Flash Fiction

Safe Passage

Volkova/Shutterstock.com

From the vantage point of a sheer rock cliff, Samantha stared into the void, the weight of an entire planet resting on her shoulders. She lifted her head, and in a deep baritone rumble, proclaimed, “I bear precious cargo and demand safe passage.”

The witch who hired her had warned her to be careful, that the world she carried would attract dangerous creatures who wished it harm, but there was no way Samantha could have prepared herself for this unique brand of terror.

The darkness in the void beheld her, standing with the world on her back, then surged, swelling like a dark rose in full bloom.

Samantha felt thick, creeping vines of despair shoot through her heart. All at once, the cargo she carried became too heavy, and she could feel it beginning to slip.

“Come,” said the darkness. “Drop your burden and follow me into the void.”

She could feel its corrupting influence surround her, a dark miasma that stoppered her nose and her mouth, making it difficult to breathe.

“I can’t,” she said, but she felt her feet sliding, her face falling. She could hear the inhabitants of the world she carried crying out. They, too, had sensed the darkness, and they were afraid.

She could no longer see the path that lay ahead. The impenetrable darkness wound around her like a snake and proceeded to crush her alive.

“Did you really think you could protect them from me? They are mine, as are you.”

The world on her shoulders sagged some more.

“I won’t deliver them to you,” Samantha said, but it was all she could do just to keep breathing. Like a noxious gas, the darkness seeped into her lungs, starving her of oxygen. She knew she couldn’t hold this position forever, but she also knew she couldn’t let the darkness win.

It was clear now: she had no choice but to use the magic the witch had given her.

Searching herself for the light within, she feigned weakness, and the darkness, eager for the prize she carried, rushed in. Samantha held her breath and readied herself for the outpouring of light that was sure to come…

Except it didn’t.

Samantha’s legs began to buckle.

What’s wrong? Why can’t I do this?

She felt the light inside of her, but it fled from her every time she reached for it.

I can’t keep this up much longer.

The little air that was left in her lungs was devoid of oxygen, and Samantha was beginning to feel lightheaded. Meanwhile, that awful darkness shook the cavernous walls, confident and victorious.

“You are mine,” it pronounced, and Samantha, to her mounting horror, believed it to be the truth.

Surrender, the witch had said. The light cannot be forced, only drawn. Let it take control of you, or you will surely die.

Starved of air, surrender was now her only option and, tumbling dangerously close to the death and darkness that awaited her, she opened herself to the light’s will at last.

Please, she thought. Help me.

And in the stillness of a guttering heart, she heard its reply.

Like lightning, it tore through her body. It drew an involuntary gasp, forcing the stale air from her lungs. It burst from her eyes, her ears, her mouth, piercing the darkness and making it shriek.

In the presence of that unwavering light, the darkness shriveled, drew into itself, and evaporated.

Then, just like that, the light was gone, fled once more into the deepest recesses of her heart, where it would wait in hiding until Samantha needed its help again. She fell to her hands, heaving, and the world she carried, safe at last, fell to the ground beside her.

Thank you.

She didn’t know if the light could hear her thoughts, if it was even conscious and could discern the meaning of her words, but she knew now that it was on her side, and she picked up her precious cargo once again, knowing this time that it would be safe for the remainder of her journey.

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White Noise

Joe Techapanupreeda/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on March 6, 2019.

Daniel sat at an outdoor table, sipped a Starbucks cappuccino, and watched the world unfold like a silent film. Deep, resonant sound waves plowed through his ears like an ocean, and while the world was usually a loud and discordant place, as long as he had his white noise—as long as he could stick a pair of buds in his ears and drive the outside sounds away—everything would be all right, everything would be fine. The terrible memories that haunted his every waking hour would slumber for a little longer, and everything would be fine.

Only now and again, there was a hollow space in his mind that the static couldn’t fill, and when it finally bubbled to the surface, when his conscious mind reengaged with those dark horrors he always tried so hard to forget, he’d realize there was no running from the nightmare, that the nightmare would never end.

They killed her, he would think, and though his eyes would remain fixed on a neutral subject like a parked bicycle or a truck stopped at a red light, the eyes inside his head would stumble over unseen obstacles as he rushed headlong, back into the endless dark.

