I am the sound of thunder, quaking the windows of a massive temple.
Repeating the mantra in my mind, I leaned over the stadium’s checkered field, arcing my body, ready to dive into the snail-slick glass slab. I was vaguely aware of my competitors, my ghoul sisters—stretching their limbs over their own tiles: metal, willow-wood, gravestone. I wouldn’t lose to them. I wouldn’t be the weak one—a thing mocked and isolated, like I had been all my life.
A flare shot through the evernight sky and showered us in verdant sparks. Chanting the words once more, I dipped head-first into the massive frame of glass.
My brain merged with a million shards, until the green spotlights showering the night faded from my vision. Sharp cold penetrated my neurons. My teeth clattered. I sucked in a deep breath, and my teeth stilled. Further in I pushed, the glass’ chill piercing muscles to marrow. I exhaled, let prickly, bitter sand spear through my nostrils, as I slid entirely within.
All that remained of me as I swam through the freezing glass was disembodied fragments, barely configuring a mind—dragging brain shards like a haphazard cloak.
This was the moment to prove to the Underworld that I could be the chosen Crawler. That I could phase into anything faster than all siblings.
That I’d be the one to infiltrate through the bedrock of the aboveworld.
I am the water flowing through the pith. I am the blood in the vessels of a great oak.
My mantra shifted as I reached the limits of the glass. I could sense the sclerotic surface of pure wood ahead. The checkered stadium held in its massive tiles all the materials of the aboveworld—but every form to morph in was a challenge I had trained my whole life for.
As I made contact, my brain folded in on itself, and all that was left was my heart carrying the rest of me through undead timber. A sylvan heart, pumping the veins of what was once a zombie tree.
It was effortless. I had turned my heart to wood too many times before, when Mother compared me to my sisters, calling me the seed of the weakest ghoul.
Thoughts materialized in frames, as the brain matter flowed alongside blood, struggling to form patterns. Clack-clack, the splinters crackled around me, twigs scratched me from within. A taste like biting cinnamon stick and the smell to match it.
Brain of glass, now heart of wood, but for what is waiting up ahead, gather your wits and turn your whole body to stone.
I am a gravestone, stamping a mortal’s day of judgment.
Squeezed into a sliver of myself, the slab of granite bore down on my being, seeking to invade my every thought with fragments of an unconscious past. When we—the beings of the Underworld—were nothing but husks, half-living. When we were stone in catacombs, the rock burying the once-alive.
When we were things looked down upon.
Through the stadium tile of stone, I was a swimming statue. Pushing through a crack at a time, tasting dusty granite, crackling pebbles. Enveloped in hardened earth, I could not tell if I was behind—no way to hear my competitors—and I despaired as I imagined myself emerging last, chastised by Mother, mocked by siblings and onlookers. I had to swim through faster, to build momentum for what loomed ahead. I had to beat my sisters.
I wouldn’t be the weak seed.
I’d be stronger even than the very rock building the foundation of the aboveworld. Ready to pierce through the veil and invade the land of the living.
I am the rage of the oppressed undead, the screaming reverberating on the tunnels of a haunted cavern.
Swimming paused, it was time to rush, to spear through like a bullet. I brought my hands forward into a diving position, but this time clenched my fists.
I am heat burning through a tempered sword.
My fists warm and hardened crushed the final barrier of stone and reached pristine flat steel, merging with it. Merging like I was made not of matter, but entirely of heat. Of burning fury at my own soul—borrowed by the feeble pilgrim ghoul that sought peace with the abovemen. The foolish ghoul who betrayed our secrets, giving more power to the corrupt.
I am fire, burning with the collective fury of all the lands above. Of spirits poisoned by machines. Spirits of the volcanoes, spirits of torch-burned trees.
It was a feeling unfamiliar and unnatural. I was a being of the Underworld, of everwinter, permafrost. Anything warm floats up to the surface, exiled to lands above.
But now I was in control. I forced my flame to push straight through the metal, until I reached the trial’s end. Slowly, my form coalesced, and I propelled myself off the steel tile like a swimmer from a pool.
As I emerged, the verdant lights of the stadium showered me, followed by the cheering of the crowd. The stadium still undulated with the forms of my sisters swimming below. Warm excitement rose in my chest. I had been the first to emerge.
On the stadium wall, a toothed crescent stretched like bulging graffiti. It was the smile of my mentor—Mother and Master of all Crawlers. A smile acknowledging me as the superior one. No longer an afterglow of the frail father that handed the secret of fire to abovemen. I was the redemption.
I am a mother’s pride. I am the harbinger of man’s end, the quiet of eternal sleep.
I am the thick absence of death.
In a cove of a Greek island, Akis was born a sane infant, but has since then grown to enter the chaotic world of adults—a choice he deeply regrets. He studies biomedical AI, hoping there’s something less dystopian to come from this tech. His stories delve both into wholesome worlds and ones of extreme darkness. Read more from him in Apex, Dread Machine, Flame Tree and numerous anthologies. Visit his website for details: https://linktr.ee/akislinardos
I Am Lightning, Flashing Through the Frozen Sand by Akis Linardos is the winner of the Apparition Literary Magazine September Flash Fiction Challenge, which was based on the prompt Physical Challenge Reality shows.