This story is the first completely new story I have posted to this blog - I just finished just yesterday - so I would love to get some feedback on it. It was written in response to my writing group's prompt for this week: Fireworks. It is entitled The Voice and I hope everyone enjoys it!
By James J Meadows III
Some people might have felt sorrow. I did not. Looking out from the cavern’s mouth, high up on the ancient mountainside, I felt only anger as I surveyed the distance houses sprawled along the bank of an ancient lake, whose depths held mysteries mankind had yet to penetrate. What secrets lay concealed within its gloomy waters; what treasures waited hidden beneath its murky waves; what dangers lurked just below the glassy surface of the seemingly placid exterior, few speculated.
Most people were content to merely throw their nets in after the fish or sail their boats across to distant towns. Or, on nights like tonight, they were content to float their boats lazily upon the waters shooting fireworks high into the air for the amusement of children, who, somewhere in the distance, raced to and fro through the city streets shouting in excitement. This was my home. Once I had been one of those children. But I was not a girl anymore. I was a woman. And I would be even more than that when I returned.
“They look happy don’t they,” hissed a dark voice beside my ear. “Look how they laugh and play, oblivious to all except the shallow pleasure of the flashing lights distracting their puny minds from the darkness lingering within themselves.”
A chill rose up my spine. Not so much because of the words. Rather because of the icy tone of the voice speaking them. Hairs rose upon my arms, silent monoliths perched atop hills of goose pimples, forming a checkered landscape from the tips of my wrists to the tops of my shoulders. I didn’t turn to look at the speaker. I knew there would be nothing there. The stories said so.
“They are fools,” I said, trying to maintain my wits. “They revel in ignorance, abandoning curiosity, meaning, and the greater mysteries of life to seek safety within delusion’s shallow folds. I seek more.”
“You seek me,” the voice stated.
I said nothing. My heart was beating so hard and fast, I thought my chest would burst. I didn’t trust my voice to remain strong.
“Silence?” it hissed. “Do you give me no answer?”
“I seek that which you can give me,” I said finding my voice at last.
“Is that why you climbed the mountain?” The voice asked. “Is that why you risked your life to ascend the steep slopes? Is that why you ran away?”
“I didn’t run away,” I snapped, turning to face the open air beside me. Upon seeing nothing there, I turned to face the darkness of the cave behind me. “I’m not running away from anything! I’m running toward everything!”
“Oh, are you?” the words now came from behind me, drifting lazily to my ears from the open air beyond the cliff face. “Why must it be so? Money, family, homes, spouses, and security all lay below you. Don’t you want any of those? What more does a young woman desire than the town can give you?”
“Answers,” I said, whirling around as quickly as I could to face the direction from which the voice echoed.
I glanced all around me, desperate to see something. The voice’s every word, slithering through the gloom, sent shivers through my body, forcing my knees to buckle and quiver until I could hardly stand on my already weary feet. If I could just see the source of the mysterious voice, I was sure I could find my courage. No source appeared, however. Only darkness greeted my gaze wherever I turned.
“Why should you want answers?” the voice asked. “Are there really questions so enchanting that they are worth giving up all to know? Should you really be asking such questions at all?”
“People tell me I shouldn’t,” I answered, somewhat sheepishly. “They say some questions shouldn’t be answered. They tell me I should remain content to be who and what I am, content to know who and what I know, to be like a child who refuses to open their closet door for fear of the monster which may lurk within.”
My voice grew strong as I finished the last sentence. Years of anger and frustration, of repression and revulsion burst from me as I yelled my words in defiance from the mountaintop. Fireworks added strength to my words as they detonated in a chorus of explosions, emphasizing each furious outburst erupting from the volcano of my lips, scorching the open air with my wrath.
“But I won’t do it! I’m not going to sit and bury my head in the sand! I refuse to spend my years slaving away like a simpleton, surrounded by ignorant buffoons lacking the courage to open their eyes and see the reality waiting on the other side of their shut-up lids! Too long have I lived in a greedy world that hordes her cryptic secrets like an insatiable miser clinging to his coins lest the least of them touch the starving masses banging upon his door? I want to know those secrets! I want to see the sparkling jewels of truth displayed before me! I want to feel them, to soak in their glory, to bathe in their riches! I don’t want to be the world’s slave! I want to be…”
Here I paused as I realized the words I was about to utter.
“You want to be its master!” The voice finished the words for me.
There was a twinge of delight in the voice which made me even more uncomfortable. I could only nod my head in affirmation, wishing more than anything else in the world at that moment, that I had kept my mouth shut; wishing that I had listened to all the people who told me to be content; wishing I were anywhere right now, other than here.
“Of course you do!” The voice’s hiss turned into a sort of coo. The gently spoken words only made the voice creepier and the chills sharper. “Why shouldn’t you? Why would anyone want to stay enslaved to the lies and laws of a cruel master like ignorance when they can weld the truth like a scepter over the head of that ancient slave driver? I can help!”
