I’m writing! I’m writing! Can you believe that?! When last have I written anything that was not non-fiction? Yes, indeed it was during NaNoWriMo, more than four months ago. That should be the new officially warning for Wrimos: You may be drained from all writing for four months after the challenge. *evil laugh* Just when you have completely recovered, it will be time for the next challenge! Hoho!
Anyway, I’ll stop rambling about the wonder of writing and get to the story. This started off as a story of hope and then did a 180 degree turn and went in the other direction. Then things got a bit political and I suspect it is laughing at things one should not laugh at. Please note: it is not speaking about any specific country. You can apply it wherever you like… or see it as completely fictional dystopia if that is the way you prefer it.
I’m rather unsure about this story. I’m not sure if it’s too fragmentary, too vague, too horrible. Opinions, please! That’s what the comment box is for!
I present to you… Burning.
It is a terrible thing when a country burns. All the people and creatures get scalded and that is not a nice thing to get, after all. Most of the plants die as well, except for those who learn to feed on the liquid raining from the sky. This liquid is no refreshment, for it is not old-fashioned water, but hot oil raining from the sky – and it does more than just make everything slippery. It feeds the fires burning in the earth and it banishes the water. Those two have an ancient feud, you know. In fact, both would have had massive chips on their shoulders if only they had chips. Or shoulders, for that matter.
Some of the people of the country fled before it all started. They were the most foresighted – or perhaps the most cowardly. Who knows? The foolishly heroic who remain behind roam the stricken countryside in packs. There are still a few areas where one can survive, where the wind-patterns turn away most of the oil-clouds. However, ferocious fights break out on the smallest patch of grass, over said patch of grass, of course. When it is done, not much grass is left. It is easy to start a fight in these days. Without society’s restraints, even a look can serve as catalyst. Luckily for the fights, there are not many looks: people prefer not to look at each other too much, no one being much of an oil painting what with all the oil, ash and smoke around.
What else is left in the country? In fact, what is there left for a burning country? There isn’t much feeling: neither mirth nor maudlin. Things just are, without any kind of descriptive adjective. People and creatures still draw breath and just about the most you can hope for is not getting burned today.
There is not much else to say about the burning country. Usually it is as silent as a mausoleum – which is more than a simile. Sometimes you can hear the laughter of hyenas echoing across the plains. But then, those things will mock anything before they tear it apart – alive.
PS. Random fun fact: This is my 50th blog post! Yay!
© 2012. Elana E. All rights reserved.
Hi guys! I thought it was time again for a new short story. I don’t know what it is that is lately happening to my writing, but everything that I write seems to turn out as these dark, surrealistic stories… I’ve definitely been studying and reading too much Modernism this year! Bleh.
Oh yes, if you have read this little guy on my Goodreads shelf, you might recognize the title of the story. And maybe the end as well. And if you have read one of my all-time favourite Agatha Christie stories, Sleeping Murder, then you might just recognize the… claws…
Anyhow, I’m talking too much and not getting round to the story. Here you go! Hope you enjoy it and leave a comment to tell me what you thought!
All copyrights belong to original artist, Laurent Ménabé.
The library was deathly quiet at this time of the evening. There were no other people, no other movements – only me… and the little noises. Just the little noises to break the dusty, deathly silence. You think I’m hearing the creaks from the bookshelves’ wood cooling down after the heat of the day? Let me tell you that this is not so. The noises do not come from the bookshelves, but I do not know where they come from. Sometimes it sounds like creaking and sometimes like rattling, and sometimes they seem to come from just about anywhere and sometimes they seem to come from overhead.
Outside, the golden light of the westering sun fell in standing pillars through the limbs of the trees. They were ancient trees with heavy, knotted trunks and twisted boughs which formed a canopy high overhead. As the light fell through them, the leaves glowed and sparkled: mostly green and brown, but also with hints of red, gold and silver.
Over the great double-volume main hall of the library, a glass dome stretched. It was inlaid with delicately carved frames of metal and panels of different coloured glass. The evening light also fell through this skylight and drew mandalas of coloured light all over the ground floor of the library. I stood on one of the first-floor balconies, looking down at the floor below. Then I saw another speck of light dancing in front of my eyes. I blinked and it shimmied off to one side. I squinted and tried to focus as it flickered closer to my nose again. It was a firefly – a little glowing ball of light with wings attached. When I opened my eyes after having blinked again, it was gone – this time for good. I sighed and turned back to the bookshelves behind me.
