The Ghost in the Fire (freewrite fiction #20)

in #fiction2 years ago

In the beginning, the world had been bathed in blood, in reckonings barbaric and more than a touch sadistic, in fire. There had been agony and there had been hell, but then the demons that guarded the door between the worlds had weakened, grown weary of their duties, they’d abandoned their posts and allowed transgressions to go by unwarranted and unpunished. Until the powers that be could not abide this any longer, until a council had to be elected, a council neither human, nor demon, a group that would stand above all law and make sure that the running of both worlds was just. One singular body, incorruptible and impregnable that would not listen to pleading and would not give in to bribery. A body of Others to guard the door between worlds. And so, each of these Others, molded into shape by humans and demons alike, had taken on a trait, shared in by both races. First came the twins, the King of Pleasure and the Empress of Lilies, the perfect pair – one conniving where the other was innocent, one bold where the other was timid, and one rash where the other was calculated. Afterwards came the Master of Silence, bathed as a babe inside a hall of dumbness. Then, came his child, his beloved, though he would never admit to it, the Mistress of Tears, for the world, all seemed to agree, had been born of infinite sorrow. And then, the most violent birth of all, came the Rider of Anger, wailing as he entered the world, writhing and kicking at all around him, even though they moved only to show him kindness. The Rider would not be swayed by anything or anyone and thus, terrified man and demon alike as they looked upon him. It was thought there would be only five, for there was nothing that could come after such violence, such anger, or so they thought.
The Queen of Shadows, true to her name, came into the world soft and quiet, like an afterbirth, unimportant, unbidden, like the bitter regrets she would later carry inside. The original five never forgot this, that their little sister had never truly belonged in their family, that she wasn’t even supposed to be there, in truth, and so a coldness fell over them and in-between, at first separating the five from the sixth, so that the Queen of Shadows became the queen of lies, in order to survive. But then, the silence and the cold crept into the nooks and crannies and began rearing its’ head between the other siblings also, until even the inseparable King and Empress were driven apart, pushed to opposite ends of the world.

Through bitter and quiet, a new world had been established, each of the Others taking their roles on like a mantle, and, after a too-brief season of childhood and play, had given themselves to the world that beckoned, only to meet again in emergencies such as this. And alone in her House of Shadows, the Queen had borne it hardest of them all, forever trapped in the ‘why’s of her siblings – each unmerited silence, each rash word said in irrational anger, each moment of foolish eagerness that in the end had cost too dear, all laid on her doorstep, to carry the burden for all her brothers.
In the quiet of her house, weighed down by the regrets of the whole world, the Queen had mapped out a saving system, had chosen successors, like the man of lights, and helpers, like the spiders in the shadow, but the spiders had turned on her, a rift inside her own mind splitting the House of Shadows down the very middle. In truth, the cracks had been showing for quite some time – the little slips, the intense moments when the pain inside her head simply would not fade. But she’d ignored them, just like the man of lights had, because such things are not supposed to happen.

And then, it had all exploded in a sudden outburst of blue light and ashes, and the explosion had taken the shape of Cami Mermont. It hadn’t been the spiders’ plan for it to happen that way, but then again, the spiders were not known for plans, but for afterthoughts. It wasn’t their forte to think ahead, but rather think back and wonder why it had been thus and not different, so it stood to reason that when young Cami Mermont had stepped in the car’s path, they’d been as surprised as anyone.
And as she stood, bathed in the red tail lights, the spiders had noticed similar cracks inside her, narrow strips through which they could slither and drip their poison, so they’d called out to her. To the man of lights, Cami had appeared much like any other sinner, standing in the light to deal with her torment and be granted erasure, the blissful forgetfulness that all sinners craved. But in her, the spiders had found a chance to break out, to leave their shackles in the House of Shadows and writhe back into the world, the old world, made of fire and cries, so they’d called out to Cami and poor Cami had stood still long enough to listen, to permit them to latch unto her fragility and carry them out into proper daylight, where they’d feasted on her brain and soul, delighted in reminding her of all the bad things she’d done in her life, and how in all her strength, she’d still been so disappointingly weak. A let-down to her brother, though he often lied to tell her otherwise, and even more, a disappointment to herself.

Seeing all the wreckage that would follow, the spiders took their chance and when the man of lights had bent down to touch the sobbing her, to take all her sufferings upon himself, they’d slithered out of their world and into Cami’s, sealing its’ fate along with the poor girl’s.

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‘That’s why I couldn’t remember her,’ the man of lights said softly. He’d been standing on the doorstep, his hand raised as if to knock, before he’d realized there would be no one home to answer him. Here, he’d seen it all, in letters printed in gold. He’d watched the spiders plot and leave the House of Shadows, he’d watched them kill and he’d watched himself be their accomplice. He’d as well as killed Cami himself.

Yess, the spiders whispered in his ear.

‘There have been others,’ he said, his words only half a question, for deep down, he knew he was only prolonging the inevitable.

Many.

‘But why?’ The man of lights sounded tired and old, of a sudden. He’d walked this earth a day too long and had now grown weary. He would rest his legs awhile and await the end of the world, except he couldn’t. He knew that if he lingered too long, the Others would catch up to him and the queen would do little to stop them. She cared for him, perhaps more than she let show, but she cared for her own survival more, and faced with a choice, she would undoubtedly pick the latter.

