“Ouroboros” was written for a flash fiction competition on Needle in the Hay (http://needleinthehay.net/). It’s about a meeting at the end of the river.
This story was originally published on 26 January 2016: http://needleinthehay.net/short-story-flash-fiction-lydia-trethewey-ouroboros/
A dark smudge against the glass as carbon monoxide replaces air. Thick black tube bent back on itself, an ouroboros eating its own tail. Car engine rumbling, lights in my eyes blinking out.
A voice from far away, drifting through the fumes.
Plastic beeps and sulphate coloured sheets pressing me down. Smell of antiseptic. Surfacing and sinking in the liquid of my own lungs, adrift on a pleasant sea.
Voice closer now. Wearied panic, raw and drained.
‘He’s waking up.’
A soapy bubble of happiness forms inside the blunt ache of my ribcage. Years rewind themselves, seasons turning inwards. Tricia is here, we are still married. All is well.
The book, the one I wrote, that killed my career, that killed me, mustn’t exist yet. If Tricia is here, I’m in the past, waking from a long sleep, a bad dream.
White light creeps beneath my eyelids.
Tricia sits beside the bed, eyes dark where the mascara has run and seeped into the crevices of her crows-feet. Grey face, pinched, whisper of white hair.
My wife looks old. Ex-wife. It’s not the past. Not a bad dream.
Pain courses through my body, internal chemical burning. I let my eyelids drop and fall backwards into unconscious.
Tap, tap, tapping nearby. Swim up through the haze. Beep of hospital equipment, crisp sheets slightly ruffled. Eyes open.
A stranger in a bright orange coat sits beside the bed. He smiles, drumming his fingers against a wooden cane.
‘Darin. So nice to meet you at last.’
A fan, one of the crazies, snuck into the private room. Wants a signed copy of one of my books. Wants to take a piece of the dying author away with him.
‘Nothing of the sort,’ says the stranger.
I wasn’t aware that I’d been speaking out loud.
‘Who are you?’ I ask. My throat cracks, taste of blood.
‘Better not to speak Darin. I can hear you just fine.’
Confusion blooms, spreading through the soup of my mind.
‘It’s ok. My name is Acamar, the River’s End. I’m here to collect your spark.’
I try to move but my muscles sag.
‘Yes. The spark of creativity that allowed you to produce all those wonderful novels. The fire of passion that burnt within you. It’s fading now, you can feel it, so I’ve come to remove it before it turns to ash.’
I don’t understand.
The stranger smiles.
‘But you do. You always knew you had something special. Something extra that helped you along, that originated beyond yourself. The spark. It was given to you when you were born, and now I’m here to take it back.’
I feel my heart beating weakly.
‘I won’t be using it anymore?’
‘Shhh, don’t speak. Think about it Darin. You haven’t been using it much lately anyway. It’s time to give it up, and let someone else burn for a while.’
Is this like reincarnation?
His dark eyes flash.
‘Not so much. Humans like to think of eternity as an endless river, which they can ride into the darkness of night. But it doesn’t work that way. The new recipient of the spark takes life away from you, as you took it from someone else. Think of it more as the ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail.’
So then, I’ll be gone, forever?
The word whispers across the space between us.
A tear forms in my eye.
As I let go, slipping into the deep waters of nothingness, my mind catches for a moment on that word, ‘humans’ and then disappears.
I’m undecided whether Acamar is real, or a death-bed hallucination, and really I don’t think it’s important. Maybe he can be both. “Acamar” is a star in the Eridanus constellation, from the Arabic “Ākhir an-nahr” which means “the end of the river”.
This story won the “Waiting for Starman” award. Read the rest of the short list here: http://needleinthehay.net/winner-announement-waiting-for-starman/