Ichor Falls

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

by admin on Nov.14, 2008, under Horror

I stare into the fire and I refuse to look away. There is something trance inducing about the way fire moves. It flickers, darts, licking and catching. I keep looking into the fire ignoring the shadows gathering around me. I have to ignore them. I’ve got to finish this.

I couldn’t tell you when all of this started. Some days it feels like centuries could have passed, that empires might have risen and fallen. So much time has passed…

I had just started working at the high school. I was just one more English teacher thrown into the mix to replace one who had retired the year before. An interchangeable part to teach the basic mechanics of grammar and that godawful Ethan Frome. The sadist who stuck that one into the curriculum deserves to be hanged.

But I don’t want to talk about the job. That’s not what’s important now. Hell, it wasn’t even important then.

It was just work, something to pay the bills while I tried to get my writing off the ground. Inside every English teacher lurks a writer, either failed or just starting out. I worked during the day trying to get sullen teens to appreciate books that I could barely stand and then came home to face crippling writer’s block.

I wasn’t very happy.

After the first week of school, I was drained. The last thing I wanted to do was write. But that Friday I sat at my desk at home and stared at that white screen, willing the words to appear. And nothing happened. Nothing happened. Nothing happened.

“Fuck it.”

I left the house and went to a bar for three hours. Because that’s what writers do, isn’t it? Drink heavily until they blow their brains out, hopefully over their latest manuscript to give it that last little oomph. I left the bar in high spirits, alone; I never go there to find a nighttime companion. Booze and a change of setting, that’s all I needed. Then I could write my magnum opus.

I walked to my car, jingling my keys, and that’s when I saw the shadows, sitting under the car and waiting for me to get close.

I stopped about ten feet away from my car, my poor used and battered car. Underneath sat those shadows. I stared at them long and hard. I knew, even then, that there was something wrong with them. The more I watched them, the more they… shimmered. Like an oil slick.

I blinked twice, hard, to try and shake what I was seeing. They were growing, creeping out from under the car toward, moving sneaky slow, trying to avoid streetlamp lights.

I decided then and there that I had had too much to drink. I went back inside and gave the keys to the bartender. I managed to beg a ride home that night and slept it off. The next day I chalked up the shadows to a drunken man’s hallucination. Not that I was thinking too much about it. I was more concerned about the pounding hangover and my Monday classes and the stack of papers I still had to grade. The shadows were back in my mind. Way far back.

That weekend I took a break off from writing (what writing?) and took a walk through a nearby park. I loved that park, it was less park and more protected wilderness. Large swatches of untamed forest right here in the city. I broke away from the well-worn path and headed off deeper into the trees. Further and further into the interior, toward the center of the park where the homeless sleep when it’s warm and where they die when it’s cold.

I paused to catch my breath near a tree. The tree was long dead, but still managed to maintain its hold to earth. Its guts had been eaten out by termites, and I bet it was hollow all the way up. I stared into the hollow, a jagged broken hole in the dead center, an empty eye socket. And I saw the shadows again. I remembered my drunken hallucination and I felt that dread in my gut again. The shadows swirled in that hollow. They wanted to come out, they wanted to wrap around me, cover me in darkness. But the sun’s lights kept them at bay.

But what about when the sun goes down?

Yes, what about that.

I watched the shadows struggle to hold themselves back, to keep from getting at me. I could feel the rage, the hatred radiating off of them. They pushed and bullied one another trying to get at me. I recoiled, fell backwards under their emotional assault, and pressed up against a tree.

I ran. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Even then, so early on, even when they couldn’t actually get at me, I bolted and ran. I had to make sure I got away while it was still light. Had to get away.

By the time I got home, I rationalized it. Made the shadows harmless fantasy, the creation of a bored mind. I went to sleep more or less reassured.

It was well past midnight when they attacked. I awoke from a dream, a nightmare and my eyes opened up into darkness. I felt them all over me, trying to pour into my mouth and nose. I struggled against them, blind and unable to see. I clawed at my neck and face, gouging my skin in an effort to fight them off. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t get them off me. I reached out with one hand and managed to turn on my nightstand light. And all of a sudden the darkness lifted.

I lay on the bed panting and looked around me. I could see them, on the very edges of the light. Waiting, waiting for the light to fade so they could attack again. They crept up, always pulling away when they got into the direct beam of the light.

I was awake until dawn.

I had some difficulty in trying to explain the scratches on my face in class the next day, but once I made up a pet cat it became much easier.

It wasn’t until fourth period that I saw the shadows. I was in the middle of a lecture talking about The Scarlet Letter, reading from the novel and trying to put some emotion into it. I looked up and I saw them. They lurked in corners, under desks. I stopped in the middle of a sentence, my praise of Hawthorne’s florid prose stuck in my throat. The shadows shifted, eager to get at me. I swallowed hard and turned around. I saw them just beneath the edges of the whiteboard, greedy tendrils poking out and reaching toward me. I ducked down and looked under my chair where I had just been sitting. They were there. I was just sitting there, they could have gotten me at any moment!

I straightened up and realized everyone was staring at me. I looked around at their faces and saw concern, worry, childish glee that their teacher might be cracking up. I opened my mouth to talk again, looking down at my book as I did so. My voice caught in my throat. The shadows pulsed under the pages, thin paper pages barely holding them back. I threw the book across the room and a few students ducked as it went over their heads.

I left the room and didn’t look back. I couldn’t afford to look back because I was too busy checking the walls and corners.

It only got worse from there. I took a leave of absence from my job citing stress. It wasn’t long after that when they just let me go. I didn’t put up a fight. I couldn’t really. I wasn’t able to leave the shelter I had created in my home.

They lurked wherever the light wasn’t, so I put light everywhere. I bought as many lights as I could afford and I stocked up on light bulbs. I couldn’t proof every room, so I had to make do with key areas: the bathroom, kitchen, bedroom. My TV was never off, although the flickering light allowed the shadows to encroach occasionally.

I would stay outside during the day, sticking to the sun. I loved the sun. It gave no quarter.

That worked for a while.

That worked for a while.

But then…

The shadows I cast on my own body began to come alive. Crawling over my skin, crawling all over me, seeking to suffocate me, to break into me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get them all off of me. I shaved my head to remove the hair. I threw away my clothes. But there were always shadows, always there, always waiting for the lights to go out so they could come out.

It went on like this until I realized the solution.

I would have to give myself up completely to the light. It was the only way.

I built up the bonfire during the day. A huge pile of wood, paper, broken up furniture. The pile was almost higher than me. But it wasn’t just a pile, but a crescent shape, leaving an opening so I could walk straight into the flames.

It’s burning hot now, the daylight is fading. I see the shadows coming, they’re already lurking. Here and there, hungry and eager for the death of the sunlight. But I’m going to beat them now.

It’s so bright.

3 comments for this entry:
  1. Xavier Brentwood

    In the tradition of Bradbury’s “Skeleton” - fantastic!

  2. Sarah

    Really excellent-tremendous job!

  3. Estor

    Great story. Enjoyed the Dylan Thomas reference.

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