Contest Result and Ash and Dust, Part 14

November 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Drumroll? That will have to wait. First things first…

First: I’m continuing Ash and Dust for a few weeks (maybe?). At the very least, I have a new entry for it! For all those who have forgotten what the story is about and such, you can  click on the “Categories” drop down, and select “Ash and Dust”. That works for all my stories that are on-going, and if you can’t find something there, check “Completed Stories and Downloads.”

Second, have the actual story part!

Chapter 14: The Dark

I didn’t fall. I was certain of that. The darkness surrounded me like a wet blanket, heavy and clinging. It wrapped me and covered me. It filled me like smoke and like air. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe; there was nothing to see and nothing to breathe. Only the dark and me, the small bit that was waiting to be devoured.

I didn’t know who I was, what I was, nor was I sure that I was thinking. There were no memories left. I was just a husk floating through the dark, a piece of debris without purpose or place. For a long time, I just floated, neither enjoying nor hating the experience. It only was, as I only was.

I could feel the dark inside me, filling me up from my toes to the tip of my head. When I looked to where my toes should be, there was only the dark. When I wiggled my fingers, there was only the dark. When I squinted to see far away, there was only the dark. It filled me so completely that I began to believe I was the dark, that there was no difference between it and I. Once it filled me as completely as it filled the world around me, I knew there would be no more me. Not even this weak resistance would remain to separate dark from dark.

My being expanded as it swelled with dark. It flooded into me, but without feeling or sound. I simply grew as more dark filled me, what I imagined of my body filling like a balloon, filling until it would burst. It was so empty out there, and I was so empty inside. Why would the emptiness break me? Why was the darkness in me not enough?

These questions didn’t matter, nor did my thoughts think them. There was only the darkness, then there was me. Soon, there would only be the darkness.

My finger pained me as a band stayed firm against my swelling. I looked to my hand and saw a ring on my finger. There was so little of me left that I looked like Depression, a wire-frame wearing a ring that floated in the darkness. My brain tried to remember who Depression was, but it couldn’t. It could only remember that I had a brain. Suddenly, thoughts filled me. Where was I? What happened back in that room, with Despair? Why was I here?

The dark shifted. I still felt myself growing, but my form slowly returned to me. Like an old TV screen, growing into intensity, my body began to refill the frame. Fuzzy images, indistinct and clouded, returned but horribly grotesque and swollen. My flesh bulged where it was filled with dark and roiled with the motion of the blackness. Skin bubbled as particles of blackness moved through me and bones shifted to accommodate the material. My finger ached horribly as my hand, now the size of a frying pan, still grew. It throbbed savagely, burning pain restoring thoughts to my head, but it could not break the ring.

I floated still, but I was no longer placid. Pain filled me from all parts of my body, from my throbbing finger that pulsed hot with pain to my clementine-sized toes that threatened to burst. Every inch of me hobbled, every centimetre dilated with pain.

Pain. That was what I was now. Not the dark, but pain.

Take off the ring, a thought whispered in the darkness. Take off the ring, it urged with obvious desire, take off the ring. Take it off and the pain will stop. It will stop forever.

I reached across my bloated body. I was nearly circular now, but my engorged hands could grip one another. My fingers closed across the golden band. It shone now, shone with light so bright that it burned at my eyes. I remembered I had eyes, and they suddenly swelled with the dark inside them. They boggled out in every direction, spinning and splitting as they grew and grew.

With jerky, halting motions, I thrust the golden glow of the ring into my mouth. My teeth shook as they clamped down on the ring, ready to bite off the finger. They rattled so much they almost tore furrows into my skin, but I kept them firmly closed. Forcing my shaking chin to obey, I bit down.

Blood filled my mouth, and I remembered I had a heart.

Light exploded in my head, obliterating my vision and white noise roared in my ears. My consciousness blinked, blinked again, and was lost.

The light withdrew, and I stood in an empty church. Long rows of empty pews stared back at me, barren and lifeless. It was dark, but not completely. Greyness tickled the edges of the black.  I stood alone at the altar, dressed in a black tuxedo with a lilac corsage. 

Lilacs. She loved lilacs.

The doors at the far end opened and suddenly, she was there. Light didn’t shine in but flowed like water, growing and pushing off itself. It filled every corner and every crack, shining so brightly that it looked like day. No, brighter than day. The light smothered every shadow and sealed every hole.

But she was brighter. Her hair was drawn up behind her and little blond ringlets spilled free to dance about her face. Small glasses perched on her dainty ears but couldn’t cover the brilliance of her emerald eyes. They sparkled and glowed, and light spilled from her lips where she smiled. Her skin was silver and porcelain, fairer than the wedding dress she wore.

I tried to take a step towards her but my legs would not obey. I was completely rooted to the spot. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I couldn’t even hope to look away.

