Work in Progress: Mouth of Darkness

The hot air stuck to Colin’s lungs as he stared into the cave. Its mouth sucked the blinding light that came from the sky, though there was no sun in this world, leaving a darkness so thick it would have seemed an impenetrable wall, if not for the discreet swirling, which gave witness to its lifelike quality. Darkness herself.

Colin turned away, both from the doom waiting to swallow him and the girl who stood at his side. He muttered under his breath, staring across the miles of sand. A large window exploded into his reality and, though he had gotten practice these last few months, he still let out a cry of surprise as he found himself in what seemed like a fishbowl, staring out at his hometown. Colin followed the wall of windows higher and higher until he caught sight of the sky.

Blue. Colin let out an empty laugh, even as homesickness contracted around his chest. The situation was dire, indeed, if he thought the NYC sky was blue. He reached out, finding Evelyn by touch though everything told him he was holding a hot dog stand. He pulled her closer to his chest, despite the heat. “How ‘bout we go to the Empire State Building when I get back?” he suggested, keeping his voice light, even as guilt threatened to crush him. A fishbowl. He couldn’t touch or smell…or flee.

“Colin,” Evelyn whispered.

Colin tightened his grip around her shoulders. He wouldn’t run away. He wouldn’t fail her. Rosie, his sister…she had no one to rely on but him.

“Colin, you won’t come back.”

He knew that. Knew it by the way Evelyn stalled the nearer they came to their destination, by the way her voice quavered now, by the way her arms were wrapped tightly around his waist. By the words the prophecy spoke, words he was never meant to have read.

Colin blinked until NYC shimmered out of view. The gray sky seemed even more pressing, as if any moment it would collapse on his head, perhaps a better fate than stepping into Darkness. A deep rumble from the cave, something between a laugh and a burp, made Evelyn wince. Colin wrapped his arms tighter around her shoulders, despising himself for wanting to kiss her fears away. He couldn’t, not when he was planning to…Colin shook the thought away, determined to pretend he was the courageous hero he appeared even if only for a few more minutes.

“Think they’ll let us take ice-cream to the top?” Colin rested his chin on her head, the threads of his willpower quickly unravelling. It must be done. Still, he couldn’t stop the memories. Memories with more and more of Evelyn’s face, of Evelyn’s laugh. Dangerous memories.

“Let’s go now,” Evelyn said.

“They probably wouldn’t allow pistachio ice-cream up top,” Colin continued, as if the temptation of her words wasn’t digging its claws through his insides.

Evelyn managed a small laugh, which came out as more of a sob. “It’s green!” Colin said, just as she did. A sharp tug on his chest. Colin stumbled back with a gasp, as Darkness’ called to him. The mark on his chest burned. He belonged to Darkness. There was only one way.

Evelyn pushed back to look him in the eyes, and just for a moment Colin’s resolve broke. Her baby hairs stuck out at odd angles and dirt smudged her cheeks. It reminded Colin of their soccer days, back before he’d known everything was so complicated, before he’d known two whole worlds’ fates rested on his shoulders, before he’d known he didn’t really have a choice. Just him and his sister…and the new, fearless girl on the soccer team. But he had to do this, for Rosie, for the promise he barely remembered making to his parents.

The world heaved, like a woman in labor. They stumbled backwards, gripping each other tightly. Colin tried to swallow, but his mouth was filled with sand. “It’s time,” he rasped.

“Colin, don’t go.”

“I have to do this,” Colin said. He had to. He had to. But his arms refused to unlatch from Evelyn’s waist. He buried his face in her hair. He had to do this for Rosie. It was the only way to ensure her a happy life. Colin closed his eyes and remembered the way she’d smiled up at him, trusting him, never realizing that at times he would go hungry for her sake. How would she survive without him? All those years gone to waste. And he’d promised his parents…

The world heaved once more and he and Evelyn stumbled ever closer to the void. No one knew where it led. No one had ever returned. Colin had to return for Rosie’s sake…

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