This piece was never supposed to be. I had participated in a flash fiction contest and chose the second of the two prompts on which to build my entry. I thought I was done, only I kept thinking about the unused prompt. It seemed pretty generic at first, basically a creative twist on ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ I wasn’t inspired by it, but I also couldn’t leave it alone. It’s easy to write when we feel inspired, but what about when we don’t? As easy as it is to write reams when the ideas are swirling and the juices are pumping, it’s just as easy to walk away from the computer when we come up empty.
So I had a challenge on my hands, and yes, this is what I live for. I sat there and stared at the blank screen. And started and stared some more, until my eyes watered. Then I realized that as much as the prompt I used for the contest dropped the writer into the unfolding action, this particular one dropped me into a place leading to the action (at least that’s how I read it). So I decided to let my fingers run over the keyboard to see where they led. And they led straight to a …
Prompt: ”Sleet pinging against dark glass behind him, wind whipped leaves stampeding past his feet on the unlit path, an eerie howl screaming through the treetops; he knew he had trespassed against all reason and common sense, yet he walked further, bent against the storm, forward to meet his nightmare face-to-face.”
Dean corrected himself. Their nightmare. Ellen was gone now and it was possibly all his fault.
Pulling up his collar against the biting cold, he jammed his hands under his armpits to keep warm. The room he was heading back to was straight ahead and one floor down. He shuddered. The bowels of the castle resided in darkness; it took a slew of standing high-wattage lights to push it back. Then he thought of the other darkness, the one that writhed like the charged clouds of a storm; the one born of a blackness that ate light—and God only knew what else.
He thought of Ellen and shuddered again.
Dean continued down the corridor, his footsteps clanging against the worn stone. The effect was ominous; hollow echoes, reverberating and steady like a heartbeat. Darned boots! Shoulda worn sneakers!
Where was Ellen anyway? One minute she’d been in the lab with him and the next, she was—gone. Had he turned the wrong knob? Mislabeled the elements? Used too much power? Not enough? She hadn’t even had time to cry out—or say goodbye. Knowing the threat she’d posed, a part of him thought he should be happy. But he wasn’t, not entirely, anyway.
He walked faster through the dusty halls, finally taking the steps leading down to the cellars. The one he was looking for was at the back. It was way after hours so Dean would have the place to himself. The two of them had tried the experiment earlier that night, so none of the other team members knew what had happened. Maybe he could get her back. Then no one would ever know.
He shoved open the rotting door with a shoulder. Why the bean-counters chose this location he couldn’t guess, but there must be something about the old castle which had attracted their attention.
“Magic,” Ellen had said a few hours before. She followed the statement by humming the Twilight Zone theme.
“Magic is not scientific. It’s fantasy.”
Ellen moved to pass in front of him on the way to the light-table, pausing to wipe away a smudge of lipstick from his neck. “Just like our affair isn’t really an affair?”
Dean eyed the gold band around his finger. “Exactly.”
Settling into the vinyl chair, Ellen rested her elbows on the table’s edge. “Lots of people thought ‘science’ was witchcraft before they understood the laws of nature.”
“And if there was Magic in this place, how would you quantify it?”
“By the same means you qualify sex as love.”
Dean grimaced. He didn’t like when she used that one on him and it she seemed to use it more and more often. “Maybe we should focus on the experiment?”
She shrugged. “You mean, where you try to figure out how long it will be before I stop opening my door to you at two in the morning?”
“No,” he said, still bristling, “The one we’re here for. To open a wormhole.”
“Whatever. I’m tired of this argument. We have it at least once a week.”
“You keep bringing it up.”
“Because you never take me seriously.”
“Start talking some sense and maybe I will.”
“What? Now? After you’ve insulted me?”
She looked across the light-table at him. It was a black look.
That look matched that bitch’s black heart, he thought with irritation as he pushed aside the memory of that discussion to tend to the machine. Still, she hadn’t always been that way. Shaking his head, Dean checked and rechecked the settings to make sure they were right. Then, he frowned. Everything was right, but would it work? Taking a breath, he hesitated a second and then pushed the green button.
The machine screamed as it turned on. Bands of darkness slithered from the four metal prongs gathered at its centre, twisting and growing, quicker and quicker, until the streams melded into a swirling black ball. Dean slid one of the buttons along the face of the console, increasing the energy output. The black ball grew exponentially.
Just as he was debating whether to continue—for staring into this swelling ball, he suddenly realized how foolish it was to do this alone—he was grabbed by the neck. His feet lifted off the floor and he was moving towards the light-sucking black hole.
“What, have you lost your sense of humor? Why don’t you try being flippant with me now!” It was Ellen’s voice only he couldn’t see her.
“Where are you?” he gasped, trying to free himself from her invisible hand. “What’s going on?”
“At first, I thought you’d gotten rid of me on purpose. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe you really do care.” The hand squeezed, crushing his windpipe.
“I care! I c—“ His voice was cut off.
Just before blacking out, Dean saw two coal black eyes staring into his and a wisp of what looked like smoke outlining the shape of a woman. “Good. Then you won’t mind if I take you with me.”
“Where?” Ellen laughed, all the while pulling him towards the now closing portal. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m taking you into this bitch’s black heart!”
Dyane Forde (September 2013)