"We've decided to let you eat with the others. You know, to see if you've improved, as far as your social interactions."

Brida nervously gripped the sides of the wooden tray she held. Biting her lip, she stared at the suspicious soup she'd been given. And the bread was so stale that it would take nothing short of a miracle to choke it down. Sighing, Brida gingerly dipped a finger in the soup and watched as a drop of the broth trickled down her finger. The droplet marched down the side of her wrist and plopped unceremoniously in the middle of the bowl.

Well, the stuff had endurance, Brida had to give it that much.

Across the table, a youngish child Brida didn't recognize began to shriek. Tensing, Brida watched as the child kicked the table, the carefully apportioned soup spilling across the table and into Brida's lap.

But Brida was not angered. Yes, she was disturbed at the sight of the child writhing in pain that had no origin - at least, not that Brida could see - but she had seen things like it, countless times before. Without so much as a gasp or a complaint, she used her thin excuse for a cloth napkin to wipe up the soup that had come her way. After the child had been ushered away by two attendants, Brida resumed her focus on the disgusting "food" set before her.

"You can eat it, you know."

The voice was one that Brida did not recognize. Bristling, she turned to see who the intruder was.

Dark hair. Chill-colored eyes. A small, lanky frame. The intruder stuck out a hand, smiling. "I'm Shale. Yes, I know it's an unfortunate name. What's yours?"

Grateful for the distraction from the watery fiend she was supposed to be eating, Brida smiled and accepted the handshake. "I'm Brida. And I don't think Shale is an unfortunate name."

Shale smiled, and Brida could tell she had won her new acquaintance's approval. "Well, thanks. You're the first to say that. Say, you're not going to eat that soup, are you? I'll trade you my cluster of grapes for it. It's really good."

Brida laughed. "No, I wasn't planning on eating any of the soup. Thanks." She beamed as she took Shale's grapes, forcing herself to keep from stuffing the entire cluster in her mouth in one bite. "How long have you been here? I haven't seen you around."

Shale loudly slurped some soup from the water-stained old spoon, clearly savoring every drop. "A couple weeks, maybe. Actually, I just got out of solitary confinement today. Well, sort of. I still have to sleep there, but they told me I could eat meals with the others, to see if I've 'improved' at all." Shale's eyes grew serious. "What they don't understand is that their minds need to improve - not mine. Close-minded old fools."

Uncomfortable with the change in the conversation, Brida leaned closer to her new companion. "So, you were clanging the doors?"

A look of recognition crossed Shale's eyes. "Yes! Were you?"

Brida nodded merrily, and for a moment, her woes were forgotten. Throughout the course of the meal, she found herself smiling - sometimes, even laughing a little. Because when one is forced to keep silent and stay away from all humanity, it's always quite nice to find someone who can understand the gloom.

The End

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