Chapter 1 : she watches the world
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It is a fragile dusk. The waning autumn sun follows the leaves in their downward spiral, seeking a grave in the earth. The world is ready for this burial: already, a pyre of reds and oranges glows, burning with offerings from the trees to join the sun in death.
There is something sacrificial about this collaboration. It is an effort to sustain the sun. A tiny spark is pinched from its soul and kept safe in the ashes until morning, hoping that, perhaps, these imitating flames will hold back the advancing curtain of darkness.
It is an unchanging twilight. Inside the house there is a suffocating permanence. The air clumps in the corners, choked by dust. Recycled candles fight their flames, flickering and stuttering with each battle. Not even rats dare to shrink across the floor.
A woman lives in this house that knows no life. She is as stagnant as the air, as conflicted as the candles, as reluctant as the rats. She abhors this house, this illusion of freedom. Why do they believe she will stay here? Why didn’t they put bars on the windows and chains across the door? Why do they think she will feel empowered if she imposes this prison upon herself?
A window hangs upon the wall, a portal between the dusk and the twilight. It is murky, more distorted mirror than transparent glass. The woman stands in front of it, seeing red and green. She once said that she was the world, for she looked through this window to see and all she could see was herself. Now, she cleans the glass with tears like diamonds. And she watches the world, while the world watches her.
This woman stands vigil at the window, looking at the night. It slithers along the edges of the pyre, sending tendrils of darkness to smother any flame that tries to escape. She watches the world as it fights to keep the sun alive. The fire blazes hotter, only to have night freeze the earth into a glittering jewel. The shadows dim the struggling inferno’s light.
In the tear-stained window, she sees faces. Whether they are of her world of memories, or whether they live in the fire, she cannot be sure, for they bring a colorless numbing fog that weighs down her eyes and clouds the window. They dance in her eyes, taunting, for they are free and dwell outside this house. The old friend, her sister, a fallen comrade—they are one and the same because they are not trapped as she is. Yet despite this haze, there are two faces in the glass that sparkle with unmuted brilliance.
A man holds a boy who smiles and waves at the world, not knowing that it is fruitless to seek friendship in the desperation of fire and shadows. She mimics his gesture, not wanting to see the smile leave his face. She loves these two more than she knows. She turns away from the window, puts her back to the world, embraces the dying house, all just to see their faces in full.
In their eyes there is a glimmer of rebirth. The slight hope of the fire infiltrates this desolate place. The boy smiles and waves and she reaches out for him, hoping that he doesn’t see the window. He is too young to chop the world into two: here and there; us and them; inside and out. The man holds a hand out to her, and she knows that he too is different. He sees nothing in the window that could contain him. Even the constricting walls around them never faze him. Instead, he is bound to her, tied to the boy with shining threads that do not feel at all like chains. Tied together so that they are never apart, this is one truth that she knows.
The world sees her through the window, and it calls to her, taunting her with sparkling pictures in the fire and memories in the smoke. It is not an impartial being, but capricious, seeking to lure her from safety so that she might follow its whims. She looks at the man, hoping to see those golden threads that stop them from being torn apart, and in the man’s eyes she sees a truth that is beyond what the world knows and hides. In his hand he holds a letter, a single sheet of parchment that is as translucent as skin. She does not need to read the letter; the words are in the man’s gaze, the silence screaming what she knows is true and what the world cannot admit. The night is coming.
She can do nothing.
It is a fragile dusk. Inside the house there is a suffocating permanence. The world is ready for burial. Recycled candles fight their flames, flickering and stuttering with each battle. Already, a pyre of reds and oranges glows.
It is an unchanging twilight. The waning autumn sun follows leaves in their downward spiral, seeking a grave in the earth. The air clumps in the corners, choked by dust. It burns with offerings from the trees that join the sun in death. Not even rats dare to shrink across the floor.
There is something sacrificial about this collaboration. The woman stands vigil at the window, looking at the night.
As the shadows suffocate the fire with their thin, diaphanous skin, he arrives. The only sound at first is the crackling of the flames as they die. She smells leaves and fire, smoke. Her vision comes in flashes. Red and green—her face in the window. Creams and brown and blacks—the face of the man she loves. Darkness—the upstairs of the house, devoid of light.
She holds her son; she hears shouts and footsteps like gusts of wind. The window breaks with a shattering of murky diamonds, and she collides with the world. Dusk has broken, and she looks at the night, into the darkness.
White—the plume of light that floods the stairs. Black—the shadow in the door. Red—the mouth that orders her to move. Green—
The title of this story is a reference to Russell Hoban's novel Riddley Walker.
--Thanks to the lovely academica for betaing this.
--Written for CloakAuror9's No Dialogues Challenge and WeirdSisters' Who's Talking? Challenge.
--As always, I appreciate reviews!