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T & T Story Writing Contest 2019-20

Escape the Darkness

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He wasn’t sure how he’d come to be here. There was only darkness, deep and thick, and he couldn’t see. The air was warm, and there was a comfort in this darkness, yet he felt alone, lost in a place familiar but unknown.To go back would be to stay and he wasn’t even sure where here was. But he knew he must leave if only he could find a way.

His clothes felt normal, although there was something strange hanging from his chest. When his hand touched it, a light appeared, weak at first but growing. In its dim light, he found he indeed wore his usual faded jeans, black sneakers and the shirt his mother had given him. But, in this soft light, nothing held any colour, all were in shades of black and white.

The object at his chest was a small glass orb that glistened from within. It felt like a thing from his imagination, yet with a defined surface. At a tug it came away in his hand, the chain receding into nothing. It grew to fill his palm, feeling like glass with a myriad of small facets. Where the light came from, he wasn’t sure as there was no power source or place for one. The light itself seemed almost silky. It drifted from the orb with misty tendrils that hung in the air a brief time before fading. When he held it aloft, the gloom around him retreated, as if in fear, sending shadows to play around the edge of its range.

The light cast him in a tunnel, although not one he’d seen before. The walls were rocky and dark, but if they were real or some manifestation of his mind, he wasn’t sure. Ahead, the tunnel opened into a larger space, the light drowning in its thick cold darkness.

The warmth hung around him, clinging to him in fear he might step out into the cold and leave it.

Stay with me, stay… it whispered, but he ignored it. He wanted to go forward to find a way out. Better that than no direction at all.

He touched the orb back to his chest, it felt comfortable there, the small chain snaking out to catch it once more. The sphere reduced, yet its light remained bright, the vaporous tendrils trailing around him as if with a life of their own.

He moved forward, footsteps echoing into the darkness. The light led the way into what could only be a massive cavern, doing nothing to illuminate the vast place. The coldness closed around him with a dank old smell as if this place had existed forever, with nothing to move the air. There was a sound here, constant, like the rising and falling of the sea. Did something make the sound, or did the cavern itself breath?

Far above and ahead of him, a light illuminated something, an exit, a way out? Whatever it was, he had a distinct feeling if he reached it, he would find an escape.

He took another step, lifting the orb from where it hung and held it high. It vibrated as it expanded, its glowbrighter,the vapour flowing thicker. Did it grow in strength to defy the darkness or was it all in his mind?

Ahead, very faint in the increased light, a mountain of rocks climbed into the emptiness of the cavern. As he drew closer, he saw it not only disappearedinto the darkness above but away to both sides.

Climbing willbe a more effort than you know should it not go where you hope,the dull voice in his mind told him.

His shoulders slumped. The voice was right, the light was so high above, and the climb would be hard. Was it even a way out?

Go back into the tunnel where there is warmth, and safety, it droned.

He took a deep breath and fought the urge. No. He must go on, else he would go nowhere.

He took another step, but as he did, the earth began to shake with a deep rumbling sound. Above him, rocks tumbled unseen, crashing down the slopes.

Danger lies ahead. There is no need to flee the safety and warmth, the loving embrace of all there is, of all there can be…

The quake lasted only seconds but gave him pause. With a deep breath, he stepped up onto a large flat stone, the smoky sphere held above him, the light trailing from it. There seemed no visible path, so he chose his footing with care. Thiswas another test, but it did not deter him, he took another step and began the climb.

Physical exercise didn’t come easy for him, and the longer he climbed, the more he grew tired. He stopped after a time to catch his breath and looked back the way he’d come. From where he stood, he could see little beyond a short stretch of stones, even holding out the orb.

He continued on, finding the stones smaller as he went and less easy to pick through. He crossed into a field of scree, and his feet slid, loose rocks running away behind. He climbed on, but the constant movement of the stones drained more from him.

He was a distance up the mound when it again began to quake, rocking, swaying, and shaking the broken stones loose. In the scree, he slipped backwards, fighting for balance, and fell. As he tumbled, he let the orb go and grabbed with both hands for any handhold. When it ended, he lay sprawled on the small stones, pain burning from several minor scrapes. He ignored it and searched for the orb, its light having gone out. He groped about the scree, his breath increasing, but to no avail. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. How could he climb now, with nothing to light his way? His hopes drooped, and he could almost hear the voice taunting him, but it did not come.

After a time, he sat up in the darkness to feltsomething move at his chest. He reached up and found the orb hanging once more from the chain. At his touch, the light again flared, illuminating the dust about him, thick and watery. With trembling hands, he rubbed his face and pulled himself to his feet. He stood tall, his breathing heavy,and looked out into the darkness.

This would not have happened if you had climbed down, the voice hissed. Don’t go on, where you could again lose your footing and fall. There’s another way, somewhere sheltered, perhaps back along the tunnel…

He looked down the mound and knew the voice spoke true. It would be easier to return to the warmth below, to the safety of where he’d started. He wouldn’t have to climb or hurt or fear. He could just stop and—

He shook his head. There must be something better ahead, an escape to a place more desirable. He’d been in this darkness long enough.

The sound continued high above, louder and more profound, yet distant and still unknown. It sounded now like waves rolling and crashing against cliffs.

He pushed on, step by step, climbing higher on the stones and scree. The darkness let him pass, like some great black oceanparted by the orb. Each step took him closer to his goal, although the light which had seemed so high above had disappeared. He had to believe it was still there somewhere, for alone it gave him hope.

