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This was the story I submitted as the 'entertaining piece' of coursework for my English Language 'A'-Level exam many years ago. I really don't understand how I could have done well enough to warrant a B grade.
It doesn't really do much other than highlight just how badly I used to write. Whilst 'A Soul on Fire' was deliberately written without dialogue as an experiment in atmosphere, somehow I seem to have forgotten dialogue entirely in this story and it is sorely lacking. I don't seem to have understood just what paragraphs are for and the whole thing seems very rushed. I've often felt that my short stories are claustrophobic and condensed, in a somewhat Conradian way, but this one is just way too short. Hopefully I've learned something since I wrote this.
Possibly worst of all, there are a couple of points that blatantly contradict others, even though I remember actually frequently revising the piece. All in all, it feels like something Ed Wood might have filmed, which is a fun thought but hardly a resounding recommendation.
At least I was playing with some fun ideas back then, however badly, which must stand for something. And shouldn't everyone's earliest surviving story be a Lovecraftian pastiche, with a touch of Philip K Dick to boot?
Before I begin this record, I urge you to remember back to a time when you were young: in all probability you would have created for yourself creatures to help you wile away the routine monotony of everyday life. If you were of the fairer sex, these imaginary companions would, no doubt, have been fairies or pixies, or small amiable animals such as mice or rabbits. Had you been a boy, you may have conjured up more horrific monsters to hide beneath your bed, such as devils or demons or other Lovecraftian terrors from the twilight zone.
I conjured up no such creatures; I had no need to do so as I had the good fortune to have continued access to a monster that was not imaginary but real, and who had no other companion save myself.
But perhaps I should begin at the beginning, for the tale I am about to unfold is a strange one and should be told in its entirety.
It all began when I was but twelve years of age and I had taken refuge, from a party of my father's, in the library. I spent a great deal of my life here, as I had come to prefer my own company to that of anybody else.
The library was hidden from the rest of the house, and I was sure that nobody else but me knew of its existence. It was incredibly stocked with a wealth of books on almost every possible subject, many in exhaustive detail. I had come to be intrigued by the occult, mainly due to the grotesque illustrations that accompanied the texts.
It was in one particularly heavy occult volume that I discovered my great-great-grandfather's diary. I read it eagerly and discovered a passage giving me details of a cavern that I found I had to visit to verify the weird tale that I had read.
I jumped at the very first opportunity to mount my expedition and I soon found myself at the edge of the cavern, mere miles from my home.
I could not see all the way to the bottom of the pit; in fact I could not see even a foot into its depth, as great clouds of green steam belched out only to dissipate at the cavern's mouth. I read the appropriate passage from the diary and soon heard a harsh voice emerge from the pit.
I talked with the creature for many hours and the sun had dipped below the horizon long before I finally set out for home, my curiosity temporarily satiated.
However, I soon discovered that once I had spoken to this creature, nothing could quench my thirst to know more. I continued, time permitting, to read occult works in the library by day, and by night I visited my newfound companion and talked until the sun rose.
The creature had apparently been deprived of age, imprisoned in a deep fissure in the crust of a planet in its early stages of infancy. Though the cavern changed its shape often as ice ages came and went and the elements beat time into its walls, some macabre force prevented it from complete annihilation, and it formed the perfect prison cell for the creature.
It needed no nourishment and little exercise; it was not impervious to extremes of temperature, but they formed no more than maddening annoyances. It simply seemed designed to survive.
The creature proved to be an expert in the field of history, both of its own planet and of mine. I had been naive enough to have thought that I was the first person beside my ancestor to ever talk to the creature. In fact, it had conversed with many humans over the years of its imprisonment. Most of our conversations were about history. It told me about his world, which I discovered was in a separate dimension or universe to mine (the terminology confused me), and I told it about mine.
There were two different feelings that I felt continually and that grew as time passed. One was that I felt unnerved whenever I was near the chasm; only on my very first visit had I not felt this - curiosity must have overcome the feeling. The other was one of annoyance. The creature had become a constant companion and a good friend to me; I felt it had been unjustly sentenced, that it was incapable of committing any crime, that I should help it escape.
