Monday, March 19, 2018

THE DARK FIGHT


As is the case with many writers (and others) I suffer from depression, a fact that I’ve only recently been able to voice. Admitting to it seemed like a failure of character, a mental and physical weakness I’ve been ashamed of, so I’ve hidden it for years. Now I’m learning to admit it, and I’m seeking help. If you are anything like me, I hope that you too will speak to a doctor or councilor and try to find what help is out there. 

One of the hardest things about depression is that those who do not suffer from it have no frame of reference for what it’s like. They simply don’t understand what you have to feel bad about. I’ve written this bit of fantasy to try to illustrate what it’s like, at least for me. 



I live chained to a demon.

It follows me down the street, into the shops and churches and wild empty places. I cannot leave it behind no matter where I go or how fast I travel. The others in my world do not see the thing but it is there, the cold steel of our chain scraping against the ground with a clattering jangle, a constant reminder. 

Original art by Ella McPherson
“You won’t get me. Not today.”

It gives me nothing but a thin smile.

I should resume my search for salvation, for some enchanted dagger of elfin silver that might slay the beast or some  magic hammer that might shatter the chain. I have gone from one place to another searching for freedom, but I have begun to think it does not exist.  

I don’t have strength for another day of searching. Instead I do what I can to distance myself from my demon. I walk in the light, in the warm sunshine that seeps into my very bones and drives the chill of the chain away. I stretch. I work. I try not to think about the thing at the end of the chain. I move quickly, keeping the chain from growing slack. But it always follows, a darkness dwelling in dark shadows. 

I breathe a sigh of relief because I know I will not have to fight just then. “You can’t reach me! Not today.”

Again it gives only a smile.

I am afraid. Afraid of my own weakness and frailty and the fact that I know cannot stand against the savage strength of the demon. And I am afraid because I know I must sleep soon. Oh God above, I hate sleep! Not because of the sleeping, but rather the waking. Sometimes when I wake, I am safe. The creature at the end of the chain has remained crouching in the shadows where I left it. Those days I wonder if it might stay there this time, stay in the darkness and leave me in the light. But I know it will not. 

I move on. I push myself until I can go no farther and grudgingly I sink down to rest, certain I am as far as I can be from the demon as our tether allows.

“Didn’t get me today.”

“Not today,” it whispers back. 

I shiver and turn my back upon the dark creature.

"This time will be different. This time I'll be vigilant, even while I sleep," I resolve. The slightest sound of movement, the barest jingle of chain and I will be awake and running. Tonight will be different.

I sleep.

“Today,” it whispers.

I open my eyes. Somehow the demon perches over me, twisted features just inches from mine. I've not heard a thing.

“Today!”

“No! NO!” I try to scramble to my feet, try to run, to pull the chain taught but cold hands, strong as stone slam into me with the force of falling meteors. The demon batters my head, making my ears ring, my vision sway. 

“Today, weakling! Today!” it snarls. With a flick of its sinewy arm, it throws a loop of the chain around me. 

I am caught. I cannot move. 

The demon howls in glee. It slithers onto my back and its steel limbs wind round my throat. Slowly, slowly it squeezes until it feels as if my head and heart will burst. 

I thrash in the dark, slowly strangling, slowly dying alone. I can see the sunlight. I can see the people walking, just feet away. I try to scream, try to summon aid, but the people passing do not see my struggle. No! Someone is coming. A man in a gray coat comes to the edge of the shadow. I silently beg for him to pounce on the demon, to drive it from me but instead he crouches at the twilight edge of the shadows so that I can see his solemn face. He takes his hat off and regards me sadly with watery eyes. 

“I fought a demon when my mother died. They are strong and terrible.” 

“Help me!” I gasp.

“I found it best to avoid the dark places. Just stay in the light,” the man says. “Think of it this way: things could be so much worse. Here you can be in the light. You don't have to go into the darkness. You could live in a place where there is no light, where demons run free and there is no escape. None whatsoever. Imagine how terrible that would be.”

