☠ Readers beware: This story is from a writing project I did between May 24 to June 24, 2021. The goal was to write a new story every day. Although I'm happy with them, they are first drafts and many could use some work.
The wind howled, and the sea slammed hard against the keep. Rain poured through the roof, and water ran down the stairs and walls. Although Bernia was certain the stones would be ripped from their mortar and the building would topple down upon her, she held her post.
She’d barred the door with timbers, shuttered the windows, and padlocked the trapdoor above. The room was as secure as good as it could be.
Her priority was the candles. She had to do anything she could to prevent them from burning out. Several flickered on the floor by the entrance, as well as some in the window sills, and many on the stairs. They were raised and sheltered from the water and wind by pottery and plates and kept away from any potential drips.
Yet none of these were as important as the one in front of the full-length mirror. Certainly, if any of the others were extinguished, it would be bad, but if she lost this one, it would be a disaster. She stayed close to it, cupping her hands, praying she wouldn’t lose it.
Except the wind had other plans. It snuck through the cracks and made the room draughty. It constantly played at the wick, fluttering the flame, urging it to leap away and go out. She tucked herself close and tight and held her breath.
The wind continued to thump hard against the door, or at least she hoped that was all it was. Before the storm and before she had sealed things tight, the night sky was black and thick. No stars, no moon, and the air clung to the skin like tar.
This meant one thing: the veil between their two worlds had grown thin.
Her attention was drawn to the corner at the sound of retching. The knight had returned, bowed over and dripping black mucous. Rarely had she seen him appear.
She didn’t rush to him but kept her distance. The membrane that dripped off him scared her. It reminded her of the oily liquid that dripped off the stillborns in the village.
“Did you find her?”
“Yes… Close… Not yet.”
“You know where she is?”
“Yes… I can get to her—“
“We can’t keep doing this—“
“Just one more—”
“It’s too dangerous—“
The knight pushed himself off the wall and charged for the mirror. “You worry about your job, and I’ll worry about mine.” Then he was gone and she was alone.
She cursed under her breath. He was being reckless, with his life and hers, and those of the villagers. Every pass through the veil only weakened it, allowing whatever creatures were on the other side to slip through.
She stared at the candle. All it required was one quick blow to extinguish it, and he’d be lost on the other side forever. Without her light, he’d not be able to find his way back. In time, the veil would heal and the natural order of the world would return.
Yet, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Not out of duty or loyalty to this callous man, but that it wasn’t the decent thing to do. To abandon another human being to the other side seemed a crueller fate than any death.
The door thudded, but this time it wasn’t the wind. It was solid and big, and it was on her doorstep.
The monsters were outside.
She drew her sword and readied herself to strike, but her candle flickered. She dropped to her knees and covered it again. Even if the timbers shattered, and the hinges and locks buckled, her last act would be to protect the flame.
A lightning strike crashed outside and illuminated through every crack. The thunder that followed shuddered through her deeply and she felt it within her skull.
But then the knight was back, huddled in a ball on the floor. He wasn’t moving. She approached him cautiously. The membrane stunk and evaporated in greasy streams of smoke.
“Did you find her?” she asked, but he didn’t answer. She poked him with her sword, but he didn’t push back.
She knew he was dead, that somewhere coming back, he had died. She accepted they had failed their quest, but then she heard the quiet gurgle and cry.
Foregoing any concerns about the membrane, she rolled the knight over to discover the baby in his arms. She scooped the child up quickly and wiped it clean with her shawl and felt a lightness in her heart.
Despite her misgivings of the man, the knight had done it. He had saved the princess.
Now she hoped it was soon enough to save them all.
I began writing this one late in the afternoon since I wasn't exactly sure what the story would be. I tried finding an app that would create random combinations of pre-selected words to help generate ideas, but nothing came. I also tried freewriting to lead me down a path, since this is often what has worked in the past. This issue of idea generation tends to be the biggest thing that slows my daily writing down.
Eventually, I found the answer when the image of this moment from Nostlaghia (1993) by Andrei Tarkovsky came to mind.
I liked the idea of keeping that flame alive and built it out the story from that.
I didn't get his one as far as I had wished, but it may be one I'll come back to in a rewrite.