The Word and the Pond
by N.D. Coley
All the world the boy knew was dark, but he did not understand it as darkness, for there had never been anything but shadows-- a world of black and gray and hints of a dull white, but never light. He knew nothing of that word called light save for the myths, and the stories were so old and strange that they were just that, stories, and some people believed them and some people did not. The books told of things other than shadows, but they made no sense to him. Words such as yellow and green and blue and red—stories of how everyone was born as a vapor and drifted about, moving through the shadowy world--passing through its rocks and mountains, wading in streams that felt like nothing.
Feeling—that was another thing, the idea that not everything was a vapor, that when your time was up you put on what the mythmakers called the solid, though some called it the flesh, and in the solid nobody could pass so easily through the rocks and the mountains, and in the sol-id, the waters felt what the storytellers of old called hot and cold. The solid gave one a thing called skin, which would wince and react. The skin had hairs that would stand up, and it could bruise and turn into the strange things called colors, and these old story tellers called this thing pain. Only the solid could feel the pain. These stories were so strange to the boy, as he drifted about among the other vapors, nodding and passing through them, talking about nothing as there was nothing to talk about-- just an endless expanse of shadow and rock.
He passed through a migration of vapors, clustered together out of fear for what was beyond the shadow after the next shadow, and he opened his mouth to speak to them, but a vapor passed through it, and then another, and their eyes all looked down and to the side and nobody wanted to talk to him. He stopped and closed his eyes, feeling the vapors passing through him, going nowhere, hoping that something was beyond the nowhere, and he felt sad and thought that if there was a thing among the solids called the cold, that this was most certainly something like it. He passed through the migration on his own. That is all he knew.
I don’t like it when people don’t believe me. My mum doesn’t believe me, and that would be fine if she didn’t make me turn out the light all the time, but she does and that frightens me, because when she turns out the light my room gets colder and my bed sheets aren’t soft anymore. They feel rough and unwashed, and when I pull them over my head I feel cold. When mum turns out the lights I can feel the wind, only it’s not wind. It can’t be wind. The windows are closed. The house isn’t drafty. At least I don’t think it’s drafty. It never feels that way when the lights are on. Mum tells me it’s fine.
There’s nothing under the bed. She turns off the light and sometimes all of that stuff comes back. Sometimes it doesn’t. I can always hear her weeping when she goes back to her bed, though. She still thinks about that bad day. I wish I could help her not think about it, but I think about it, too, and the worst thing is when I feel the bad day and hear the whispers.
I wish mum could hear the whispers under the bed. I listen until I begin to whimper, and when she turns on the lights they go away, and so does the wind, and so does the cold, and I ask her to turn out the light and just stay with me. Mum never does. Mum doesn’t believe me.