“Please!”

“Don’t worry. I am here with you,” he says. A surge of hope blossoms in my chest but then it erodes into shock and despair as he stands and walks away, shaking his head. 

I know this time I will die alone. 

The demon and I lie entangled, I slowly dying for a day, or maybe it is month ... a year? I do not know. My thrashing grows weaker and weaker until my strength fails all together. I lie in the darkness, the crushing limbs fixed around my throat. I wait for the end. 

The limbs slack. Air rushes into my starved lungs. 

The demon crawls away, kicking me numb and trembling back into the light. I gasp. I choke. Shaking, I slowly stand and look back at my foul attacker. The creature hunches in the darkness and smiles. It’s black eyes glint at me and it whispers, “Not today, weakling. Not today.”

I run. I run until the chain jerks taught and the fear returns.

I live chained to a demon.

~SJA

Liked this story? Here are some others you might enjoy.

DREAM THIEF
OCTOPUS GIRL
SOUND OF THE SUN

Friday, January 12, 2018

LOST


His blue-bladed spear steaming and dripping, the Lord of Guards tore kicked the door to his wife’s chamber open, startling the cluster of women within.
“We’re out of time!”
They looked up, terrified of what his words meant. The enemy was coming to devour their bodies and drink their souls. They stood frozen in their actions, still bloody from the birth. The newborn mewled in his wife’s embrace. Zerah was pale, sweaty and clearly exhausted and in pain. He had not wanted her here, pregnant and vulnerable, but she was an Heir. She belonged at the battlefront where her kin fought. The Great Families still had their honor. Besides, she provided an advantageous route of retreat. She was an Folder.
“The lady can’t be moved,” the midwife said but Keleb brushed her aside.
“Zerah, they’re coming. We have to get everyone out now!”
“Take the girls.”
Keleb let go of the spear to take his unnamed daughter in one arm and two year old Ayla in the other. The instant the weapon left his hand it vanished in a bolt of light that shot up through the ceiling without a trace. Both his daughters in his arms, the Lord of Guards stepped away from his wife. She winced as she adjusted herself on the bed and summoned her black folder staff. Zerah closed her eyes, focused on the formulas, the mathematics and physics required to open a safe passage from the manor house to the Great House of Beyz some sixty miles away.
Outside the room, the last of his guardians screamed as their lives were torn from them.
Zerah’s eyes snapped open, her calculations complete. Lightning blazed from the black rod in her hand and tunneled through space pulling two points across the world together. The baby in Keleb’s arms began to scream. He turned to the women.
“Through the portal! Now!”
The servants hustled through. Zerah, crawled from the bed, her pain evident. Her bright blood glistened on her gown. The agony overwhelmed her and she stumbled, leaning heavily upon her staff. Keleb was already moving. He lunged through the opening as his wife’s concentration wavered. The portal seemed to warp as Zerah lost control of the portal’s end point. It jumped, just for an instant, to another world. She gasped through clenched teeth. “Keleb, no!”
Keleb hated portal travel. It was impossibly fast, but the sensation was unsettling. Fortunately, it passed in an instant. But instead of relief and a return to normalcy, Keleb emerged from the portal’s far end into a world of pain and noise. A searing gold light tore into his eyes, slashing into his retinas even through his eyelids. A weight seemed to slam down upon him, dragging him to his knees. He barely managed to keep his grip on his daughters. The baby screamed. A gale tore at them.
He forced his watering eyes open as a shadow fell across him. He looked up into a silhouette framed against a scorching wall of light.
“Where am I?” he groaned.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying, young man, but I’ll take a guess,” the woman said, flinging her coat over his, and his daughter’s heads. “But if I’m not mistaken, you’re a long, long way from home.”

~SJA

This is a deleted scene from my award winning novel Terra Soul. Check out this and many other extras in the hard cover, special edition.