The Last Light

Shadows moved inside deeper shadows, formless, insubstantial things that made a sound like scuttling spiders. It was impossible to tell what they were, the things hidden inside. It was the same everywhere beyond the light; all was black, shrouded in inky darkness or smothered in shadows thick like molasses.

Var stood at the very edge of the light, one step away from the darkness and the monsters living in the shadows; one step was all it would take to leave the protective circle of light and succumb to the shadows.

It was almost tempting.

Behind Var the lighthouse stood tall and proud, a bastion of hope in a world where no more light shone. The last light topped the building, its glow illuminating a large circle , creating the impression that the lighthouse existed in its own bubble of reality with nothing existing beyond the circle.

The things beyond the circle shifted and writhed in the black, visible only by their different tones and gradients, one black shade against another. It was easy for the eye to play tricks, to see things that weren’t there, or miss something standing right in front of you. It played on your sanity.

The light momentarily dimmed and for a moment Var touched the darkness:

It was cold, bitter-tasting and made his skin crawl. The sensation was a cross between pins-and-needles and plunging into a cold bath, the taste like lemons and smoke. He could feel frost forming on his beard, crystallising in his eye lashes.

Then the light returned and its sudden warmth, rose-scented and sweet, washed away the chilling black, the shock of returning painful, making him stagger, falling to the hard earth on his knees.

That was the third time in the past couple of days and it could only mean one thing: the light was dying. It wasn’t entirely unexpected; every other light had died, so it was inevitable that this one would as well. But it still made him sad; no, more than sad. If he was honest, if he let himself feel, then he felt much more than sadness; he felt despair. While the light remained there was hope, slim though it was, but once that light died there would be nothing but darkness, death, then oblivion.

Var sighed deeply and made to move back inside, to pretend- just for a while- that the world wasn’t really doomed.

Something caught his eye: a lighter shade of shadow detached itself from the darkness and moved nearer the light. It stepped right up to the edge, gaining colour and substance as it did so.

Var’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Var.” The voice that spoke his name had soft, warm tones that he recognised immediately, even as its face became clear.

“Teris?” It looked and sounded like her, but it couldn’t be. She was dead.

“Hello,” she said, a slight smile playing on her lips in a manner that was all too familiar and made him ache.

Var felt afraid. He stepped back, further into the protection of the light.

Teris watched him with dark, fathomless eyes. The smile stayed, but she neither moved nor spoke further. She just stood there, at ease, arms loose at her side, watching him.

“Who are you?” he asked; her silence made him nervous.

She cocked her head to one side and raised her eyebrow in a gesture that said ‘you know who I am’.

“It can’t be you,” he said. He vividly remembered her dying. He could picture it clearly:

It had been a night like any other, the two of them sheltered in the lighthouse, protected by its beacon, surrounded by the shadows and the things that lived inside them. Teris had decided to go out for a ‘stroll’ to ‘get some air’; something she did with increasing frequency, a need to be doing something other than simply existing. It wasn’t much, just circling the edge of the light, staring off into the dark. She told him it helped hold back the increasing feeling of claustrophobia. It helped keep her sane.

He’d watched from the doorway, as he sometimes did, marvelling at the way she moved.

Then suddenly she was standing in the void beyond the light, alone and unprotected, the beacon dimmed and its protective circle smaller. It remained that way for only a few seconds, but those seconds seemed to stretch so that everything appeared as if in slow motion.

Teris had froze, stunned by the sudden transition from warmth to cold, light to darkness; a film of frost was already forming on her exposed skin and in her hair. Then the shadows flexed and something swept out of the thickest shadows, something large and vaguely humanoid. It reached out and took hold of Teris’s hand.

In an instant she was gone, without a sound, almost as if she’d never been there.

That was the first time the light has failed and when Teris had died.
And now she stood before him, so close he could wrap his arms around her; so near he could lean forward and kiss her, as he’d often done in his troubled dreams.

“It is me,” she said. “I never left.”

“Yes you did,” admonished Var. “You vanished into the dark. You died three months ago!”

She looked over her shoulder, as if seeking confirmation from whatever lurked out there. Then she returned her gaze to Var, locking his own pale blue, tired eyes with her own deep, dark, depthless eyes. She frowned, looking slightly confused.

“Has it really been so long?” she asked. “It doesn’t seem that long, not for me.”

Var didn’t know what to say. He was struggling with what stood before him. His mind was telling him to back away, to retreat to the safety of the lighthouse; but his heart ached at the sight of Teris, ached so much he thought it might burst. He knew it couldn’t be Teris, that is was just a thing formed from the shadows, but it looked like her. He caught himself wondering if she smelt the same, felt the same, tasted the same.

Teris held out her hand, careful not to enter the light. Her eyes looked sad, yet hungry at the same time; lustful, which Var found arousing, despite the uncertainty he felt. He missed her deeply and he had been alone for too long.

“It is me,” she said, her voice now husky with promise. “Come with me. Let me show you the wonders I have found in the dark.”