A wind picked up, gentle at first, it grew warm and harsh, like the breath of the darkness manifested. Its stale smell washed over him, whisking dust from the mound into his face. With an arm, he covered his eyes and pushed on.

After a time, weary, he again paused. As he stood, the wind continued to whip his hair around and tear at his clothing. The exertion weighed on him, and his breath came heavy.

How long have you been climbing? Hours or days? How much further and will it be worth the effort, for a goal that isn’t clear?

As he stood, the mound again began to quake. This time he found handholds with ease and waited for it to pass. The ground shook hard for many minutes, but he clung on, teeth clenched.

Give up, the voice demanded. Give in to the wind, the hardship, and the darkness. Let go and float away free, to a place where there is peace.

He had to find the strength to fight whatever trials the darkness threw at him, and tosucceed if it took all he had.He had to believe there was a way out and that things could get better. He must not let it get to him, in whatever form it came.

Then, as if at the flick of a switch, the rumbling, the wind, and the thoughts simply ceased. He clung on still as the rocks around him fell, their echoes sounding throughout this dark place. Then, they too receded, leaving an emptiness.

He stood tall, taking the orb into his hand. It had grown with his resolve, and the light too, had changed. It was now bright with colour, the first he’d seen in this place of black and white.As it moved, silky tendrils of green and purple, drifted from it.

The sound was still there, now like the deep wheezing of bellows. And, the light had reappeared, closer now.He climbed on with boldness, his steps more confident. No longer did he slide on the gravel, nor notice the wind that came and went. His mind focused on the goal above him, the light at the end of the darkness.

Then, something moved around the mound, as if the very darkness had taken on life. It skimmed the shadows, surfing the waves of the obsidian ocean.

Whatever it was roared, the sound echoing about the cavern, shaking the mound with such force he again lost his footing. All resolve dropped away as he tumbled down the slope, hitting boulder and stone. He caught hold of a large rock and held on, the rough surface tearing at his hands. He grappled to hold his position as the thing in the darkness came at him, slamming into the mound near his feet. Rocks exploded, showering him in pebbles and grit before the thing swam away into the blackness.

Knowing he could not fight a creature such as this, he pushed himself to his feet and scrambled on, the stones scattering as he went. With pain at every turn, he skipped around rocks and over boulders, as it pursued him. He swept the orb around in its direction, and it streamed past him as if scared by the silky light. He hurried on without missing a step or slipping once. It roared again, somewhere in the darkness, and with it came the wind and another quake. But he ignored them both, only the creature concerned him now.

There was another boom as the creature again struck the mound, this time right behind him. He was flung forward onto a boulder where he caught the edges and clung on as pebbles and grit pelted his body.

But this time, as it moved past, he saw its face. There was a familiarity in the grinning maw of whitened teeth, skin pocked with blemishes and dark glaring eyes. It was the face he saw each time he looked in the mirror. It was his own.

And then it all fell into place. He was his own torment in this deception of the world, and his own twisted thinking held him here.

How can you escape who you are? his voice screamed. How could you defeat yourself?

He closed his eyes. The voice in his head was again right. How could he fight himself? How could he be free of the darkness if he blocked his own path? There was no end, only night. And as if it too sensed his defeat, the quaking ceased.

But while the shaking of the mound came to an end, something in his hand did not.His eyes came open, and he stared into his own dark and twisted face. It would not win, not this time. He’d spent too much time in the darkness, and he would stay here no longer. With the orb clutched in his hand, he pushed up and thrust it at the creature. The lightblazed, now in angry reds and oranges, its tendrils snaking forward.

As the creature in the darkness pulled away,tendrils latched onto it and held fast. It writhed and thrashed as the colours grew and the light crept around it, enveloping it. It roared and struggled, but its darkness was fading.It thrashed about and tore itself away,but the tendrils held, ripping great pieces from it. As they fell, the creature moved and rolled, trying to keep itself together while ripples ran along its length. Crippled, it shuddered and with a final deep roar, exploded in a shockwave that shook the cavern.

Cracks appeared in the very reality of the world. Piece by piece, the cavern began to fall, and as it did, light broke into the darkness.

He stood, surrounded in light on a mountain of his dreams, arms in the air, breathing in freedom. As he took it all in, the orb dropped from his hand to hover before his chest, where the chain snaked out to catch it. It sat sparkling in brilliance for a short time before mergingwith his chest.

Light shone on his face. He took a breath and smelled a dankness in the room. He looked up from where he lay upon his bed and the gloom around him. He rolled over and swung his feet to the floor, wishing not to lay here like this anymore. There was more to life than the darkness he’d brought upon himself, but it wouldn’t be an easy path. He’d fall again, but never so deep into the black. His life and the world were better places with him in it.

He stood and moved to the window where thick curtains hid the world. He pulled them aside and let light sweep into the room, to chase away the darkness. The sky outside was blue and bright, the sunlight warm, and the world almost seemed new.

AJ Key (UK)

AJ Key lives alone in London, England, and writes mostly for pleasure and the entertainment of friends and workmates. While he lives in a city, he feels most at home lost in nature, or a third world country, both of which he uses as backdrops for many of his stories. With a fascination for creating worlds and human psychology, he writes mainly speculative fiction or romance pieces. He looks forward to seeing his work in print one day.

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