Accipiter G. Goshawk
I originally thought of this story as a submission for a writing competition. Then, as stories do, it became too personal. Things happen in life, and they end up in the worlds -and words- I make up. I’m still going to post it here, because I really don’t want this cry of defiance to be unheard. I guess that makes me a little egocentric...but I’ll let you be the judge of that.
I looked at the waves far below me and wondered –not for the first time– why I had chosen this of all places.
It was morning and grey. I’d left my small B&B half an hour earlier and made my way, faltering, up the dangerous stone steps to Dún Aonghasa and the cliff overlooking the Atlantic.
My favourite place on Earth.
I’d been here before, always on holiday, and every single time I’d been happy.
Why here then?
“A small comfort, before the end,” crooned Oscurità, to my left. His shadowy form slipped a cold hand over my shoulders, and I found myself stepping closer to the edge. The smartly dressed man smiled encouragingly – I could see the reflection of his pointy teeth in his polished shoes – and lit a cigarette.
“You should have done this years ago,” wheezed another creature from atop its nightmare. “All your fighting, all those attempts at dream-fulfilling and your pathetic obsession with inexistent worlds…all for nothing.” The hungry mouth snatched up more of the tattered remains of my soul and I felt myself go stiff.
“I…I’m stronger than this,” I said, turning around, trying to face the darkness. “I have learned so much; lived so much! I can do more. My time isn’t up!”
The night before me coalesced into my distorted mirror image, that I feared more than any horrific denizen of depression. He straitened his glasses and tie, and then looked at me, making me feel the full weight of his disgust.
“You are imperfect. Everything you do eventually fails, or is flawed from the start. You’ve lost everything: family, friends…purpose. Your precious writing is garbage. You are untrained, banal and childlike. The only people who could possibly appreciate the drivel you produce are idiots and liars. If you ask me, you should take any proof of your “passion” with you when you jump.”
Oscurità leaned in closer, his lit cigarette singeing my beard.
“Come now, don’t be so hard on the boy. You know, he doesn’t really have to jump…he could just give up, and go find a real job. That way at least he’ll be able to survive another few years before his heart finally gives in.”
I shuddered. I knew what the apparition was trying to do, and I hated myself for not trying to resist.
I took another step towards the drop.
The rider leaned in greedily, as another fragment of my life was lost in the soft wind. His cataclysmic eyes burned into the back of my skull and I could see every person I’d ever hurt, every expectation I’d left unfulfilled. My three executioners seemed to grow taller as my steps took me beyond the soft cover of grass and on to the limestone slab above my end.
“You are an unremarkable speck in the endless sea of existence,” wheezed the rider gleefully.
“You are nothing, and in a way that should be very comforting,” murmured Oscurità, as he caressed my cheek.
“Even after all your talk of light and dark, and your naïve belief in humanity, this is how you die. On an island, alone and forgotten,” hissed my twisted double, shoving me towards the drop.
It wasn’t a strong push but it did the trick.
I was slipping, the momentum propelling me towards the inevitable abyss.
I called for help, knowing that none would come. I was alone on the cliffs; alone with my demons, and no one would save me.
Something broke my tumble. Hands pulled me upright and I was greeted by the brightest smile I had ever seen.
I recognized her immediately from the clothes she wore: her name was Miranda a street artist and a witch in one of my stories. Bubbles filled the air around her, causing Oscurità to slither backwards, hissing.
“You called for help, so we came,” she said, holding my arm and turning to face the gathering monsters.
“We?” I mouthed.
For a moment, the moon broke through the clouds, and I was no longer alone.
A homeless man carrying a paper cut-out of a woman slowly made his way up the hill, shoving the spectral rider aside as he moved to stand by Miranda. A thief and sorceress materialized to the right of me and winked, while two adolescent scholars stepped out of the rock slabs, leading an elderly warlock behind them.
“You think a few fictional characters can save you from yourself?” sneered my twin scornfully, batting my defenders aside like so much smoke.
