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Coming of Age Fantasy Inspirational

      Igraine was too young to remember when the demons first came to her city. They only came after sunset and left before sunrise. At first they were dismissed as fantasies of the sleepless until they began leaving gifts. Soon folks were staying up to witness the wonders the demons wrought. They could cure afflictions. They would give gifts to those who asked the right way: gold, jewels, valuable things that had never been seen in the city before. 

       No one knew what the demons were or where they came from. Igraine’s grandfather Gorm had told her some of the theories about the demons put forth by the city’s wise men. They all disagreed with each other and even the most carefully thought out theories were mere elaborate guesses. Some things were known about them. They couldn’t be seen; the folks who claimed to know what they looked like always proved to be overly imaginative, fanatics, or insane. They could not see. They could hear, smell and feel. Whether they could taste was a matter of speculation; it was unknown if they ate anything. There were many imaginative ideas about what other senses they might have.  They could make themselves heard and could even speak the language of the city but only did so when and to whom they chose. They sometimes touched people. Most people who had been touched by a demon felt it was an experience they would rather not repeat. The demons disliked light, either because it harmed them or they just found it repugnant. Humans need to see, so on nights when they communed with the demons they lit torches. If one wanted special favor from the demons, one had to put out the torch and go into the dark places they enjoyed.

        Soon the demons were asking for payment for their gifts, a sacrifice, small or large.

        One day the sky became overcast. This was not unusual in the city. It usually lasted until there was either rain or the wind blew the clouds away. No wind came. In time it rained but the sky remained overcast. In fact the sky was getting darker. At first the sky was an off-white color and each day became a progressively darker shade of gray. Eventually the sky was permanently pitch black, a constant moonless, starless night. 

          The plants began to die. The city had granaries where food was stored in case of famine but when it became apparent no more food could be grown there was strict hardship rationing on the remaining grain. The folks of the city pleaded with the demons to bring the sunshine back but the demons remained unmoved. In desperation the city folk decided to slaughter all the animals so that any remaining food could be eaten by humans. The demons put a stop to that plan. They did not need light or plants but they wanted humans and other trainable animals. Animals that could not be trained they exterminated as swiftly as they could.

          Demon bread appeared. It was a substance that appeared as lumps on the ground. Learned men said it was a kind of fungi. Wits with a bitter waggish disposition said the demons were making the city folk eat their waste. Many people in the city enjoyed eating mushrooms, especially properly cooked and seasoned. No one enjoyed demon bread. It was mostly tasteless in the mouth with a slight remaining bitterness after being swallowed but it was nutritious enough to keep one from starving. Many animals and some humans refused to eat the stuff. Because there was nothing else to eat they starved. This made some folks thankful for the darkness so they didn’t have to clearly witness their suffering.

           At first the city folk tried to see by torchlight. Eventually things that could be burnt became in short supply. Also the air was filled with a wetness that made burning things harder. There were fewer torches. There were fewer fires for warmth and cooking. The cooking was no great loss; demon bread’s flavor did not improve with cooking. Eventually even if one could scrounge up a small pile of dry fuel, a flint and steel wouldn’t make a spark. Then there were no fires at all. 

          The weather changed, the extremes being cold and damp or hot and humid. There were no thunderstorms; the rain would just fall, sometimes for minutes, sometimes for days. There was no real wind. The city folk sometimes felt breezes but that was most likely caused by the demons moving about. There were no longer freezes or snow. Bright, sunny days and clear moonlit nights were now, of course, only a memory. 

            The demons began forcing the city folk and their animals to carry out tasks, some arduous, others merely tiresome. No one knew which tasks were vital to the demon's well being and which were to instill a habit of obedience. Most went along for fear the demons would withhold the demon bread. Some resisted; the others could hear their cries as the demons visited pain and affliction on them. They admired their courage but also felt comforted that it wasn’t them. Many, in their hearts wished they knew a way to harm the demons but their powers and secret nature made it impossible to know if they could be harmed.

           Because they could no longer see, the city folk  moved about af if they were blind, each with a walking stick in front of them, constantly talking so that others would know they were there. They became more discerning with their hearing and smell; attending to every sound and whiff to learn about the world around them.

            The city had a harbor but now there was no wind for sails or the sun and stars for navigation, no ships went in or out. No travelers entered the city by the roads anymore. The city folk did not know if the demons had only covered their city or the entire world.

