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Fiction

The car was stalled at the side of the road.

It had given up on this road trip long before me.

The blackness that surrounded us was complete- oppressive and malicious in a manner unexpected of something insubstantial. Demon darkness- born from starlight smothered by gravid gray rain clouds, while the new moon watched behind her weeping veil.


I sat in the driver's seat, both hands on the wheel, staring out at nothing, trying to remember the route. I'd been here before. My thoughts turn instead to the houses we passed on the way. Pretty, perfect, colorful clones-yellow and green- with neat begonia beds out front. That place seemed an eternity away. Unreal and inaccessible. Next to me, Anx sighs, crumpling a map in one hand, his cell phone clutched in the other, casting a dim ellipse of light on the dashboard- a concentration of particles and waves that danced and mocked.


We were lost in a place where light seemed sinister and darkness familiar. Where memory was a ghost born of regret. All the things you should have done. All the roads you should have taken.

"Should have gone left," Anx said. For the millionth time.

He dropped the map and rested his hand on the dash, fingers rapping out an anxious rhythm.

ItoldyosoItoldtousoItoldyouso.

He was getting on my nerves. I wish I had stuffed him in the trunk with D.


As if in response to my thoughts, a thump came from the rear of the car. D. Reminding us she was alive and kicking. Anx and I had hoped she had died. Her moaning on the trip had been dragging us down.


The car suddenly felt like a trap. A suffocating box, with the night closing in around, squeezing and squeezing. I couldn't breathe. I needed to get out. To get away. That had been the point of this trip.

"Screw it," I say and opened my door.

"You can't seriously be thinking of going out there!"Anx says. Ever the cautious one.

"I'm going," I say. I didn't wait for him to convince me otherwise. To list all the possible terrors that lurked in the night.

...

I moved amongst trees, varying shades of black. If light could be refracted into a spectrum of colors, then why not darkness? The demon split apart, broken into tiny, lesser things, minions that seeped into your soul, the way the coldness of this place was seeping into my clothes. Arms stretched out in front of me like feelers, I navigated the dark, guided by my fingers scraping rough bark or grasping vast nothingness. I stumbled, falling face first, breathing in the wet, woodsy smell of moss on trunks, and the heavy, sickening, sweet scent of detritus and damp earth. Ferns and fungi, slippery and tissue-like, squish beneath my palms as I push myself up. In my blindness, my other senses sharpen. I could taste this place on the still air. If it were wine, it would be an old vintage, bold, full-bodied, heavy with the cycles of life and death. Notes of space and time. Eternity.


I hear movement at my back. Footsteps- two sets- muted by earth and dank, dead leaves. I don't bother to look back. It would be impossible to see anything. I didn't need to see. I could feel them following me. Anx had let D out. He always did.


A memory of running races with them in the past comes, uninvited. Sometimes, I could outpace them. But they always caught up. Other times, they were usually ahead, waiting to ambush me. We've done this dance since I was a teenager. Oh, there were times when we were apart, stretches in university when I was free of them. But those times never lasted. Anx and D were my satellites. Orbiting constantly. Perigee always followed apogee. Round and round. One day, our gravity- the weight of our fears and uncertainties, would cause us to collide. I wonder who would break? Them or me? Or, would we coalesce into some freak anomaly, our wrongness seeping into space like Hawking's radiation from a black hole?


"I don't like this," Anx said, coming up alongside me. We stood near a lake. I could feel the change in the soil, a slight shift in my balance in response to the loosening earth that tilted to the water's edge. I heard the gentle lapping sound of water. Felt the crispness and lightness to the air as the trees thinned out, forming a clearing. The subtle movement of wind. The shift in shadow. A lifting of the veil.


Anx tapped out a nervous rhythm with his foot- a sound that split the silent world. I saw him through the lifting gloom. He held himself like a sprinter, ready to bolt.

"We should go."

D lay on the ground in sullen silence. A curled-up, catatonic fetus, waiting for death. Maybe, I could bury her here, near the water. Maybe, I could bury them both.

"Relax, Anx. It's beautiful here. Peaceful."


We stare out at the lake, its still, dark surface polished black marble, streaked with veins of silver moonlight. When had the moon changed? When had she cast aside her mourning shroud? She stood naked, weeping dewdrops of light that broke the darkness into a glowing haze.

"Look," I say, pointing. Animals, now visible in the pale light, were coming out of the woods to drink at the water's edge. A pair of fawns, a small fox-like creature, and something that could have been a hare. Suddenly, the creatures stopped drinking. They lifted their heads and sniffed the air. Ears shifting like tiny satellites, alert and listening. Seconds later, they bolted, back the way they had come. The bushes nearby began to rustle and something stepped out.


