English

POST #18: Shadows

solar-eclipse

First of all; I’m so sorry to any of my email followers – I experienced a slight technical glitch last week! So yeah, if you got a random email, I’m sure you’ve already deleted it. Anyways… This post is a short story, and quite a long one. Feel free to dip in / out as you please!

“Right, okay. We’re up to three-thirty, or thereabouts, on the 22nd of March. On that day, as we know, there was a solar eclipse, predicted to reach its peak at three-forty-two in the afternoon. Let’s resume your confession, Ms Blake. I have a dictaphone on the table here, and as you know, the recording may well be listened to at your trial.” He has bored brown eyes, crinkles of weariness lining his rough skin, a scratchy, authoritative voice, and just a few struggling strands of greying hair covering his balding head. He looks at me expectantly, with more than a hint of disdain, and I realise, with frightening clarity, that if he was there those few days ago, I would have killed him gladly. But that was then, and this is now. I don’t want to kill anyone now. I understand.

“Yes. Yes. Um – where was I?” I start to murmur, panicking when I can’t remember where we left off before. I’m not upset for long; taking instead a moment to recollect everything I need to say. I’ve had weeks of endless monotony here; more than enough time to think it over. Now is my chance to make things right. Even if only through simple speech, I will set myself free.

“You’d reached the hedge. The one around the field with all the people in it, watching the eclipse.” His assistant replies, promptly. She’s eager to hear the story, but more eager, I suspect, to gain the approval of her boss; there’s nothing like ambition to produce speedy results.

“Thank you. That’s right – I was crouching in the hedge, having been dropped off that morning by some undercover members of The Cause. The moon had just covered part of the sun, so you could still see, but it was getting darker. The hedge was uncomfortable; leaves flapped in my face, and twigs kept scraping, clawing at my hair. They seemed like they wanted to hurt me, to hinder me, become another obstacle in my path of duty. I didn’t like it, but it didn’t matter much – I was going to be making the ultimate sacrifice within the next hour, so what was the point grumbling over the little ones?
“My explosives were tied around my chest, hidden under my anorak – a great green coat, large but inconspicuous, perfect for hiding weapons under, they said. Back at the training camp, that is. Anyway, they were there, and whenever I felt wobbly in those last few hours, worried or nervous or just plain reluctant, I looked at them. They reassured me; the shiny black rectangles and synthetic yellow wires filled me with a sense of purpose, and I knew what I had to do.
“So I waited; hatred burning inside of me, fuelling my anger and determination. I peaked through the hedge at one point, to the field they’d assigned for the watching of the eclipse. It was the field I’d been assigned to as well, to – well, you know. I stared at them, those people, innocently preparing to watch the spectacle, and completely unaware of how guilty they really were. That they could watch something as trivial as that, when real people, human beings just like them are dying across the world from their inactivity, astounded me. In my eyes, they were vile. Every carefree laugh and excited whisper I heard felt like a stab to my stomach. They were the very definition of evil, and it was my duty, no – my privilege, to sacrifice myself while exterminating at least some of them.”

I take a deep breath here, watching acutely the expressions of my audience. He looks unsurprised, as if he listens to radicalised, would-be bomber teenage girls everyday. Her expression is more shocked, the vehemence I felt astounding the trainee police officer. Handing out speeding tickets does not prepare you for hearing a broken terrorist’s confession. Because here, sitting across this standard issue table from them, that’s all I am now. Broken.