Var reached out his hand, but stopped before he broke the circle, his uncertainty making him hesitate.

In that moment of hesitation the mask Teris wore- or the thing that looked like her- slipped, a flash of impatience and hatred breaking through and marring her beauty.

Var snatched his hand away as if burned.

“You’re not her,” he hissed, his lust and aching heart swiftly replaced by anger and stomach churning sorrow. “Teris is dead!”

He yelled that last word with such ferocity that the creature flinched. Now Var could see the truth: the thing lacked colour, depth; it was made of shadow and memory. It was also dangerous, but so long as Var stayed in the light he was safe.

“We have her,” said the thing that once looked like Teris, its voice that of whispering children lost in the dark.

“What?”

“We have them all,” whispered the creature. “We don’t kill. We make them our own; consume them; absorb them; wrap them up in cotton wool and steal away their dreams.”

Var didn’t reply, not wishing to hold a conversation with one of the things that had killed Teris and countless others.

“We have her,” the shadow repeated.

“I don’t believe you,” he replied, knowing that she was dead, certain of it. He had seen her taken and no one came back, but its words made him angry and he couldn’t keep his silence.

“Then look,” it said. The shape stepped back, gesturing behind it with a sweep of its arm.

The darkness shifted like a fog blown in the wind, revealing a lighter shade of black in which a mass of bodies lay, sat, slumped and stood, all coated in an inky sheen of oil-like shadow. They were human, real people, Var instinctively knew. Most of them were almost indistinguishable from the surrounding shadows, only the contrast of their dark shapes against the lighter ones making them visible; their inky coat was thick, growing as it consumed them.

Var stared at the mass in horror, feeling sick. He couldn’t see Teris, but it was impossible to recognise anyone with their shadowy masks and coats. He was glad he couldn’t; he didn’t think he could deal with it.

The shadows rolled back in, obliterating the sight from Var’s eyes but leaving the image etched in his mind. It seemed colder now, despite the protective warmth of the light. He caught a whiff of something sickly-sweet, but it was gone before he could identify it.

“We have her,” the creature said again and this time Var believed it. “We like her,” it added, leaning in as if it was sharing a secret. “We like the way she dreams; the way she feels; the way she tastes. We keep her alive to feed on her.”

Var knew it was taunting him, trying to coax him into the dark, but its words made him angrier and it took a supreme effort of will not to enter the darkness. He wanted to rip off its head, tear it to pieces, but past experience had taught him that you couldn’t kill the shadows that way. Only light could kept them at bay, only light could destroy them and the beacon was the only light left in the world.

Thinking of the light gave Var strength and he swallowed his rage, reigning it in and taking control of his emotions. He was stronger than the shadows, in that respect if nothing else.

The shadow scowled, narrowing its pit-like eyes, angry that its words had not had their desired effect.

“Leave me alone,” said Var.

It hissed and said nothing. It stepped back, merging into the deeper shadows.

The light failed.

It dimmed considerably, becoming little more than an ember, its safe circle virtually non-existent, barely illuminating the lighthouse.

Var was left standing alone in the dark.

But he wasn’t alone, although he dearly wished he was. The creatures swarmed out of the shadows, vague outlines almost invisible against the black. He felt them touch him, ice cold against his skin, penetrating his clothes. He could feel their tendrils in his mind, probing, violating his memories, infiltrating his thoughts and planting seeds that would grow and consume him.

He saw Teris then, wrapped in shadow, sedate and smiling as if she was but asleep and dreaming of happier times. He wanted to reach out and touch her, shake her awake.

Then the light flared back to life, chasing away and melting the shadows, ripping the shadow-things apart, bringing Var back from the other side.

He fell to his knees, the cold still in his bones, the tips of his fingers frostbitten, seeds lodged in his mind and there to stay.

Tears fell; he couldn’t help himself. Tears of relief, of pain, but most of all tears of sorrow. Teris was lost to him; worse she was lost to them. They had her, would always have her and there was nothing he could do about it.

Through his tears, his vision blurry, Var saw the shadow-thing hovering at the edge of the light. It looked less than human now, taller and thinner, stretched. It lacked any facial features except for a slit for a mouth, toothless and wet. Despite having no eyes Var knew it was watching him, waiting for the light to fail again.

He stopped crying and looked up at the shadow, seeing Teris in its place. He felt resigned to his fate, for he knew that sooner rather than later the light would fail completely and nothing would hold back the darkness. There was nothing he could do to stop it.

Var stood. He looked at the dark shape before him and nodded once, acknowledging and accepting all that it was and stood for. Then he turned his back on it and walked back to the lighthouse; up the stairs to the beacon, to stand by the light.

He glanced out of the window, down to where the shadow-stood, still watching him. Maybe it would be all right; maybe he would see Teris again.

Var reached out and extinguished the light.

Darkness fell.

The Last Light

Simon Forster

Ruislip, United Kingdom

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

A short story about the last light in the world, when the darkness has covered everything else and hope is all but lost.

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