The creature had been in the chasm ever since the Earth was formed, and had long given up any chance of escape. There was a portal, it said, but it had probably been buried deep within one of the chasm's walls by the effects of glaciation. And anyway, the creature was bonded by chains that did not know rust.
I could not give up my idea though and it was not long before I had climbed down the walls that I had thought unscalable, aided by ropes attached to the cavern's mouth. I had taken a light with me and yet I could not see the creature anywhere, the chains or the portal, yet at the foot of the abyss I could hear all three. The green steam was above me now and the air was clear. My lamp lit most of the cavern at once. However the creature could see me; it wondered why I did not move. This confused me for a long time until I realised that speed is relative. I was moving at a normal speed for a human - obviously the creature moved at incredibly great speeds. Once we had conquered this obstacle, we progressed quickly. The portal gave off a hum which I could hear and thus I soon located it. It was indeed behind rock but I had brought cutting tools and I found it easy to break through. The creature, now that hopes of escape were kindled within it once again, discovered that time had taken its toll on the chains and it managed to wrench itself free.
The portal was our first thought and we both entered, myself with difficulty for I could not see creature or portal. But we were through. I suppose that subconsciously the seemingly invisible creature and portal had warned me of something but still the creature's dimension startled me almost into shock. I could not see. It was not even a maddening blackness, but a total absence of colour which greeted me. I had thought that even nothingness had colour; space was black, if I shut my eyes I could see black, but here - nothing. Only a sudden explanation saved me from probable insanity - everything in this dimension moved at beyond the speed of light. Supposed impossibilities meant nothing to me now, I could accept anything, even if I could not understand it.
The surprises did not stop there. Even after such an immense period of time, the portal was still guarded. Presumably living until eternity warped the sense of time of the inhabitants of this dimension - maybe time did not even mean anything to them. Whatever the reason, the guard was alert enough to capture my friend as soon as he reentered its home dimension, and I was now apparently in what could only be called an office. I say 'office' only because I was being interviewed pleasantly by a leader of the creature's race. I would write 'cell' but for the pleasantness.
Apparently the creature had committed a heinous crime - the leader knew my language but could not translate this; he figured that if we did not have a particular custom, we could not have a word for it. Anyway the creature had been imprisoned in the same way in a different planet to continue its sentence. I should still have felt shocked by the harshness and cruelty of this sentence, but I did not; maybe the overwhelming goodness countered this.
The biggest shock of all was still to come. I have tried to understand this ever since but have failed miserably. My planet did not exist any more; in fact it had never existed in reality, only as a figment of the creature's imagination. When it had been tried, it had been felt that this would be the worst punishment possible - merely to trap the creature in its own imagination and let it construct its own prison.
This I could cope with; what I could not was the fact that I did not exist any more. I could think, my hearing was intact and I still had my intelligence. But I did not exist. According to the leader of the creature's race, there was a way out. Somehow, with a small amount of practice, I could imagine myself and the planet on which I thought I had lived. Obviously I did not know all the history, geography and other information about the entire world, but if I could imagine a small amount of each, the world itself would take over and complete the job itself.
Again I found that I could accept this blindly without understanding it, as I could now accept anything. So I tried to imagine everything as I remembered it, but found that the only subject I really knew anything about was myself, and I knew little about that.
But there was another subject that I knew something about: the creature, the last thing that I would want to imagine, with hindsight.
So if any of my readers ever find themselves in the same situation that I have related in this work, I beg of you, do not traverse the same route that I took. This world as I remember it now, is not the same world that it is now. I imagined all of you; you would not exist without my imagination. Even if I do not know you and have never met you, nevertheless I created you. Yet I was myself created. Is this a time loop? Sometimes I wish that it where, and that some other twelve year old boy discovers an alien creature and re-imagines this world without me in it.
Sometimes I do not know what to think.
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