Cadence lived in fear of the dark.
Achluophobia, they called it, but she didn’t know that then.
She didn’t know a lot when she was young.
Especially the dangers beyond the safety of her bedroom.
How one’s happiness could be swallowed within the merest hint of taunts, the splodge of darkness blocking the eye from daylight.
She didn’t know that then. Sure, blackness never could restrain her nerves, but more darkness, more sorrow, would come soon.
And it would be able to drive anyone into madness.
For her, darkness allowed the unpleasant demons of her lucid imagination to escape, uncoiling from the depths of her despair. Tendrils of their menace would curl around her and slowly suffocate her, bounding her against her will.
And she was right too.
About the nefarious scandals they planned to plot, the ferocity of their claws against her throat, the frightening yet entrancing ghosts dancing across her skin and chilling her to the bone.
Her screams sounded pure and real, echoing inside her head as she sank into her blankets, but their ghastly cries overlapped hers until all she heard was white noise, her muffled voice no longer in use to call for help.
Day would come and go, riddled with lurking shadows, joy pierced with grim black. Her voice remained submerged in webbed threads of forever mortifying anguish, pushing her further down into the void of sheer oblivion, her friends and family like the blankets lying forbidden on her floor each morning; providing her no comfort.
She was a girl wandering through stark dead, seas of colourless water taunting her further down, down, down into the sickening soulless shell she would soon become.
Just enough to scatter the last of her sanity, where no piece would be returned without an expense.
Sacrifice in itself was a word Cadence didn’t understand. But all she needed was a push closer to the edge, and a sacrifice would be all she could make.
Julian never quite comprehended the hysteria his little sister fought to no avail at night. All he heard varied from the chaos in her bedroom as she pleaded for their parents to leave the light on, to the whimpers that faded as he gradually fell asleep. It wasn’t until he clambered into bed with her one night as rain cascaded and wind wailed outside in the dauntless black that he began to glimpse the spirits she saw, creeping closer within the flickering movements just out of one’s vision.
It wasn’t an outrageous insight that led him to believe too that the demons were real, but one that illuminated the fear sparking unhappily in Cadence’s eyes, and that triggered the empathy towards her.
“Mama and Papa are here,” he would whisper, lips pressed against her head whilst rocking her back and forth, lulling her into a troubled sleep, “and so am I”.
Yet still Cadence continued to sink further, forlorn and wrenched from the utopia of light, in a state of dark oblivion. Even in Julian’s arms, even amidst the warmth of firelight, even walking through the dancing grass in the summertime, she would still feel nothing but misery.
Those words rose in urgency each time she heard them, choking her, readying her to lose it all.
“We’re here,” no longer sung as a consoling lullaby, but hissed without mercy, granting her no reason to stay, just another reason to be vanquished, to be drawn towards the end of that cliff…
And to tumble off it.
The moment of the sun’s disappearance resulted in a broad shocked silence. Darkness punctured the vision of the townspeople, peppering their sight with white spots, far from the twinkling of stars. Lights flickered on, extremely distinguishable within the globe of black.
“Where has the sun gone?” a hushed voice breathed into the night air.
The night. Where is the day?
“It is lost,” answered a voice, each syllable riddled with apprehension.
“You can’t be certain, can you?” spoke the first voice.
“I can,” said the owner of a hand risen dubiously in the air, the outline faint against the night sky. “I’m an astronomer. The sun…” he paused. “I’m afraid we cannot determine the exact whereabouts of it”.
A scream pierced the still air, shattering the strained agitation.
Nestled beneath a forest of branches within a small neighbourhood, Cadence thrashed with a vigorous insanity, wailing along with the chorus of ghost howls vibrating the ground beneath her.
Julian loomed over her, trying desperately to console her, stooping low to gather her in his arms as she clung onto a fence post amidst the dark before jerking backwards. But the screams became more insistent, however much she clutched at Julian, however much she buried her head into his shoulder to keep her eyes from searching for the dreaded creatures that she could just picture crawling towards her, moaning in triumph at the success in dominating the world.
