In the end, there was nothing but darkness.
** This story has been nominated for La Campanella Awards! You can read the other nominees and vote for your favourite ion the link on my profile page :) **
They said it would take three years to see the light again. But for some of us, the darkness would always remain.
On Earth, as it is in Heaven, there was nothing. Comet dust and pulverised bones. Under the earth, the dead waited with the living. For wont of imagination, we called it Hell.
"In Hell," Gran used to say, knitting by the telly, "people have chopsticks two metres long attached to their hands, and weep from hunger." But heaven, she said, was no different, except people fed each other.
In our Hell, it took only a few months to sort out who would starve, and who would feed each other.
I would have starved, if it hadn't been for Claire.
It had taken everything I could to keep Samuel safe. It had not been enough.
"Look after Samuel, Joe." Our father's eyes had ground into mine, extracting the promise even as he pushed us away. Those were the Last Days, our last days on Earth. I remembered people fighting to enter the shelters, climbing over trampled bodies, the comet still a smear of innocent light in baby-blue sky. People did anything to get away, to survive. But the shelters could only hold so many. When the call went out "No more! No more!" and the doors began to close, the people on the outside had nothing to lose. We got in. Just. We made it into Hell.
The stain of those last days was cloaked, underground. You couldn't see the blood dried beneath fingernails. The dark marks on people's clothes could've been sweat. But though hidden, those days were always with us. They'd leached from people's minds and soaked into the blackness. We could feel it, pulsing, straining, waiting. Inside us and out. That blackness would never leave my soul.
Underground, the dark isn't empty like it is in space. It's thick, weighed down by the layers of rock above. You breathe in each breath knowing you've been buried alive.
People took to the darkness in different ways. Some became painfully cheerful, floating mindlessly. Some sank deep, destroying their souls. Some took it out on others, ripping into them with fists, rocks, whatever they could get their hands on. And that, more often than not, was Samuel.
He was smaller, barely fifteen, and crazy scared. They say you can smell fear. They tracked Samuel down by it, blindly following its rank leak to his hiding place. I tracked him by the muffled screams and sound of fists smacking flesh. My bulk and my fury would soak up endless punishment before they'd back away, evaporating into the murk.
"Why do they go after you?" Claire asked, patching us up with water and love. Us brothers sat side by side, the rock walls biting at our backs, letting her feed our souls. In return, we fed her need for family, shadows of those she'd left behind. And at night, my bulk kept the others away. She slept deeply, peacefully, and didn't hear Samuel's dreams. The others did; they couldn't stand reliving the Last Days through his whimpers. Every night. And it was always night.
I failed my father. I broke my promise. The random attacks gathered momentum. People became pack, feeding off each other's daring. I could not fight them all.
One night, they took him. Or at least: one night he was gone.
"Sam!" My call wandered into the black where my eyes could not go, winding around bodies locked in desperate violence. It returned; its destination unreached, unreachable.
"Sam!" The echoes shuddered in the nothingness. I forced the clawing bodies away from me and clutched at the silent forms on the ground. My hands met nothing but death.
The pack retracted form the body; it was nothing but an empty shell abandoned on an ebony beach.
I could feel them though I couldn't see them, re-forming, a wave swelling. A threshold had been breached. Having tasted blood, Samuel's life only made them hungry for more. Mine. The wave crashed over me. You can't fight an ocean. My arms tried to protect my head, my face. It wasn't til I gave up that they drained away.
Claire didn't let me go. She fed me til the bones set, washed me, kept me warm. She forced me away from darkness and into light.
"Do you remember?" Claire slipped her arm into mine, leading me step by step upwards, out. Our first day on earth for three years. "Watermelon? Cherry blossom? Rainbows?"
Rainbows. I coughed out a low, sour chuckle. Were they ever actually real? To think of such things seemed like fantasy.
The smells came first, then the sounds, drifting into the tunnel. Grass. Dew. Insects. Wind.
"Do you remember?"
I remembered. That was all I had.
I could see her, blinking, squinting, the light a painful ecstasy. The growing glow revealing details of her face that I had never seen, that I could only imagine. The mind's eye is a powerful thing. The orbits in my face still glared uselessly at a world of shadows.
I turned my sightless eyes to the sun.
AN: initially written for the Review Game's June Writing Challenge Contest (linked in my profile). The prompt was: "In the beginning there was nothing and God said 'Let there be light', and there was still nothing but everybody could see it." - Dave Thomas.
PS all glory to Narq for betaing this! :D thanks Narq!