"What is that?" Anx cried.


The thing slithered towards the lake, amorphous body shifting as it moved. A bright and beautiful creature appeared at the water's edge. It twisted in the blink of an eye to something hideous and strange, then shifted again.

Blink. Beauty.

Blink. Terror.

Blink. Familiar.

Blink. Alien.

"No!" Anx screamed, "Get away!"

A stone flew through the air, landing a few feet from the thing. Anx had terrible aim.

The creature looked up but made no attempt to retreat.

"No. Get away! Get away! Get away! You can't drink here."

Anx was on the verge of hysteria. He was flinging whatever he could grab with both hands at the creature.

Next to him, D had started rocking back and forth, moaning softly as she moved.

"Thisisbadthisisbadthisisbad."


I was caught between wanting to bolt, like him earlier, or curling up on the floor with D. Terror was exhausting. Numbness was easier. Emotion and motion? Or unfeeling and unmoving?


"Do something!" Anx screams at me. "Don't let it drink!"


Always, it is up to me. He would plan, and worry, harry my soul, flaunt my failings in my face. But in the end, he always expected that I would be the one to fight this. Always up to me to keep it away, to keep it at bay. I was so damned tired of his shit. But joining D was no better. Her crippling inaction was just as exhausting.


I smelled the rain before I felt it. Crisp and clean on the air. It carried the subtle scent of promise. Of change. The clouds break. Cold needles pierce my upturned face, acupuncture for the soul. The fatigue leaks from my body, pooling at my feet. My legs, though heavy, move. Anx screams something but the drum of raindrops on the umbrella foliage drown it out. He tries to grab my arm but his wet hand slips. The downpour curtains me, a shield against him, against D. For the first time, I ignore them both.


I approach the creature and stop. Kneeling before it. Water leaks down my scalp across my face. A benediction. A baptism. For the first time I recognize the creature for what it is. I am still afraid. But this time the fear sings to me 'you are alive'.


Partoflife. Pathoflife. Partoflife.


The rhythm is like a beating heart. It is my beating heart.


Acceptance washes over me. Wet. Cold. Elemental.


You may drink here.


I rise, shivering. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the nebulous form shift. A stag, white and bright, drinks at the water's edge. Its edges blur, changing again.


I do not turn back to look.

...


The sun rises as I drive back, alone. The sky, bright and clear, is a white monument rising on the horizon. I drive fast, yellow-green houses rushing past, lavender beds waving. The sunlight strikes the rooftops, reflecting off shingles in a dazzling show, while below, awnings cast the ground in shadow.


It's easy to miss the duality in this waking world, bright and full of light. Easy to dismiss the transitory nature of all things. Easy to forget the nebulous shape that retreated into the woods, thirst quenched. It would be back for more. It's absence is an illusion of light, its presence the only constant in the shifting dark. Anx would have me fight it, D would have me deny it. But the only way to be whole is to accept it.

All roads lead to uncertainty.

All destinations pass through fear.

All life is movement, transition, light and shadow dancing, orbiting. Apogee following perigee following apogee. Round and round. Darkness. Light. Darkness. Light. Darkness.

Light.

May 02, 2021 15:27

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4 comments

Nina Chyll
12:53 May 06, 2021

I'm not sure I understood everything in the story as well as I would have liked to, but there were some incredible turns of phrase woven into the narrative that I very much enjoyed, like this: "I could taste this place on the still air. If it were wine, it would be an old vintage, bold, full-bodied, heavy with the cycles of life and death. Notes of space and time. Eternity." I also liked how you played with anaphora, and it was evident that your relationship with the language of fiction is effortless, which made me trust the narrative withou...

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17:16 May 06, 2021

Thank you so much for your comment. I was worried that it would be too vague. I tried to personify anxiety and depression, in the form of Anx and D and write about the underlying fear of uncertainty that fuels it (at least for me). A big part is coming to terms with that.

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Nina Chyll
17:29 May 06, 2021

Oh my gosh, it suddenly makes sense! I’m such an idiot. There are so many names in stories I have literally never seen before that I didn’t even think twice! I did suspect there was a lot of symbolism that I wasn’t quite getting as I said in my comment, but yeah it still was a magical read. Perhaps call them something just slightly less cryptic? Or maybe I’m just being silly and anyone else would have spotted that!

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02:32 May 07, 2021

I'm pretty sure it's not you! 😊 This was my experiment with symbolism. It is something I never did before. To be honest I had my doubts if it would be clear or come across as pretentious. But I'm thrilled you called it a 'magical read' in spite of it being vague.

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