Written by Brandon O'brien
Deepika felt the wet grass beneath her feet, cushioning the occasional sharp stone or broken branch as she ran. She had been running for an hour, maybe. Ahead of her, the fireflies still forged onward in a steady hover to a direction she did not know, but they slowly grew dimmer, fading away and falling to the floor one by one. Behind her, the pitch-black shape still gurgled and growled as it followed.
Her legs felt weak, but she couldn't quit now. She kept racing deeper, deeper into the forest. The light—was it the light that spoke to her?—said simply that she had to get to the heart of the woods. “You have to make sure de light reach dere before it get too late. It have to be you, little girl. It have to be tonight.”
She thought it was nothing. A wild imagination, right? She had moments when a story would run away with her, growing free and wild without her guidance—superheroes battling tentacled aliens, teenage schoolgirl ninjas fighting evil teacher supervillains by kicking them in the teeth. Deepika was so good at it, she figured this was just another story coming to life in her mind. The girl who is warned by a gentle, grandmotherly voice to guide the power of pure goodness to the forest, the home of nature, to keep it safe from a darkness that reached out for her with its long, jagged claws. It made for a fun adventure in her own mind.
And then, on the way home from school, the whole street grew dark. Pitch black like night, even at minutes to three o’clock in the afternoon—no sun, no moon, no stars, no clouds, as far as she could see in any direction, dim enough to make her forget where she was. There was a growl from behind her. Deepika screamed, turned to face it. She saw nothing.
It growled again, to correct her. She saw the monster. It was the whole darkness.
She heard a voice, only in her mind, high but comforting. “Run, baby-girl. Run now.” It was gentle, not urgent at all, but it still stirred Deepika to action. She ran, fell, ran again, over and over. Soon, she noticed the fireflies. “Follow de candle-fly, dey go tell you where you have to go.” And she did, hearing the black pace behind her, hearing its claws scraping against the ground like steel, hearing it let out throaty growls.
Deepika ran. She ran until one shoe came off, then until the other did. She ran until she lost her schoolbag, and she didn't even notice it was gone until she was off the side streets to her house and now deep into the bushes, toes touching mud, touching grass, touching stone.
She looked down and gasped. The brightest yellow light spread out from her body. First, it was one large light, and then it became small pinpricks of golden glitter, cascading out of her like a trail of...“Candle-flies?” Deepika whispered.
She was down to four fireflies now. When they ran out, what would happen to her? The shadows let out a high-pitched shriek, and she screamed, but she never stopped.
The fireflies fell to three. The darkness screamed again—
and then Deepika fell. She wouldn't even tell the difference between the hole and the rest of the forest if it weren't for the sensation, rushing downward, feeling her hair lift into the air. When she fell, she looked up, at the three fireflies hovering over her, as they all faded, one by one, into just dark.
She felt the warm breath of the dark over her face, heard it pant, heard it growl deep in its throat. The fear finally grew. This was it. Deepika felt her heart beating faster in her chest, felt her body become warm and bright—
She looked down and gasped. The brightest yellow light spread out from her body. First, it was one large light, and then it became small pinpricks of golden glitter, cascading out of her like a trail of...
“Candle-flies?” Deepika whispered.
The shadow above her let out another growl. Deepika jumped, and even the lights trembled in the air as they floated.
The gentle voice whispered to her again. “Right here, baby-girl. From here... let de light spread. You go know what to do.”
Deepika put her hands around the lights, and they danced around her wrists in small, warm circles until they nestled inside, against her palms, with tickling heat. She did the first thing that came to mind. She rested them down in the wet dirt of the floor of a hole. She imagined it like putting the seed of a plant in the ground, but letting the light swim outward to the rest of the world from here, flooding the world with it. She closed her eyes to envision it, the feeling that by touching the earth in this one place, suddenly, colour would return to the day—
Deepika felt a tight embrace around her, and opened her eyes. It was the early evening, and she was in the living room of her house, her mother holding her tightly. It sounded like she was crying. “Where de hell you was, Deepika?! You know how worried me and your father did get?! Why your shoes and your uniform so dirty?”
She would forge an answer—playing wild with her friends in the football field outside of school. Would her mother believe her otherwise? Did she believe it herself?
“Thank you, baby-girl,” the voice of the light whispered to her. She felt the warmth of the light grow again in her chest. “I did know it had to be you.”