Inferno (Short Story)

Every day, I tend to find myself treading a path inhabited by darkness. It never starts that way, though. I always leave my cabin to clear skies and bright sunshine, but no matter which path I take, I wind up in a hellish land that's not quite dead, but not exactly alive either.

The valley that surrounds my cabin is green, almost unnaturally so. The grass reminded me of green apple-flavored candy in both appearance and scent. The sun vividly lit the land while not being painfully bright, and the stars and moon did the same when it was their turn to clock in for the night. The mountains were a cool gray, but the stones were shiny enough to enhance the blue sky. 

This was the world I ultimately chose. A lonely cabin in a massive valley. I have the space to think and work without disturbance. If I need anything, such as food or company, I can always walk to the village further out in the mountains. 

The people there are... complicated. They can be kind but saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time can make them rather unpleasant. So I don't say or do more than I have to.

I can't say I blame them for their mercurial moods. They live closer to the outer reaches of this world, the darker parts, where a force more powerful than anything they had ever known exists. 

I've only heard stories from the villagers that speak of prodigious, destructive force of nature. A raging, red energy that is the only source of light in the vast darkness. 

Each day I find myself lost, slightly closer to the darkness than the day before. It’s always strange, because I swear no matter what I do, the world around me changes, and the paths shift, forcing me in the direction of the beast that lurks beyond the mountain.

Every afternoon, I take the same route to the village. I climb the hill and take the cleared path that leads me straight to the man who sells the red pears. But when it’s time to go home, the path is gone. I find a new way by another salesman or near the area where the local children like to play. I know it sounds odd, but it’s my only option. So I walk.

The green grass gradually becomes browner. Eventually, the grass and other vegetation just… disappear. The cool gray stones and gravel get progressively darker until they begin to look like coal. The sky gets blacker, and in the distance, I see the hellish red light.

And then I turn around and walk until the sky becomes blue, the grass returns and the coal turns back to stone. I re-enter the village, which is mostly unchanged, but the original path near the pear salesman is back. I take it home.

I sit by the fireplace with a glass of wine, irritated at the time wasted from walking on a path I never chose. This was a beautiful world that was consistently changing. But no matter what I did, I found myself closer and closer to the darkness beyond.

Truthfully, I knew what it meant to find myself surrounded by a surreal wasteland each day. I needed to venture beyond and see the force terrorizing the outside world. I couldn’t fully enjoy this world that I had chosen and curated without understanding every aspect of it.

But I was afraid. I am afraid. And I don’t think I can escape it. Maybe I’m supposed to venture off and confront the monster. Will I die? Maybe. But realistically, I had no idea what it was or if it even truly existed.

I tried to convince myself that there was nothing wrong with feeling afraid. But why did it feel so wrong in the first place?

The morning sun pierced through my window once again. I treated myself to a pleasant bath, and a hearty breakfast that featured pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. I spent the rest of the morning’s hours finalizing a project I had been working on for a while.

At noon, I polished the emblem on my cloak, threw it on, and left the cabin. I took one final whiff of the green apple candy aroma that surrounded my home and climbed the hill. I took note of the unnaturally large yellow sunflowers that surrounded me. Maybe I could pick a few and give them to the villagers as I passed through.

I approached the path with four sunflowers in my hand. I would give one to the pear salesman. One to the lady with the woven baskets. One to the old woman who liked to feed the sparrows.

“How are you today?” The pear salesman tipped his hat off to me.

“Can’t complain,” I muttered. “How are you?”

“I’m as good as I’ll ever be. Today will be a good day,” he replied.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“I see you’ve picked some flowers. I didn’t know you liked that sort of stuff,” he said, ignoring my question.

“I can like dainty things.”

“I can also see you shined the wolf emblem on your cloak. Special occasion?” 

“Uh, maybe. I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I wanted to give this to you.” I handed him a sunflower.

He stared at it for a moment, his blank expression slowly forming into a smile. “I told you today was gonna be a good day!” He grabbed it.

He handed me a large pear. “It’s on the house. Good luck today.”

I nodded and ventured further into the village, munching on the sweet pear. The locals waved at me, all wearing surprisingly huge smiles. I waved and smiled back.

It wasn’t long before I approached the woman with the woven baskets. She was playing a joyful tune on a pan flute. 

She stopped. “are one of those for me?” she asked, taking note of the remaining three sunflowers I held.

“Actually, yes.” I handed one to her.

“Why thank you. What’s the occasion?”

“Nothing in particular. You just never know what tomorrow brings,” I said.

“Of course you do. That’s the whole point of this place, isn’t it?” the woman replied.

“Pardon?”

“We’re supposed to be safe here. That’s why this place exists.”

“I don’t know,” I said. 

“You do,” she said, sternly. “You’re going to the dark lands, aren’t you?”

I stared at her for a moment before walking away. I gave her my gift, there was nothing left discuss.

I crossed the cobblestone bridge and walked past the boulder where the children played. They excitedly chased each other holding sticks like swords. They caught eyes with me and stopped to wave. I waved back.

The old woman sat hunched over on the bench, tossing bird seeds all around her. Adorable sparrows chirped at her feet. One even flew up onto her shoulder. I expected them to scatter as I approached, but they stayed in place. Eating and chirping nonchalantly.

I took a seat next to her.

“You don’t have to be afraid,” the old woman said to me in a somewhat deep and scratchy voice.

“How did you know I was afraid?”

“I see it in your eyes. You’re well fed. Your emblem is polished. You’re passing out flowers like you’re going away forever. You’re finally going to the dark lands,” she said.

“Finally? You’ve been expecting me to go?” I asked.

“Who else is supposed to?”

“I don’t know. The sheriff, maybe. One of the dozens of men that live around here?” I snapped.

She let out a soft chuckle. “They didn’t choose this world. You did.”

“Well… here.” I handed her a flower.

“Thank you. Who’s the other one for?”

“Myself, actually.”

The old woman looked directly at me and smiled. “Smart.”

A new path had appeared right in front of us. I stood and walked forward, nervously waving goodbye to the old woman.

The sun didn’t shine as bright. The grass wasn’t as green. The stones weren’t as gray. Life slowly disappeared from the world around me. No more birds chirping or insects buzzing. No more rabbits chasing each other. There was only me.

I finally reached the point where I usually turned back. I stood and observed the world around me. I could feel pain and despair in the air, and this only amplified my fears. In the distance was the infernal red glow shining brightly in the overwhelming darkness.

I looked down at the sunflower I was holding. It was the only real source of color in what felt like an ocean of gray and black. I clutched it close to my heart and took another step. Then another. Then another.

The skies quickly turned black with streaks of red in the clouds. The ground was covered with soot. I could see nothing but the intensity of the red light.

Just a few paces away. I caught a glimpse of the cliff and the devilish red light from below. It could’ve been mistaken for a volcano, but this red was almost alien in its richness.

I stood at the edge of the cliff and looked below. It rose to meet me. It was a familiar creature the size of a skyscraper and made of pure red fire. A giant wolf with a nose bigger than my body. It stared at me with its ears perked up. It didn’t appear upset, or angry. I couldn’t sense any emotion from the beast. He just stared. I slowly looked down at the emblem on my cloak. I looked at the sunflower in my hand. I pondered the words of the villagers.

I took another step…

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My first short story I'm sharing with the public. This is something I wrote while at the Ribs and R&B festival in downtown Detroit as a means to provide context to my own mental health. It was also created as a companion piece to my latest illustration, The Red Wolf.

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