The world that had just been flung from beneath her feet. She felt staggered, no longer in control of what was meant to be hers. Abrupt gentle murmurs caressed her skin, lingering within the air in a silent breath, the blink of an eye, stinging her, puncturing and jabbing her closer to the edge…
And as she reached to feel the softness of her beloved brother’s hair, the arms around her tightened, bounding her against a chest of steel. She looked upon Julian’s face, a face that usually bore a brilliant light that she thought nothing and no one could put out, but was now distorted, scorched enough to contort his once comforting features, ugly cracks embedded against his cheeks now only carrying menace and hatred.
She screamed hysterically, struggling and tearing with chewed fingernails until she fell onto the concrete, tumbling away as the alarm rose, stirring the already panicked people as a commotion split the air.
A feverish heat devoured her mind, body and soul. She squeezed her eyes shut in hope of cancelling the frightening figures sauntering forwards, willing her to plead for mercy. The hunting footsteps echoed vaguely behind her, but she had no intention of turning back to run into the once welcomed blanket of arms, as she knew now that they would only throttle her.
Without further decision, she ran.
Stumbling haphazardly, she crashed into a barrier of thorns, now utterly wailing in horror. Deranged and drunken, she broke through, unaware that she was flailing right on the edge of the cliff, feet helplessly scuffling the rock, nearing death laiden before her..
With no certain destination, she bombarded the barbed trees, witnessing forests of demons that only she could recognise, smelling of poisonous death in a Hell within another’s Heaven.
And then she fell.
Off the cliff.
Flying fragments of tales of death, settled in her palms and riding on her back, carrying worries, mischief, schemes, guilt, regrets, hurt, anger, nothing and everything; feasts of monstrous heartaches, greed beyond the surrealness of fiction, life stalking towards death, scattering her insides, ashes wrenched from her constantly clenched stomach.
Cadence began to sob, scream more than she had ever done before, agonised, traumatized, unable to stop, unable to think along the mental wires screeching against her brain, violently shaking at her soul.
Her body ached, burned, as if her limbs themselves were no longer there, and yet she simultaneously seemed to see nothing, like black fury, a storm front, hands of blood-drenched bones throttling her.
Collapsing wasn’t what she had planned, but it was all she could do. The light that she so wanted to find had been entirely enveloped by darkness, existing no more in a place of horrid doom and tragedy. Her enemies, they remained close, determined to see the last of her. Every hope was now pathetic. Life itself was no excuse to endure anything.
Mind throbbing, the remains of her soul rested at the bottom of the cliff as she lay, shivering prey against black nature. Echoing cackles of the demons resounded, a dull sound but the only one she would ever remember. Her eyes, which had been closed all the while, released the last tears to disperse.
Happiness, a word she had never used.
She perished, the blood of her scraped skin joining a trickling stream as it wandered into the night.
The night that would last for eternity.
“Cadence! Where is Cadence? I must find her! Help, please!” cried a wretched voice.
The people gathered in the dimly lit townsquare immediately broke apart, hastily welcoming the brother of a girl they all thought as demented.
“What is your problem, young man?” replied a rather annoyed man in a posh suit, lounging on a chair alongside the fountain.
“My sister!” pleaded Julian, hands apprehensively running through his hair. “She ran off! We must find her!”
“You mean Cadence Wiltlisting?” questioned the man, eyebrows raised. “That achluophobic psychopath?”
Julian stood, his begging words lost against his tongue. It suddenly dawned on him. His parents, who should have been standing with him, had disappeared.
They didn’t care about their daughter.
Cadence was a mere disappointment to them.
Anger singed his chest. He glared at the man smirking subtly at him, presumably daring him to argue.
“My sister is not a psychopath!” he bellowed, startling the curious women, men and children crowded around the scene. “She is a scared girl! I demand that we search for her!”
“And what good would that do for you, demanding the mayor of the town?” snarled the now impatient man.
“I don’t care if I disrespect you – you are disrespecting my sister! She deserves to be treated like a human, not filth!”
Whispers darted across the square, encircling him. Words of agreement mingled with those who made it absolutely clear what they thought of his sudden rage, but they uplifted him nonetheless..
“How dare you!” yelled the mayor, abruptly standing up. “This is my town, my people, and you will not push me around to find your psychopath of a sister!”
Julian furiously charged at the mayor, before a swarm of people blocked him. He was about to tear viciously through the wall, but he stopped at the sound of the protesting voices.