“We are all that is real here, boy,” snarled Oscurità angrily, striding forward to strike me down with his –now clawed- hand.
The blow never landed.
The spectre cried as his nails smashed against a shield of light and fire. He reeled backwards roaring in pain and fury.
“I brought you a candle,” sang the warm voice to my left. The master was tall, grey-haired and majestic; a paragon of all I’d ever wanted to be. He held a simple white candle in his outstretched hand and his eyes were blazing with magic and power.
A low growl sounded at my feet, and I looked down in time to see a small furry shape dash forward and bury its fangs into the rider’s steed. It collapsed, immediately felled by the chaotic ball of death that was now scrambling to reach the demon’s exposed neck.
“Back! You aren’t real!” it screeched, as the predator put an end to its existence.
My mirror image clapped slowly. Dramatically.
“So you summoned up some of your creations to do battle with us? Clever. But pointless. In the end, we are all there is, you know,” it hissed, sending my allies spiralling into oblivion with a wave of its hand. “We are the insecurities at the end of the dream. We are the quick, laboured breaths you take before hiding yourself in sleep. We are the fear of death, of oblivion and the call of loss. No amount of fairy tales is going to send us away.”
The cliff was empty again and I was small and weak. Towering above me like columns of misery and hopelessness were the three. My final creations, condemning me to the reality I’d always abhorred and tried to influence. With long arms and thin fingers, they guided me backwards to the edge, even as I struggled to escape.
Then I saw the man beyond the shadows.
He winked and motioned for me to follow him, into the darkness, past the monsters. I stopped struggling and stepped forward. I remember I’d called him Jason; he’d escaped a labyrinth, so there was no reason for me not to trust his judgement.
The three screamed in anger as I passed through them, back to the safety of the grass and the stone walls beyond.
“Why do you struggle? Surely you understand that this is inevitable?” howled the bony rider, striding forward, hands outstretched.
“You summoned us to help you ease your suffering,” said Oscurità soothingly, grasping the hilt of a cruel rapier.
“You cannot run forever. Be it here, in three years or ten, you will end, and it won’t have meant a thing. We are merely here to help you realize that destiny,” said my double, doing its best to sound reasonable.
They stopped short.
“I think I understand why you are here…I came to this place to give you substance, to let my fears and horrors out in the open. To expose you.” My voice was calm, but I could fell a tremble beginning in my legs. My spine prickled with excited energy, and behind me, I heard the sweet rumble of thunder.
“You aren’t here to help me on my way,” I finally uttered, as around me the clouds twisted into familiar shapes, “you are here to be defeated.”
Gods and creatures of mythology erupted from behind me, while imps and sinister manifestations of guilt and hatred climbed over the cliff, charging forward with dead eyes.
I saw all my characters, fighting for me. Beyond exhaustion and pain, beyond hope and chance they pushed the horrors into the sea, past the edge of the horizon, until only the three remained suspended above Dún Aonghasa.
“We won’t be denied, weakling,” snarled Oscurità, impaling a gryphon on wicked spike.
“We want an end,” breathed my mirror image, impossibly perfect.
“And an end you shall have!”
Ever since I’d seen Miranda, I’d been waiting for Her to appear.
She alighted in a flurry of raven feathers and crimson sparks. The three cowered back in terror as she stalked towards them, wielding nothing but her silver dagger.
“I’ve seen death and despair in spades,” she said softly as she took them out of existence, “and I’m not going to tolerate your presence in this place.”
They burned away in the fires of her eyes, and the ruins were once again empty. She turned, and her ethereal beauty faded, until she was smaller, more familiar. She smiled, and rekindled my heart as she left.
“Why here?” I asked myself again.
Because here was the place where I could summon my demons and win. At home, they were hidden away, in everyday things, in remarks and snide comments. Here they were on a plane I could deal with.
My writing shone in my mind; a reminder of something beyond my monochrome three-dimensional existence. A gateway to possibility and magic. My pathway to hope and change.
I left Dún Aonghasa before sunrise, alone, but only for a while.-