How am I here?
I was sitting in a small sort of anteroom, looking at a thick, dark brown door with bolted black lock that was just starting to rust.
In spite of the thick door, I could hear murmuring, and what seemed to be the scraping of chairs being moved. They sounded heavy, and the noise echoed slightly in whatever room occupied the other side.
The anteroom was drafty, and despite the ensconced torches, the drafts of air played tag with the flames.
Torches? What happened to–
A key turned in the lock, and the black deadbolt slid back with what sounded like a small thunderclap of metal on metal.
A black-robed figure filled the door frame, it’s face hidden in the folds of its hood.
“The Council will see you now.”
Council? But I was just…
My hands flexed with a nervous tic, and I realized I was holding a sheaf of papers tied with a black ribbon. Beneath the ribbon, I saw my name written in my own hand.
When did I finish this? I don’t remember even writing it.
The robed, faceless behemoth stepped further into the room, a visual warning that if I did not voluntarily leave, he would be happy to assist.
More out of nervousness than necessity, I tapped the neat stack of papers against my knees to straighten what was already straight, and stood up.
‘Behemoth’ stood sideways, allowing me to squeeze by.
I had a spritely impulse to snatch off his hood to see his face, but there was a stronger sense of foreboding that I was in real trouble, so I didn’t do it.
There was a low chair placed before a semi-circle shaped table that seated six people.
Looking at them, their hoods were up too, and i couldn’t tell if they were male, female, or a combination.
What I do remember of what followed is something like an impressionist painting, nothing distinct, but together, providing a framework for what’s seen: dark wood, candles, a blurry lineup of faces with salt-and-pepper hair, deep set eyes, and low voices. My body was trying to convey a nonchalance I absolutely did not fee.
I couldn’t tell if the voices were male, female, or a combination.
I do remember what they said to me: Give us your book.
My hands clutched it even tighter as Behemoth turned his eyes on me once more.
“W-w-why d-d-do y-you need m-m-m-my b-book?”
A voice from the table seemed to float over me and cover me with hoarfrost, its tone was so lofty: It’s time for you to send it out into the world. You’ve been holding on to it for five years, now.It is finished, and we would read it to see how well you do, or even if you have any talent at all.
I tried to tell them it wasn’t ready, it wasn’t finished, it still needed editing, but I was stammering so much that they finally just nodded at Behemoth, who pulled the book from my hands the way a parent would take a rattle from a sleeping baby.
I begged. “P-please d-d-don’t…”
Behemoth passed the sheaf to the first Council member, who then cut the stack like a deck of cards and handed it to the next member until all of them had some of the manuscript.
I hung my head, and rested clenched fists on my knees, waiting for the shame to suffuse into me, over me.
The first Council member who’d taken the sheaf from Behemoth began to read.
“Babe! Babe, wake up!”
I did, suddenly, and sat up, making noises that weren’t speech.
I’d slouched down in my computer chair after drifting off.
My girlfriend was looking at me half amused, half angry. I took that as a good sign.
“You fell asleep,” she said. “Your earbuds fell out, and you hit the ‘Read Aloud’ button, stupid. It scared the hell outta me.”
I mumbled something neither of us understood as an apology, and then a frightening thought came to me…
“S-s-so I d-d-didn’t hit the ‘Submit’ button?”
She came over to me and kissed my cheek, looking at my laptop screen. “No, babe. I did it for you. Like I said, you were sleeping.”
I could’ve sworn I heard the Council’s mocking laughter, and somewhere, in the black and starless void beneath his hood, Behemoth’s fangs gleam in the torchlight as he smiles…