The sound of voices that almost seemed to be…defending him.
“This lad is right!” growled a elderly man Julian could just see over the heads of the nodding people. “We must take care of everyone in this village, and that also includes Miss Cadence Wiltlisting!”
There were roars of approval. Julian’s heart swelled at the touching words.
“Don’t leave Cadence alone!” squeaked a little girl with luscious blonde pigtails curling around her face. “She gave me jellybeans once when some boys stole mine! She’s my friend!”
“She helped me when I fell once!”
“She isn’t mean!”
“No, not at all!”
The bustle of kids and all the women and men bombarded the mayor with the kindness of Juilan’s sister, resulting in him looking rather red.
“Fine!” He abruptly exclaimed, twiddling his fingers as if ashamed of the dominance of the townspeople. “A search party will be sent to look. And if Miss Wiltlisting cannot be found within the next two days, we will not search any further, understand?” he added defiantly, glaring straight at Julian.
Accepting his favour, Julian nodded his head, head light with relief. He felt an unusual sense of gratitude towards the people he had hated all his life for disgracing his sister. Many even volunteered eagerly to help with the search; an extraordinary sight to his eyes.
Perhaps he and Cadence had been wrong about them after all.
Torches flickered, curiously jutting round corners and weaving between trees. Voices remained low and hushed, as if a single noise might startle their luck away.
It had been exactly thirty-four hours since the search had begun, and yet no sign of Cadence appealed to them, leaving Julian in an increasing state of anxiousness. It didn’t help that those helping him exchanged conversions of how pointless it seemed now; of how she might as well be dead.
It soon became too excruciatingly agonising to bear the burden on Julian’s shoulders, the one that consisted of Cadence’s unknown existence, that he found himself scrutinising every metre of the areas they searched, locking him in an almost crazed prison within himself.
The hours seemed to tick by like minutes, like seconds, so rapidly that Julian felt himself slowly slip away.
What would he do if she could not be found? Could he possibly rely so much on her existence that it may be fatal?
Julian continued to shake off his doubts, but they lingered, taking fondness of his soft heart and piercing it without mercy.
A miracle would be all he could pray for now.
Julian staggered out into the eternal night, just as Cadence had done amidst her hysterical escape. He had had enough of not knowing where she was. There was nothing left to care for. His parents had abandoned him, and Cadence still hadn’t appeared.
His life would be a whole lot simpler if he didn’t have to live it.
Dancing angels crossed his eyes, luring him further into the darkness of the looming trees.
He paused. There – a faint light glowed between the leaves, glinting delicately, pulsing brighter and brighter. He tripped over his own feet as he made his way towards it, and was practically thrust down to his knees at the ethereal beauty before him.
Cradled amongst the green, casting a light that wreathed the grass with white, was a young girl. Her clothes were torn, her face riddled with dried blood, but her eyes were closed peacefully and her lips kindled a gentle smile, skin aglow, illuminating the earth surrounding her with a natural calm light.
Within a place of happiness.
The glow steadily grew in strength as Julian crawled closer to her. Tentatively, he touched her hand. It was warm, but a check of the pulse told him she was very much dead.
Instead of weeping, his obscure life fell into place as he gazed upon the smile turned at the corners of his sister’s lips, true and pure, an expression he had longed to see etched on her face.
And he felt as if there was will to live again.
He bundled her in his arms, sinking into her golden light. Sitting, no longer shaken by his absurd and unfair life, but hugged close by his only light, his sister. Breathing sweetened air, eyes twinkling with joy to see his sister finally happy.
And, behind the closed eyes, Cadence lived on within the memories of her brother, within his playing smile and strong arms. The one who she had mistaken for a demon, but she knew now as an angel that blossomed in times of winter, that brought her even a rare twinge of happiness when her life felt more ruled by death than the will to live.
A girl who lived a depressed childhood, and only ever experienced a short one.
A girl who feared the dark, and only ever saw light as a vulnerable substance.
A girl who had lost in fighting her fears, but now lies here surrounded by light, her ally and friend.
A girl whose brother never gave up on her, who was her light and forever will be.
A girl who found a light in the end.
Written by Binuri Marasinghe. Edited by Ellen Wang. Published on 13/10/2019. Header image by Maxx Gong via Unsplash.