In Failure’s Shadow

A Short Story By Mayu Alten

Drops of rain clumped onto Isaiah’s dark bangs, flattening them to his forehead. They dripped into his eyes, but he welcomed the feeling. The burning distracted him. Isaiah gasped, tears streaming down his face and gathering at his chin. His chest heaved as he dragged his exhausted body up the steep hill and he clenched his fists, hoping his long nails would draw blood. Licking his lips, he blinked hard. The air felt like bricks being forced down his throat and he found it impossible to breathe. With his last drop of resolve, he bit his lip to prevent the wail within his hollow body from spilling out. It bounced off his toes and seeped into the beating of his frantic heart.

Isaiah wanted to stop. His whole body begged for it. Hunger ate at his gut and sadness grew like a tumor, thick as blood and as dense as bone. The soles of his feet ached from his trek, yet he was still a long ways away. He swallowed hard before glancing up. The sky reflected his dark mood. He felt it stirring deep inside of him and he clenched his fists. He knew the darkness was there for him. It would hold him in his times of need and cradle him like a parent. It was someone without pity or sympathy. The darkness was his only escape.

He felt his consciousness slipping, but he couldn’t bring himself to care anymore. A gust of wind slapped him. It screamed in his ear.

He cleared his weary mind with a shake of his head. He still had something left in him. It wasn’t the strong passion he used to have, but it was enough to remind him of his past self. Failure mattered. But these weightless expectations were the heaviest things he owned. They forced him back into his body, bringing him face to face with reality. Meeting the cold eyes of the stone-faced killer was the most terrifying thing he’d ever done and it had sucked the life out of him. It was the fear that countless men before him had fled from with joints in their mouths and smoke on their breaths and the murderer that caught the bravest of them unawares.

Yet, Isaiah refused to surrender to reality. He was too young to fall at its feet. He kept moving even though it was hard to breathe.

The slope that lay before him was daunting and endless. He’d started this trek the moment he was born, but he wasn’t sure whether he could finish it. Could he take a short cut? No, tried that. Just another dead end. Could he cut it short?

He didn’t like this place he found himself in. Perhaps it was a pit of despair. A reckless state between lucid and dreaming? Did he deserve it? Possibly. He needed to escape before he was trapped. He couldn’t afford to find a place to lick his wounds. That would be too good for him.

The rain beat down on him like sharp pebbles in response. He squinted through the onslaught and continued forcefully, cutting his feet on the ground. His mind whirled with negativity, picking him apart piece by piece. He knew that if he didn’t reach the top soon, he’d fall. The idea terrified him.

The sky seemed to laugh at him. Fall, will you? It asked merrily, and softened the rain. It slickened the dirt under his toes and he almost slipped. The tears dried before they even fell. His eyes were rock hard, the watery quality of his gaze disappeared. “Yes,” he muttered. He would fall.

He felt it before it happened. He lost his footing and his arms thrashed frantically, hoping to clutch onto something. No. Not now. He couldn’t fall when he had come so far. He looked behind him, a mistake. His face slammed into the mud and it skinned him from his elbows to his knees. He began sliding down the steep hill. He helplessly waved his hands to snag a bump in the road to pull himself up. His breathing halted and he bit his tongue. His chin bled as he skidded, but his eyes flashed red.

Suddenly, his hand found a threshold. Isaiah grabbed it and felt it shift. With its help, he stood. He raised his head. He could feel the sky’s mood change. His friend. The clouds cleared slightly, but the temperature remained. He nodded his thanks and set his jaw. He grit his teeth with determination and began climbing again, this time with care.

Time was a lost concept on Isaiah. He couldn’t keep track of it and didn’t care to either. He bared his teeth. The heavens could throw anything they wanted at him, it wouldn’t shake him. Every step was a battle won and his progress, although slow, added up.

A hot breath murmured in his ear. Isaiah jerked his head to the side. The darkness had spoken to him and he could smell victory on the damp air. He wiped his wet forehead, letting the red smear. He wore it like a badge of honor. The dirt crunched under his feet. Then he saw it.

The sky parted to bear its golden light, shining on the ledge ahead. It was then that Isaiah ran, relinquishing his last sliver of strength. He stopped in the light and looked around at the dark green pine trees and shrubbery. The clear quality of the landscape that surrounded him.

He looked up again and smiled. Thank you. He breathed deeply and the air filled his lungs. Finally, a breath of fresh air.

“In Failure’s Shadow” was written moments after discovering I had been rejected from an exclusive club that I had thought I would easily be accepted to. After this event, I lost much of my self confidence and wrote about my state of mind in this piece. Later, after the situation blew over, I added the last section to remind myself of the silver lining.