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Fiction Fantasy

What I remember is the pain and the cold, I remember the cold because it was so odd it startled me, that painful numbing sensation you get when playing with snow bare handed crawled up my body until I was engulfed by it. For a heartbeat, I felt nothing. I was not a part of my body or this world, I existed in the ‘somewhere’, the intangible place beyond our universe that people reference when they cannot express what exactly they mean by an afterlife, a term humans seem to innately understand. The pain was immediate, flooding my body like light floods a dark room, it was – at once – everywhere, from the surface of my skin to the fibres of my bones. It felt as though I had been stabbed in multiple places and the blood was beginning to pool flushing my skin red and blotchy. I couldn’t scream, for it got to my throat, choked, and died. My breathing was shallow, I was at a party maybe? I believe I saw favours on the table I staggered towards. That was the last thing I saw.

I awoke in a dark room that was dimly lit by the light of a streetlamp outside a small rectangular window, there was a fan that emitted a low murmuring whirr sound – it didn’t help much as it only circulated the stagnant hot air in the room. The blanket laid upon me was too heavy and I felt crushed under it, this was not aided by my lead-weighted limbs that drained any energy I had every time I tried to move them. Whilst I couldn’t make out any discerning features of the room, I knew it wasn’t mine it didn’t feel like my room and my confusion only grew when I became aware of the other presence in the room.

“You’re awake.” Her voice was the soft quiet of a gentle breeze, a loving sound that I often hid in.

“Mama?” I was surprised at the croak in my voice, I didn’t expect my throat to be so raw.

Shh, it’s okay. You’re okay.” My mother was a faded woman, she often sat in a corner, a nook, a cranny – she could always fit anywhere – like the ghost of a woman you were never certain was even there. She looked lifeless, her skin lacklustre and dull despite her deep mocha complexion, her black coils fell careless around her face like overused springs and she lacked zeal in most things. I loved her though – in spite of her intrinsic indifference towards most things – because in the small of her smile, the way she rested her hand towards me and in the depths of her eyes which she sometimes cast my way I could see the stories of the lifetimes of a woman I would never know.  My father on the other hand was a bear of a man, wisps of black hair snaked up his muscle-defined arms making him look like he was covered in fur. He was handsome in a gruff roughish way that many working men were not, he looked strong, his bulky muscle was well proportioned over his body and his height made him seem even and symmetrical, he was like a prized stallion; at least that’s what the twittering ladies who bothered mama said.

“He can fill a room with his presence!” Mrs O’Neil had once excitedly chirped

“Yes!” Mrs Pattinson agreed “just like a real man should.” I didn’t understand what the ladies meant but it must have been right because the other women in the room nodded with enthusiasm – the kind that is reserved for school activities and church events – mama nodded too, nodded and smiled and looked, she was always looking, looking at something I couldn’t see. I had meant to ask her what it was she looked at or was looking for, I never did, I never needed to. My father was a simple man, not the least bit remarkable. He chopped wood as all the men did, he was up at dawn, and I could see him go from the yard to his workshop back to the yard. My father was kind, he enjoyed carving things for my brother and I and would allow us to sit in his workshop and watch him work, I always found it impressive how such large hands could skillfully craft intricate designs. The union between my parents was strange but not unexpected. My mother was from the other side of town that was descended deep into the surrounding woods whereas my father was from the more city-connected side of town, they had apparently met when they were in their late teens after my uncle and some of their friends had dared my father to spend the night in the woods. He reluctantly agreed and the next morning he emerged with a girl linked on his arm, they were married shortly after.

The rumours were vicious of course as rumours always are, my mother had been beautiful in an unnatural way, the type of beauty that doesn’t look real, that you love from a distance. Not only that but she was strange according to my grandmother – and the rest of town – she had an irrational fear of being photographed. She would apparently shriek an unholy noise at the sight of a camera, she would never appear near people being photographed and – probably the worst of all for my grandmother – she banned a photographer at the wedding. No one could understand it but tolerated it for the sake of peace, chalking it up to some bizarre phobia they’d never heard of.

My head was pounding, and the constant whirr of the fan was grinding – and the circulation of the hot air was making me feel nauseous – though I knew the silence would be much worse. In the silence I would be able to hear the pounding of my head not just feel it, I couldn’t bear it.

“What happened?” It hurt to talk but it distracted me from the intense ache in the rest of my body.

“Never you mind that.” I didn’t have the strength to argue with her, but I was desperate to know, I had never felt pain like this before and I couldn’t remember why I felt the pain or what caused it or where I was.

Please.” She was silent and the whirr of the fan seemed to get louder. “Can you at least tell me where I am?”

“Your Aunt’s house.”

“Aunt D?”

“No, Aunt Carolyn.”

“Why?”

“You should stop talking and rest, you need it.”

