Recent Stories

The Candle Game

          The sky was marble green; petrol-streaked with the stains of memories which hung with uneasy inertia like the distant pasts of ancient and forgotten men. It spread like a fungus above the enshrouded earth, heavy and guilt-laden beneath it. It stretched out far beyond the limits of sight, shadowing everything below it with an unnatural and disconcerting hue. Clouds crept nervously and slowly from north to south, fingering their way cautiously past the root-like tentacles of olive that threatened to engulf them, smothering them like an over-protective mother blinded by the irrational. Limpet pustules drooped earthward; yellowing, festering and threatening to drown the land in a showery pestilence. Occasional flashes of emerald struck out like electrical beams, a strange illumination of the darkness, before being swallowed by the oppressiveness which surrounded them. The sky returned to the sea of moss that it had become: there was no penetrating light; indeed there was no Sun, no raging star, whose fire could penetrate the blanket of  sea which hung where the sky should have been. Land and sky were inseparable, indistinguishable, divided only by  the thin black line which marked an horizon; an horizon which existed only in the imagination; an horizon which the human brain maintained solely as a reference point for its own sanity – an horizon which prevented the blurring of everything that stood for anything in the human condition. And beneath this sky, this greying jade wash that coloured everything with the numbness of its tone, and to the fore of the line which demarcated the above from the below, the two men stood. They stood, their eyes moving only between two fixed points; one, each other, the second the space which stretched between them. From one to the other they looked, their bodies still, immobile in the gloom, their concentration set, permanent on what divided them. They made no sound. Their mouths and lips made no movement, every word that they needed to convey was contained in a look, a glance, a stare. There was no need for anything else; there existed between them a symbiosis which fed off the space between them. Every subtle motion carried with it the wisdom of the age, the zeitgeist of their being – every action brought  forth a thought that was read and which elicited a reaction which would  continue their interdependence. The two men stood, oblivious to the shuffling of the hues above them, focussed only on the board which hung between them, suspended in the space which stretched from one torso to the other, fixed on their game.

          “Did you see that?”
          “What?”
          “That. There, look, there it is again.”
          “Where?”
          “Go above those trees, a bit to the right – there!”
          “Oh, yeah. Now I do. What is it?”
          The blue expansive sky was punctuated with swollen, purple bruises. They appeared regular in both their size and shape, as if caused by a systematic,brutal  beating, spreading across the sky in an organised pattern. Nothing about them seemed to be either random nor haphazard; rather they looked to have been laid out methodically and with great care, as if their regularity bore some significance. The tender blotches pushed slowly out through the rich blueness that surrounded them, swelling in-depth rather than width, as if they were reaching out for help towards the ground below them. As they did so, and from the centre of each bruise, obscure, exotic patterns began to emerge. They began to form nameless shapes, and as they did so they began to take on their own distinct and unique forms, beginning at first as series of pinprick dots or faint lines, gradually merging to gain more specific forms or shapes. Dull, yellow scratches and cuts grew in brightness as they joined together to display themselves in their whole, true form and reveal their true identity.
          From their vantage point below the two figures watched in silence as the scene unfolded before them. Their eyes remained fixed on the parting violet patches of sky as they gradually unfurled themselves like early morning flowers, and their treasures were revealed. As the golden symbols settled themselves into more recognisable shapes Tasha and Luke stood unable to move as their minds searched frantically for some meaning in what they were seeing. Strange swirls surmounted elongated shafts which themselves rose inexplicably from the darkness. Golden snakes twisted and entwined themselves around upturned swords, their hilts solid, like pedestals on which their blades stood erect. Horizontal pikes, tipped with chevrons, hung menacingly across strings like rows of arrows waiting to be bowed. There were bizarre reversed numbers, bearing tails which drapped behind them, fading backwards into the clouds; interlocking circles linked inextricably like magicians rings, whilst other lines shaped themselves into indecipherable letters falling into one another to make unfathomable words. As they watched the symbols fasten themselves to their backdrop Tasha and Luke remained speechless. They scanned the symbols searching for meaning, looking, perhaps, for a cipher to use in order to break the code above them and thus make sense of it. But nothing came to them. It was as if neither of the two, silent, motionless figures needed to speak to one another. The communication between them had been lifted and transplanted to a different place, one which, it seemed to them, was not altogether human, but one in which both Tasha and Luke felt comfortable and at home. They carefully examined the symbols – forwards, backwards, vertically and diagonally, each taking their lead from the thoughts of the other – but still they revealed nothing.
          Luke moved first, turning his head and shoulders only slightly to face Tasha.His mouth began to open, to form the words that would accurately explain his confusion and disbelief at what they were witnessing. Before he could begin to speak, however, he saw Tasha raise a finger to her lips. He was hushed before even a sound fell from his mouth.
          Incandescent, they appeared, shimmering, solid, yet at the same time translucent: first one, then two, then three, until, at last, all five had been revealed. They hung in the sky as if dangling from invisible wires, five globes, connected and yet overlapping, like liquid bubbles blown by a child. The highest sphere glowed with an indigo light as if it had absorbed its tone and colour from the purple clouds which surrounded it. Beneath it, and touching it delicately as if it were afraid that too great a contact would burst it, hung a ball of emerald. Overlapping both of these, and just to their left, was a sphere of crimson, the light which was shinning through it making it shimmer like a spillage of petrol. To the right, and occupying a position directly opposite to the crimson ball, rested the fourth globe, citrine and reflective. All four of these, intimately connected and yet holding their own, individual shape, were clustered around a central sphere which appeared both integral to their form and yet at the same time, strangely detached from them. This central ball seemed to hold no colour of its own, allowing itself to simply pull hues and tones from each of its companions, and them to emanate them in all directions.
          Luke followed his companions gaze, turning himself soundlessly to return to his original position facing the sky, and facing the baubles. With both of their faces fixed, and their silent connection re-established, they watched as the spheres began to slowly rotate themselves around some unseen axis.
          Without warning a shaft of light suddenly shot from the central globe. It came so quickly that its facet of colours was lost to sight. Beneath a green sky a figure’s eye twitched – the slightest of movements – and a candle crossed a line to take up its new position on the board.

