I was given a written prompt, and it reminded me of something I’d been trying to write for a long time that I never pursued. This still isn’t that, but its something on its way. That, in turn, reminded me of something else entirely.
The prompt was:
“Everyone Assumes They Get a Guardian Angel; They Don’t Realise That Demons Can Be Guardians Too.”
The angels in my life do not have wings, and the demons certainly do not have horns; so I’ve taken this rather askew compared to what I’ve read in a lot of other pieces. I am not sure how I’ve taken it, to be honest (or even if I’ve gone completely astray…). I pinched parts of one line from somewhere else, which is what the rest is borne out of (in case anyone notices that…).
This reminded me of something called The Stanley Parable. It is designed as a game, but is far more of an existential exploration, I suppose. I really recommend you explore it, otherwise I have a YouTube video here that holds a very similar value. It is well worth 8 minutes of your time, in my opinion, even if you skip any further text I have written.
From that couture piece of fiction, to something – perhaps – less refined.
“The Great Library of Alexandria, a monument to the near infinite wealth of the Ancient Egyptians. Everything that had ever been known was held within its walls. Hundreds of people spent their whole lives transcribing knowledge so it could be stored and held safely in one place. Marked as one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World; all thoughts and ideas brought together to stand the test of time. Burned to the ground in 48 B.C. Generations of discovery lost.”
“Is that where we are now?”
“…is there somewhere you would rather be?”
“No…I’m just….surprised, is all.” A cautious glance around the shadows, “Where are all the scribes you were just talking about?”
“We do not need them, you and I. Everything you need, you talk to me.”
“You’re the librarian?”
“We are in a library. I am the librarian. If this were a shop I would be your cashier; were it a museum, I would be your guide…”
“I would feel a lot more comfortable if I could see you. I don’t know where you are.”
“Comfort is not what I am here for. I am here to tell you what you should hear. Besides, there is no comfort to be gained by seeing my face.”
“What is it that I should hear? Why should I listen?”
“Who else is there here that you can trust? There will be nothing you can learn without my guidance here. Of course, you may search beyond, I cannot stop you; but it is…purposeless. You will see for yourself. I will be here still. I am the voice between the voices; I am the one who moves this story along when it loses its way. I will not be silenced for long…”
There was anger behind the disembodied voice, the echoes ricocheted off the hall’s unseen corners. The mood had turned; the visitor had, perhaps, said the wrong thing. The wooden floors were rough and uneven; unloved. One would think no human soul had entered but for one. The dust layered upon it was broken by a chain of footprints, a continued trail leading into the gloom. The only disturbance in an otherwise untouched world. The library was, at best, unwelcoming. Without any direction, it would become a labyrinth.
With no voice to smother the surroundings, the grandiose hall came into focus. The few shelves visible were bare. The library was quite barren; all at least, that existed outside the darkness. The dim light, source of which unknown, stretched no further than a couple of arm’s lengths. For all the mention of untold understanding, there was nothing.
“Let. There. Be. Light.”
The silence was broken by the words accompanied by the reluctant grind of heavy machinery. A lever forced its way into effect, the weight of which set the world into motion. Sunlight wept inside from windows surrounding high above. The boundaries of the interior world were now confirmed; for a hall containing the world’s wealth, the atmosphere could only be described as claustrophobic. All that was outside was an infinity away.
“I care not for your tricks. If there is to be light, let it fall upon us instead!”
“Are you not impressed? Let’s shift our focus, then. Choice is your freedom as much as any other illusion. It is what’s on the inside that counts, after all…”
Another heavy lever echoed high above. The light of the world outside was extinguished. In an instant a bright spotlight revealed how close to an infinite measure the hall maintained as a zone became illuminated. There were endless levels climbing ever higher, spiralling towards the apex. There was an atrium starkly revealed becoming ever thinner as the surrounding walls reached a blinding point. None of the light reached the ground, from where he gazed upon. It reached down little further than a few floors above him, clawing the outer walls.
It was there, where the light lost its battle with the dark, leaning ponderously upon a railed balcony, he saw the man for the first time.
It was a face that was all too familiar, but belonged to a man he, truly, did not know. The eyes were tired and disguised a thinly veiled anger; one hand steadying himself on the balcony railing, the other held a stranglehold on a lever. His unsteady grasp on power was power all the same; he had dominion here and could turn on the night.
That was the moment the power in the room shifted. Everything prior had been implicit; manipulated; symbolised. Only then had he became broken.
“I am trapped down here and can’t see a way out. There is nothing down here, save for myself, all this knowledge is elsewhere; I want to step outside. You have been where I am standing; you know how I can escape. I’m afraid that I will not be able to leave. I need you to help me.”
A pause. A breath. A decree.
“Then allow me. I can stare between the fretwork. There is no one out there coming for us, but I will be the one who will go to them. I can see the broken world and will do this for us both. You have given me my own voice. Can you now see how it is to have mine? I will save you from this.
In one swift flourish his hand reached down, closing the distance, even so slightly between himself and the floors below. His facade of implied unsteadiness had faded. At first it looked as though he was reaching out to his compatriot; this was not a warm embrace. Not yet. The hand held a match; as both men stared, without even the most subtlest of movements, the head ignited and began to glow.
Both men were silent for a moment. Encapsulated temporarily by its vibrancy and allusiveness in equal measure. Finally the voice from above spoken again.
“Do you know why they burned the Great Library? Perhaps there were no treasures within after all? Or, in fact, there was a conspiracy to make the world think all the knowledge had been lost…..but it was all SAVED.” The final sentence elicited first a smile before an excited grin, finally breaking into a tired, throaty laugh, near indistinguishable from a deep and persistent cough.
“But…”, he continued, as the laughter quickly faded, “…this is not the case. It is so sad, and would have made a wonderful story. One of determination; bravery; honour; of justice.”
No words in response. The spotlight began to fade from view as the match burned brighter without even a flicker.
“This is not some fairy-tale told to children; it is not an heroic myth fondly shared. It is a footnote, in an altogether different story, one that continued long after the Library’s demise. Do you think you deserve an ending? Are you owed a neat resolution all tied up with a bow? The story will continue either way. Yours is not a story; it is a fragment. Come! Step into the light. Get your fingers burnt. It is time.”
Only silence in reply. The match was aloft, over the chasm between the two men. Its stillness was quite hypnotic. The flame was not dancing, it was prone; waiting patiently for the right tune.
“Since, my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear: let us move along; stop singing these songs; we have been performing all these years. Tear down the Hall.”
The dance started. The pirouette was beautiful.