This is the third chapter of my reader-driven blog serial, Porous. If you need to catch up, go back to Chapter One: Immolation or Chapter Two: Sky-Honey.
The Blackness In Between The Stars
“Kawai, you will have to learn to sleep without the light on sometime.”
“Another night, kasaan. I want the lights on tonight.” My mother is hovering at the door, smiling worriedly at me. We’ve had this conversation a thousand times since I was too old to be afraid of the dark. Her finger is on the light switch, waiting for my permission to turn it off, but I’m too tired to try to fight off the shadows tonight. I would rather brave my mother’s disapproval than the shadows draining me from the world.
Just then, Ada pokes her head around the corner of the door frame.
“You can sleep with me again tonight, Noomi!” she says, a bright smile on her childish face.
“Ada!” my mother chides. “You’re supposed to be in bed.”
“But I’m not sleepy,” she pouts. I grin and hop out of bed. Kuri, who was curled up at my feet, growls a little, but doesn’t move. He snuggles in at the foot of my bed every night, even when I’m not there. He glares at me over his long nose, looking offended. I rub his ears as an apology.
“Maybe I will sleep with you again tonight, little peach,” I say to Ada. I slip my feet into my geta, my slippers. “We had a good time telling stories last time, didn’t we?” Ada’s head bobs up and down. I tuck in the sheets on my bed and take her hand in mine.
“Yes, and she was also a nightmare to get out of bed the next morning,” my mother reminds me. “If you sleep with her again, you promise me you won’t keep her up all night.”
“Yes, kasaan. It’s a school night. I won’t keep her awake.” I pick Ada up under the armpits and swing her onto my hip. At six years old, she’s getting almost too big for me to carry her, but she wraps her arms around me so I can hold her. I flip the light off as I walk out of the room.
“I can take her to school in the morning if you’d like,” I offer as I walk past my mother, down the hall to Ada’s room. I just started driving two months ago, and these days I drive Ada to school almost every day. She hates taking the school bus—she used to cry and scream in the mornings before she had to get on the bus, shouting about how people push and shove and make too much noise. She’s so small for her age, it’s no surprise she gets pushed around. So now that I can drive, I just drop her off in the mornings.
“Please do,” my mother says. “That would make my day a lot easier.”
“Oyasumi, kasaan!” Ada calls to her over my shoulder. Good night, mother.
I open the door to Ada’s room and let her down. She immediately jumps into bed and grabs her stuffed dragon, Yuki. I hesitate for a moment, my hand on the light switch, afraid as I always am of the darkness that will swallow me. I don’t think they’ll find me tonight, but the fear is always there.
“Tonight I want you to tell me the story of the bear and the hare,” Ada says. It’s one of her favorites. I made it up one night when we were younger and she’s been asking for it ever since. I glance over at her, black hair flush around her face, green emerald eyes bright with eagerness.
“I can do that.” I flip the switch and the room goes dark. I’m safe with her, I tell myself as my stomach flips. The familiar panic consumes me for a moment, but I calm myself. I take a few tentative steps in the darkness around to the other side of the bed, where I always sleep when we stay together.
“In the northern world where the days are white and clean, and the nights are rainbows of light and color, two friends were traveling from one part of the world to another. They were coming for a great gathering of the animals to celebrate the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice.” I’ve told this story a hundred times, but it’s never exactly the same. I finally reach the bed, my eyes wide open for signs of the growing darkness, the empty blackness, shadows within shadows, but there are none. I peel back the covers and climb in. Ada’s fingers reach out for mine.
“Tell me about the other animals,” she whispers, and I tell her, dutifully, about all the other animals, the white winter world, and the gifts the animals gave to each other. As she drifts off, I keep talking, trying as I always do to stay awake for as long as possible. Ada may keep me safe from the shadows in the real world, but in the dream world nothing can protect me. Not Ada’s sweet fingers curled around mine, not the clean scent of my mother’s clay teapot, not the moon or the stars in the sky. In sleep I am alone. And so I fight it for as long as possible. But it eventually takes me, as always.
When it comes, it’s drifting like waves. When it comes, it’s floating like a feather on a spring breeze. When sleep comes it’s deep and dark like the depths of the ocean and the black spaces in between the stars.
