Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Savage Writing: Appearing at Twilight

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This story is testament to me holding my brain hostage until it spits out a story. The theme for this week was ‘A New Word.’  

“Crepuscular” meant appearing at twilight. After days of slogging over the dictionary –  indexing entries by hand on countless blue-lined index cards before securing them in a fire-proof cabinet – she had become well acquainted with the stranger synonyms for times of the day. She liked “uhte,” from Old English, which sounded like ‘outer’, as in the outer hours of the day. “Gloaming” was wonderfully gothic; “afterglow” gigglingly sexual. And “crepuscular” had made her laugh at first, because it sounded like “craptacular”. But over time it began to make sense to her: it was a combination of “crevasse” and “precipice”, describing the time when all the light that exposed the day disappeared, and the idea that you could see and know and regiment your world into discrete categories fell over the cliff into the black depths of mystery. It was like when they had walked to Glenashdale Falls in the middle of the night, and the only gleam had been the frothing water far below.

So many new words for her, words to blot out everything else in her mind, from Latin and Old French and Old English – no, they sneered, Old English isn’t Chaucer, where do they get these research assistants from, the English Literature department? She’d promised Professor Kay that she would stay late again tonight and catch up with her work, since she wasn’t a specialist like everyone else and kept making rudimentary mistakes and falling behind. She needed to get better, and quickly, because twilight was coming earlier and earlier each day, and she did not like to be in the office alone. The office itself wasn’t sinister at night: it was placed in a beautiful Victorian building with dark wood panelling and far too many staircases for an allegedly wheelchair-friendly university. But every night, just after sunset, a feline yowling would start up from outside the window, and no matter how many times she went and looked outside, there was never a cat there. She told herself to stop being such a silly bint (to cease, halt, desist, refrain…) but it set her nerves on edge. She knew better than to ask her no-nonsense professor why she would hear a ghost cat outside. Her colleagues would snicker if they knew that she believed in all those things like ghosts and spirits and the supernatural, and she didn’t want to talk about Mark, as she inevitably would if she mentioned it. After all, she had come here to get away.

Nighttide. The Witching Hour. That’s what he had called it, when he said they should go up to the waterfall that night. Time for the ghouls to come out, he said, the fae and dryads. She knew the kind of people that she worked with would have laughed at him, but she did not, because she never laughed at him. He was so knowledgeable, had read so many books where the first line made her head hurt, and he said everything with such conviction that she couldn’t help but nod and follow him. They’d gone the steep winding way up the hill, the Milky Way clear above their heads, the branches of the pine trees stabbing up into the sky, showing how navy it was in comparison to their black limbs. She’d held onto his hand the entire way until they reached the viewing platform – bereft of the usual tourists and dog-walkers – jutting out above the tumbling water.

‘Let’s try to go beyond,’ he had said, and for the first time she had contradicted him. She wheedled and evaded but finally she told him: I don’t think it’s possible. Terrified that he would shout at her, and unable to see his expression, she had waited, ready to wince, but only a mad laugh had come.

‘Anything is possible.’

Where the flames had come from, she didn’t know. They’d chanted and sung and danced, and she had thought nothing was happening, but his voice had risen until shouting, and he threw his arms out to embrace the world and flames sprung from the palms of his hands, stereo lighting for his face.

‘I’ve done it,’ he had said, and his smile stretched too wide. A normal person would have guessed he was pulling a practical joke, a magic trick, but she knew him and she never laughed at him. It came to her in an instant: non-verbal, an instinctive realisation. She knew what he had said about the world, about people, about how things needed to change, and in one half-second flashed all the terror of being beside, and accomplice to, a man who had transcended biology and physics. Her perceptions of the world threatened to melt. Fight or flight. One flash, and self-preservation forced her hands: she stepped forward, as if to embrace him, and pushed him over the barrier and onto the falls. His light extinguished before he hit the bottom.

She’d played it safe, said he was missing, said he’d gone to the falls (but she wouldn’t do such a thing, she was too scared to go there in the dark, oh yes, he’d gone alone). When they found his body, there was no trace of foul play. Suicide, they said. The local gossips had always known he was a weird one. With grief veiling her actions, she left for the city, and got a job at the university, compiling the first thesaurus of a whole language. So many new words for her. She knew he would have enjoyed hearing them all.

Seven p.m. Twilight time, and as expected, the yowling began, sending the shivers up her spine. ‘Do you believe in spirit animals?’ Mark had once said to her. ‘I don’t know,’ she had said, as she always did when he asked her questions like that. His eyes had flashed with internal fire as he explained them to her. They could be your guide, or your companion, but more often they were an omen…

The yowling stopped, but she still felt on edge. A sound came from Professor Kay’s office, and she was compelled, obliged, coerced to investigate. When she entered the room she saw a glimpse of black tail darting into the shadow of the corner, before it was subsumed by the flames. There were no candles and the fireplace was boarded; in defiance of physics and biology, a mound of white index cards was blazing orange then curling black. Entire weeks of work ruined.

She ran back to the office, and hastily shoved her cards – uhte, gloaming, afterglow – into their box and into the cabinet before running to the front door. A normal person would have said the old door jammed because of the heat. She knew otherwise.

The only time most people hear the word “crepuscular” is when describing the shafts of light that shine from between clouds, often used to signify divine intervention. From among the black billows of smoke, it was like a crepuscular ray from God when the red blast of fire shot down upon her body, hot and all-consuming (fervid, vehement, violent).

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  1. […] that we’ll be publishing soon. (The other pieces I submitted for the book were this, this and this). I decided to do something a little different from normal, and realised it’d be good to put […]

  2. […] were going to do. Go back to the beginning. Let your mind wander a little. If your task is about A New Word, think about dictionaries, and talking about dictionaries at uni, and the historical thesaurus they […]


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