I knelt before the Splendour and awaited my judgement.
“You know that those who come before me must pay a price, do you not?” It asked me, a voice like church bells ringing next to my ear.
“Aye, that I do.” I replied, my eyes firmly focused on the floor. I could feel the heat radiating from this being, this raw power that if I looked would strip me away and leave nothing behind but an husk, an empty shell that once was me. “I’ll pay it, but you must keep them safe.”
“Upon whom would you confer the honour of my protection? Nina, perhaps?” Nina’s face, red hair framing a multitude of freckles on her alabaster skin, appeared before my screwed shut eyes. She stared into me, through me, past me with that piercing stare of hers, a feeble pretense at the Splendour’s power, her lips moving to repeat the moment I had seen in my dreams so many times over, her admission and her promised departure. “Or perhaps your father?”
This time, it was my father’s hands that swam through the darkness. Strong hands, with wide knuckles. Hands made for working, as he had every day until his mind had escaped him and left him confused. They reached out towards me, old scars peppering the surface of the veined skin, before turning the palms upwards to reveal the deep crevasses, so ingrained with dirt, begging for my help, before vanishing into the darkness.
“Yes. But there’s more.”
“Really? You would do such a thing? For your mother?”
Long red painted nails flashed through the darkness and caught a memory on the cheek, leaving three blood red lines raised on the skin. “Your sister?”
A hand lets go of mine and a shadowy figure walks into a distant sunset. “Is there anybody I’ve missed?”
I say nothing, feeling my emotions surge within me like a tidal wave, my fear, my anger, my hatred all fighting for control of my weary body. My lips were trying to move, trying to force out words saying that I’d changed my mind, that I wouldn’t go through with it. Then a calm rang out, like a bell echoing through a still night. I found my control again.
“So tell me. Who would you have me save?” I heard a whisper as the Splendour knelt beside me. “I who am known by many names. What would you ask of me who has been at the forefront of civilisation since mankind realised that fire burns and water is wet, that the sun brings light and predators are bad? Me, who has received all of their prayers and wishes? Ra, Zeus, Odin, God… It doesn’t matter what name I had. Sometimes I was a multitude, sometimes I was alone.” His breath brushed past my ear, an intimacy I had been unprepared for. “They always ask and they always refuse when they find out the cost. So, what is it, Henry Miles? Son of a blacksmith, general waste of space? What would you have me do?”
“Leave.” I replied. “Leave and never return. Spare them all.” I was struggling with the words again, thick like treacle as they oozed from my brain. “Let us make our own mistakes.”
The Splendour sighed and stood up, its robes rustling. I eased an eye open, taking care to keep my stare on the cold, hard ground. “The cost is high. I will take everything that is you. All of your memories, every experience. Your highest points, your lowest points, I will leave nothing behind. You will never have existed. There will be no songs, no stories about Henry Miles, the Saviour. There will be naught of you that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist. You will…” It paused, as if struggling for words. “Poof. There will be nothing.”
“I know,” I said beneath my breath, “But it’s a price worth paying.”
“For everyone? What about the evil people? The truly evil, those that would hurt another, squander wealth and opportunity while others died in a slum?”
“Everyone deserves their chance.” I took a deep breath, steeling myself for what was about to happen. “I will do it. I will sacrifice to save.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder, then beneath my chin. My eyes followed the flow of the robes to the burning pits of gold that were set into the Splendour’s face. “Child, you are the bravest who has ever found me. You will be remembered by none but me, but I will leave you with one thing. One memory to accompany you through oblivion. Choose quickly, for you don’t have much time.”
I didn’t need any time. I talked for a few moments and the Splendour stroked its chin thoughtfully, before it agreed. My eyes remained locked on the burning gold and I felt my soul, my spirit diminishing in the light. I was being reduced to nothing.
I was awoken by a knocking at my door. My eyes took their time to adjust to the harsh sunlight streaming through the windows. My father has just walked in and pulled me from my bed, placing me over his shoulder as I yell in delight, before he carries me downstairs to where my mother and my sister are waiting. “Happy birthday, Henry!” They say, smiling wide as they gesture towards the table. Before me is a spread fit for a king that must have taken months to save for. I pull my family into a hug, but before we can begin to eat a bell sounds. I throw the front door open wide to find Nina looking at me, shy but piercing eyes peering out of a freckled face. I take her hand and pull her inside.
I was awoken by a knocking at my door…
The Idiot in Tin Foil