I picked up my bag and started walking through the shelves. It was narrow and dingy in there and the shelves were absolutely stuffed with books. The spines bristled like that of so many hedgehogs.
I was heading for the English Literature shelf. Which was right at the very back, of course. Right at the very back, where the lights were faulty and the little noises intensified in volume in the stillness. When I reached the correct shelf I started to browse down it, running my fingers along the dusty spines of the books.
Directly behind my back, the creaking noise started up. I thought it came from both behind my back and overhead at the same time. I spun round and looked up, but I didn’t see anything. Shrugging, I turned back to my shelf and then spotted the book I was looking for. As I dropped my bag and pulled the book out of the shelf, the overhead light started flickering and the creaking redoubled. This time it was definitely overhead. There was a sound as if someone was filling a paper bag with gravel and shaking it very hard. With the book in my hands, I looked up again and this time I saw a light bobbing across the ceiling.
It was a firefly again, though if it was the same one as previously I could not possibly tell. It was bobbing close to the base of that flickering lamp and by its light I could actually see the base of the lamp for the first time. The lamp was partly pulling out of the ceiling, leaving gaping holes around the base where the screws had torn out of the compressed wood. By the light of the firefly, I could just see inside one of these holes. There was a faint movement in there and I could see the edge of a shadowy shape that was just illuminated by the firefly. The shape was indistinct and at first it drew back out of the tiny circle of light, then it seemed to make up its mind and approached the hole.
All this time I had been standing with the dusty old book in my hands, staring upwards at the hole in cold, frozen horror. I don’t think I would have been able to make myself move at that moment, even if I had thought about it. My brain was so occupied with trying to keep my imagination – which had leapt into overdrive as soon as it saw that firefly – under control that it had basically shut down all other functions, including breathing.
I stared at the approaching shape; I watched it grow distinct. I saw it become a pinkish-grey, hairless paw. I saw its digits curl into spastic claws. I saw it trying to squeeze through the hole in the ceiling, felt my legs finally regain the power and I ran. I dropped the dusty old book and heard it clatter on the floor behind me as I scooped up my bag and took off.
I flew out from between the shelves, through the – suddenly very quiet – library and clattered down the stairs. I raced across the dark main hall and wrenched open the great entrance doors. And moonlight spilled into the library.
During my time inside it had grown dark and the stars glittered and flickered in the sky – like little fireflies. The cool night air washed over me and calmed my racing heart. But then I looked down at the trees – those beautiful trees of this evening – and saw, to my horror, that they had grown faces. Huge, knobbly faces, with shadows dancing between them. And their branches creaked like that sound inside the library and their leaves whispered in the wind. Once again I stood frozen in horror – caught between the horror inside and the horror outside.
That was when I knew I was having a nightmare. And all I wanted to do was wake up. But the problem with this nightmare was that it was reality. The world was the nightmare and the nightmare was the world. And I was wide awake – there was no waking up from this. As I stood there, cornered on the steps of the library, I knew that I had to face at least one of these horrors to find escape. I could go back inside and face the horrible claws. Or I could get off these steps and face the horrors of the dark night. But I could not make myself move. I could not face up to these horrors and so escape from them.
I was in reality and reality was a nightmare. I could not overcome it. I remained on the dark steps.
The voices— again, as always. It always comes again… Then the flight— the running away and the door slamming. Running and more running… And always: darkness, blackness—
This is what my life had been like until a year or so ago. When I was little, it was not quite so bad. But as I grew up, things slowly built up to a climax. That was a year or so ago. Because, you see, “a year or so ago” is the crux of the story I am about to tell you.
My room was dark and the wooden floorboards creaked. I knelt on the floor with my forehead pressed again my closet door. Floating up the stairs, I could hear the voices of my family. I pressed my forehead harder against the wood, hoping that if I did it hard enough, I would never have to hear such voices again. Voices raised in anger, hatred, and, more and more often, fear. Then came a sound that I had never heard before. But this sound also I never wanted to hear again. The sound was innocent enough in itself – just a bland “bump” – but I immediately knew it was the sound of someone hitting someone else. Suddenly it was as though my legs were controlled by someone else – without thinking about it at all I just started running. I had run before when I heard the voices, but then I had always run into the garden, or other times I had jumped right into my closet and closed the door. This time I did not stop at the garden.
