'Chroma' by Helena Ryan

The lights curtain across the night sky, scarlet and emerald, gold too. We collect them all, but it is the amaranth and amethyst hues that are worth the most, for they are the rarest.  Hundreds of light traps stud the snow covered slopes, carefully guarded by well wrapped, anxious owners and their silent beasts. There are certainly more comfortable ways of making gelt, but none so beautiful. No one ever loses that feeling of awe. Each time it is as if you are seeing the magic for the very first time.

A peculiar noise accompanies the lights; a cracking, whistling, urgent whisper that never fails to make my skin tingle with a feeling of icy despair. I strain to hear what they say, but catch no more than an indistinct murmur. Some claim they can understand the voices, that they prophesy our downfall. That may well be, for in truth no one can do this work for long. It invades your dreams, weakens the mind and lures you to the edge. Once insanity crooks its finger, it is a rare man who is strong enough to refuse to follow.

The trick is to get out before things go too far. Recognising when that point has arrived is an art in itself. The many ragged, skin-and-bone vagabonds, ranting at the heavens in the nearby spice mining towns are testament to that. They rage at angels only they can see, and cower from invisible marauding creatures sent to torment and terrify. The lights will have their revenge on us in the end. It has been said that those who succeed in moving on in good time are cursed anyhow. Their fate follows them, sickness can strike at any moment, accidents lie in wait around every corner, and suicide comes as a welcome release for those whom the voices never leave.

This is our way of life. Every great family has their own allotted section to set their traps in and when their familial council nominates them, those chosen must fulfill their destiny. It would be unthinkable to refuse. Our existence has been transformed by hues and shades, pigments, stains and tints. Our world is now suffused with colour and we could never return to our old monochrome lives.

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