by Steve Gergley
Me and Kyoko went on a hike in the woods out by Kentor Mountain. Spears of gold light fell through the trees as jewels of warm sweat rolled down our faces. Around noon we came upon a lush clearing in which prairie grass, wood lily, and corn mint bloomed in orange and green. At the edge of the clearing, we found an old man painting the scene before us. On his canvas, the clearing was a wasteland of roaring orange flame and black smoke billowing into the sky. In the center of his painting, the old man’s charred corpse lay on the ground in front of his burning canvas. Me and Kyoko looked at the painting and then each other. Kyoko spoke first.
“Is that you in the middle of the painting?”
“Yes,” the old man said, without taking his eyes off the canvas.
“But why would you paint something like that?” Kyoko said.
“This is what happens next,” the old man said. “It’s not for me to decide.”
I looked at the lower third of the canvas, which remained unfinished.
“Are we going to appear in the painting?” I said.
The old man croaked a dry laugh and stuck a cigarette between his cracked lips. He lit the cigarette with a match and dropped the burning match into the grass and went on painting.
Kyoko uncapped her water bottle and doused the match with a splash of water. Then she picked up the blackened match and dropped it in her bottle.
“That’s incredibly irresponsible,” Kyoko said.
The old man croaked another froggy laugh and sucked at his cigarette like a straw and scraped at his canvas with a painter’s knife. No one spoke for a time. After another minute of quiet, me and Kyoko clomped away down the trail.
When we returned hours later, the old man was gone. His finished painting lay face-up in the grass beside the trail, but this time we looked the other way: at red oaks and sugar maples and winged elms, at tiny insects flying through slants of light.
The Blue Light
I woke up five minutes before my alarm went off. The glowing screen of my phone read ten a.m., but the coal-black sky outside suggested midnight. By noon it was even darker. The darkness had become aggressive, swallowing every bit of light in the house. Me and Kyoko tried calling our friends, our families, and our neighbors, but nothing worked. Our phones were bricks of dead plastic. We slipped them from our pockets and dropped them on the floor. Then we interlocked our fingers and stumbled through the house to the front door.
Outside, we saw a dot of blue light in the distance. We walked toward it. Hours later we crunched across an abandoned parking lot that seemed to stretch on forever. In the center of the lot stood a single steel streetlight with a glowing blue sodium lamp. Though the dark had only been here for a day, the light burned our eyes worse than the sun. We didn’t care. We stared at it anyway.
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner from Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/