Down the stairs, clinging to the banister… out through the front door – slamming the door to the wall in the process – and across the front lawn. Here is the edge of the garden— the edge— the edge…
I teetered on the garden’s border, debating. Then I barged through the hedge marking the border and plunged into the forest beyond. It was a pine forest, and my feet scuffled up the needles as I landed among them. The trees were planted in scientifically precise rows, as it was a forest specifically planted for harvesting wood sustainably. That forest had always bothered me, ever since we had moved to this house. It felt to me that trees should not be planted in rows, but just grow any way – the way nature had intended it. But that day I was grateful for it – for its trees that were planted so straight – because this meant that I could run down one of these aisles between the trees, without having to dodge and weave or bother about any undergrowth. I ran and ran. Then the forest ended. There was no petering out for this forest – no, it ended with a line so straight that it could have done an architect proud. I saw that I stood at the end of an estate. There was a gravel driveway which gracefully curved up to the front door. There seemed to be miles of grass and flowerbeds. It was still gloomy, dark and forbidding. It was the most wonderful place that I have ever seen.
Today I look back on this moment as a moment critical to the direction my life has taken. Had I been the kind of person to use symbolic imagery, I might have said that this moment was a crossroads in my life path and in this moment I had chosen to take one way or the other. But I’m not the kind of person who says these romantic things. I just say that this moment shaped my life.
Reverentially I walked across the lawn in the direction of the manor house. There were bees buzzing in the flower beds and a butterfly or two flew past. But except for the background noise of the bees, the entire place was deathly quiet. There were no birds chirruping. There weren’t even any trees – the entire place was flat and smooth. I reached the driveway, and wandered up it. I had forgotten what I had run from. I had forgotten the voices down the stairs and the bumping sound. All I saw was this manor that was strangely attractive and repelling at the same time.
Eventually, I reached the front door. At first I just stood staring at it: it had a lot to stare at. There was a polished, upside-down horseshoe as a knocker, in between fretwork that ran in elegant scrolls down the length of the door. Then, I reached up, grasped the knocker and let it fall against the door – twice. In the deathly quiet that hung about the vicinity I could hear the knock reverberate on the inside. After I had knocked, I turned to leave. I did not expect any answer to the door. Not even in my craziest moment would I have thought that a butler in a black suit with golden epaulettes and a white cloth over his arm would open the door. And he did not. But I did hear footsteps. So I lingered on the front step. Then I knocked again. The footsteps got nearer. I could hear a key being scraped against a lock, and then a bolt slid back. As the hinges squeaked and the door swung inwards, I could get a glimpse of the resident of the manor. In instalments I could see more and more of it. At first I could only see darkness with a vague shape inside. Then I picked up a definite hint of feeler. Then wing. Then pointiness. The door swung back completely and the tenant stood revealed. There was thorax. There were black leather and black leathery wings. There were pincers. And through the clicking of pincers, its voice came: slowly, without a hint of aggression, but still threatening.
“What do you want?”
I was gasping and gaping at this monstrosity far too much to be able to answer.
“What do you want, knocking at my door?”
“I— I wanted—” I did not even know what I had wanted when I knocked on the door, so I could not answer.
“You wanted to find out who lived here.” The voice made it a statement, not a question.
I managed to get it out. “Yes.”
“You were running away from something when you came here.”
I was dumbfounded. Firstly, I suddenly remembered again what had happened at home, and secondly, I was wondering if it could read my mind. Again, I did not answer.
“No,” it said. “I know because I saw you come here through the woods. I saw you running.”
“I was running… from home,” I stammered.
The wings snapped open behind it, and the darkness in the vicinity seemed to grow even blacker. “Running does not help. I can see you are getting ready to run again. You are edging away from my countenance. Face up to me!”
I stood still. Actually I froze. I was too scared to move. Then it spoke again, with even more authority than before. “You! Girl in the black dress with the mousey-coloured hair! Never run! Never hide! Face your fears and learn from me!”
The door slammed shut and I heard the bolt slide into place. My knees were too shaky for me to lift my feet, so I sat down carefully on the step. I sat there a long time.
Today I look back on this determining moment in my life. My name is Nirneth. I looked into the Black. And I survived.
This is my entry to Mara’s Weekly Writing Challenge.