First the colors outside the window. Then the sound of footsteps in the hall beyond the door. Finally, the light in the room and the shuffle of your feet as you walk in circles day after day, trying to remember where you were going.

Are there days still?

The only thing they leave you is the smell from the tray, the taste of their lies in your mouth, and the sensation of your weight on the not-comfortable bed. 

Not much, but you have had much less.

What did you have when you entered the world, squalling and naked?

What did you have the moment before they found you in the cold?

What will you have when you burst forth from this life like a phoenix to be reborn by fire into the next?


Remember this when they find you.

What they leave you will be enough.

Margaret Dunlap is the author of more than a dozen published short stories and novelettes appearing in Uncanny, Apex, F&SF, and many others, including one previous appearance in The Deadlands. She also writes for television where her credits include Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Blade Runner: Black Lotus, and The Middleman. She lives in Los Angeles, at, and on social media as @spyscribe.

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