“The people had glasses, special glasses, to watch the sun. And as the moon moved closer over it, they all stopped whatever they were doing and stared. It was the strangest, most isolating thing, looking at them while they gazed at the sky. Even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to, I did follow their line of sight once. Just once, though; the sun blinded me immediately and huge blue spots swelled up to obscure my vision. This only added to my resentment. The fact that I wasn’t allowed to see what they were seeing so well felt like a cruel joke at my expense. ‘Let’s all do this together, – leaving her out’. You know the sort of thing. I imagined them whispering it to each other.
“Looking back on it, I suppose everything just got mixed up. I separated all the bad things and the good ones into black and white, right and wrong, light and dark. I gave people in general the ‘bad’ stuff; what they told me at The Cause very much encouraged that. But all they did was cultivate my hatred – it had started before. With the children taunting in the playground. The snobbery of the rich kids. The judgements I’ve been given, others have been given and will always be given by so many people, forever.
“Well, anyway. The moon soon found its way to cover the sun, obscuring it completely, reaching out to smother it until nothing remained except a faint glowing circle of dying light. They’d primed me for this – the camp officers, I mean. My signal was to be the chirping of the birds, the sudden shrieks for help that rang out once all was black. I didn’t have much time; they’d told me it would be over in a couple of minutes. Two minutes; the time-slot of my death.
“I quickly climbed out of the hedge, pushing through the eerily silent crowd. My jostling created murmurs, irritated scoldings from strangers. It irritated me more than it did them, I can tell you. I stopped in the middle of the field, where people were standing the tightest together. That was another of their instructions; ‘The more people you stand next to, the more you impact’ they told me, time and time again.
“I stood, calm then – so calm. Destiny had settled on me, and fate was pulling me towards my end. It wasn’t just pulling though; it was like a magnet, attracting me by its size and power so that I was chasing it willingly. At that moment, the magnificence of martyrdom held me spellbound. My hand found its way to the anorak pocket, my thumb flirting with the red switch fixed there. It was so easy, they’d told me. So easy. Just one touch. One little press for eternal glory.
“As you know, I didn’t press it. In the pitch black, surrounded by everything and everyone I hated, my thumb failed me. I started to prolong the moment, staring up at the circle of blood red rays, astounded, even then, by its magnificence. A nagging feeling made its thin, seedy voice heard at the back of my mind. The sun and the moon transcended everything, didn’t they? Tomorrow, they would continue their ancient orbits without me. They would cross over forever, creating many more awe inspiring sights like the one before me; sights I would never see. I would be dead.
“No. My mind fought against it, fear of this revolutionary thought driving me to quash it aggressively. I managed to get my head under control, shaking myself a little. Focus. Do what you must do. Fulfil your duty. Die for The Cause.
“I turned my gaze from the sky, just as the the first beam of sunlight broke through the darkness. And in the strange new world I found myself in, a world of greys and half-light, a moment of transition, suspended, left forever in a dreamlike limbo, I saw someone. I saw my Dad.
“He was looking at me, and his weary, exhausted face allowed me a glimpse of his despair. And I could see that it was the kind of despondence that weighs you down like a backpack filled with rocks. The lines of his forehead were crevasses, bottomless abysses that hope had fallen down, to be lost forever.
“But his eyes were different. They still carried love; the unconditional love of a father in deep pain. To me, his green-grey eyes were more mesmerising than a thousand suns, all eclipsing together. He did not move; I did not move. My thumb was still touching the button. I realised this, and my hand recoiled from the pocket like a snake’s final rise before the bite of death. Except now there would be no death. I could not die, killing my father with me. He was too close, too close to escape the smoke and fumes and blast of my fiery exit. His eyes were too kind, too loving despite everything. I loved him too much.
“And that’s it. I screamed – and the police took it from there pretty quickly. My confession ends here, Inspector. You can turn that horrid thing off now,”

He doesn’t turn the dictaphone off. He does, however, start to talk. He tells me what I already know, what I am already thinking, what puzzles him and agonises me. He tells me that my father is dead; has been for ten years, at least.
And so, what is left? The knowledge that there is no good or bad; no black or white. That there is no light or dark, either. Only shadows, shifting and stretching eternally, lost between each extreme, never wanting to be found. Shadows cast on Earth, shadows of my Dad, shadows of good intentions and bad. Shadows of what could have been, the lives I could have destroyed with the touch of my finger; and those of the past, my past, and the swirling, tumultuous fog I see for the future. The balance of life is found where no one chooses to look; never fully one thing or another, forever changing, allowing only a glimpse before time moves on. Those shadows are my solace now.

Any thoughts? Please comment any criticisms – I would love to hear them!

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