Hail, friends! It’s the end of October and I have had an interesting month. I’m still going strong with Inktober. I also painted some pumpkins and attended a renaissance fair. Next month I’ll probably share my favorite art pieces I’ve made over the past few weeks. Today, however, I have a short story to offer! I wrote it during a time of discouragement, and it’s very dear to my heart.
The Voice is strong. In the endless night it speaks and moans, whispers and groans. Its influence reaches from city center to far purlieu. In a world uninhabitable, life remains only in the Web. Here alone is illumination. Here alone I stand, where the light is a lie.
At night, I often trek to the solitary spires that rim the Web’s vast network. Below me, roads cross each other and map out a puzzling pattern. The deeper you go, the more muddled your senses become. Glaring light, so artificial, attracts the populace like insects to a lamp. They exult in the benevolent gift of illumination, and all the while the Voice grows stronger.
Of course, the city is our home. Of course, we stand in solidarity, not alone. We celebrate each other, forever. Our quirks and distinguishing features blur together until, at last, we are one. The party never ends—eternity awaits us as we gaily banter, for the light of night is far better than Day.
This is the mantra of the Voice, the deafening murmur of many. I think more join the chorus every hour. Surely, they must—it cannot be that I am getting weaker, so it must be that the Voice is growing stronger as untold numbers join its ranks.
If I am weakening, does that mean resisting is pointless? Why put up a fight if, in the end, I will join the Voice and become one of them? Ten years—I have come this far, and I cannot fail now. Was it not promised that Day would return? It has been so long.
I fear that when Day comes, I will be the only one who will welcome it. Blinded by the neon lights, the Web will not know how to function in Day. Too complacent, they will never be able to cultivate the earth and work with their hands. The Daylight is too hot, they will say, because that is what the Voice has said.
Yes, they will flee underground where they can bask in lies, and the promised deliverance will only set free a scattered few. Besides my late grandmother who taught me of the promise, I do not know another resident of the Web who awaits the Day.
The Voice is crafty. When it senses weakness, it exploits it. One of the greatest weaknesses of humankind is our need for companionship. We need a friend to stand beside so that when one of us falls, the other can help them back up. Isolation is a keen weapon, best used gradually and tactically.
Yet I am not alone in body. Hundreds in my district surround me every day. They exchange words with me and even smiles. They are the kindest of people. When my grandmother died, their support was overwhelming. I could not gather the strength to make my own meals, so they brought food—much more than I could ever eat—and messages of condolence. With friends like those, how could one ever feel alone?
Quite easily, in fact. Say something that opposes the message of the Voice and they will respond politely, but with no conviction. They do not know how to think. The Voice makes up their mind for them. It is like speaking to a machine and receiving a programmed answer.
And if they are not as friendly as the residents of my sector, they do not respond politely. Their scorn spreads like wildfire, and before I can blink, enlightened ones have converged en masse to correct my mistaken opinion, or demand an apology, or threaten death if I refuse to return to my appointed course. Those are dealt with easily enough, for murder is frowned upon in the Web, and the Voice knows one dissenter’s opinion will not cause a ripple across the districts.
I was once naïve enough to think I could change someone’s mind. I loved a girl in whose brilliant blue eyes I imagined I could see the sky of Day. Her copper hair, when not muted by the garish city lights, would have shone beautifully in Daylight. I believed that eventually, she would start to realize how deep the deception was. I wanted to be the one to pull her out. I wanted to rescue her.
She seemed to be listening, giving me her sweet, gentle smile that encouraged me to go on. I spoke tentatively at first, not wishing to overwhelm her. Or perhaps that’s just what I told myself. I didn’t want her to reject me as so many had done already. Mia never rejected me, but neither did my words cause any stir in her heart.
But I didn’t see that. Back then, I believed she was listening and learning. The Voice had seen my weakness, and it whispered lies into my heart even as I sought to redeem a precious friend. So thick was the veil of deception that I could not see that I was the one changing. I might have continued down that hopeless road and ended in ruin had not a warning entered my mind.