Like humans, they’d been…at least approximately, if one didn’t look too closely. And that had been Daniel’s mistake, hadn’t it? He’d looked too closely, and after returning home one night to find them standing in a circle outside his house—after following the contours of their too-long faces, angled down, to find his wife, Jennifer, splayed across the floor, her soft, unblemished body alabaster white, eyes wide, glazed, and unseeing—something inside him had broken.

In his mind’s eye, Daniel would, until the end of time, behold those grotesque and sharply-proportioned bodies. The white noise would never stop him from hearing his breath catch in his throat; would never stop him from staring again into those dull, onyx-black eyes; would never stop him from reliving the mad, soundless cry that had taken shape deep within his constricted chest, only to get stuck midway and never come out.

He would, as always, remember how one of those almost-human creatures had met his eyes, how it had opened its mouth, and how it had strained to speak. Only the profane secrets it uttered in the stillness of the night would remain a mystery, and that was not because of the white noise but because of Daniel’s steadfast unwillingness to remember. Some things were too dark, too unholy, to ever be allowed into the light of conscious thought.

But beneath the ocean of static, beneath even the subterranean layer of his subconscious, Daniel sensed its malevolent echo, a fetid residue that, like a grease stain, he would never be able to wash away. This abstract terror he knew intimately well, and white noise or no white noise, Daniel knew that sooner or later, it would catch up to him, that sooner or later, he would have no choice but to respond to its dark summons.

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Burden

drasa/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on February 27, 2019.

I see them flitting through the shadows and I try not to be afraid. They don’t know that I can see them, that I track their every move, and they mustn’t catch on. So I avert my eyes, and from the corner of my eye, I watch, taking mental notes as they stalk the Earth, unseen to all except myself.

They’re phantoms, abstract projections of the dark. They move through our homes, through our places of business, watching us as I watch them. For years, I pondered their intentions, and I noticed that whenever I was sad, depressed, angry, or afraid, they would hover closer, and in their presence, my negative emotions would deepen.

My conclusion is that they’re hungry, that they dine on our hardship and our pain. I’ve observed people at their worst, and in those terrible, rock-bottom moments, that’s when they come out of hiding and open their mouths to feed. To them we are livestock. They’re the reason humans are so violent, the reason humans are so angry and afraid, the reason humans are always on the brink of war. It’s because of them, I am certain, that we’ve never moved beyond the tribalistic ethos that binds us. They sow discord and darkness, then rejoice in the blooms of evil that sprout from our corrupted hearts.

They believe humanity is defenseless. But all the while I’ve observed their behavior, and I’ve learned how they can be destroyed.

In the act of feeding, they become like us. The greater the evil, the greater the despair, and the greater the despair, the more physical they become until they’re almost humanlike, with contorted, unnaturally proportioned bodies and long, razor-sharp claws. The more physical they become, the more susceptible they are to attack. So I venture into the world, allowing my darker emotions to surface, and when I’ve reached the apex of my suffering, when I’ve engorged myself with the emotional poison that sustains them, they come, attracted to my pain like fish to a baited hook. Then, when they assume solid form, I attack.

My theory is that they were once like us, and I sometimes consider the possibility that what they’ve become isn’t entirely their fault, that someone or something might have transformed them into what they are today against their will. But in the end, I always reach the same conclusion, that eliminating them is an act of self-defense, and that, when all is said and done, it’s us versus them.

So far, I’ve killed nine. I cannot hunt them in groups, lest some escape to warn the others. Instead, I prey on them as individuals, a task that is agonizingly, painstakingly slow. Nine is but a drop in the bucket—the world is full of such creatures—but as the only human who can see them, the burden is mine to do what I can, even if it means sacrificing my own emotional well-being. My life is one of unending despair, but I cannot allow these creatures to destroy my human family, and if my own suffering means the world as a whole suffers a little less, I’ll continue the hunt until my dying breath.

I believe in justice. I have faith that there’s an unseen judge watching over us, and that, with an appraising eye, he examines my work. It is for this mysterious cosmic entity I labor, always with the hope that if I must suffer in this life, then perhaps I’ll be allowed happiness in the next.

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