Thiss world anew iss…

There was a silence on the other side of the door. He could almost see the spiders pausing, thinking, tinkering with their words so as to entrap him further, but the man of lights no longer cared.

…profane. Our misstress, sshe too iss an abomination, no more. The Otherss, they sshould not be.

‘Why?’

Becausse thiss world musst end like it began… in fire.

The man of lights gave a small nod and thought, without so much as a glance back at the car, that the Queen, at least part of her, would have agreed. And as he stood still, by the door of the House of Shadows, he saw the door open before him and saw himself step in, for the last time, to meet the spiders.

He wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise. Had the spiders stood against him, destruction of the house would have been impossible, but the spiders were welcoming him as one of their own. And in his own way, he was, having helped kill young Cami, as well as her brother, having played the midwife in the rebirth of this old world. Deep down, he even thought he belonged here. Thought maybe the new world, as it was, with its’ chance at redemption and all its’ regulations, was misguided, for in all his time walking the earth, collecting the sins of others, he hadn’t once seen a single soul truly repent.
No, true sorry could be found only in fire, as the spiders had said. It was time for him to lay down all the regrets he had carried, so he walked through the empty house, now even more ridden than the last time he’d been here, the walls shriveled, the furniture a shadow of its’ former self, the lights… dim.
His footsteps soundless, he let the gasoline trickle after him, in a trail of destruction like nothing this house had ever seen before. And he did it all with the spiders’ blessing. They watched, from their corners, from their place in the shadows, nodding their approval, filling the corridors with their murmured lies.
The house itself was endless, as large or small as the Queen saw fit, and so his labor could have gone on for days, but he’d decided not to play that game. The foundation would be enough. He lathered the corridors on the ground floor, with all its’ rooms and all its’ spacious hiding places, in fire-spit and then stood still, in the very first room, where he’d seen her that time, when he’d been just a boy, with nothing more to his name than a life not lived.
And now, here he stood, a man with even less to speak of, yet far more sorrow at his back. He stood tall and content, a box of matches in his hand. He’d done his job well and for a long time, he’d believed in what he was doing. But now he’d come to see that there was no forgiveness for the damned, no peace to be kept between the two worlds and the demons ought to be left to devour and torture the souls of the humans.
As he stood on the threshold of the old world and the new, he saw the figure of a woman and mistakenly thought it to be the Queen, come back by some miracle, but only for a moment, after which he saw she was too… unsophisticated to be the Queen of Shadows, too thin, her ribs protruding through her thin cotton dress, her hair tangled, her eyes… worn. She looked at him, a shadow of the woman she’d once been. This was it, the man of lights thought, the ending, truly. For this woman, he’d gone on this quest to begin with, he’d become perfect for the job through his love for her, or rather, the lack of it. And now, here they were again, standing face to face for his final moment.
The man of lights gave the wraith a small smile, out of habit more than actual delight to see her. The wraith, in turn, gave him nothing. In the centuries she’d spent trapped inside his memory, she’d grown too tired for such empty gestures.
‘Lydia,’ he began, but she interrupted him.
‘No. You must stop.’
‘I know, this is the last time, I promise.’
‘But it’s not. You have to let me go, but you can’t.’
The man of lights felt something strange, a prickling at the back of his eyes, and it took him a moment to understand they were tears, burning hot and welling in his eyes, turning his vision bleary, so that the woman wavered, but did not vanish.
‘That was before. I was wrong to keep you here, I’m sorry. I wanted you so much, I wanted you to…’ he let the words drift into silence as he blinked away the tears.
‘You wanted me to be someone else,’ she finished for him and it occurred to him, looking at her, how like himself she’d grown in the time she’d spent trapped inside his mind, how foreign to the woman she’d been in the beginning. ‘You wanted yourself to be someone else.’
‘Yes,’ he nodded. ‘Someone who loved you.’

For the man of lights, it was the smile that sealed it. The bitter, sardonic little grin that curbed her raw, red lips, he saw it and saw for the first time perhaps where he truly stood and how pathetic he’d been, how infinitely small, to imprison this woman in his memories, hoping that way, she would become part of them.
‘But you couldn’t have loved me. You understand, perhaps, the whole world, and still, you don’t have the slightest idea what love is. You saw me and you thought I saw you and you thought, in your naivety, that it was that easy. That you could love me just like that, that I could be your big moment.’
‘But you weren’t,’ said he, the words painful and yet long-due in his mouth.
‘No, I was not. And I’m sorry, I’m sorry you had no memories of your own and that you thought you had to steal mine, entomb me in your reminiscence so as to feel…’
‘Like them,’ the man of lights spat. ‘I was wrong. I’ve been a fraud and a liar for far too long, don’t you think?’
The ghost that had once been a woman gave the slightest of nods and the man of lights gave his own.
‘I would ask you what your true name is…’ he began.
‘I don’t remember,’ she said, shaking her head.
‘I figured as much.’

And with a flick of his wrist, he lit the match and swiftly let it drop.


The End. Perhaps.

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