Sparks and Dark, by Kate Morrow
The walls of the warehouse were blackened by the desert sun. On the outside, they were baked too hot to touch. The inside was better, but the smell was stale and red. The blood and sweat of the ones who had been here before me.
“I don’t want to,” I said. I’d been saying it for months, as my eighteenth birthday had crept closer. I’d shouted it at dawn, when they’d come to collect me. I’d whispered it into my mother’s hair as she’d hugged me goodbye. Her answering smile had been an empty thing.
“Rite of passage,” Samuel said. “Everyone has to build.”
At his heels, Samuel’s steel-made dog snapped its metal teeth, forcing me further inside the warehouse.
Our town was small, and Samuel was our only collector. He’d been smiling at me for months, means smiles, because everyone knew that I didn’t want to build.
“I don’t have it,” I said. “The spark, Samuel. There’s no spark in my head, no companion waiting to be made. Just…black. Dark.”
“Your companion won’t run without the spark.”
“I know. I know, so let me out. There’s no point to this.”
I tried to push past. His dog blocked the door and snarled, steam curling from his nostrils
“Law,” Samuel sang out, and a wide smile stretched his face. “Sorry, sweet girl. It’s the law. Can’t let you out without a running companion. Nobody wants an unstable in our tiny town, right.”
“But I don’t have-“
“Then you’d better get used to metal walls,” Samuel said, and then stepped out and slammed the door. A second later, the steel bolt sealed it shut.
The first day I stained the ground with sweat. As the sun climbed higher, the walls grew hotter and the air grew thinner and I struggled to stay calm. The water that Samuel shoved through the tiny hatch in the door barely lasted past noon.
The second day, I cried. Thick and miserable tears because it was so hot and I couldn’t breathe.
The third day, I screamed. Scratched at the walls and then at my skin because at least there the marks showed.
In the far corner of the warehouse, the stacks and stacks of steel plates lay quiet, waiting to be shaped by a light that I didn’t have.
My father’s companion was a fox. He had pointy little teeth that my father had made out of sharpened spikes of metal. My mother’s companion was a rabbit. She creaked when she hopped, because Mom was never very good about giving her the oil that she needed.
Jagged scrapes and scratches decorated the rabbit’s legs and back. One of her ears was permanently dented. This was all because my father’s fox like to chase the rabbit around the yard. To catch her and rip away with those sharpened teeth.
“Make it stop,” I always said.
My dad laughed, he always laughed, and tucked my mother under his arm.
“They’re just playing,” he said. “It’s in a fox’s nature to hunt, he can’t help it.” He laughed again and gave Mom a little shake. “Blame your mother. She’s the one who built such a tempting little companion.”
The inside of my throat went hot and tight, it always did. My hands clenched. But Mom just smiled up at my father, sweet and warm, and missed the sound of the rabbit shaking so hard that her steel plates clacked together.
At the end of the first week, Samuel opened the door and stepped inside the warehouse. He found me in the far right corner, because there were shadows there, and the walls only left red marks on my back instead of blisters.
He stepped on the clumps of my hair that I’d sawed off with a sharpened metal edge the day before, because I couldn’t stand the weight of it on my shoulders. Samuel’s mouth pursed with disgust and he kicked them aside. His dog went snapping after them.
“You know what I didn’t do during my building?” he asked. “Sit in a corner and cry.”
“There’s no spark,” I said and the words felt familiar by now. They’d started off as an explanation, and then become a plea.
“Yes, only dark, you said. Listen, just build a butterfly or a kitten or something, okay? I’m sure you can manage that. Don’t you want that? A nice, soft build that some boy’s companion will notice and chase?”
Samuel rolled his eyes towards the ceiling and said, “Save me from the girls that read.”
His dog steamed out a sound that might have been agreement.
“You’ve got two more weeks,” Samuel said and started back towards the door. “And then I’m reporting you as unstable. Better find that spark, sweet girl. I’m sure my puppy would love to play with whatever you come up with.”
He laughed as he locked me in again. The heat made my anger bigger, made it huge.
Inside my head, the darkness shifted.
There was still no spark, but the mass of black that I’d always mistaken for the absence of light rolled and stretched and pressed against my skull, impossibly big.
“Oh,” I said, and smiled.
Samuel didn’t return at the end of the second week, but I didn’t notice. I built. I stained the steel with blood and sweat and burned the air even hotter with my torch, but it all felt unimportant now. I built, and when I ran out of the neat little metal plates they provided, I used my tools to rip it from the floor. The metal there was weaker than the walls and when I tore it free I let the desert in.
I built until there was barely any space. I squeezed myself against an un-shadowed corner and didn’t even feel the blisters on my back. And when I finished I dropped my tools and stroked a hand down my companion’s face. There was no spark for me to give, but there was darkness, a giant darkness ready to be poured.
Beneath my hand, the metal stretched and steamed.
At the beginning of the third week, I banged scratched and battered hands against the door. Samuel opened it right away, because I hadn’t done that since the very first week.
“I built,” I said, and smiled.
“Got a kitten for me?” Samuel asked and stepped inside.
He stumbled. Because the floor was uneven; I’d let the desert in. His dog whined and skipped back, his steel paws shaking.
Out of the shadows, my companion moved.
Kate Morrow resides in San Antonio. When she needs a break from beating her face against a keyboard, she rules her classroom with an iron fist. Her work has been seen in the “Sheepshead Review”, although she considers her elementary school book review of “Harry Potter” her proudest publication credit. Kate can also be found on Twitter as MKate04. Follow for updates on both writing and the creation of her secret werewolf student army.
Posted on October 6, 2013, in Issue 10: The Little Magazine of Magnificent Monsters and tagged e-zine, fantasy, genre blender, horror, monsters, science fiction, short stories, steampunk, The Were-Traveler. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.