From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

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Fiction

Of Course You Screamed

Sunsets are never beautiful here. Instead, it’s as though the sky burns red and hot, the lengthening shadows falling like ash, smudging and darkening everything they touch. This isn’t the comforting darkness of your cottage, where your grandmother’s well-worn furniture provided soft edges. (What did they do to your grandmother? Did they hang her like the others?)

No, this is a darkness of jagged beach-rocks and sharp things scuttling in the sand, a darkness that confounds you with the whispers of waves and the blinking noises of unfamiliar insects.

This is a cold darkness, all that remains once the sun has burned itself out. You huddle in the rags they permitted you to keep, hoping that sleep will bring warmth.

You worry that the constant whispers are more than just the wind and water.

• • • •

You’re unaccustomed to nightmares. Your grandmother used to say that it was her cooking, filling you up until there was no room for bad dreams. (Can you remember her? Was her voice deep and throaty, or high and girlish? What did she smell like?)

These past few weeks, you have had many. While each morning brings toil, each night brings terror: echoes of the mob that demanded death, of the other women’s pleadings . . .

You struggle by day, digging for edible roots that squirm under your touch, plucking heavy, meaty fruit off of thorny trees. You lash branches and grasses into a roof against the rain. The crash it makes as it tumbles in the wind mocks you like laughter.

You feel that the day’s calluses and exhaustion should harden you against the nightmares but, instead, they serve only to draw them closer. You’ve been seeing and hearing things in the early evening: shapes in trees, mutterings at the edge of perception—dreams that invade your waking hours. (What did you dream of before this island? What did you hope to achieve, to become?)

You see bright birds flittering among the trees. Their plumage glows a vivid blue. You envy their abandon.

• • • •

There is a presence on the island.

• • • •

They left you here to die. They cast you from their boat, expecting perhaps that you would drown, or hoping the island and the elements would do what they dared not. They feared the curse that would befall them if they hanged an innocent. (Did you struggle? Did you howl in defiance and break their teeth? Or did you accept your fate with dignity, stoking their guilt?)

You clung to the waves, grasped at the water, and heaved at the current, until you found this lonely place, until you pulled yourself to shore.

• • • •

Once, in a delirious half-sleep, you think you see your grandmother, here to wipe away your pain. But no, there was an altogether sinister timbre. It was something monstrous.

You spot it again, as you climb a tree to steal birds’ eggs. You snatch a glimpse of it watching you from the shadows, catch faint whispers among the rustling foliage. (What do you see? A tall silhouette? The outline of a jaw? Or something else?)

The eggs, issued by the brilliant, blue birds, are sulphurous and unappetizing.

• • • •

Of course you screamed.

When they came with their thumbscrews, their heated pokers, and their stones, your screams tore your throat hoarse, tore open on your skin, wounds like gaping mouths, wounds that themselves wanted to scream but whose blood-red tongues refused to do anything but ooze.

You did not admit guilt.

“Witch!” they said, but you said nothing, because what could you have said, really?

(When they finally stuffed you in the boat, did you feel rage or relief?)

• • • •

You have not slept for days.

Movements stalk you from the half-light. Rustles follow you in the darkness. The feeling of being watched invades your mind, driving away any thought of rest.

You must deal with this thing.

You enter the trees, determination hard as knife.

The birds, cerulean like the open sky, parade their freedom above you.

• • • •

Sunset ruptures the horizon, bleeding into the sea and sky. A clot appears in the distance. A boat.

They have returned.

Time has passed. They believe you are dead. They want to burn your body, lest it rise up and haunt them for their sins. Yet . . . their boat rocks back and forth against the waves, hesitant. What if you still live?

Finally, they venture onto the island. A scrap of bloodstained cloth trapped in a spider web startles them. Towards a mound of stacked rocks, they gesture against evil.

The birds’ corpses lie like flowers scattered around the verdure. Their wrung necks are twisted stems; their crushed bodies are pressed petals, blue like lightning, luminous.

(This is one possible ending:)

Your remains lie in the middle of it all, hunched and twisted, a centerpiece to the sublime carnage around you. They try to mutter prayers, but the words claw at their throats.

Presently, one of them manages to stack kindling onto your body. They shiver as the flames that devour you shed little warmth.

The trees whisper unkindly, but it’s only the wind. There is no-one else alive on the island, and the shapes in the shadows must lie only in their imagination.

Did you die thinking of your grandmother? Did you succumb to the shadowy presence? The answers rise up with the smoke, thick, black, and choking.

(This is another ending:)

They stand in the empty clearing and stare dumbfounded at the delicate corpse-beauty of the birds. They cannot turn away.

You watch them from the shadows of the trees, murmuring under your breath. But is it really you? No—you are something altogether sinister, something monstrous.

You watch as they finally turn away, wait until they separate to search for you.

You stalk through the darkness, closing in. “Witch,” they once called you. But what are you now?

Sharang Biswas

Sharang Biswas is a writer, artist, and award-winning game designer. He has won IndieCade and IGDN awards for his games, and has showcased interactive works at numerous galleries, museums, and festivals, including Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. His nonfiction writing has appeared in publications such as Eurogamer, Unwinnable, First Person Scholar, Kill Screen, and more. He is the co-editor of Honey & Hot Wax: An Anthology of Erotic Art Games (Pelgrane Press, 2020) and Strange Lusts / Strange Loves: An Anthology of Erotic Interactive Fiction (Strange Horizons, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @SharangBiswas.