“But—”

“Rest.” With that, she left. I was too tired to process how I felt about everything, and the pain had only intensified with the exertion of talking, I looked outside the window to see a starless sky. That was one thing I hated about the city; the stars were never as bright when compared to the dazzling gaudy city lights that had attracted so many from our town like wandering lost moths to a flame. My eyes were heavy with sleep, so I decided I would dream of the tapestry of stars my brother and I slept under on warm summer nights.

My Aunt’s shrill voice woke me in alarm only to be hushed by my mother, it was still dark so either I had slept for a very short time or a very long time. They were both making poor attempts at whispering, and it came to my attention that my father and brother weren’t here with us, Jordan would be here reading to me as he always did when I was ill, and my father would be a part of the conversation. Intrigue made my head pulse and so I listened to as much as I could hear.

“She should have stayed with me; the moment she was born you should have brought her.”  

“How exactly would I have explained that to Mark?”

“Mama should have looked at her.”

“How long will you berate me for this!”

“It is not my fault little sister that you were so stupid.”

“You’re being insensitive, and you know it, and this is why I didn’t bring her. She is mine, mine to love and raise.”

The conversation was confusing, I couldn’t figure out what they meant or why my mother was so impassioned more than I had ever seen her. I had no right to leave the bed – that alone leaving me breathless – or to hobble downstairs or to walk into the blinding light of my aunt’s kitchen but I did because I wanted answers. My mother stared at me, if she was shocked, she didn’t show it, nor did my aunt.

“I’m sorry” my mother whispered, “for waking you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You.” My aunt supplied when my mother failed to answer.

“What about me?”

“I think it’s time you learnt why not just your mother, but I also hate photographs.” She made me her famous hot chocolate and got me a blanket which I refused on the count I was sticky with sweat from being smothered under the one upstairs.

“Do you know of the legends that surround the woods?”

“The ones about the portal to the ‘otherworld’ in which mythical creatures reside?”

“Yes. I’m sure you’ve heard about how the portals' presence disrupted the fragile reality of this world and had to subsequently be destroyed and it was the founder of your town who did it?”

“Yes.”

“That’s all true, though Lysandra wasn’t human. She was a beacon, a bearer of light or as you’ll know it a light being. As are we, as are you.”

“I’m a light being?”

“Half, but yes. We are divine beings made of energy. Our people reside in those woods because it felt closer to home, since the portal has been destroyed, we can never return.”

“It can’t be reopened?”

“No.”

“How does this relate to pictures.”

“We are different to other beings as we aren’t truly alive, the physical form it seems we possess is merely a façade, we are soul and energy. When photographed a piece of us is captured within that photo and stays there eternally, the process of having a piece of soul ripped from you unwillingly is excruciatingly painful. It’s worse for you as you are partly alive, the process of your soul being taken is more complicated because you have a beating heart. Every time it happens you momentarily die and then revive again, that’s a lot of strain to place on the human body. Your mother had hoped that your father’s blood would limit or take away the effects, it has worked for your brother – or so it seems – but not for you.”  

“So, what do I do?”

“You cannot be photographed ever. I do not know what it would do to you, but it has caused your mother to fade.”

“I thought you’d never been photographed?”

“I thought the same until I visited your parents, I had asked to go to the bathroom and accidentally mistaken the doors and went into your parents’ room. I noticed a piece of carpet was lifted at the edge of the room and so went to inspect it only to find it led to a sort of crawl space, in which were pictures of your mother everywhere.” It hit me then, why she was always so lifeless and listless it must be very hard to be lively when your soul has been taken away. I was mortified at the peace I found in my new understanding I had answers to questions I had asked so many times, mulled over and poured over. My mother was always looking at the woods, at home. After that night all I looked at was home as well.      

May 07, 2022 03:56

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6 comments

Noelle C
00:52 May 13, 2022

Good story for only writing it in two hours. :D

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Sophia Nwachukwu
12:58 May 13, 2022

Thank you! I’ve definitely learnt to give myself more time 😂, glad you liked it.

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Lk Brindley
07:08 May 12, 2022

Hi Sophia, great story! I found it a little jumbled and confused in places, and I'm not sure I understand where the photos came from, but I loved your use of imagery and language to convey the emotions of the story. Nicely done.

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Sophia Nwachukwu
16:47 May 12, 2022

Hi! Thank you so much for the feedback, I completely agree and think it would have helped had I fleshed it out a bit. I think the ending especially was hurried (I wrote it in a couple of hours after a last minute decision to enter the competition 😅). I’m glad you still enjoyed it regardless!

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Mae Stroshane
12:21 May 07, 2022

I enjoyed this a lot! You really captured the anguish of the delicate almost lifeless mother whose spirit is sapped by all those photographs of her. This reminds me of stories of indigenous people who thought a camera would steal their souls -- they say that's why there aren't any photos of Crazy Horse. Well done!

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Sophia Nwachukwu
18:02 May 07, 2022

Thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

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