I dream of a vast bamboo forest like the ones my mother used to tell stories of when I was a child. It’s green, green all around, as far as the eye can see. I walk between the rows, touching the ridged, wooden plants, letting their coolness and hardness graze against me. The bamboo morphs into columns, columns tall enough to touch the sky, dark now, the color of storm clouds, green and grey and purple and slate. I walk on cool marble and my bare feet chill to the bone. The shadows of the columns grow. They lean and creak like the old trees of the forests I walk in. They groan. They stretch. The shadows grow to twice, three times their size and now the world is nothing but shadows. The columns are gone and all I see are storm clouds and shadows. Wind whirls around me, pulling at my hair, tying knots in my soul and twisting me this way and that.
What are you? I ask them as I feel myself being emptied. I ask this question every night in my dreams and they have never answered.
We are nothing, they respond. They have never responded before. I have asked this question every night since I knew what language was and they have never answered me. I shiver as the wind begins to tear my skin to shreds. It peels off of me like a tattered flag. I am shorn into a thousand pieces.
We are everything, they taunt. We are growing stronger. We are you.
I try to fight back. I try to reassemble myself, like a potter fixing a broken vessel whose pieces are lost. I am a puzzle begging to be put back together. I am a thousand water droplets in the sky desperate to condense into rain.
What do you want from me? I cry as the blackness drains the color from my world. My eyes begin to darken but I remind myself of the green in Ada’s eyes, the chestnut hair on Kuri’s back, the purple of my mother’s kimono. Now instead of blackness there is a rainbow in front of me. Like Silas’ eyes from today. Like the northern sky in the stories I tell my sister.
We will enter your world and drain you from it. You are our portal. You are our doorway. Once we have used you, you will be nothing. You will be destroyed.
I won’t let you.
You have no choice.
The blues, yellows, greens, and oranges fade, Silas’ eyes and Kuri’s warm body disappear, all stained over by an inky, impenetrable blackness.
I am emptied. I am nothing.
So, that’s it for chapter three! What do you think? I have a decent idea of where I’m going for the next chapter, but then after that I’m in the dark! I’m just as curious as you are about how Noomi will go about fighting the shadows, as she still has no concrete idea what they are or how to combat them. And I only know a little bit more than she does! So I’d love to hear your thoughts on this chapter, how you’re feeling about the overall vibe of the story so far, and what you think should happen as the story progresses.
Also, the photo I used for this week’s chapter is from The Lord Of The Rings. I didn’t really want to steal that image, but it was absolutely the best image to capture the vibe of the dream scene and the dark columns that I was envisioning. I guess you could say I was inspired by Tolkien’s Moria!
This is really building up to be something special. It really is keeping me hooked and honestly I am a very tough customer when it comes to keeping attention in a story. I think the length of each chapter is perfect for a serial blog like this one and each one has bought something different.
Are the shadows the reason she has attempted suicide so much (i.e to escape them) or is it they who have tried to kill her? Just a thought I had. No need to answer as I’m sure you don’t want to spoil the story.
I liked how she had so many reasons to contrive staying near her sister as protector. I really look forward to seeing where this goes next week. At the moment I have no suggestions about what/who the shadows are but if I suddenly get a flash of inspiration I’ll be sure to post!
Meanwhile keep up the great work. Loving it. 🙂
Thank you so much. I’m so glad you’re enjoying! I’m really having a blast with this story and have even found it pervading my consciousness in more ways than I anticipated – I had some crazy dreams about writing next week’s chapter last night.
As to the shadows, I’m seeing it kind of both ways. Noomi tries to kill herself as a way of escaping the bleakness that they bring upon her, but they are also sucking energy away from her and so may eventually kill her whether she does so first or not. But of course every time she tries to kill herself she fails, so she has to find a different way to escape them.
My biggest question right now is why Ada is such a protecting force for Noomi. I haven’t figured that part of the story out, and if you have any flashes of brilliance I’d love to hear them!
Just my two bits, but if Noomi is the shadows’ ticket into the world, maybe Ada isn’t so much protecting her as keeping them out. If Noomi is the doorway, perhaps Ada is the guardian, not of her sister, but of the world itself.
Jess, that’s brilliant. That may have solved my Ada problem. I’m totally going to use that idea – in some form or another. Thank you – and thanks so much for following along!