The Dark City
Christopher looked up at the sky. It was gray, as it was every day. Just like everything else. Rows of orderly houses lined each side of the road, and armed soldiers were marching down the street. Would they arrest him? Shoot him? Did they know his secret? For Christopher had had a secret for a couple weeks now. And secrets were illegal.
The first sign of it had been a while ago, and yet he remembered it clear as day. No, not day. The days here were scarcely less dark than the nights. He remembered it clear as the light.
Light. The word had simply come into his mind, after the thing had come. The radiance pouring from his hands. It was unbelievable, and filled him first with wonder. And then, fear. For Christopher had no doubt what he had done. It was magic.
Magic was not allowed in the City. It was one of the most strictly kept laws there was. He could remember the first time he saw this particular law in action. He had been a much younger boy then, and there had been a girl only a little younger than he. Her name was Beth.
He had observed Beth for a while before the incident. She appeared in every way normal, unless you looked closely. Close enough to see how her dress seemed to gleam, how she stayed in midair with each step just a bit longer than was natural. And once, just once, he saw her floating. Someone else saw her too, and looked frightened. Christopher saw the finger pointing. Everyone had gone into their dwellings for the noontime meal. And the Speaker had sounded, right in mid-bite. “All citizens are to report to the Square immediately!”
He still shuddered at the sound. They had all lined up in their neat rows in the Square, and Beth had been dragged to the center by two soldiers. Everyone was forced to watch as she was shot. Christopher could still remember the look of terror in her eyes, how she struggled against the soldiers, and finally, how she lay lifeless and bleeding on the street. That was the fate of those who practiced magic. That was what would happen to him if they found out.
It was only since he started having the magic, and the light, that it struck him how gray and pathetic this City was. He had never noticed it before; it had simply been a fact, with neither positive nor negative connotations. But now it filled him with horror, and also sadness, and he wished there was something he could do to change it. But there was no defying the Grand Imperator, the one everyone was required to own a picture of. They were supposed to worship the picture as well, but Christopher hadn’t been, lately. The image somehow seemed so cheap and meaningless in the face of his newfound magic. He decided at last to go and see Jessica.
Jessica was a girl in his year, whom he had only begun to notice. He thought her beautiful, with her pale skin and freckles. And her eyes were full of something like his light. Perhaps she knew about the light as well. If not, well, then the world was simply doomed, as far as he could see.
Jessica invited him warmly into her dwelling. Her parents were out picking up their weekly rations, so it was just the two of them. She was even more beautiful today, if that were possible. “I dreamed about you. In my dream I saw your face. Now you are here. It is so strange and wonderful!” Jessica said. For a few moments all was silent.
“Do you know of . . . light?” he finally asked. Suddenly her eyes seemed to be filled with it.
“Yes! Oh, the light is wonderful! And the colors?”
“What are colors?” Christopher asked.
“Watch this.” He watched as Jessica held up her hands, which began to glow with the light. Suddenly, a beautiful sight emerged. It was made of light, and yet it was more than simply light. It came in different shades, and they were all full of beauty. And Christopher knew he was seeing color.
“The Voice tells me that thing is called rainbow,” Jessica said as the colors faded.
“The Voice? What do you mean by that?”
“Don’t you know? The one who tells you of the light?” At once Christopher knew the Voice she meant, because he knew it too! And there was something else, which had been at the back of his consciousness until now.
“There was another thing as well – I don’t know what to call it. But it was a sound and it had beauty.” He tried to summon the strange and wonderful sound. There it was!
“Oh!” Jessica exclaimed. “I have not heard that before, but it is truly wondrous!”
“Yes. But I do not know its name.”
“I think its name may be music,” Jessica replied.
“Yes, I believe it is music,” answered Christopher.
“Why are these strange magics banned, if they seem so good?” asked Jessica.
“They are good,” replied Christopher. “Perhaps the ones making the laws are evil?”
“What is evil?”
“The opposite of good, I believe.”
“The Imperator!” they both cried out at once.
“I haven’t been worshipping his picture,” Jessica confessed.
“I haven’t either,” admitted Christopher.
“If he is evil, then it is right not to worship him,” declared Jessica.
“You’re right – I haven’t thought of that.” They both fell silent.
At last Christopher broke the silence. “You know we could be killed for this.”
“I know. But somehow it only makes the knowledge sweeter, you know?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you ever feel that if something is truly worth having, it’s worth risking everything for?”
“I know now what you mean. But I only just begun to think like that.”
It wasn’t safe to be together for too long. It would arouse suspicion. In this city, friendship was a word with no meaning beyond childrens’ games. So Christopher went home. It had lightened his heart to speak with Jessica. At least there was one other who understood.
A thought came to him unbidden. What if there were others who shared this strange and wonderful secret? But if there were, they could never be found. It was too dangerous.
What would happen if they were discovered? Would they be shot in the Square with everyone watching? Would the soldiers force them, at gunpoint, to betray the other one? These thoughts filled him with fear, but also an odd sorrow. How had it come about that they were all born into this dark, loveless world? Could the Grand Imperator be behind it all? Surely not, for he was only one man. And yet . . .
And yet in Christopher’s mind the Grand Imperator appeared to be wearing a cloak of darkness. All thought of worshipping his image had left him. The thing repulsed him.