          It was a quarter past three when he awoke, sweat-drenched and over-come by tingling emotions. He could hear the rumbling echo of his heart as it pounded beneath his ribs, rattling their cage like a wild beast that had been cruelly restrained. The t-shirt that he was wearing clung damply to his body, held close by the trail of perspiration which ran done his back in streams. His entire body ached, but not through exhaustion or tension or even fear; his body ached through anticipation, through excitement and desire. Luke lay still, now fully awake and aware of his feelings. He was aware too of the familiar body of his wife beside him, soft, warm comforting and safe. She was asleep, her breathing calm and gentle, barely audible above the beating of his heart. Luke tried to still his own breathing and quieten his rumbling chest desperate not i to interrupt the sleeping pattern of the woman who lay next to him. He felt as if the slightest movement that he made would disturb her and rouse her from her slumber, and yet he knew that he had to get out of bed, and that he could not contain himself for a moment longer. Trembling he reached out his right arm, gripping the duvet in his sweaty fist. He turned it back, exposing first his leg, then his hip and finally his chest. Eel-like he slid from the bed and, standing in the darkness, turned to look at his wife. She lay still in the depths of sleep, turned slightly away from where he had just been, her breathing still regular, relaxed and content. Luke looked once more at her silent figure. Then he turned away from her and slipped through the door.
          As Luke stood in isolation every symbol and every sign that he had seen raced back to the forefront of his mind. Everything that had been revealed to him in the purple sky now showed itself in its full and glorious meaning. A language that had been indecipherable before now resonated within him, and the significance of its message became all the more obvious to him. It was almost as if he were experiencing some sort of epiphany, some kind of revelation that came unexpectedly but would determine the course of his future. He had neither the strength of will nor inclination to question what he now knew – the truth, it seemed, had been shown to him without the need of his usual insistent questioning. Cynicism had been usurped by acceptance, and Luke found himself falling open-armed into it. The Truth, it appeared, really was out there.
          He knew now that, up until this moment in time, the life that he had led had been a lie, a fantasy that he had lived for the satisfaction of others and for the sake of convenience. He knew now that for both his own and Tasha’s sake he had to do the right thing and be honest and true to himself. He thought of Tasha, beautiful Tasha, probably still asleep, but not nearly close enough to him. He wondered if she truly felt the same as he did, although he already knew the answer. He knew, too, that he had to make everything alright for her – he knew that he had to leave the sleeping figure of his wife in order to be with the only other person who could bring a sense of meaning to his life – Tasha.

