Arts and Entertainment

Featured Literature: Darkness Between The Stars by Zanib Zulfiqar


Novel Excerpt Title-01The featured literature for this week is a little different from the previous ones. Instead of a poem, I have an excerpt from a novel series created by Zanib Zulfiqar. The series has the tentative name of “Oblivion” and it came together in fragments over the course of the last six years. Zulfiqar never intentionally set out to write this piece, but it kind of just fell together while thinking of the events from the last book.

Here is some context for this scene: After the very traumatic events of the first book, Alex Valentine finds himself in a place that should’ve been safe, the Kowalski brothers’ mansion in Golem City. Alex’s nyctophobia is a stark contrast to his fearless, take-the-bull-by-the-horns attitude of the first book. Anyone being chased by the world’s most powerful law-enforcement agency would have anxiety – but this book follows him as he begins to accept that he is not okay. This scene specifically is the first time he spills whatever is going on in his head. It’s his first step to admitting he has a problem.

Darkness Between the Stars

by Zanib Zulfiqar

Paradoxes hide in Golem Underground. Inside the city limits by a few minutes at most, buried in trees, nonexistent to the rest of the world through nearly two hundred concealment charms and boundary hexes. Mansion. Not the type that exacerbated the crawling sensation under my skin, not the type that had vines growing all over it, dingy, peeling wallpaper, or dated furniture and décor. It was clean. Almost sterile. Hard angles, inorganic shapes, definitively of this current era. Clearly the space of a mind that didn’t need – or want – mundane distractions like dusting knickknacks, decluttering, or watering house plants. It had an elegance to it, certainly; cool, earthy tones in the walls, deep charcoal-gray carpets, accents of brighter oranges, reds, greens, deep woody browns. Loud teal in the tiniest places like curtain ties, table mats, and sofa throws. The color pallet of someone who liked consistency and didn’t want to change it much. The only deviation from the inorganic was a gigantic stone fireplace in the central living room. The entire wall it occupied was covered in gray-brown stone cobbled together with a slightly darker mortar. Couldn’t tell if it was intentional, but the overhead lighting cast shadows on the stone that reminded me of water rippling over a riverbed. The fireplace itself was arched and recessed into the wall. Wood burning. Traditional. It was flanked by two sanguine armchairs identical in every way, even down to the wear-pattern on the cushions and backrests. Used often. Used equally.

I often found myself sitting in Elijah’s armchair, staring at low flames and glowing coals as the fire died down for the night with the lights dimmed and curtains drawn shut to block out the piercing orange of sunset. Faint smell of soot and ashes and whatever the Fairies were cooking for dinner permeating the normally near-sterile air of the hide. I couldn’t say it calmed me down, sitting in front of the fire – because there was no such thing as a moment of calm for me – but I could say it was familiar. The same every day. It was a sort of routine I had manufactured for myself because everything else around me seemed to be unpredictable at best. Elijah didn’t seem to mind and gave me space. Elias, however, wasn’t too keen on leaving me alone for too long. I suppose it was the protective brotherly-nature in him. The need to fix broken things, extend a wing over broken people.

I knew he had been standing behind the couch for some time, debating whether to say something to me or not. And Elias was perfectly aware that I knew. He’d say something any second now. Knew that I was waiting for him to talk first.

“You look troubled.” There it was. Direct, genuine, no beating around the bush.

My answer was to look at him silently. Follow his slow, controlled steps across the living room into his own armchair, opposite to the one his brother would normally be seated in if it weren’t for me. Interlaced fingers on his lap, slight tilt of his head as his warm, calculating eyes met mine. Now he was waiting for me to talk. And he was perfectly aware that I knew he wouldn’t say another word until I spilled whatever poison was circulating in my head. I couldn’t hold his gaze for more than a few seconds; it was unnerving to watch him read me. Made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. He sighed through his nose. You need to talk, Alex, I don’t care if it makes you want to scream.

“There exists a darkness in the spaces between stars,” I started slowly, staring into the coals. “Same darkness that occupies an otherwise unoccupied bedroom, the blackness of midnight, the shadows beneath furniture. Even the shadows between your skin and clothing.”

He nodded. Keep going, I’m all ears.

“I get this immense discomfort when I see it. You know that feeling you get when you can sense someone watching you, but you can’t be fully sure until you turn around and look? It’s that exact feeling. I can sense something watching me. Waiting for me to look away, to screw up, to step over an invisible line. I’ve been sleeping with the lights on, huddled under the covers, holding Kim as tightly as I can until I mercifully drift off. And if she gets up – goes to the bathroom, or something – I feel eyes on me again. My hands go cold and shake, my heart starts racing, and my ears are filled with the sound of rushing blood. I struggle to close my eyes until she’s back. I need to close doors to dark rooms, I need to turn lights on, I need to avoid shadows.”

“You were held in a prison,” he said. Softly. Like his words were weapons.

I shook my head. “This is different. I… I feel out of control. Maybe even unstable.”

“Mm.” Elias twirled around his finger a thread dangling from his sleeve. “And feeling unstable scares you?”

I nodded stiffly.

His eyebrows knit together. Eyes were looking at something miles away. “Something. You said ‘something’ was watching you.”

“Well, it’s not a someone.”

“How do you know that, Alex?” he murmured.

I swallowed down a knot in my throat. “Sometimes I can hear it screaming.”

The Author

Zanib Zulfiqar is a senior pre-medicine student at the UC Clifton campus in the College of Allied Health Sciences.

Make sure to check back soon for more great works of student literature. Are you interested in writing your own creative literature or seeing the written works of others? The UCBA Creative Writing Club welcomes any and all UC Blue Ash students who are interested in pursuing artistic writing in many genres. Meetings are held every Tuesday in Muntz 322 from 4-5pm and are open to all students.

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