By Rose Biggin
It’s dazzling down here.
She’s standing on orange sand beneath a bright, molten sky the colour of honey. It’s a world that stretches long and far, a rich and infinite shining desert, and it’s dazzling, and in every direction, horizon to horizon the same glowing yellow-orange-redness and no shadow, no cloud. Certainly no sunglasses.
(Whatever they are.)
Occasionally she sees another, although ‘sees’ isn’t quite the right word. She senses them by the lack of shadow, the brightness moving like a sizzle of heat on the horizon to create a flicker of presence. The air wobbles and that, she knows, is a someone, even if it’s never for long.
She doesn’t know how many of them there are. Certainly enough to fill this place many times over, but never be enough to challenge its wide open emptiness and all this shine. If someone, say, ruled over this place, looked down upon it, they might have a sense of its totals, its edges, even (whisper it) its limits. But to her, to all of them, there’s nothing but waiting for
nothing, and watching for nothing, and wandering in the brightness, with thoughts only of endless stillness and all this luminous orange-yellow.
She knows shades is the proper word for what they are, for what she is. She also knows this is something of an ironic name, but she can’t get to why.
It goes without saying (as it must, down here), that she doesn’t know where she is. Or that she’s ever been anywhere else, or, of course, that all this gold is silence. She may have encountered a fragment of a saying to that effect or some such once but she’s forgotten it, along with everything else, and anyway, it made no difference to the experience when she got here.
She stands on the glinting sand.
Some time must pass, although there’s no sense of measuring that sort of thing, but something happens and that could only be time’s doing, surely, she thinks, frowning and blinking a little at the sight of a new figure walking across the sand. First a dark speck in the distance, then they’re life-size. And that’s definitely something new, it wasn’t so before but now it is. Wait, life size?
It can’t be a shade, he’s too solid. And he’s overdressed for the environment. All that heavy cloth on his skin, it’s too much, she finds it tricky to look at. Then there’s the idea of skin itself, suffocating stuff, and the heavy muscular pressure underneath, bones sticking solidly all the way through. She wonders how she could ever bear it.
His steps make dark footprints in the golden sand, and even though the grains quickly cover them over again, this is unusual, and she notices herself noticing it happening. He’s getting closer. He pushes some dark curls of hair from his face and wipes his forehead with the back of his hand. Always his expression is peering into the endless glow of this luminous desert, looking first this way, then that way. This puzzles her; what’s he searching for? This place is filled to the brim with emptiness, there’s nothing down here except dazzle and gold.
Perhaps this thought makes her move, a brief shudder of bewilderment, or perhaps her confusion registers as a whisper on the wind, or a shape in the gloom, or even (she can’t be sure he doesn’t see things as she does) as a sparkle in the gold. Or perhaps it is simply luck, on his part, a look in the right place.
He stares in her direction for a moment, then his face opens.
He runs towards her. His footprints shine before the sand covers them over again, and small specks fly from him, shards of crystal that quickly vanish but for a second gleam brilliantly like cold light on water.
He stands before her, looking at her intently, and his mouth moves. More bursts of silver flit into her vision, spark there for a moment, then go out.
His face is going through a range of contortions and it is some time before she realises he is trying to speak to her. So that’s what all this is, this strange movement from his face and the dark shine spiralling out from him. Yes, those must be words he’s making, these strange things that come from his mouth like bubbles of steel. He’s trying to speak to her.
His name must begin with an O, because a dark hole opens up in the world and hangs in the air between them, like he’s spoken a silver plate.
(Whatever one of those is.)
His attempts get more frantic and soon he’s jumping up and down and pointing to himself, then to her, back to him again. More metallic words glint in the air and she nods, wanting to both encourage and stop him, because it’s exhausting even to watch, it’s all far too much energy. But she can tell this is important to him. She doesn’t know him, and she’s sorry to upset him.
She shakes her head.
He shakes his, but more quickly, and he takes a few steps backwards on the sand. He bends his head back and his speech is an urgent, sparkling fountain of silver, as if he were tossing into the air handful after handful of nuts and bolts and screws and nails and fragments of mirror and coins.
(Whatever any of those — hang on.)
The sky is changing.
The air has intensified, if it’s possible. She looks up.
Filling the sky is a ball of pure fire and its radiance is extraordinary, taking up the entire sky, and furthermore it seems to be watching what’s going on here with idle interest. This colossal, world-overseeing fireball is focusing its blazing attention on the small figure in the dark cloak who stands there tiny on the sand, throwing up useless silver spangles. This is him, no doubt about it.
Sun of a beach.
And the stranger is staring up into his scorching light, pointing, sometimes waving towards her again, gesturing wildly with his hands.
She drifts towards the action to better follow what’s going on; many more shades do the same, and before long they’ve formed a wide circle around the stranger that makes the horizon shudder.
He reveals something from within his cloak and holds it up with both hands, as if presenting it for inspection. Light glints off the oval frame and smoke rises from its many taut strings, which are already fraying in the gaze of what is master here.
The sun moves a little as if nodding, or lazily shrugging, enough to indicate that he thinks the stranger should just get on with it then, whatever it is. The stranger lowers the instrument into place before him, tucks an arm around it, and at that moment he must begin to play on it because quicksilver pours from the instrument and spreads out into the rest of the world.
A fan of silver blades comes from the strings and cuts the goldness into pieces, soaring through it, the cleanest cuts imaginable.
Soon the silverness is everywhere. A jagged crack of the stuff begins on the ground in front of her and shoots up directly into the sky. Following its progress makes her sense of perspective baulk: like reaching out towards the top of a distant mountain and finding you can touch it. Shards of silver break away from the rest, stretch into ribbons that twist and wind around themselves, then untangle again and fly off, leaving trails that sparkle as they go. More cracks spread in every direction until they have the landscape in a stranglehold. The goldness shakes, once, as if indignant at this challenge. Then it shatters.
The sky dims to a darker hue, and everything is more like a silvery moonlit night, the sand an infinite grey. A few tiny pieces of the old world float in the air like so many dust motes.
The stranger stops playing, and looks around expectantly.
(She wonders if he’s waiting for applause, then wonders why she wonders.) The gold returns slowly, a gradual flow of lava seeping into the cracks. But the memory of the silver lingers. It adds highlights and shadows. It picks out details. She calls out with her lack of a throat, projects as best she can with her nothing of a voice, remembers how he’d thrown his arms about and tries to do the same, feeling the air adjust itself around her energetic absence.
The gold is everything here, it is all-encompassing and gargantuan and nothing is so powerful, and silver may not always be trustworthy, it can be sharp, or cutting, disorientating, wrong or deadly dangerous — but sometimes, you can see yourself in it.
A tarnished silver mirror lands heavily into the sand at her feet. The stranger turns around.
She knows him.
About the Author
Rose Biggin is a writer and theatre artist based in London. Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies, made the recommended reading list for Best of British Fantasy (NewCon Press), and won the Dark Sire's Gothic Fiction Prize. Her novels are Wild Time (Surface Press) and The Belladonna Invitation (forthcoming from Ghost Orchid Press). Twitter: @rosebiggin