New voices, new flash-length fantasy.
Edo Boy in the Dark
By David Edward Nell
Grandpa would place a lantern in their sleeping area every night, and it was no normal lantern, since it could never be extinguished. Instead of a flame, tiny living creatures sustained the lantern's glow. Grandpa called these beings wonder-flies. They were like fireflies, but magical.
Often Grandpa would say to the boy, “When I am not here anymore, they will still protect you in the darkness. But never play with them. Always keep them near. They are all we have here.”
One particular night, the wind and trees were restless.
Taku had just gone to sleep when the front door slid open, and with that, the lantern's light went. Immediately, the boy sat up, only to find that the mattress where Grandpa lay was vacant. Bewildered, he searched the house, but there was no trace of Grandpa.
Taku went out into the moonlight, because he didn't like being all alone in a dark house. That's when he spotted the brilliance, outside, emanating from the woodland sprawl. That's where he ran to, certain Grandpa was there with his special lantern.
But, as the boy chased deeper into the forest, the light became weaker. He found himself in an unfamiliar part of the woods, where there was no moonlight, where the darkness was enveloping. Taku wanted to turn back to where he had come from but couldn't. His feet were stuck, buried in mud that was beginning to swallow him. He felt like his legs were being crushed. His hands quaked with nerves as he tried to push against the ground. The dirt was rising fast, eating him.
“Grandpa,” he shouted over and over for help. He couldn't anymore when the dirt entered his throat.
Then he was inside. Inside the deepest darkness of all. But the darkness was keeping him alive, filling his veins, feeding his brain with new ideas. It wanted to show him things, help him understand what it could do to him, where he was meant to be. That his place was here. Forever.
But then, light. Taku thought the light was part of the madness as well.
Two giant, withered hands reached for him. He was raised into the warm, familiar light of the wonder-flies, who spun round and round in Grandpa's lantern. Grandpa didn't want to let Taku go. Grandpa was crying. They kept quiet for a long time, but the hug was enough.
Then Taku noticed something strange about his surroundings. They weren't in the forest anymore but in a different part of the island. Taku hadn't seen the edge of the world before, though Grandpa had told him what existed beyond the forest. However, Grandpa never revealed that there were clouds beneath them too, just like there were clouds in the sky above.
“You're alright now,” Grandpa whispered, soothing his back. “I promise I'll never let this happen to you again. I made a stupid mistake.”
Taku asked, “Why did you leave me alone?”
“My boy, the wonder-flies – they escaped. I had to run after them. What could I have done? And I couldn't wake you up because that's when the darkness gets you. When you're awake, afraid, the darkness knows. I told you what happens. I just thought at the time you'd sleep on and not notice. I was so damned stupid to think that. I'm sorry.”
“I didn't get hurt.”
“I'm glad, so glad,” Grandpa said, kissing Taku on the forehead. He asked, softly, “What did you see?”
Taku paused. “Nothing,” he said, without a hint of emotion in his voice.
“You're a warrior, just like your father was.”
Grandpa stroked Taku's soft, white hair, and beamed proudly. Taku sat very still, coldly staring.
“I should've told you everything. Why we're here and what this place is. You see, we're the only two on this island. This is not any normal island either. This cursed island floats in the sky, not in the sea.” Grandpa sighed. “A long time ago your parents and I were brought here by the wonder-flies on the command of an evil sorceror, who not only wanted me banished but my entire clan. This man wanted this island to be an eternal prison for my clan, see? This man – Nakanishi, they call him – was a very bad man, a dark magician.”
“I was on a mission to slay Nakanishi for his crimes and deliver his head to the emperor. But the bad man got the best of me with his magic. He wanted vengeance. He intended a slow death for us and so sent us here, to this island he created. When we came here we found out how to survive, though. Avoid the darkness at all costs, stay in the light – that was always the most important thing. But, even with that in mind...death after death. First my brother died of natural causes. Then my sister went missing. Then my own mother, missing. Right after your parents gave birth, they, too, fell. Your mother was out during the night and...I couldn't save her. The last to die was your father, who wanted revenge against the darkness. I'm so sorry, Taku. I'm sorry I have to tell you like this. I don't know what else to say.”
Taku did not return any tears. “And the wonder-flies?”
“In the first days, I caught them before they could return to the lands below. But now, after this incident, we are left with few. They fought against the lantern holding them. They may do so again. They are strong, and the darkness of the night is growing more powerful, making them more hysterical each day. No flame can counter this evil anymore.”
“If we lose the wonder-flies, we will be lost to the darkness,” said Taku, and Grandpa nodded. “Can we go back to bed now?”
Grandpa smiled weakly and stood Taku on his feet, and together, they walked back through the forest, keeping the lantern close.
On the way, Taku said, “Maybe the darkness isn't getting stronger like you think, Grandpa.”
When they were home, they went straight to bed. The wonder-flies were whirling around madly in their prison. Grandpa curled up on his mattress with pains and groans, and made sure the lantern was in his sights. Taku rested on his back, and kept watch on the lantern as well. But he for a different reason, waiting for his grandfather to fall asleep.
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David Edward Nell writes from Cape Town, South Africa. He can be touched at: http://davidedwardnell.blogspot.com
Labels: David Edward Nell