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A dirty light bulb projects a harsh, piercing radiance onto an otherwise pitch-black room. Its illumination bears down on a single figure hunched over a desk, his arms folded awkwardly on top of his head. He cringes at the sound of a squealing door before slowly recoiling into his seat. Prompted by a subsequent heavy clang, he turns his face up in time to catch the approaching silhouette of a man who stops just out of the light's reach, his rigid posture serving as a prelude for his words.

"Do you have any idea what you've cost us?"

The phrase hangs in the air like a stagnant cloud of ammonia. The man at the desk wipes his nose with the back of his wrist.

"Sure. Sure, I do."

"Then you know that it cannot possibly be repaid."

A weak chuckle involuntarily leaks out in response.

"So what are you going to do? Use me as a guinea pig? Work me till my last breath? Dump me in some shithole level to watch me die, maybe? Whatever it is, I don't think my life is worth that much."

"You're correct about one thing. Your life would not even begin to serve as compensation. What we do with you will be decided by The Keeper. But before that, you will tell me why."

"Fine. Actually, I want you to know."

The man looks up past the light bulb and into the ceiling. He sighs, as if deflating, then closes his eyes.

"Before I came here, I had been married to my wife for seventeen years. Can you imagine that? Seventeen whole years. If we ever had a kid, they'd be through college by now. I'm sure they'd be doing a damn sight better than I did at that age. But see, we weren't really the types to want a child. We never got a dog, either. I mean, I did have this whole snake phase. Still don't know how I got her on my side for that. Anyway, for the most part it was just us in a little, trashy apartment. Until eventually it was just us in a big, trashy house. And you know what the funny thing is?"

"We know about your wife. You already told us when we arranged the deal. If you're going to continue to blather, I'll have to get my associates-"

"No no no, this is important. Jesus, whatever. The point is, we had all that time, all that freedom, and we never had a kid. Never got a dog. Nothing. You know why?… Because all we needed was each other."

The man rocks slightly in his chair, fists clenched, angular shadows dancing wildly on his quivering lips.

"She was my entire world. Is my entire world. So when I decide- when I make the decision to bring her here. Here, to this HELL! To take MY PLACE! You had better damn well know that it was the hardest decision of my LIFE!"

Spittle flies across the room, disappearing into the abyss. The man drags his palm over his mouth before resuming a reclined position.

"I'm not going to sit here and justify what I tried to do. No. I won't, because it's unforgivable. But when that fucking piece of rock tells me that our love is worth this much…"

He flings his left hand out, palm open. It is completely unscathed, save for half of his ring finger, which is missing.

"…Then that's something I just won't accept. That thing doesn't get to decide what love is worth. Not mine, not anyone else's. All it's here to do is tempt the cornered and desperate. It passes its sick judgments on its own whims to make a mockery of us. Do you honestly think it lets people escape even when they 'succeed'? Maybe you can show me all the ones who got out? Oh wait, you fucking can't, because there's no way to prove that."

"I've heard enough of your insignificant lecture. You destroyed one of our greatest assets for no reason other than to protect your ego and validate your petty marriage to yourself. Bravo, Mr. MacCarthy. I hope you can maintain such steadfast faith in your decision in the days to come."

"Am I sensing anger? Are you upset you didn't get to use it first? How many years have you sucked up to these clowns, huh? And for what? How about you tell me that?"

The man in the shadows sharply inhales before doing an about-face and exiting through the door. As it slams shut, the bulb swings ever so slightly in place, flickering its final, erratic breaths.

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