The winning entry for our summer short story competition:
A boy was cursed as he slept beneath the moon. A great wave crashed over him and threatened to sweep him away, but he clawed his way back. After that night his body was both glass and ice to the touch. He shut himself away for fear of shattering, for he felt himself ebbing away and was only calmed by returning to the shallows for a moment.
A girl was born from a storm of rage. She arrived, pink and squalling, with a deep shock of fire on her head. The girl’s intensity and temper drove people from her, and she became bitter and frustrated in her solitude. She found peace in the silence of the mountains and basked in the sun.
On a warm autumnal morning the boy sat in an ice bath and watched the wisps of his breath float out of the window. He had forgotten great tactile pleasure, preferring the safe distance voyeurism granted him. From the bathroom he looked onto the street and watched people. His watery eyes flickered over the earthliness of these figures; their tangible mass burned at his sockets and pulled at his insides. He rubbed the thick condensation from the window by the tub, and flinched from the pain of the warm glass. His eyes crawled over the flesh of friends, families, lovers and lone walkers as they entered the world in front of his window. These were fleeting encounters: a snippet of conversation, a burst of laughter, an expression unknowingly worn or a footfall that betrayed a thought. He inhabited them for a moment and their skin was his. And then they were gone and he was alone in the bright white bathroom.
Whilst the boy contemplated, the girl was bounding up a mountainside. Light-headed from the height and speed of her ascent, she paused just below the summit with a gloating smile on her lips. A hollow laugh sprung from her and echoed around. She closed her eyes and listened to the sweet silence. She had unknowingly embraced the isolation forced upon her and mistook it for acting of her own volition. As she kicked a loose bit of rock, faces haunted her briefly and disappeared, like waking from a nightmare. She knit her face tight so that it crumpled into itself. Hot tears began to make a break so she looked at the pale morning sky to blink them back.
The girl worked her hands, childishly rubbing at her eyes and watching figures scuttling ant-like in the streets below. Her posture straightened and the flush of humiliation was forgotten. Momentarily, she wondered what it would be like to be one of those down below. She leant on her hand, contemplating how people seemed to move along a string of life, constantly pulled towards the end. She had to squint now to distinguish gender, age or any features; instead she thought on their mindless existence, vaguely noting their dark fate far away. She shook her head as if to be rid of the thoughts. After all, the girl was free to conquer any summit and disturb any lake, she thought. She stood with a new resolve: the peace granted through liberty and solitude was its own reward.
The dripping of the tap was madness in the silence. The boy sunk lower until the tub until he was fully submerged and the blankness washed away his melancholy. His body shook and relived the primal terror of the trial of the wave, when it had clawed away his skin, leaving him naked. The whole house felt like it was collapsing with every trickle from the faucet until his lungs were crushed and he was breathing water.
He scrambled out, only aware that he had to get away. He wandered the streets wrapped in a heavy coat, holding a stone water bottle filled with ice to his chest. Imperceptible to passersby, the boy drifted away from the jostle. Soon, his feet left him lost in the woods, but the realisation didn’t startle him for the fear was in the house and the sanctuary had become a prison. The sun briefly peered through the overcast sky and the boy looked up, his eyes raw and pale. He shielded his face as the warmth ebbed towards him. He peeled away his coat and let it fall to the ground. He marveled at the silence, so markedly different from the stolen sounds of other people’s lives he had cherished in memory and muttered to himself at night.
The girl awoke, shivering. She looked up bewildered and could only conclude that she had fallen asleep. She staggered up, forcing heat into her flesh as she slowly circled round the mountainside to begin her descent. Gradually she regained the customary flush to her face as she worked over rocks that threatened to topple upon contact. Engrossed in her work, she didn’t notice the new and foreign sound. The sound was laughter. The laughter was raucous and unrestrained. It floated on the air towards her and jabbed inside her ears. It disturbed her. She jerked her head, confused by the surge of emotion caused by the contact. It had been too long since she had heard that sound, and terror was in her eyes at the possibility of encountering another living thing that might notice her. She approached cautiously and noiselessly to study the stranger. The figure shone, its surface catching the light and dazzling her eyes. A fresh flush of rage crept up her chest when she saw the smooth long glass that made him indisputably a man. He moved pointedly, admiring everything yet failing to notice her. Inching closer, she thought his skin had a sleek rippling quality to it, and she wondered almost held out her hand to see if it would be wet to the touch. It was as though he had been carved out of ice.
The boy looked at her and she jumped back, as though some barrier had been shattered by the acknowledgement. The boy was uncertain, responding to her burning presence. His eyes finally found her, half-crouched in the shadow of a tree. Her face was difficult to define for her edges waved and flickered brightly, and her skin was white hot. Curves and lines of movement made her expression both hypnotic and dizzying. He moved closer, compelled by curiosity, and she lurched up to her full height, never breaking the gaze. In the pale periphery, he investigated her contours as her hollow coals for eyes roamed all of him.
They circled, like beasts or dancers, faces and bodies mimicking ritualistically. They spun spirals closer like a tangle of webs, until they nearly touched. His lips parted and cool words like wisps hung between them, and she answered, her words licking the air and extinguishing. They barely knew what they said; their voices were full of creaks and rust from neglect. In the disused harmony of these voices, there sprung an affinity. Time wound up tightly and they neglected the sun being pulled across the sky as though by some invisible string.
By dusk, neither could face the possibility of returning to solitude. They walked, their soft footfalls inclining to one another, until finally the girl stretched out her blistering hand. The boy took it and entwined his fingers in hers, and they jumped apart as though shocked by electricity. A relieved sizzling noise echoed and wisps rose up around them. The boy examined his hand and found it raw and weeping deep blue. The girl, for her part, discovered her fingers caked in biting white ice.
Turning towards each other, their faces were mirrors of desolation. The boy took hold of her face in his, both ignoring the deafening sounds from within their own bodies. He kissed her, his lips burning and blackened by her touch, and leaving permanent glass imprints on her mouth. They continued, in spite of but also encouraged by their mutual pain. Soon, her white hot skin was entirely covered in the ice marks he left, and he was melting to his core.
When the moment came, he saw the depth of her eyes as the blue crept up like veins and turned her pupils pale. She was sorry as she felt the searing shoot up his body and the blaze pooled in his eyes. There was nothing to be done but for them to cling to each other as they lost themselves. He no longer felt himself, he was somehow empty. All her rage was spent and only dying embers remained.
In the commune of their inevitable cessation, they found a true sense of contentment. The relentless pain mingled with pleasure to reassure them that this was existence, not the half-life of despair and isolation they had clung to for so long.
For a fleeting second, she was fearful. For a moment, when he closed his eyes, he felt regret. And then there was nothing for them to feel because there was nothing.
by Katalina Watt