Chapter I: The Voice in the Clearing

Chapter I: The Voice in the Clearing

 1.

Summer is the loneliest of seasons.

The silence of winter brings more comfort than laughter beneath the sunny sky.

So scribbled Thomas Rivenport with quivering hand, upon awaking one night from a terrible dream—looming over him, at the foot of the bed, Chernosoren watched in silence.

Disregarding the shadowy figure, he turned over and scrawled out the content of the dream:

Time had reversed itself

On that cold, embracing night

When a sudden snowstorm

Animated the hibernating land

 We became children again

On that cold, embracing night

A kingdom of ice we built

And a white cannonball bomb defense

 And we played

 So far away from death

Wrapped within the warm shelter

Of a newfound innocence

When We Found Us

He then placed his red crayon on the table beside him and was lulled back to sleep by the desperate refrains of screaming and wailing that echoed throughout the corridors of Aurora Psychiatric Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

2.

Nearly naked, and soon to be smothered in winter’s sting of white, the trees lamented their memory of spring, like prisoners waking from dreams of warm summer horizons to find themselves pressed against the cold walls of concrete cells.

Severed from their branches, and courted by the autumn wind, the leaves were disrupted mid-descent, and enticed into a somber dance.

Dressed in gowns adorned in shades of auburn, magenta and yellow, these graceful ballerinas were spun by their invisible partner into a whirlwind frenzy, before being rejected and discarded in all directions—some landing upon the road, others upon the mass graves of their predecessors. Moaning to be released from this bondage, the trees were united in a silent dirge, as winter’s encroaching voice sang a proud, mocking counterpoint.

Headlights from an approaching car suddenly illuminated this somber performance—the passengers providing an audience.

To their left, gradually falling away from them as they ascended the narrow road along the edge of Dunstan’s Mount, the city of Douglas began to done her nocturnal façade of hibernation. From this vantage point, the city appeared as a calm industrial swampland reflecting the glimmer of synthetic stars upon its still waters, as syncopated lights flashed on and then went out in various positions upon her grid-like surface—a microchip scar placed with malevolence upon the earth. Looming to the east of this carcass of land grew tumorous arrays of smoke stacks, their summits emanating grey clouds that laced the nighttime air like a ghostly mist over water, blanketing the grid.

From above, the moon gazed down from its celestial autonomy. On this night, its surface of craters and seas composed the illusion of two vacant, sad eyes, with a mouth frozen in a perpetual cry. In the distance, the twin moon, Mahvash, floated with indifference, her remoteness from her brother making her appear half of his size.

“I hope that I get some good shots before the storm arrives,” Devin said from behind the wheel to his passenger, Blodwen, who was casually called Gwen. “If all else fails, we can visit your brother. Where we’re going isn’t too far from Aurora.”

She responded with a gentle smile.

“You’re mad,” he said, the battering of the wind against the car increasing.

“Forget it. It doesn’t matter.” She again smiled.

“Come on. I said I was sorry.”

“And I said to forget about it. It’s clear you wanted to change the subject. Yes, I hope you get some good shots too, and I will ignore the comment about my brother.”

“Now you’re mad at me for that? It was a joke. Relax.”

“I said everything is fine.” Again smiling.

“I love you,” he teased.

“Just make sure it remains a friendly kind of love. I’m a married girl.”

“Yeah, but Lucius has been dead for over a year now.”

 She glared at him and then turned to look out her window.

You were sure quick to take back your maiden name, he thought.

Glancing up at the sky, he could see that nature and time were conspiring against his plans. To his left, Douglas continued to sink beneath the mountain.

“I’m sorry, Gwen.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, keeping her gaze fixated out of her window. “Forget about it. Aren’t we almost there anyway?”

He peeked over to her and smiled. She seemed enthralled by the dance between the leaves and the wind. As always, she was well coordinated. This night, she wore a baby blue jacket that complimented her barrettes and modest eye shadow. He wanted to see her better and wished that more light had been available, beyond the occasional flash of lightening.

His thoughts drifted to earlier in the evening, when he arrived to pick he up. How her radiance stunned him with a tickle in his chest, causing a soft sigh.

“I’m really sorry,” he said, softly nudging her arm.

 She looked back at him with her gentle smile, not saying anything. Then she returned to her contemplative gaze. The remainder of the ride was in silence, with the exception of the wind’s onslaught against the car.

 “Here we are,” Devin said, pulling the car off of the road and onto a bed of fallen leaves. “Looks like the clouds are picking up. We have to do this quickly.” He reached into the back seat, grabbed a tripod and shoved it into her arms. Reaching back again, he snatched up his camera bag. Then, he went under his seat and pulled out two flashlights. Without looking, he tossed one to her. Trying to catch it, she dropped the tripod into her lap.

“Thanks,” she said, as the flashlight bounced off her chest and landed on the tripod.

With haste, Devin turned off the car and jumped out. As he ran past the front windshield, he gestured for her to hurry, and then continued on, vanishing down a path to the right of the road.

