Here’s an EmoTeen!Seth story that I wrote a couple of months ago, but I didn’t share it here because I thought that it was a bad story and that it wasn’t good enough. It was my entry for a writing contest on Figment. Each entry in the contest was read by a professional editor, and the winning story would be put in her anthology of YA short stories.
I didn’t win, but I did get this personal email from the editor.
Hi Stacy, this is Saundra Mitchell. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for submitting your story, The Sorrowdark, to the Defy the Dark contest. From the very first line, I was hooked. You have an amazing voice, and the humor and perversity on display here was so much fun to read. I did get the sense it was a smaller part of something bigger, and because of that I had to put it aside. But even though I couldn’t take it for my antho, I hope that you’ll submit elsewhere because it was a great read. Best, Saundra
So, I decided to go ahead and share it with you guys. 🙂 Do note that it’s not my best work, and I’m not proud of it, but hey, if it got that sort of feedback from someone professionally involved in publishing, it must not suck too hard.
The name of the anthology was Defy the Dark, if that helps explain the theme of the story.
Seth Morrigan’s very own personal dark night of the soul had taken physical form, and it lay in wait for him on his bedroom floor.
It’d been there since last night. Since he’d attempted to set the waffle on fire. The point had been to break it down, to destroy all its waffle bits and leave only a fine black powder. None of the alchemical books he’d read had mentioned starting the great work with a waffle, but there were plenty of waffles in the fridge and he was rather fond of them and it wasn’t like he had a lot of lead sitting around. If he could not turn lead into gold, he’d turn waffles into golden syrup.
Seth had tried leaving the waffle to rot on his desk, but it had just sat there, day after day, not changing. His mother asked why he didn’t seem to want waffles for breakfast as much as he used to. He had answered, “They’re unnatural.”
Last night he had stared at the waffle, willing it to decay, and then he’d had the idea. The idea to grab his box of matches and try setting the thing on fire.
There had been the hard scratch of the match against the cardboard box, the hiss as it caught, the orange and white and blue of the flame, and then the heart sinking disappointment as the waffle resisted the flame and remained unburned, unblackened, and unbowed. Seth had sighed, blown out the match, and gone back to doing his homework.
It wasn’t until later that night, on his way back from the bathroom, that he’d noticed the black puddle on the floor under his desk. It had snarled at him.
In the morning he found the waffle gone, the puddle huddled below where it had lain. He’d stepped carefully around the puddle as he got ready for school in the morning. It had haunted him all day, distracting from his biology test and the lecture on symbolism in Romantic literature in English. Now he was home, sitting cross legged on his bed, staring at the puddle as the shadows lengthened outside. The puddle muttered to itself.
He picked up his phone and dialed Caitlyn Wilson’s number.
“Yo Seth, what’s up?”
“I think you should come over.”
“Oooh, what’s going on? Aliens invading your garden?”
“Oh my gosh, they’re drunk and they’re riding Russian bears? That’s gonna be bad for your herbs, man.”
“Actually, I tried to burn a waffle. Only instead it turned into a dark void of blackness and darkness, and now the void is talking to me.”
There was silence on the other line. Seth imagined Caitlyn standing in her room, her black hair pulled up in a ponytail. She’d be squinting, with her mouth quirked up to one side, trying to decide how to respond.
“Have you ingested any illegal substances today? If so, it’s okay. You can tell me. Your secret is safe with me.”
“No. Look, just come over.”
“All right, all right. See you in a bit.”
He hung up the phone. The puddle gurgled and sloshed. He stared at it, feeling very, very afraid.
The shadows flowed up and over his window sill. He watched as they moved over his bed and onto the floor, as they swallowed up the puddle. He saw the headlight beams cross the walls, heard the slam of a car door. He heard the low murmur of his mother greeting Caitlyn. His mother was happy that he had a friend now, a friend who was a girl even.
His bedroom door opened.
“Dude, what are you doing sitting alone in the dark?”
“Contemplating the utter nothingness of existence, and how we all spend our lives sitting in the dark alone, and then we die and it’s just more darkness, only we don’t even know we’re sitting in it anymore.”
Caitlyn flicked the light switch by the door. The shadows receded.
“You know I like you because you’re so bright and cheery, right?”
He pointed at the puddle. It slunk under his desk, hiding from the brightness of the overhead light.
“Look. There it is. Can’t you hear it?”
The bed creaked as Caitlyn sat on it next to him. His heart beat a little faster, but he wasn’t sure if it was her proximity or his desire for her to hear it, to tell him that he wasn’t crazy, that he wasn’t alone in the dark.
She sat still and silent, looking under his desk. He waited, counting his breaths. One two three four. The puddle moaned and grunted and whispered of fire, of burnt things, of ashes and hatred.
Finally, she spoke.
“So, umm, no, I don’t hear anything. I don’t see anything either. You sure you’re okay?”
He didn’t answer her. Suddenly he wanted her to leave, to turn out the light, to leave him alone with the shadows and the groaning puddle.
He changed position, drawing his knees up and locking his arms around them.
“Look, okay, I believe you. You said this is where it is?”
She jumped up from the bed and crossed the floor, kneeling down by his desk. She was looking at him. He nodded.
She reached out a hand and touched the puddle. He saw her eyes go wide when her fingertips grazed it.
“Oh my god, what was that?!”
She reached out again, and this time her whole right hand disappeared into the puddle.
“Whoa. Dude. Come check this out.”
He unbent his legs and slid off the bed. The puddle was screaming now.