          It was three-fifteen. Tasha woke with a start. She felt certain that something had moved across her room. Her eyes had shot open, but had still been too slow to catch whatever it had been. A figure perhaps? The flash of a light dying on the street beyond her window? She was unsure, but she was awake. She sat up, alone in her bed. Gradually the shapes around her began to recapture their more usual forms – a set of drawers, a television, a clothing rail – familiar items from which there was no escape. She closed her eyes, but could still feel them pushing insistantly into her. Reluctantly she blinked, her eyes open once more, staring at the expanse of wall which was still waiting to be hung with pictures. As she watched the greyness begin to take colour she became aware once more of the symbols that she had seen adorning the violet sky. At first they had borne no meaning at all as if they were merely a set of random shapes thrown out of the sky by chance. Perhaps, she had thought, it had merely been her need to make sense of the world around her that had led her to search for some personal significance hidden within them. But then, and against all of the logic that she held so dear to her and that made up the essence of her, something ethereal had touched her. There had been something contained within the patterns that the shapes had made, something within their order, something within the way that they had played themselves out, that had establish a connection with her. A connection from which she knew she could not escape.
          Tasha knew that the life that she led was all that there was, and that there was no ‘Master Plan’ and no ‘Higher Plain’ to which to ascend. Nothing had created her life but biology, nature and a helping of nurture, and the only controlling force behind it was she herself. Now, however, she felt all of what she held to be true being challenged. The symbols that her brain had understood bounced around her head like ball bearings in a bagatelle, shattering the foundations upon which she had built her life. Truth began to crumble around her as she sat watching the golden shapes dance across her wall. Her eyes had become bleary once more, but this time it was through tears and not sleep. Breath escaped from her body and she felt herself sinking from the inside as if she were drowning in her own fluids. Yet still the shapes came, wave upon wave, relentlessly transplanting her truths with theirs, eating away at her resolve. She could no longer distinguish between what she thought that she knew and what she was now being shown; contrast and conflict swept over her like an unstoppable tsunami, and she was powerless in its wake. Tasha was not even sure whether it was with reluctance or welcome acceptance that she gave up the last breath of her life.

          Beneath a green sky two silent figures faced each other, their gazes intent, focussed not only on one another but also far beyond. Between them the board still hung, suspended as if holographic, demarcating the space that separated the two, black-clad men. Both studied the previous move with intensity. A curve appeared on the lip of one of the men, as timeless and non-descript as the figure himself. A candle began to levitate. Slowly and deliberately it moved from one rhombic space to another. Briefly it hovered over its one of its opponent’s pieces, and extinguished its light.
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5 thoughts on “Recent Stories”

  1. Outstanding writing. Ann

    • I don’t know what to say other than ‘thank you’ – your two words have left me speechless. The inspiration for ‘The Candle Game’ came from a painting by Leonora Carrington – I don’t know if you are familiar with her work. Not so speechless after all, it would appear! So pleased that you enjoyed this story, and thanks!

  2. This is a very atmospheric piece. I enjoyed being eased into the scene through description. It works best when it offers a glimpse into the internal workings of a character and while difficult to pull off, the risk paid off. I have one minor editorial suggestion: “Clouds crept nervously and slowly” : your verb is very strong and therefore does not require modifiers, particularly the second one, as the action already implies slow movement. Look forward to your next story.
    Best,
    V

    • Firstly many thanks for your honest comments- they are much appreciated. I’m pleased that you liked this story and that you felt that the style worked effectively.
      I can, I will admit, be lazy when editing. My usual method is write – read – edit – type – edit – read then leave alone. This is partly because I very rarely re-read my stories, but also because when I have got embroiled in editinhg, I have found myself dismantellingg it for perfection and ending up losing its feel. Having re visited this one I can see what you mean – along with one or two other possible tweaks!
      If you are genuinely interested in reading more off my stories there are a few on the site. They should be easy to find, but if not a couple of titles are ‘Crow Catcher’, ‘More Than Words’, ‘Katie’s Things’ and ‘An Open Box’. (I know that’s more than two!) Thanks for your input – Chris.

      • I will make sure to read them in the days to come. Thank you Chris. I know what you mean about editing. I think I have that hat on at the moment as I am at the editing stage with my own work so little things like that tend to stand out to me because I’ve been searching them out for days on end. Have a lovely weekend. Hope is it a sunny one.

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