“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day.
Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”
— Terry Pratchett
Before all of this you never saw the stars. Before the ruins — before the revelation of the Fell — your night sky carried a safe glow just several shades below daylight.
You remember; but your memory is being eaten as surely as your body. Family. Friends. Home. Other… things. Going. Going.
Darkness followed flame. War of intense rapidity. The enemy didn’t come — they were. And you were among the last standing. Infected, but alive. Not knowing how or why.
After the smoke, the stars.
Empty buildings along empty streets. You became the forager, a double hunger driving you. You pieced together a place to Gather and Keep. Night was the perfect time to Range and Collect. The stars were a wonderment, and the ghosts — others like you — kept their distance and their peace.
Then, in a basement, a sub-basement you encountered them. These four had escaped the invasion, the invading of the Fell. The oldest spoke as they surrounded you. “‘And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread,’ hey, Goblin?”
A younger smiled, “Yeah… I guess, Professor.”
The other two remained silent.
“I have to wonder if Yeats had in mind a pair, or one in the same,” He turned from you and receded into the shadows. When he returned, he carried an axe. Still in contemplation, he continued, “‘Heart mysteries there… To engross the present and dominate memory…’” he faltered. “The Circus, damn it!”
He touched his gloved fingers to his forehead, “Um, ‘Players and painted stage took all my love… those things that they were emblems of.’” He shook his head, “Not! He said, ‘Not those things.’” He looked around at his men, back to you. “Damn it all!”
With a wave of his hand, the battle began.
You who had never fought, waged war — engaged the enemy as enemy — mercilessly. The maneuvers your body made — the assaults — were guided by that from within. Ruthless.
The one named Goblin was the first to go. I winced as you recounted the skirmish. Not carriers, these four had resisted infestation. Goblin came at you with an improvised lance, and received a face-full of ball fire from the palm of your hand. He fell as quickly as his weapon. The quiet two came at you in unison. One flew back against a wall, inert as he slumped to the floor. The other screamed a short scream as you lifted him by the neck. He, too, died.
When the professor lifted his axe, preparing to charge, you ran to him. The axe flew from his lifeless hands. Standing over him, you… or the Fell within you, whispered, “‘I must lie down where all the ladders start.’”
A fitting epitaph you uttered. Then you continued to ransack their lair.
I watch you tonight, considering the night sky, and wonder when… and how….
* * *
For the March Speculative Fiction Challenge, at D. Wallace Peach / Myths of the Mirror.
This is part 2 of a story. Part 1 Part 3