PREFACE: This one is somewhat experimental. I’ve only used this writing technique a few times before, and always on shorter mood pieces—plus, once, on a French short story. I’m quite happy with how it came out. Curious to hear what you guys think, so please let me know in the comments! This is also the first time I’m including an audio version. I’ve been thinking of doing this for some time. I might even do it again if you guys are into it ;) Oh, and I’m also submitting this to the Lunar Awards. Enough said!
The night air screamed as he drove by the gleam of the Moon. A stream glittered to the East—like the mirrored scales of some gruesome beast.
It was too late.
His dark mood darkened, reminded of more joyous days, when he was loved and unstained.
The driver shook his head, as if to shoo these thoughts away. Enough tears had he shed, he would not let them stay.
It was too soon.
Taking a deep breath, he sped up. Whatever was left, he would preserve. A hint of sanity, a glimpse of joy, a bit of something from days of old.
He drank from his cup to strengthen his nerves, hoping to wipe from his mind the face of his wife and the smile of his child.
The road lay ahead, dark and lonely. The past he fled only a whisper away. He would drive on into the day.
Too late to live, too soon to die.
Twice he caught himself slipping, eyes closing as sleep taunted him. A slap on the cheek, some water on his face... He stared into the night, willing himself awake.
A shimmer, a haze, a glow in his gaze—the sight was bleak and felt unreal. It would not stop him; he must press on. So through the gleam, he drove head-on.
His senses reeled as the scenery folded and reality collapsed. Bright lights flashed, blinding him.
The car shook, moaned, croaked, and froze.
When his sight returned, a green sun shone above, showing endless fields of bluish grass under a violet sky.
The gruesome beast nowhere to be seen, the road gone as if in a dream.
Stepping out, he looked about. Nothing was as it seemed—or, rather, as it should seem.
Creatures grazed, with velvet furs and eyes ablaze; dragons soared, roaring rage and flames; fairies fluttered, swooning in the early haze.
With a shudder, he turned and hurried away—where to, he had no clue. Afar from the senseless, the abnormal, the madness. There was nothing here he knew. This, then, would be his purpose. He would seek the familiar, so his senses he may trust.
A soft breeze carried music to his ears. It was pleasant, soothing, intimate. His feet followed the tune, hoping to ease his fears. And soon, he arrived at a lake, where many were in wait.
The water was red, and it troubled him, but the people were human. A discordant assortment of traits, bodies, and garments.
All looked at him—some with hope, others with shame. Was this some sort of game? He did not understand.
As he approached, he was greeted with smiles, waves, and silence.
“What is this place?” he asked.
Some turned in haste to hide the doubt on their face.
One who wore a knight’s armor stared into the distance. Next to him stood a woman in a tight spacesuit.
The lady sighed as she waved about, to the sound of a distant flute.
“Many think this is Hell, others say Heaven. Who is to know?”
“You are not from here?”
“None of us are. It’s not too hard to tell—look how we appear. All of us come from afar.” She pointed at folks in the crowd. “He’s from Colonial England. She’s from the Roman Empire. That one’s from Iran... And there we have Greece, China, Thrace, Assyria, Babylon, India, Akkad, Sparta—”
“What of you?” he interrupted.
The woman looked at him with a sad smile.
“I come from your future. A time when humans have spread through the stars. But those who survive are few. My people live in exile, with a child as ruler.”
Her words made him uneasy—the way she bore her scars.
He noticed people glancing at him covertly, turning away when he’d look at them.
When he asked about it, the woman avoided his gaze.
“Do not condemn,” she said, “but we are afraid.”
He had to admit, he had not expected such malaise.
As flowed the waters red, he gasped in dismay.
The knight, who had stood motionless and quiet, now turned to face him, his expression grave.
“We do not want to die.”
The man thought that was a peculiar statement coming from one such as he. And why would such fright not make him defiant? He was grim, and not so brave.
Looking about, the man resolved not to stay. None here knew the reason why they were present.
Without a doubt, his mind absolved, he walked away toward a distant hue of crimson blue.
It was a crescent of iridescent light that burned and blinded his sight.
Still, he moved on, bent on bending this world to his will.
And as he left, he heard someone mutter: “He will be back.”
Like a moth to a flame, he was drawn to the light. Whatever now came, he would not be surprised. How could he be, after all he had seen?
He did not wish to go back so much as he wished to leave. This world was bizarre, it made him feel even more bereaved.
Jumping over a crack, the light seemed not so far. He walked the last few feet and stopped at a tree. It rose above him, thirty feet or more. Its trunk glowed in the heat, as bright now as it had been before.
Within the glow, he saw a shape. He reached out and felt a pull—a disruption. It scraped at his soul with famished abandon. He knew it would eat him, destroy him. There could be no doubt.
As in a daze, he jerked away, his body tingling throughout. Taking a step back, he stared at the blaze. For the light had swayed and brightened, now a fiery glow of red and black—ravenous flames that craved for a taste of skin.
He tripped on a stone and, with a groan, fell to the ground.
Everything went dark.
The brightness woke him. Though it was different now. This one lacked the hunger.
Rubbing his limbs, he stood, wondering how he was so far. Deafened by thunder, he stared at the tree. It rose in the distance, beaming like lightning in a jar. Its ancient wood glistened in the rain.
But all he could see was a shape coming close. It froze before the trunk and spread its arms as if to defy its existence. There it remained, wide awake, and then it jumped into the branches’ embrace. Its form dissolved as it died, a shuddering scream ringing through the valley.
Silence followed—eerie and profound.
Then the air shimmered and a rift appeared. Like in a dream, and without a sound, he saw the knight, in his shining armor, fly through the sky and into the gap.
The hungry light abated as others were thrown toward the opening and sucked within.
The weather grew harsher as one by one all the strangers were pulled away and reality collapsed.
The man woke in a sweat.
Looking up, he saw the tree was still there, taunting him.
Was this to be his fate?
The light shone, bright as a sun, mocking him.
There was no other way to pay the debt.
Now he understood.
He could not shut the voice in his head—he did not dare.
This was his fate.
He had withstood all that he could, his fears now he would shed.
It was too late.
He laughed as he realized they had known all along—the outcasts, the strays, the frightened.
They were not strong. They dreaded not only death, but that he—like them—would shy away from what must be done.
Now, it was not so soon.
He would not run.
So he stood, spread his arms, and walked into the light.
It bathed him as his body dissolved, and reality collapsed.
Want to read more fantasy short stories? Check out these titles, if you haven’t already:
The Waystation (a man’s desperate search for his sister in a twisted version of Paris)
Serpent Feeds the Sun (an old god is furious when his reputation is smeared)
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Text (c) 2023 by Alex S. Garcia.
Header: royalty-free stock image, edited by me.
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This method of writing gives the story a very dream-like feel. I'm not sure if it would work if the story was grounded in reality, but due to its fantastical nature I think it’s very fitting.
I am uncertain of whether I liked the story or not. It was definitely different and left me feeling somewhat uneasy.