            Objective time became meaningless. There was no day and night. There were no seasons. It was possible to listen to a glass to know how long an hour was but that had no real meaning. The demons had their own ineffable schedules. You did what the demons told you when they told you. Otherwise you slept, hunted for and ate demon bread, and tried to get what little joy out of your existence you could. As a young person, Igraine was somewhat more fortunate than her elders. The demons had discerned that young people did not do tasks as well but it was wasteful to punish them when they would eventually grow. Therefore they let young people do what they pleased more than their elders. What Igraine liked to do most was spend time with her grandfather, Gorm, and listen to his stories about the time before the demons.

            Igraine’s grandfather, Gorm, had distrusted the demons from the very beginning. Then he had been a master artisan. He was not considered a wise man but those who knew him knew that he sometimes would say things would happen that seemed impossible until later they happened. Some thought he had second sight, some thought he was only lucky. Only a few people thought his abilities could be relied on. He told whoever would listen that it was dangerous to take the demon's gifts, that the demons did not like living things and helping them would lead to disaster. About the time they covered the sky, the demons began to show their displeasure with Gorm. They began to punish him with pain and afflictions. There was no need to kill him; his sufferings served as an example for the others. Everything the demons did only hardened Gorm’s resistance to them. Eventually he became a crippled old man driven half mad with suffering. Igraine’s parents were pleased with her compassion for her grandfather but feared he would give her ideas that would displease the demons when she was older. 

            Today, she visited him in the tiny place where he lived alone. 

            “Igraine, I have had a revelation. You, perhaps, have gained the right to hear it first. The demons have mighty enemies. The Bringers of Light are coming today to free us from their oppression.”

            This was the kind of talk Igraine’s parents preferred she didn’t listen to but Gorm’s feeling of certainty and enthusiasm was infectious and made Igraine want to believe.

            “We will want to be on the top of the mountain when they come. You will tell your grandchildren about this wondrous event!” 

            He picked up his stick and went as fast as his crippled body could go to the door outside. Igraine followed him with a mixture of anticipation and worry. Maybe something wonderful would happen or maybe the old man had gone even madder and would harm himself. The city had a mountain; it was not a very big mountain but it was the highest place nearby. Gorm pointed his stick in its direction and proceeded toward it shouting, “Follow me to the mountain! The Bringers of Light are coming! You will want to see!” 

             The city folk ignored his ranting. A wind began to blow. There was a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder. It began to pour rain. Igraine had never felt wind before, or seen lightning or heard thunder. She didn’t know what was happening but knew she and Gorm were safer indoors. Other city folk were seeking shelter. Gorm was pressing on shouting until he became hoarse. Igraine knew he would continue up the mountain unless he collapsed; it would be heartless to let him go alone. She followed wondering how this was going to turn out.

             He began to climb the mountain. Its trail was becoming slick with mud. Sometimes Gorm would fall face first in the mud and Igraine would help him up. Sometimes Igraine would fall herself and get up covered in mud. All the time, the rain poured, lightning flashed and thunder struck. By the time they got to the summit the rain stopped. There was a strong breeze and the sun in the blue sky!

             “I told you it would happen,” Gorm said. “I feel its warmth. Why can’t I see it? Igraine, can you see it?” The demons had blinded him.

              “It hurts my eyes,” Igraine said, dazzled by the light.

              When her eyes adjusted to the light, Igraine looked out from the mountaintop. I wish I could say there was bright greenery and birdsong. There was only gray, muddy desolation. The few remaining birds gave ugly croaks.

               “Grandpa, it’s beautiful,” Igraine said. Gorm was old. He did not have much future; he may as well enjoy the thing he had waited so long for. 

                 Ygraine was young. She had nothing but the future. Questions whirled in her head. Were the demons gone? Were the Bringers of Light real? What did they want? Were they better than the demons? Worse? Were there any seeds left to grow? What was to become of her and the other city folk in this new world? Igraine promised herself she was going to work as hard as she could to make her life and the life of the city as good as it could be.

March 25, 2022 23:07

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2 comments

Rama Shaar
04:01 Mar 31, 2022

This story has such an eerie atmosphere. I felt as if I were in it. This could be turned into a powerful fantasy novel. But I must admit, I found the ending a bit rushed. Still, I'll be feeling this chill in my body for some time!

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John Walsh
13:24 Mar 31, 2022

Thank you for your supportive words. I somewhat agree on the rushed ending. Sometimes my imagination fizzles out before a proper finish.

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