So at last, a short story! It’s been a while since I’ve posted one, primarily because most places I submit to don’t accept work that has been published, even if it’s on a blog. However, at just over 1000 words, Falling Free is shorter than the requirements of those same magazines and so seems like a perfect candidate to (hopefully) entertain you.
A quick note: this story was intended to be the inspiration for a graphic project, which is why it is so heavy on visuals and tone. Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think below. 🙂 Please enjoy.
I am nearly dead from running. Stone slaps the soles of my feet, the pitter-patters echoing and filling the surrounding void. A barren land, it’s a world of grey mountains on the left, black mountains on the right; a slate-grey sky above. Not a tree, or shrub, or blade of grass anywhere. White clouds straggle across the sky. Or are they ghosts? I can’t tell.
I hear him behind me, the madman who drove me to this place. Once across the threshold, I’d tried to block him out, had thrown the locks and bars in place. But he is stronger than me, smarter, too. I’d jumped aside and hit the road running just as the door burst open and the first traces of his sickness swept into the void. That smell—the sickness—I know it well.
I hear him beating the path. He’s furious and fast. He comes on with ease, as though a native of this world and immune to the pain burning my torn-up feet; not afraid of this land with no roads or any living thing. Just greyness and stone. And…
Wait, there’s something up ahead.
Skidding, I change course, take the corner around a boulder. I head for whatever it is.
Maybe a way out?
He’s angry. Bellowing, he too rounds the corner, spitting rocks in his wake as he takes the hairpin turn. I sense his eyes zero in on me. He’s coming.
The ground suddenly gives way to a valley. I speed down the slope, putting my hand down when I almost tumble to the bottom where a collection of rocks wait to tear me to shreds. Once over them, I scale the other side. Streaks of blood stain the surface. Hands shredded, knees bleeding, it doesn’t matter. I can’t let that madman catch me.
I haul myself over the edge. Safe in the other side, but don’t know for how long. I pause to catch my breath. The dark spot in the distance is closer. Nothing between me and it.
“Hello, my name is Constance. Do you want to play?”
It’s a little girl about seven years old. She wears a pink dress, and her wavy brown hair is tied back with a white bow. She smiles. I’m shaken by her innocence. A single white light in this darkening grey world. She holds out a hand. I take it.
What’s a kid doing out here alone? I look around but there’s not another living soul anywhere.
“Uh…where’s your mother?”
Constance crumples to the ground. Blood pools on her candy-pink dress. She coughs once, smiles again, and then is gone. Cackling trickles into my head.
It’s the madman.
He always ruins whatever he touches.
I take off, heading for the spot in the distance. The closer I draw to it, the more the world changes. Ghosts spring out of the ground, each one bright and bursting with life and hope like the girl, caricatures of ‘the good life’: a mother dressed in a blue and white dress and a flowery apron holding her baby. Her name, Aviva, and the baby, Elan. But upon taking my hand, they too collapse having succumbed to scarlet blotches spreading like weeds across their chests. Others, Hope and Mercy, two frolicking puppies, also fall to jagged, red polka dots. Each death triggers the maniac’s laughter. It pricks the inside of my head like a million fingers running nails across a blackboard. It’s too much. I’ll crack.
…he’s changing me…
…making me like him.
Other ghosts appear, this time familiars. Friends, family, colleagues. Girlfriends.
‘Get your lazy ass off the couch and get a job!’
I remember that one: Lucy. My last and greatest love. But like the madman, I have a knack for drawing out the worst in those around me. To this day, I doubt she knew that her presence had kept the Darkness at bay, or how much thicker and deeper it became after she left. I’d tried to block it out. It still took everything I’d had not go mad. And now, here she was in my world of grey, still hateful, still angry. Yelling.
Like the Madman. He screams at my back, his fury pushing me towards the quickly approaching spot. The black patch looms–yawning like an open mouth. Now I don’t want to go. I want to run back to the valley, through the mountains, all the way to the exploded door and, finally, into the world of color and caricature beyond.
Just what am I doing here?
At the spot, the madman pulls back. I drop to my hands and knees. His laughter fills my head; it’s rapid, hitting hard like a Gatling gun. The stone is cold under my hands, chilling me like I’m kneeling on an ice rink. Gasping and hacking, I can barely breathe.
God, I’m utterly broken.
The chasm’s on my right. The madman on my left. He stands so tall I can’t see his face.
He squats. I can’t look at him. Shaking takes over my arms, then my torso and, finally my legs. He leans in so his lips are against my ear.
“I never meant to catch you,” he says.
“Wh-what?” I lick my lips. Maybe I can talk my way out. “What do you want?”
He stands. Puts his hands in his pockets. Sighs.
“No!” I’m screaming now. “I don’t want to—“
He nudges me with the tip of his foot.
Am struck by the fact that now there’s no need to run. No need for strife.
No Darkness trying to drive me insane.
The madman did me a favor.
He did the thing I could not.
I am free.
But falling free.
I laugh, only a little surprised by the rising notes—bordering hysteria.
I laugh harder, the sound becoming familiar, as though it had been hiding so deeply and for so long within me that I’d forgotten it was even there. Until the madness pried it loose, setting free a raging, powerful beast.
I want to see the face of my killer.
I look up
As I fall down.
Through the gathering mists
The haze of oncoming unconsciousness opening the door to
The madman looks down.
Our eyes meet.
I smile in recognition.
For that man on top
Who watches me as I fall down;
The one who pushed me over the edge
Copyright@ 2015 by Dyane Forde