My growing apprehension told me I should shut up and say no more. Yet the pride and selfish desire, which had driven me with tattered skirt and battered tresses through the dark forests and up the steep slopes of this mountain; which had compelled me to trek for days without food or water and pushed me onward through cuts, tears, and bloody knees to ascend to the mysterious cave where no sane villager would go; refused to let me stay quiet. My eyes narrowed and my brow furled with unwavering determination as I uttered one word.
The sound of the distant fireworks faded as an eerie silence engulfed me. A blaze of light, clear and bright as the noonday sun, pierced the night air. It was coming from the cave behind me. I spun around to see a sight beyond comprehension.
Row upon row of books stretched before me in an endless line reaching toward infinity. Like silvery monoliths glistening beneath the glow of a moonless sky, they basked in the illumination of a light lacking any visible source. Each tome seemed to call to me, whispering of secrets and powers long forgotten over the ancient eons of man. I found myself drifting toward them almost unconsciously as their magnetic allure drew me into their folds.
“Go on,” the voice cooed. “Take them!”
A warning somewhere within the distant recesses of my mind tried to still my footsteps.
“What are they?” I managed to ask, fighting to free myself from whatever hypnotic pull the vision had over me.
“Knowledge,” came the quiet whisper. “All the knowledge of all the ages; secrets of this world and every world; answers to every question ever asked and even those not asked, since the dawn of this time and every time; all await you within. You need merely to touch them.”
I drifted forward. Cries from the depth of my mind pleaded caution, telling me to go back, begging me with every footfall not to take another step. Their silent call touched my dazed mind. I took my eyes off the books and turned away from the cave gazing into the open air, trying to clear my thoughts. The fireworks were still going off above the faraway village. Their explosions came in quick pairs, the faint cracks taking the shape of harsh words echoing their gentle entreaty, the first pop saying “come” and the second “back”.
“Take them,” the voice hissed again.
Images swam before my eyes, ripples of light and color forming visions of glory and grandeur. I saw myself towering over the children on the school grounds who once spat upon me and mocked my bookish nature. Like a colossus, I rose over the teachers who once cursed me for questioning them and berated my arrogance. No more would I be the foolish girl who didn’t know her place in the world, no longer would I be the silly woman cursed with the plague of too much questioning and not enough obeying! I would have freedom! I would have power! I would have everything!
As though responding to these images, a distant part of my brain fought to recall memories of playing with friends, the warmth of kind strangers, and the feeling of my parents’ love. These visions sought to take shape in my mind, yet they paled before the nightmarish memories of the insults, jeers, scorn, and abuse suffered at the hands of numerous hateful antagonists.
“They should be punished,” the voice cooed, as though sensing my thoughts. “I know the pain they caused you. I know what it’s like to suffer slander and debasement from the spiteful masses who lack your curiosity; who want to keep you dumb and powerless. You don’t have to endure them any longer. Vengeance is within your grasp. All the secrets, all the knowledge, all the power they are too weak to seek is right before you. All you have to do is grab it!”
I found my head turning back toward the cave and my body drifting through the opening. Again the warnings sounded but I silenced them. There would be no turning back, there would be no more stalling! I wanted this knowledge! I needed this knowledge! I needed it now!
As though in answer to these thoughts, a book lifted on its own from the shelf and floated toward me. I drifted toward it, sinking deeply into the light until I stood just inches from its gleaming cover. It opened before my gaze, revealing words and letters written in some foreign alphabet whose bizarre markings assumed unfamiliar crooked shapes like stick figures penned in golden ink against the silver leaflets. Somehow I seemed to know their meanings. The words shaped themselves into letters, which seemed to float off the page and into my mind.
Soon other books on other shelves were drifting off their cases and spiraling around me. The pages flipped and their words lifted, flowing like water through me. All the secrets of the universe; the secrets of the universes before the universe; all the mysteries of space and time and mysteries beyond space and time; all the wisdom and knowledge of ancient races, current races, and races yet to come; all coalesced inside me, melding with me, assimilating into my consciousness in a whirl of knowledge, insights, and revelations. The words soaked into my body.
Or so I thought. A sudden and horrifying realization occurred to me. I didn’t have a body.
As I processed this revelation, I saw my body standing outside the cave staring at me. Or, at least, what had once been my body. It wasn’t my body anymore. A small, cruel smile spread across the lips and a wicked gleam glittered in the eyes, which had once both been my own.
“You cannot imagine how many centuries I have waited for someone to take my place and release me to travel the world once more,” a cruel icy voice hissed from my lips. “And I cannot tell you how many centuries you shall have to wait before someone is foolish enough to take your place and release you back into the world. If it is any consolation, there is one thing I can tell you. The vengeance you dreamed of in your images and retributions you longed to inflict upon those who wronged you, shall come to pass. It won’t exactly be you who inflicts them. But they shall come to pass nonetheless. May you enjoy your newfound knowledge.”
With these words, I watched my body turn and start back toward the town, resting on the shore of a lake whose dark secrets, I now knew only too well. From within my prison, I watched helplessly as the creature possessing my body advanced toward the unsuspecting village. And the fireworks greeted its return.