Below is one of the pieces of fiction slated for inclusion in the Ten Candles fiction companion. As a note, this has not been edited yet, so there may be errors. This is just a preview. Enjoy!
by Stephen Dewey
For this one, I think, I will be writing about me.
You already know my name. I still sign it on the cover of every story I write for you, though I couldn’t say why. About my life, too, you know plenty. All of the highlights anyways, gleaned from my memoirs. Touchstones from my forty nine years. If I was a guide bound for my own traveled past, those stories stand as every lantern I would light along the way. So don’t worry, I won’t talk about any of that. I know the rules. Only the original. To sate the literary palettes of those who have read every word ever written, it must be only that which I have never written before. What no one has.
So here’s something new. Here’s a story about the afternoon we met.
It was New Year's Day. Early. Sometime between the ball’s drop and the sun’s rise, that’s when you came. Right when our corner of the world, myself certainly, was deeply lost in the sort of slumber that only vodka, tequila, and something that reminded me of ripe springtime melon and went down in a way that even the most righteous of men would find tempting, could bring about.
When I woke, I thought my head was screaming. Turns out it was the world. Despite my bedside clock proclaiming it well past noon, I had still managed to rise before the sun. I may not remember much of that day, but I remember the fires outside by window. Sounded like a riot. Felt like a battleground. Turns out the fires were the best idea we could have had. Sadly, fire was the only evil we knew enough about to fear that day.
We didn’t know about you then, about your hunger - far more voracious than the hottest of flames. We didn’t know enough to fear you.
We knew what fire could do, so we put it out. In all our heroism we doused the flames. After that, the screams finally ended. Not because the war was over, mind you, but because the war had begun. That’s when you came, you see. That’s when we met.
You crawled into our lives as subtle as winter’s slow procession. The city grew cold, degree by patient degree. Wind cut through alleyways and found the cracks in windows. Inescapable gusts of chill gnawed at the edges of the world. You were there, just past the dying streetlight’s fragile border at the edge of our road. Like Shelley’s mob, we brought pitchforks and torches to bear - every flashlight shining with all the bright it could muster. The dark, though. Your dark. It was heavy. Like ink, or oil, it weighed down the light.
I heard you before I saw you. I remember someone, a neighbor I think, suggesting it was a growl that you were making. Some big dog, or beast, and it was growling at us. A growl though, I could understand. A growl I could comprehend, but you… you made no such noise. You sounded like a building crumbling to dust. Like heartbreak. Like porcelain in a blender. The first battlecries, and the last breath of something beautiful dying, forced and gasping and final.
And there you were. Eyes like coal embers, a dusty burn we saw through the darkness, as the lights failed us one by one. Red eyes, like fire and forgotten wars. Red like a wound that won’t stop bleeding. Red like hate, liquid and flowing. Some reds should never be.
I hope you will pardon my drowning in similes. You see, we simply don’t have the words to describe you in shape, presence, or intention. You are simple, un. Beyond that, “like” and “as” are all I know to try and lend you some definition.
But I digress. You stood before us. I could have reached out and touched you, if I could have moved. I felt you in my head. You were picking at the pieces. Sorting through.
As I stood there, as you rifled through my mind, I saw them all die. Every single one. A city street packed with people. Gone. But not me.
You explained, in time, the reasoning. What we saw as extinction, you sent forth upon our world as a harvest. You sought to reap what you could no longer grow and we, the entirety of humankind, have it in surplus. The capacity for creation. We have potential. Your kind, on the other hand, is stagnant. Your collective minds, as I can only think to call them, can no longer create. You, as a species, have reached the zenith of survival, propagation, and conquest. You have reached an evolutionary plateau, and are simply not designed for imagination of anything beyond your current state. It’s not as if you’ve chosen it, but instead, as if evolvement itself has turned off a switch in your minds. As if to say, “You are perfect. You don’t need to dream anymore.”
We are young, humankind. We are children. We are possibility. Our minds are constantly crafting worlds, imagining impossible things. We build cathedrals in our dreams, and paint screens and monitors and canvases and pages with infinite fantastic realities.
You may be conquerors, but we are creators.
And so you devour. You travel world to world, preying on us and others like us, young and fragile and full of the new. You come and you grind us into blood and dust, but your minds do not dwell on slaughter. No. You are bent on rapine and plunder. You steal away that which you can never hope to have again. Ideas. Philosophy. Invention. Growth. You rip as much as you can from the dead corpse of planets, but that is far from sufficient. That alone cannot satisfy your hunger.
That’s where we come in. The chosen few. The thinkers, writers, scientists and philosophers you preserve. The poets of humankind you’ve locked away. From us you siphon every story, every theorem, every new sonnet and paradox and metaphor you can.
Here we are, and here I am writing yet another story for you. What choice do I have? You made it clear that the very moment I stop writing, the very moment I refuse, that I will die. The second that I say no, and that I stand from this desk, you will be here. With claw and frost and pain, so much pain. It will not be a kind death, if you even know the meaning of kindness anymore.
There was a part of me, a small part mind you, a bit of me that was a grain of sand on an otherwise endless beach that felt near-sorry for you. My romantic heart could not help but mourn for those who would never again know wonder. Oh how I held onto that sliver of pity. Oh the justifications I’ve made on its behalf. But, truth be told, that part of me has died. I could not tell you when in the two years, eight months, and twenty eight days you have held me capture and drained me of every once upon a time I’ve been able to muster, that this happened. But it happened. And that moment, whensoever it was, began a chain of events that have led us to today.
At first, fear held me back. I didn’t want to admit the truth. The truth is a pale horseman and I had no desire to meet with her. I was afraid.
Then, it was denial. I truly believed that maybe, if I wrote enough, I’d write myself out of this place. I’d write a hole in my prison wall and be gone into the shadows. I’d write a pair of feathered wings, all ink and parchment, and fly from my small dark window.
But my words are not the key to unlock these shackles, and the truth I took so long to admit is that every word I write, every touch of ink on this page, it is nothing but a knee bowed before you. I write not for humanity, I don’t even write for myself anymore. I loathe every click of this typewriter. No, I write for you, and you alone. You need it, you hunger, and I oblige your every desire.
There is only one way to be free of this. Free of you. And it shall not be kind, or quick. Certainly not quick. By the time you are done with me I imagine I will have rather written a thousand more tales than endure another second, but here and now in my right and proper mind before it’s split and wracked and broken at your command, here and now I say: I am done.
In a moment, I will stop writing. I will stand from my chair. And you will come for me.
And I will tell you, again, and as many times as I need to for the much shortened remaining duration of my life that I am done. I will scream it, I will choke it from a dry throat and bloody broken lips. I am done.
I am done.
Perhaps I am the first to make this choice, but I promise I will certainly not be the last. You have supped much too long on the potential of humanity. You have relied on our fear and our denial pushing us forward to create, but no more. With each scream you rip from my throat that echoes through these prison walls and reaches the ears of every other soul who still toils here at your exaction, you will not intimidate. You will only let it be known loud and clear that they have a choice. It is a hard choice, a choice no one should ever have to make, but it is there.
You already know my name. I still sign it on the cover of every story I write for you, because I can’t allow you to let me forget who I am. I know who I am. I am a human and I have a choice.
I choose freedom.