Realizing that the conspiracy between nature and time had prevailed, and that Devin, as a result, would not get any decent shots, Gwen opened her door with ease. Standing from the car, she looked down the road to see an oncoming glow that soon separated into two headlights. The approaching car began to crawl as it passed her. From within, a sudden flash of flame illuminated an orange face. Through the windows, its eyes peered over at her. The vehicle then picked up speed and drove away.

“Gwen!” Devin called. “Come on!”

Clicking on her flashlight, she made a hurried retreat down the path. As she did, the wind increased and pressed against the tripod, slowing her down. Abscesses of rocks upon the uneven dirt hindered balance. Skeletons of undergrowth grabbed at her ankles in a futile attempt to harness her warmth, hoping to fend off the arriving winter. Above, the trees swung their arms around in the hostile breath of the night. At last, however, she found her way into the clearing, where Devin waited.

“Will you please take this thing?” she shouted at him.

“Calm down,” he replied, coming over to her and grabbing the tripod.

She shined her flashlight to observe the tired and unfruitful ground; it lacked any sort of comfort. In that moment, she was reminded of her grandfather, once the warmest and most welcoming human being she had ever known. However, stricken with time’s curse, the bitter winter of despair eventually arrived, consuming hope, reducing him to the image of a withered branch. Yet, despite this erosion, there still remained the fruit of many years of experience that wisdom would make known.

She could see footprints that lingered at random, with no indication of their purpose, for their impressions seemed to cease in mid-step, arousing her curiosity. What were their stories? Were they the remnants of lovers dancing beneath the light of the moons? Or were they the product of some malignity that was shrouded beneath the majesty of the trees?

Scrutinizing the ground further, she noticed two fresh sets of prints. They vanished down what seemed to be a path similar to the one through which she had just entered. Tracing the beam of her flashlight over them in the reverse direction, she could discern that whoever had left them came in from another path on the eastern side of the clearing. Such made her uneasy.

As Devin was busy assembling his camera, she looked up to see the approaching storm clouds, a rolling, smoldering mass backlit by lightening’s veins, which, as they faded, left behind their residue as illuminated silhouettes upon the stratospheric skin.

“I’m going to miss all the good shots,” he complained, placing the camera atop the tripod. He then began to photograph the turmoil above.

Gwen felt as if a hand had been placed upon her shoulder. Her head became light and the earth seemed to fall away beneath her feet. She blinked, dizzy. The wind that blew into her ears seemed to draw a breath; as it exhaled it back into them, it spoke: Leave this place! Then, after a pause: You are being hunted! The flashlight slipped from her hand, as she brought her fingers to her temples, rubbing them in circles.

“They did not listen! I told them!” screamed a maniacal voice from someplace close by, its source concealed beneath the cover of both wood and night. “They will not be laughing at me anymore! Now they will fear me! Whose art is weak and feeble now?”

“What the hell was that?” asked Devin, jumping back from his camera and looking to Gwen. She did not respond, but stood unmoving, fingers to temples, gazing at the ground. “Hey!” he continued, taking hold of her arm and shaking her. However, she was not roused by his effort.

Again, she heard the voice within the wind: You must leave this place! Go now! Its tone was now colored with anguish, cracking, descending into despair. Please go! It now begged, giving a sense that whoever was speaking had begun to weep.

“Gwen!” Devin shouted through the wind, continuing to shake her. “We have to get out of here!”

Finally, her trance was broken, yet she was still dazed, responding with a blank stare and subsequent nod. He picked her flashlight from the ground, handed it to her, and ordered her to shine it on him while he hurried to break down the camera.

Again, the voice swelled: Go now! Please!

Lured back into trance, she dropped the flashlight a second time, the beam flickering out, the bulb breaking.

“What are you doing?” Devin said, wide-eyed, his words shaded with fright, almost suffocated by the wind’s increasing temper. “Come on! Let’s go!” He threw the strap to the camera case over his shoulder, grabbed her by the hand and began to run. However, it was as if she were rooted into the earth, for when her arm could no longer stretch forth, his fingers slipped from hers. “What is wrong with you? Come on!”

He felt something grab him on the back of his neck and swung around with the camera case in defense. At this, the grip was broken; yet he did not hit, or even see, anybody behind him.

Gwen looked to him, and said, in a soft voice, “We have to get out of here.”

“Just follow me to the car,” he responded.

As they began to run toward the path leading of out the clearing, her feet felt weighed down and movement became difficult. There was something pursuing her; this she knew. In that moment, she remembered having dreams like this—of running through gelatinous lands that grabbed at her heels, threatening to pull her into their sticky voids, while the strangers in the shadows crawled toward her, as she struggled to pull her legs out of the consuming mass—those dreams that were experienced and soon forgotten within the expanse of sleep, yet now unraveling from some dusty corner of her mind.

Devin had vanished and the clearing had become dark. For the moons’ light suffocated beneath the smoke of clouds that covered its face like the veil of a scorned woman, his blue eyes all that were now visible. They gazed down upon her in sorrow. Mahvash, too, had been consumed along with her brother.

