by C.R. Dudley
Walking down a corridor, the ticking of a pendulum on either side of me. There are doors – lots of them. Each one represents one of the stories I’m working on. I can walk through any of them right now and it will show me the world. I do not choose; a door simply opens. There’s blue sky and sunshine, a train, and a feeling of discontent. A feeling that maybe a part of me is between the train and its track. Blood, scabs, scars. Wrap a bandage around and it’ll all be ok.
But the rawness is still there. I can feel it in my heart though they don’t see it. People are throwing themselves from the tops of buildings while others look up to the sky through their shades. What they see is a beautiful day, a beautiful now. They have let go of the demons’ hands that grasp and scrabble from below with malnourished fingers and soiled nails. They don’t care for them anymore. They will have no pain, though neither will they truly know joy.
Swimming in a tank of thick gel. I can breathe, though there is no air. Strange creatures sing from far away, then they laugh like human children. They have never met any. Ripples appear in circles around me so the demons can’t get in. They don’t want me to do this project, they want me to suffer. There is a low hum now, that resonates inside my body. In it, there is a sense of ultimate doom but simultaneously a comfort in the knowledge that this is all there is. I know it now. It’s where I can see it. I’ve teased it out, and its infinite barbs will just have to be my friends. That it has no choice is a small victory.
I hold the lucky coin my beloved gave me. It has antlers engraved on it. Well, it’s supposed to be a tree – its roots and branches mirroring one another in the way they are spread. But I want them to be antlers, so they are. That way they remind me of the great one who will save me. From the side it looks like a crab, which makes me think of my irrational fear of sea creatures but also the far reaches of space. Then again, maybe it’s a spider. That makes me think of a web that is an extension of consciousness built for self-preservation and cunning, or of an ex-boyfriend who seemed built for the same. Endurance. Eternity.
A sound of beaming and booming, and the shadow is back at the top of the stairs. It, like my writing, is both my nemesis and my calling. Such combinations make for unusual friendships; we are both here for the long haul, so we might as well get to know one another. We spin around and around, pulled together by an invisible force. Given the choice to drift away in the expansion, I wager we’d decline.
There’s a girl at the door with a big, bloody knife. She makes the sound of one of those creatures from the gel, but that could just as easily be an evacuation alarm. I don’t know if she seeks to torment me or for me to protect her. If she could speak, she could tell me. Maybe she is just the demon in different clothing, come to test my resolve. Like the scarecrow. Yes, she’s just like the scarecrow.
“Half an hour is easily wasted,” he says, rolling a joint in the woods all alone. He crouches, using a log to steady himself. He ignores the insect bites on his thighs, just like he ignores the ants coming out of the damp, rotten wood.
A Throne of Water
Pressure is being released somewhere, and it sounds like steam turning quickly into dripping water. But there is danger outside the ship. The worry is that the new configuration will lead only to a new adventure, from which there will be no coming back. Still, staying put with a heavy palm on the forehead is no option to take. The decision is not mine anyway. So, I sit tight in the control seat feeling anything but in control. Fearful of action, fearful of inaction. One of these will lead to torture and the other to momentum carrying me away at an ever-increasing speed. I don’t know how to fly this ship. I don’t know what it eats. “The pressure is all yours,” a snake-tongued woman on a throne hisses in my direction.
The Dead Fire
Beneath it all there’s just me and you in our eternal dance. Without it, there may be no movement at all. You grate on me; I fire you up. There really doesn’t need to be any more than that.
C.R. Dudley writes literary experiments and metaphysical science fiction. She has published two collections of short fiction – Fragments of Perception and Mind in the Gap – and edited two more – Vast: Stories of Mind, Soul, and Consciousness in a Technological Age and Abyss: Stories of Depth, Time, and Infinity. Her work has also appeared in Near Future Fictions Vol. 1 (Virtual Futures, 2018) and Vital Signals (NewCon Press, 2022). She is the owner and editor in chief at Orchid’s Lantern press.