Promise

Pretending to be an airplane

The god was dying. Every time he turned it on the dull yellow light flickered and stuttered, dimmer than it had been before; when he cupped his hands around it to gather as much of its glow as possible, the hunger was barely held at bay. The god was dying, and the dry greening of his skin meant that it was past time to find another.

He peered out of the cave, scanning the skies, studying the unending grey of the clouds. The wind blew across the wildlands, carrying the dry scent of dust with it. There was no hint of rain. It was time to go.

There was nothing to pack but the god; nothing was left to eat in the cave. He cradled it between his hands, cupping its light, forcing the green hunger down and back one last time. As he stared at it, willing it to continue burning, it flickered and spat, the light dying out.

He dropped the dead god and left it lying in the dust, useless and broken, to give some other lost soul false hope. The cave had given him shelter; perhaps it would again. If he ever returned. There was nothing now but to feed his hungers: fruit to sustain his body and a god to keep him from going mad. If he failed to find either, the cave would not matter in the least.

He didn’t know where he was going – there was no telling where the gods lay, or if there were any gods left at all – but the whispers of the ghost trains drew him toward the subway station, a wail and whistle in the air that seemed to sing of light, and the promise of light. He followed the sound of the ghost trains, and prayed to the neon gods – the only gods there were.

They led him to the bench in the abandoned station; he heard the trains whispering to him as he touched the fractured concrete. His hands were greening, the skin growing dry and cracked, and he felt the hunger hammering at him. There were no gods. There was nothing in the station but the bench, and the ghost train calling its song of death.

He heard it, and the whispers made words, forming from the air, murmuring an invitation to him. The ghost train called him, drew his eyes to the third rail, and he saw it gleaming with the memory of light. His feet moved without his will, stepping onto the outer rail, before he closed his ears to the siren song of the ghost train and sat down on the bench, trying to think.

The wind was hot, suddenly, heavy with the stench of diesel; he raised his eyes in alarm and saw the endless clouds beginning to swirl and darken. The poisoned rain was coming, hissing down across the wildlands, and he was left in the open with no shelter. The ghost train had led him falsely, across the wildlands to his death.

The scent of rain cut the diesel smoke, coming fast; he whipped his head around, looking for a crevice to hide in, something to pull over his head — anything to protect him from the acid rain that he knew would burn the flesh from his bones. There was nothing. Even the concrete bench was a hulking stump providing no more cover than the ghost train.

With panic rising in him, he heard the whispers again. They came in the screech and howl as the ghost train rode the rising storm, promising safety. Promising shelter. Promising endless light, endless peace, endless food. He could see it, now, the ghost lights screaming down the third rail toward the empty subway station, coming fast on the edge of the storm, and he listened.

His feet moved, one hesitant step after another, and then he was running with all the power left in his starving body, running hard and fast, along the third rail toward the ghost lights. He heard the train coming, and behind it the hissing rain, and he ran. He ran toward the promise, knowing he was going to die, knowing that nothing would save him now.

The ghost lights came, low and fast, and the black rain behind them, and he saw them growing brighter, flaring, until the world was nothing but light. The green hunger screamed at the onslaught, withering away, and then he was running through the light, beyond the light, onto an endless green expanse. Before him the world was green, the sky blue, and golden light – light that made the gods he’d held seem like nothing but shadows – light poured down onto him.

He spread his arms, feeling the threat of madness fleeing, and breathed in the cool clean damp air. And then he ran again, this time for joy. He thought, perhaps, he could keep running forever.


Prompt: Flash Fiction Project, February with a Twist, Day 1

Image: “Pretending to be an Airplane” by gordon.milligan on Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution license

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