Christopher and Jessica met whenever they could. One day the two of them discovered that Christopher could make fields with his magic, could move and push on things without touching. And Jessica could do something even more amazing.
“I know now that there were once something called plants. I can bring them back, look!” They were sitting on the pavement outside, behind Jessica’s dwelling. “See here where the concrete is cracked? Watch.” And Jessica moved her hand and a green tendril grew out of the bare spot, under the concrete. They had been practicing the names of the colors. It grew until something purple opened up in it. It was beautiful!
“This is a flower, and they used to grow everywhere. Before they put pavement over anything.”
“What happened, Jessica?” asked Christopher angrily. “Who made everything so ugly?”
“I don’t know,” she said sadly.
Weeks went by. One day, Jessica came to him. “I had a dream,” she said.
“Tell me,” Christopher replied.
“I dreamed that death was not the end of all things, but only a beginning, a birth into new light yet brighter than this.”
“Impossible! If it were true, there would be nothing to fear!”
“You know the Grand Imperator rules by fear, Christopher,” she replied. And he saw that it was true.
“We have to do something about it. We can’t just sit around, waiting to die! There must be a way to put this world right, somehow.”
“Perhaps I will dream of a way,” she answered.
A few days later, there was an announcement on the Speaker. Everyone was called to the Square. Christopher had a sick feeling deep in his stomach. He knew what was going to happen.
Two soldiers had a boy by the arms. He struggled, but they were too strong. He could not get away. Flushed with anger, too mad to think, Christopher used his magic to push the soldiers down. The boy escaped, and started running down the street. Most of the soldiers pursued him, but one pointed at Christopher. “You!” the soldier said angrily.
He spotted Jessica’s face in the crowd. She called to him. “Christopher, you must destroy the Grand Imperator. It is our only hope!” She ran up and kissed him on the cheek. “Have courage!”
Christopher was being summoned to the Grand Imperator, being escorted by soldiers to the Citadel. Have courage, Jessica had said. What is courage? he thought. The knowledge came to him. Courage is when fear does not defeat you. He must not be defeated by fear, but defeat the Grand Imperator. It was the City’s only hope.
The soldiers marched him up the steps of the Citadel. Inside was where the Imperator lived, where the announcements on the Speaker came from. He was taken inside. “Bring him in,” called a voice. It was him!
“I will speak with the boy alone,” drawled the voice of the Imperator. It was a dark voice. Christopher looked into the Imperator’s eyes. They were black as coal.
“Christopher! What a pleasure to speak with you. I have had my eye on you for a long time now. Yes, I know your little secret,” he added at the terrified look in Christopher’s eyes. “I know you possess magic. But I am prepared to offer you a deal.”
“What is the deal?” Christopher asked. He couldn’t imagine it was anything good.
“I will let you live. I will even let your friend live -” he spoke the word friend as though it was a dirty word – “if you join me. One man cannot cheat death always, but I will train you as my successor. You shall rule the City and all shall fear and worship you! For I see that you have the power,” said the Imperator.
Christopher saw then the extent of the Imperator’s deceit. “You have magic!” he cried.
“Yes, I have magic. How else would I rule the City so well? I control everything within these walls and every person. But I was not able to control you. I wondered long why that was – and behold, it came to me! I could not control you because you were to be my equal, my successor. And here I must warn you – if you do not join me, you shall surely die.”
“You hypocrite!” Christopher shouted, as he pushed with his magic. All he could see now was that the Imperator was the worst kind of liar, a man who outlawed the very thing he himself was practicing. And yet it made a strange sort of sense. If magic was his means of power, of course it would have to be suppressed in his subjects, else they would take back the City for their own. This was the man who demanded worship! The hypocrisy of it made Christopher sick.
“You would use force against me?” the Imperator said, as though it were laughable. “I have power you could never imagine, pathetic boy.” And the Imperator summoned a sphere of darkness which encompassed him like a cloak. Slowly it edged toward Christopher and pressed upon him. And he knew that this must be death, must be the final end of things and no light could ever prevail against it. But if that was the case, what was light for? Had it all been a weak thing, an illusion that tormented him with its goodness after all the lights had gone out? And he thought of Jessica, as a flower that was beautiful one day and passed away the next. Were all good things really so transient? What was it about the light that made it so much better than the darkness?
But wait. Was darkness a real thing, or only a place where light wasn’t? And he thought of the light, and of Jessica, and her parting words. Have courage. If the light wouldn’t win, in the end, what was the good of living at all? And he allowed the magic to come to him, summoned the light from his hands. Then there was darkness no more, for the light shone in it and the darkness did not understand. And the Imperator seethed with rage as the darkness was extinguished. In the end he, in all his hate and cruelty, had become darkness itself. And then the light came, and he was no more.
Christopher exited the room, and went down the Citadel stairs, and walked outside. And what he saw amazed him.
Soldiers all of a sudden put down their guns and started laughing, and joking with one another. The walls surrounding the City crumbled down. Rays of sunlight pierced through the gray clouds until they were dissolved. Plants began to grow and crack through the concrete with their might. Children laughed and played, people started to love, and things began to have color, now that the Imperator’s magic of darkness was no more. Music began to play in the streets. All magic that was good and beautiful remained, and multiplied. Christopher ran to Jessica, and embraced her, and they both knew that their dream had come true, that the City had become a City of Light.
By Bethany Butterflygirl