With what felt to be an upward thrust, Gwen was hit in the bottom of her chin, the force lifting her from the ground. From her perspective, the path for which she was heading rolled away, followed by the tops of the trees. She landed on her back, her head cracking against the rocky ground, and lay staring into the eyes of the veiled moon.

I told you to leave, wailed the voice like a man who had committed some vile act and, upon realization of his deed, was crying out for forgiveness. In her mind, she pictured a figure sitting in a corner, knees straight up, arms draped over and hugging them, head down in shame, shaking with sobs. “I’m sorry,” he screamed, rocking back and forth in the image of a punished child pleading for clemency.

Gwen felt a pressure on her chest, as if someone were sitting on it. Two sharp thrusts, what she perceived to be thumbs, began at her throat. At this, she let out a faint yelp. Unseen fingers began to slither around the back of her neck. The thumbs pressed forward, plunging into her throat, coursing slowly through it, until they met the forefingers on the other side.

The clouds veiling the blue-eyed moon parted and a temporary gift of light poured forth. A dove flew from a branch and vanished. Then the fear within which she was tangled began to dim, as the haze of the world she had grown to know faded into a radiant fog that dissipated into a warm glow, saturating her. She could feel herself fragmenting into millions of molecules that became one with the illumination and materialized upon moving through it—a sensation which made her feel as if she had walked through a waterfall, the warm fluid light cascading down her newly formed being while she stepped to the other side.

3.

In some barren clearing upon Dunstan’s Mount, the rain began to fall upon the body of Blodwen Rivenport, as her failed bane boasted and cried in the shadows.

Addendum

After the shooting, the following was found amidst the writings of Thomas Rivenport:

As children, my sister and I would often rest within the shade beneath the Coal Tree, when we exhausted ourselves in the heat of the sun. The tree was in a field behind our home. This is where I met the darkness, where Chernosoren revealed himself to me.

On an afternoon like the others, only hotter, my lovely sister Gwen and I took cover beneath the tree. We rested there for a while, cooling off in the shade’s serenity, looking across the field. I felt as if I were peeking into this world from another, the edge of the shade where shadow met light a sort of windowpane.

How I so enjoyed this new place I discovered. When Gwen had enough rest, and returned to the land of the sun, I remained within the four walls of shade. Here, I would watch her dance in the light, absorbing its essence like flowers in bloom after winter.

I no longer went out into the sun, for my new world consumed me, the four walls of shade became smaller. In there, all was silent. However, the sounds of the outside land, the songs of birds, the voice of the wind, were heard. I soon felt like a child who was locked in his bedroom on a summer day, gazing out the window at the playing children, desiring to be with them. I was lost to the light.

Summer can be the loneliest of seasons. The silence of winter brings more comfort than laughter beneath the sunny sky.

Chernosoren then said hello.

He would keep me company in the shadow and tell me stories. My favorite was that of the war between the dove and the crow. He also taught me how the light was oppressive, proud and narcissistic, consuming all. Of how the greatest secrets and ideas were found in the dark, that wisdom was in the shadows. The conceit of the light drowned them out.

He told me that existence was created for the star of the play. Of how we were only extras, used to accompany him, to make what he lives a reality. To loom in the background giving realism to the scenery.

When the main character’s role was finished, the play would end. The curtain would fall over the stage, a sort of funeral shroud, with no audience to affectionately grant its applause.

Everything has a beginning and an ending. And for that, we have infinity. I soon came to realize this.

It was only when the play was written and performed that time existed. Infinity was without time, for it was time that commenced at a beginning and ceased at an ending. But, infinity would not exist without the presence of time’s absence.

Chernosoren was not happy with my stepping off of the path that he led me down.

The following was clipped to the previous, yet obviously written at a different time:

One day, while treating me to a shadow puppet show, Chernosoren told me an old tale of a broken-hearted woman. Afflicted with a condition that took away her ability to begin a conversation. She could only speak when spoken to. And the only response that she could give was a repetition of what had been addressed to her.

As she stood outside of a cave waiting for her object of affection, for he would always take the path that it was set upon on his way to the lake, she picked some daisies as an offering of courtship. She could hear him coming and prepared herself. As he approached, she held out the daisies to him to which he, to her remorse, said: “Get away from me you wretched thing!” Then he continued on his way.

At this, the woman dropped the daisies from her hand and replied: “Get away from me you wretched thing!” Angry, the man turned and ran up to her. He dragged her to the cave and screamed to her face “Get away from me you wretched thing!” and tossed her in.

Landing inside the darkness, she cried: “Get away from me you wretched thing!” Echoing throughout the cave she heard: “Get away from me you wretched thing!” To which she could only respond, “Get away from me you wretched thing!” which sounded a new repetition, to which she repeated et cetera, until she pined away.

“That sounds familiar,” I told Chernosoren, when the tale was finished.

“Of course,” he answered. “You will soon hear it for your first time.”

Next Chapter: Chapter IV: A Debt Collected