Don't Turn off the Light

Submitted into Contest #153 in response to: Write a story about a character learning to stand up for themselves.... view prompt

7 comments

Fantasy Romance Urban Fantasy

When the glow at her fingertips finally guttered and went out, he told her it meant she had found peace. But, peace hurt more than she expected.

He held her against him in the dark. He was warm and unyielding with arms like a cradle, or a cage. 

You hurt me, Selene,” he said. “I love you, despite that.”

She felt cold and guilty and turned her face away, towards the window where the moon glowed resolutely through thin clouds. She tilted her face to the dappled light and a playful shimmer rippled across her cheeks. He gripped her chin and turned her to face him. His brow creased with pain, eyes shifting with fear.

He held her too tightly. But, she knew even that soft shimmer— it hurt him. And her guilt snuffed out her shine. She didn’t want him to hurt, or worse, to risk him leaving. He stayed despite her flaws and she owed him everything for that. She closed her eyes and let him fold her back into his arms. 

Love was sacrifice, after all, and light didn’t seem much to give up. 

*

It was hard to tell if the sun had risen that morning. He had closed the curtains tightly against the moonlight and she wouldn’t risk disturbing him with it again. 

She went instead to the kitchen, thinking to surprise him. Breakfast in bed, perhaps. It was difficult navigating in the dark. She was a morning person, usually so comfortable preparing for the day, but she stumbled now. Hands sliding flat against the counter, her fingers searched. She felt the edge of the mug, too close to the edge and already too late. 

The sound of shattering ceramic was loud in the small space. Cursing, she kneeled down. Her silk nightgown slid up her thighs as she bent to find the pieces before he could wake and see the mistake. The tile was hard and frigid against her bare knees and palms. She felt cold and exposed as she fumbled in the dark.

A sharp pinch drew a hiss from between her teeth. Without thinking, the light pulsed in her hand, revealing the scattered shards and the bead of red at her fingertip. She cursed and wrapped a tea towel around the cut and light both, applying pressure to stem the flow.

The blood stopped, but the light remained— steadfast and blinding in the darkness.

Panic bubbled up her spine. 

He would see, he might wake any moment and he would see. 

She had to hide it, smother it. 

Her breaths came quick and shallow as she tried to think of a way to quell the light now spreading through her palm like liquid sunlight. Her head felt buoyant, a rushing sound filled her ears as the edges of her vision blurred.

She ran to the bathroom and shut the door, propelling herself to the small window and opening it wide. Bracing her hands against the window pane, she closed her eyes against the brightness, but took a deep breath of cool, fresh air. The morning sun warmed her cheeks and soothed her nerves. As her heartbeat slowed, she willed her light to dim once more. 

A soft brush of fur against her arm and her eyes popped open. 

A cat hopped through the window and landed on the counter beside her. It was small and sweet, and it glowed as brightly as a fallen star. 

The brilliant creature purred loudly as she reached out, disbelieving. It rubbed its sparkling face against her hand affectionately— lighting them up once again.

She stared in horror at the radiance in her palms. 

As if responding to the panic, the light bloomed and engulfed her arms. One word pounded through her— a warning and a plea.

Hide.

Grabbing the towel from the rack, she carefully bundled the little starlit cat and tucked it into her arms. On the way out the door, she donned a long coat and stuffed her stocking feet into high boots. 

As she approached the front door, she heard the creak of the bedsprings. Her steps quickened. If he saw all this light, it would be over, and she would be alone.

She flung herself through the door and ran down the steps, squinting against the sunshine. The sun was too bright, but the air was fresh and cool. The sky above was clear and blue. How long had she been inside? 

Her bundle wriggled fretfully against her chest, fighting its confinement. 

She crouched and unwrapped the cat, gently placing it on the sidewalk. It wriggled out of her arms and picked up its shining affection where it had left off, enthusiastically brushing against her legs. Warmth suffused her knees and a glimmer peeked through the coat where her skin was exposed. 

Her breath caught in her throat, he would be furious. She stood and turned to leave. 

The cat followed. 

“Shoo!” 

She flicked her hands at it but it just watched her curiously, and curled between her ankles. She knew when she pulled off a boot, she would find her ankles shimmering with that hated light. 