Tell her about the Day, was the message, so unlike something the Voice would say. I didn’t want to. She wasn’t ready. If I told her, she would despise me. Then I realized that these thoughts were from the Voice. If it did not want me to tell her about the Day, I must. So, I did.
She responded not with derision, but with indifference. That wounded me far more than rejection. To think that my efforts had been pointless, that my words had fallen on deaf ears. She had never cared about the Day, and she never would. Though it broke my heart, I knew I could not stand in the night with someone who would not welcome the Day. She didn’t understand why I separated myself from her but accepted it with the gracious spirit I had always admired. We parted on friendly terms, but my wound was deep. It still hasn’t fully healed, and I don’t know if it ever will.
I felt the isolation more acutely after that. I could never dare to love anyone again, or even take a chance on a friend lest the Voice entrench itself once more. Now the mountains are my friends. Here, the Voice is very faint. I watch the hive of activity around the Web from my lofty perch and voice my longings to the dark, empty sky, for perhaps out there is someone whose ears are not deaf and whose mind still functions. After all, the promise of Day had to come from someone greater than the Voice and its underlings.
I cling desperately to the promise. I cannot last much longer in the isolation, where smiling faces disguise empty minds and benevolent voices propagate venomous lies. I am sinking down into the dark, where not even the artificial light reaches, and in that pit, I will never glimpse the Day.
So, I rise, climbing the tallest spire to glimpse the world beyond the Web. I want to be the first to see the glimmer of Day on the horizon. Grandmother said it would come from the east, so that is the direction I face. Even when I am down in the Web, I look eastward and strain my eyes to see through the haze. The dazzling lights sometimes trick me into thinking Day has come, but it hasn’t, for when I climb the spire, the sky is still paved with empty blackness.
On this night, this new hour of a night that has lasted for more decades than I know, my hope is just a thread. Spun first by my grandmother, it has been resilient for many years, but now it is fraying. Soon it will snap. When it does, I cannot tell what I will do. I hope that I will not become part of the chorus of the Voice. I hope I will not go back to Mia to tell her I was wrong about the Day.
No, even if I despair of Day coming before I am driven to madness, I do not doubt that it will come. Perhaps when the thread breaks, I will never return to the Web, resting on the peak of this spire so that when Day does come, its light will warm my body first. Perhaps I will do so now. And why not? Nothing remains for me in the Web.
I curl up on the frozen ground with my parka zipped under my chin and gloved hands tucked deep into my pockets. In Day, the light will warm this very spot, and perhaps plants will grow out of the cracks in the rock. Perhaps in Day, someone will find my body’s resting place and declare, “Ah, he was looking for the Day.”
I can almost feel the warmth of Day on my face, almost see the light beyond my closed eyelids. Grandmother said it would be a golden color, and it would paint the sky a soft, gentle blue so unlike the heavy black drapery that now stretched over our heads. A smile tugs at my lips, and tears sting my face in the bitter cold. Day will come. I may never see it, but it will come.
The vision of Daylight pulses brighter. The warmth brushes my numb skin. They say when a person’s core temperature drops too low, cold feels hot. And yet…
The frayed thread has not broken, and it urges me to open my eyes. A malicious whisper tells me to ignore the impulse, to just give up. It is not worth one more disappointment, one that might sever that thread once and for all. One that might plunge me into a pit of despair even darker than this ceaseless night.
I am tired of the Voice. I cannot heed it now, for that would give it victory. With a trembling breath, I force my lids open. In the painful moment of obscurity when my eyes refuse to focus, the darkness looms over me, pressing me down. But that moment passes, and my gaze rivets on the distant horizon—the eastern horizon—and the pale light spreading across it.
Light—glorious light. Light unlike any I have ever seen before. My breath hitches and more tears trace silently down my face. The light blossoms into a golden flower, and its brilliance shatters every uncertainty I have ever harbored. Darkness abandons its secret strongholds. For once, the Voice is blessedly silent.
I am strong, for Day has come.