She stopped, close to me. So close I could smell her, soft silk and roses. So close I could feel the heat that radiated from her. So close I could taste her, salt and lust and lilacs. She barely reached the bottom of my neck but she filled my world. There was nothing else.

“This is how you saw me, Ryan.”

I closed my eyes when I heard her. I had forgotten her voice. I had forgotten how beautiful it sounded when she said my name. The pain of it nearly killed me.

“This is how you saw me, because this is how you remembered me. The room was empty, as far as you were concerned. Black, and empty. And you remember nothing else from the moment I walked in the door. You don’t remember the ceremony, nor the silly jokes Wesley played during the reception. You don’t remember the drive home, and now, neither do you remember what happened after.” She smiled and twirled. Little sparks of light drifted off her and danced away. “This is all you remember.”

“This.” She leaned is close and her voice changed slightly. I could hear other people in the background, the stomping of feet and strains of music, but the pure sound of her voice was unaltered. “And this: I love you, Ryan Kazlaukas.”

“Emily.” I said, my voice hoarse and broken.

“Yes, Ryan?”

“I forgot. I forgot everything. I forgot who I was, who you were, even that I love you. That…you love me. What do I do if I forget you again?”

She took my face in her hands. Her light touched me and warmed me, but it did not stick. It slid off like oil on water, like blood on tile. But her hands were warm.

“What is a man without memories? He is still the same man he was before. Your choices made you who you are, Ryan. Your choices made you into the man I loved enough to marry, to be with forever. I love you, Ryan. Not your memories.” Her voice changed again, but this time there was only one voice murmuring along with her. “In sickness and in health, till death do us part.” She rose up on her pixie feet and kissed me on the nose. “It’s what you promised too.” I heard my voice, filled with fear and happiness, repeat what she said to me. I swallowed blades as she continued. “You needed me to find your way when you were lost in the dark. Now, I need you. Till death do we part.”

Her voice changed a final time. It was ragged and pleading, and torn into pieces with grief. It was the voice of someone who has lost everything else and clings to the last bit of the broken raft that was her life.

It was my wife’s voice. Not a memory this time. It was Emily.

“Please,” it sobbed, “please, Ryan. Don’t die. I need you. I need you now. Please, just please. Please wake up.”

My eyes opened.

WAKE.

UP.

She disappeared and I was in the dark again. I bulged and groaned and threatened to explode, but the ring on my finger burned. It burned hot, hissing where the dark touched it. It burned loud, the retreating dark keening as it sloughed off the light. It burned brightly, smothering the darkness completely.

I stretched my hand forward and felt something block it. Something that quivered and quaked where my fingers brushed it. I closed my hand around it and felt it tear. Darkness exploded out in a gushing flow. It swirled and flooded to escape the light that pounded after it. The dark spilled out of my body as the pressure inside me released, blasting out with such force that I felt hollowed and empty.

Empty, but whole.

My hands tore at the barrier, ripping wet pieces free. I crawled forward, each squishing step ejecting more dark from me. It left me in droves and waves, keening as the light burned it. Light burned ahead of me from the hole I tore loose and I crawled to it. My hands scrabbled for purchase on slick tiles and I slipped forward.

The cold hit me, and I was out. My body, whole and weeping the last bits of darkness, stood free in Despair’s lair. Amazed and barely comprehending, I looked behind me. The ruined corpse of the Hor-ghast was there, deflated and reduced to a puddle. It dissolved into bubbling black tar as the light tore into it like a pack of hungry jackals.

I looked down at myself and saw that I was still naked but for my ring. It glowed; it glowed with the fierceness of promises sworn and delivered upon, and it fit me like a glove. Despair looked up at me, his hands split around his beady eye.

We stared at each other for a long time. I, naked, slick and panting. He, naked, silent, and untouchable.

Then I imagined myself dressed. Warmth and comfort covered me. My gun hung inside my jacket, and my pockets were heavy with cigarettes. I took one and lit it. The tobacco seared my throat but it made me feel half-alive again.

“Good-bye, Despair.” I said, and knocked out some ash on his perfectly clean floor. It didn’t disappear like the Hor-ghast did, and I silently cheered at that. “I think I’m going to take you up on your offer.”

I turned and walked into the darkness. I willed a flashlight into my hand and walked calmly through the caves.

I was going home. 

So…yeah.

Now for the drumroll!

The winner of my third contest is none other than our lovely….

Tanis!

Yes, Tanis is the winner this time! The die doesn’t lie, ladies and gentlemen. A one it rolled, and a one it is! Tanis, get that thinking cap on tight! Remember, it could be a fully-formed idea, a simple idea, or just a word that you think is cool! It’s up to you! There’s no rush, and I’ll be in touch (because it’s not like I see you like, every week or anything)!

But thanks to those who commented. It’s a cheap, transparent way to try and boot-strap you folks into talking, but you do get something out of it.

And besides, you love it.

John, away!

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