Fine. She would just have to take it further away, hide it where he would not find it. She scooped up the purring bundle of fur and light again and dashed across the street to the wide, green space of the city park. 

This time, when she plopped the cat in the soft grass, she turned and sprinted back across the road. She narrowly avoided the traffic, and felt drained to the dregs as she finally reached the steps again. Her steps were heavy and the light dimmed once again as she reached the door.

Behind her, the screeching skid of tires clashed with rising voices. 

She knew what she would see before she turned, but it still rocked through her like  gripping an electric fence. 

The sweet, shining animal who had coaxed light and warmth from her cold skin just moments ago, now lay dull and still in the street. Bystanders gaped and someone cried out in high, frantic tones. It came out of nowhere, they said. 

But it didn’t come out of nowhere. It came from where she placed it, from where she tried to hide it. 

She walked back through the street, traffic now standing still, and kneeled on the pavement. Selene pulled the small, limp form into her arms and held it to her chest where that warm light once bloomed brightest. She had never meant for that light to die out, just to be hidden. Now that it was extinguished, she understood. To love is not to sacrifice, it is to give.  

She felt it just then, as if in response to the strength of her resolve. It was like a well of warmth cracked open inside her chest and light spilled out. This time, she let it— she welcomed it. 

Shaking off her long coat, the light expanded across her skin and she felt well. Suddenly and completely well as if finally coming in from a snowy night to bask by the fire. She let the light pool in her arms until the small form of the cat stirred gently against her. 

It purred and wriggled free of her grasp— always free— to press its soft head against her hands. 

She smiled at the bright cat and each of their lights encouraged the other to glow stronger. There was nothing lost between them, and much to be gained. 

*

They walked back up the steps together, bright silhouettes against the dark. They went inside.

She looked around the place that had once been her home. She turned on every light, opened the doors, then the curtains, and finally she threw the windows wide. 

A dark groan filled the air and she turned to find him curled in the last dark corner of the place, cursing her. His brow was creased in anger, not pain, and he did not crumble when the light found him. And he did not leave. 

Despite the threats of abandonment, when it came time to go he dug his heels in and gripped the walls, determined not to be removed. 

But, with the lights on, she saw him for the first time and the threats turned to ash in his mouth. He was just a withered thing now, feeding off her pain had kept him plump and comfortable for too long. With nothing left to sustain him, he was easily swept out the door. 

She perched on the front steps and watched him scuttle away. 

Tilting her face to the sky, she stroked the velvet soft ears of her sunshine feline and she knew peace.

July 09, 2022 03:46

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7 comments

Susan Williams
19:25 Jul 11, 2022

I really enjoyed your story and the symbolism. I'm glad it had a happy ending and Selene escaped the negative force keeping her cold. I especially like "his threats turned to ash in his mouth". So true, if we stop giving our oppressors power over us then their words don't matter! I've not been a reader of fantasy much, but you make me want to check out the genre.

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Michael Regan
16:10 Jul 10, 2022

I loved both her name and the symbolism. A very enjoyable, if some what quirky, story.

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Bonnie Jay
18:51 Jul 10, 2022

Thanks so much, Michael! I'm glad the symbolism was able to *shine* through for you ;)

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Graham Kinross
23:35 Nov 07, 2022

No one should have to live in fear the way she does. Powerful and interesting metaphors. Well told.

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BA Eubank
19:00 Jul 13, 2022

Wonderful story. Great symbolism throughout. Never let your light be distinguished.

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Mike Panasitti
16:58 Jul 12, 2022

This was a very thought-provoking story, a powerful allegory of a couple in the throes of a toxic relationship in which one partner is a suffocating shadow and the other a shining beacon. The fact that she felt ashamed of her glow allowed me to come to my own conclusions about the story's possible symbolism. Is he an embodiment of cynical jealousy and the main character a feline free spirit? Great magical realism.

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Delbert Griffith
11:56 Nov 08, 2022

I loved the allegorical slant to this story, and it felt almost like an aphorism, although I couldn't state the aphorism properly (I tried). You describe so well without overdoing it. The tale was engaging and thought-provoking. Nicely done!

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