HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Green Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some shortlisted writers and artists the chance to be published here on the website. Keep an eye on our social media for more great work like this, in the run-up to the release of The Green Issue

 

Stephen Duxbury
The Absence

 

Colour is disappearing from the world.

Where the black tendril licks clean, it leaves its mark.

Green was the first colour to disappear. 

The most terrifying thing is that everyone agrees that it’s happening. They just don’t care. I’m not hallucinating sensations. I’m hallucinating values. My insanity is that I care

It will be blue next. 

I don’t what it means to be hallucinating values. I don’t know what it makes me. If the values were physicked away, what is left?

The world begins to blacken. We are fading to black. 

The trees don’t grow anymore. I’ve seen the grey fog lurking on the threshold, and begin to tiptoe over. 

I’ve seen the smog creep closer. 

I’ve seen it seize daylight, and strangle night.

My shower curtain used to be green, but now it’s a darkening shade of grey. 

I’m afraid this is the apocalypse. 

I’m afraid this is revenge.

It knows that I’m there. When I shuffle from the door, I see it hiding between the shadows. They are allied, now. Shadow is the absence of light, and blackness is the absence of colour. The absence yawns wider, and I flee down the drive. A car with souring lights screams along a black road.

I retreat before it can get me. 

My face is greying.

It’s better, and worse, in the daylight. 

There’s still some colour left, but you can see the absence.

It is overcast and there are no clouds. 

Shuffle down the road and people avoid me. 

We are the walking dead. Our faces are grey and our eyes are lifeless. We all wear monochrome blacks and greys. 

‘There are worse things,’ she tells me.

Then what hope do we have?

Instead, I smile weakly. My teeth are darkening white.  

‘War, famine, sickness, death,’ she continues.

They are the horsemen of the apocalypse.

‘But what are we doing about them?’ I ask, with a falter. I have lost my conviction. 

‘Plenty.’

She still talks like something living. Her voice is not empty, but there is no colour in her eyes. The colour has drained out of her, and, with every word, the auburn of her hair drifts ethereal to a dissipating vapour. 

We are the absence, or rather, the absence is us.

I miss green most of all. I used to walk in parks of green. Now there are only the grey fields of the dead. Every blade is smothered in an ash that cannot be touched. 

The absence has fallen upon us. 

It has been drawn out from within us.

The absence was in our own souls.

I tried speaking to it last night. 

It had crossed the shadow of my door. Its black tendrils reached across the floor like skeletal claws. It knew its way around. It knows my home. It knows my life and the paltry sum of me. 

It did not speak. It did not need to.

All those pretty words we traded meaninglessly. All those bargains and promises and grinning compromises. They all amounted to the same thing.

Appeasement.

The absence liked to listen to those empty words, for they reminded it of its nature, and those words devoured the tongues of the greying men that spoke them. They became its empty mouthpiece, and spoke with its empty voice, and they became the new prophets of empty nihilism. 

And lo, there was the word, and the soul was absent. 

We all traded something profound for nothing, because they crafted the black nothingness into things called Conveniences. 

The worst thing was, we needed them. Worse yet, they did not need to be of the absence at all.   

The yawning nothing grew wider, and as the sunlight was swallowed, we wondered whether there had ever really been daylight those ten years ago. Whether the pleading, angry beggars disappearing from the world were just doomsayers.

When it’s the apocalypse, what is a doomsayer?

But no one listens.

‘You need to focus on yourself right now,’ she tells me. The ink of her pen blackens from scratching blue. ‘First, you must be well.’

I must be insane.

‘Don’t you see?’ I ask. She smiles. It is meant to be an understanding, sympathetic smile, but all I see are rows of grey, unmarked stones. Beneath each one must be something dead.

‘I do. And I understand. But, how are you?’

‘I’ve not seen green in two months. The trees are grey.’

‘And why do you think that resonates so strongly with you?’

I must be truly insane.

The tendrilled, black claw has begun climbing my stairs. 

I had placed fake flowers on the windowsill. I don’t remember the colour of its petals, but I think that the plastic stalks were green.

I don’t know what happens when its fingernails reach above the top of my head. 

I just know it’s too late. 

We are too accustomed to the stench of soot. We have grown to love the sight of ash.

Not we, they

I must remember. I am insane. 

I don’t think like them.

I am abnormal.

I am unwell.

I must be. 

At least we still have something of the sky. When the sun shines strongest, you see the dimmest splashes of its blue refractions. 

It is like a blue vase being slowly filled with smoke. 

My words don’t mean what I thought they meant. Their words have slowly slipped from the absurd to the meaningless.

‘And why do you think that resonates so strongly with you?’

I don’t know how to answer that question.

It makes no sense to answer that question, because it makes no sense to ask it.

Why does it resonate so strongly with me that nothing in the world is green anymore? Are you insane?

No. I must be insane. 

I’m hallucinating values.

I’m losing track. The tendrilled claw has stolen the green from my eyes. Without colour, those eyes don’t seem so worried anymore. Is it possible I’m not? 

But I still miss the colour of green.

 


Stephen Duxbury is a full-time writer living in Letchworth, UK with his partner, dog and two cats. He has a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge, where he studied the concept of metaphysical fundamentality. Presently, Stephen has one writing credit: a short ghost story, ‘Shudder’. The story has been featured in an anthology of horror stories, ‘Chills’, published by Len Maynard Publishing. Stephen has written a Young Adult fantasy book, ‘Not Suffering Still’, which explores the grieving process of those bereaved by suicide. He is currently seeking representation for this debut novel.