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You Have Always Lived in the Castle

World Fantasy and Nebula Award-nominated Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches in the Pacific Northwest with occasional trips elsewhere. She is the current Vice President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. For links to her stories as well as information about her popular online writing classes, see kittywumpus.net or sign up for her Patreon campaign at patreon.com/catrambo.

Your home is a world, a place, a Castle.
It's full of aliens, their sad eyes watching as they serve. They come from elsewhere, the castle draws them in. They come in through fog and unexpected doorways and now none of them can go home, even the new girl, the one with hair like strawberries in sunshine.
You find her weeping and you try to comfort her. This is your home now, you sign, and it has its beauties, but she hasn't learned how to signtalk yet and all she does is push you away.
You stare after her. Your kind didn't make this Castle, only found it hundreds of years ago, and took it for their own. There are pictures of the original owners, who had silver eyes and dark scales and three long fingers on each hand, but they are long dead and gone. Now your people live here and the Castle serves them and those who are drawn to serve it know better than to cross any of you.
How does the Castle know you are one of its own? When you were a baby, barely three moons old, they took you down into its darkest chamber and poured water on you and then took swabs from your mouth and your nose and your ears and your rectum and put them inside the great machine that is this Castle's brain.
You keep seeing the new girl. She's assigned to the kitchens and every night she helps bring up the plates of roasts and yams and pheasants that the Castle creates each day and forces them to cook, down in its vast and roaring kitchen. You try to sign to her again, saying I am glad you are well, but she only stares at you.
If you could claim a servant for your own, you would. But you are insignificant, a second cousin of the ones who first found this place.
For the first time, it does not feel quite home here.
You wonder what it would be like outside this Castle. What sort of world the new girl lived on once. They'd think you a monster there, you're pretty sure, but doesn't every world have open spaces, places that fugitives can escape to? Worlds don't have limits the way a Castle does.
You find the new girl, dying. These creatures from outside do that sometimes. They harm themselves or else they waste away for want of something you're not sure about.
Sorry, you sign to her, and she lifts her hands to you and repeats the gesture. Is she simply mimicking you? Or does she know what she has done? For you know now that you're an exile too, and that this Castle, that was once your home, your life, is floating away from you and you are locked in this new prison, even though you have never moved at all.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Author Comments

I wrote this during a flash workshop, based on a writing exercise using an image. The idea of a cross-dimensional castle, built by long-past aliens and now inhabited by a race that doesn't entirely understand it came to me and as I wrote about that, the story of one inhabitant's journey to a different understanding of the world emerged. The title references Shirley Jackson's wonderful, "We Have Always Lived in the Castle."

- Cat Rambo
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