Chosen for its beguiling subtlety, engaging plot line, and resonant light imagery, “Chains of Light” captured first place in the fall 2017 SLAM Short Story Contest. Written by C@SE student, Deanna Kabler, “Chains of Light” will be published in the 2018 spring magazine. Check SLAM media outlets for announcements about upcoming contests and publications.
Chains of Light
The world in which she walks is lit by the light of others. Glowing candles illuminate the path. Flickering, dancing, bouncing on the air. Without the light, she is lost in the darkness. She fears the dark. In the dark, no answers come. It’s only in the light she knows her voice, feels power and strength. Feet pressed into the earth. They glide effortlessly through the warm yellow dirt. “Stay on the lit path. Don’t venture into the black. You’ll be lost forever. Head down. Follow the light.” She obeys the ringing.
She remembered the day Abba and Eema died. The lights went out that day. Sitting blindly while the fire blazed, movement was all around as the neighbor women scurried about, tidying the house, washing bowls, murmuring over the pot of stew, quietly clucking their disapproval of her state of affairs.
“Eat some soup, girl.” The oldest woman poked a spoon in her direction. A ray of light flashed, she blinked at the brightness, startling her out of the dream. Obediently, she took the spoon and sipped absentmindedly.
His voice played over and over in her mind. Describing the great city. Escape from the bounds of captivity. “He will restore us.”
Now that dream was dead. She felt cold and alone. They lit the candles at sundown and told her she had been claimed. Her cousin would take her. He was due to arrive any moment and her world would change. Safe again. No darkness. He would save her. Was he kind, she wondered? Would he think she was beautiful too, as Abba used to said? They told her he lived close to the palace. Always sat at the gate, the place of official business.
“Hurry girl! He’ll be here any minute and you must be ready.” The sharp tone snapped her back. Scooping her remaining items into a sack obediently, she sat by the door. The candlelight mesmerized her as it danced around the table.
A firm hand gripped her sweaty palm as he ushered her through the streets. She kept pace as he rambled on about the business at the gate that morning. How long had she been with him now? Each day melted one into another. Too many to count and too few to make a difference. He stopped at a booth, bought several meters of twine and dumped it into her hand. She glanced around and saw the men looking at her. Their eyes drifted down her dark blue robe. They were always looking at her. She sensed their longing but wasn’t sure why. She wanted to tell them this robe was the last one Eema sewed. The dye took so long to take, she never thought it would be finished. She wished she could remember every detail of her face but the glow was gone. The light flickered again and she stared at her fingers repeatedly dipping the string into the melted wax. She closed her eyes to the darkness.
“Was that knocking?” Mumbled voices filled the kitchen. “Did I oversleep?” No, it was still dark. A candle appeared around the door frame and suddenly she was aware of her hands. Swishing back and forth between the small wooden chest and the same sack that brought her to his home. Fear gripped and twisted her stomach as her eyes tried to adjust to the ink-jet streets, pierced only by the swaying lamp, swooshing to the heavy foot-falls that marched beside her. His last words confused rather than comforted as they whispered and echoed in time to the lamp.
“Say nothing.” “Say nothing.” “Say nothing.”
Read the full story in our 2018 magazine. Honorable mention to George Trudeau’s story “Myths Worth Believing,” which will also appear in the 2018 issue of SLAM.