He kneeled down next to her. The puddle screamed and screamed. He closed his eyes, counted his breath, one two three four, and then he plunged his left arm down into the void, into the cold screaming dark.
There was no end to it. No floor stopped him. There was only the empty space and freezing air that swirled around his arm.
“How far down do you think it goes?”
He pulled his arm out of the puddle. It felt weird, like his arm had been to the void without him and now it had come back, cold and heavy, and it didn’t feel like a part of him anymore. It felt alien.
He picked up a ruler from his desk.
“Let’s find out.”
The ruler disappeared into the darkness. Three inches. Six. Nine. Then he was holding it by the edge. Twelve. He let go of it.
Caitlyn couldn’t hear the puddle’s voice, but she heard the ruler when it hit something solid a few seconds later.
He looked at her, at the fire and light in her eyes, and he knew he would go with her even before her lips moved.
“We’ve got to go down there.”
Caitlyn went first. He watched as she lowered herself into the puddle. Bit by bit she disappeared into the darkness. She said, “You’d better come too, you bastard.” Then she was gone.
He didn’t think about the cold, or the dark, or the murmuring and gurgling and screaming. He thought of her, of her fire and her warmth and her light, and then he let go of his bedroom floor, and the darkness took him.
He landed on snow.
“Well. That wasn’t too bad.”
Caitlyn stood next to him, holding the ruler. They’d only fallen a few feet.
Seth looked around. He’d never really thought about what was under his bedroom floor. If he’d known it was like this, maybe he would have come down here earlier.
The air felt like late December, cold and clean and clear. Light snow dusted the ground. He looked up. The sky was big and black and speckled with silver stars.
It was a sky. Not the floor of his bedroom. There was no small square of light above them. No hole through the void.
No way back home.
She had already skipped off somewhere.
“Seth, come here! Look what I found!”
He turned towards the sound of her voice. There were trees all around them, tall pine trees with branches outlined in white by the snow. He noticed the silence, the way Caitlyn’s voice echoed off the trees.
He listened to the sound of his footsteps as he walked towards her. The crunching of the snow under his feet and the sound of Caitlyn being alive, breathing, and his own breath were the only sounds he heard. He counted his breaths, timing them with his stride. One two three four.
The footprints led off into the trees.
“Do you think they’re human?” she asked him.
“Well, yeah. They look like a normal shoe.”
“We should follow them.”
He wanted to say that they had no clue where they were or what was going on, that maybe the footprints would lead them to the lair of a serial killer, or an alien Russian bear testing facility, or to hell itself. But then he remembered the night sky above the snow, the void that had closed itself up behind them. They had no other choice.
The trees murmured to him. He followed behind Caitlyn, watching her boots. She’d worn her hiking boots, like always. He supposed that was a happy coincidence.
She didn’t hear the trees. She hadn’t heard the puddle. This wasn’t her darkness. It was his, and he had brought her here.
The trees whispered of death and darkness and nothingness and being alone.
Seth focused on the hiking boots in front of him.
“So what is this place, you think?”
Her voice echoed. You think, you think, you think.
“I don’t know. I think that maybe it’s the accumulated darkness of everything I’ve ever repressed, and now it wants to eat me.”
“Really? That’s an interesting theory. But if it eats you, how is it going to digest you? Maybe the snow is like stomach acid, and the trees are, like, the walls of intestines.”
They walked on, Caitlyn’s boots drawing Seth forward. The trees got louder.
He asked her, “So if a tree screams in the forest and no one can hear it, did it actually say anything?”
“I don’t know. Is it screaming like actual words, or just like aaaaaahhhhhh all the time?”
Seth listened to the trees.
“It’s screaming like a sort of image. Like not words or aaaaahhhhh but more like a conceptual image of a dark void and fire and death and hatred and stuff.”
“Fire and death, huh?”
“Yeah. Well, you know, trees would be really scared of fire.”
“Yeah. Normal ones. But I don’t know if a tree that can scream conceptual images is normal. Maybe it wants the fire. To stop the screaming.”
“Maybe. So where do you think these footsteps go?”
The boots in front of him stopped. He stopped too.
In front of them was a silent wall of fire. Seth knew there should be snapping and crackling and roaring. But there wasn’t. There was only the fire, reaching up towards the stars.
It whispered to him. It said it would take her, that it would take everything and everyone that he loved, that he would always be alone in the void and in the dark. Unless he gave himself up to it.
A figure separated itself from the fire. A human shape, with clothes and shoes and a face, a face that writhed and melted, a face of flames.
Caitlyn screamed. It wasn’t words. It was the aaaaaaahhhhh sort of scream. But Seth was the only person who heard it, so maybe it wasn’t real.
A square of light opened in the darkness, by the figure of flame. He could see his desk. His bed.
He grabbed Caitlyn’s arm. She stopped screaming. He pointed towards the square of light.
“Go. You go first, and run as fast as you can, and I’ll distract Mr. Scary Flamey Dude here, and then I’ll come after you, okay?”
She nodded. He let go of her arm. She reached for his hand, squeezed it. Then she was gone, and he watched the hiking boots as they ran. The figure turned towards the motion and started to go after her, but Seth screamed, and his screams were words, and the figure turned towards him.
He did not run. He watched, and he made sure that she made it to the light, that she climbed back up through the void and into safety. The figure came closer, and he could see the flames where the eyes should be, and still he did not run.
He thought of her, of her fire and her warmth and her light, and then he went into the flames, and the darkness took him.