The Black Oracle by Patrick Welsh

Trigger Warning: Suicide


I feel the breeze from the outside world, taste it on the air like salt, biting, gnawing at my skin. Hard and cold, and yet I know I have to face it. I hold up my blanket like a shield to ward it away, though I know I can only hold out so long.

The Black Oracle whispers to me, honeyed words, laughing, in a language only I would understand. Her voice is my voice and a stranger’s, gentle as a lover’s touch, caressing, rays of sunshine on my skin.

‘The world can wait,’ she says, ‘and you are not strong enough to face it. Stay with me, where it is warm.’

No. I push myself onto my feet, my heart ablaze. The world awaits me.

Her voice murmurs behind me. ‘Stay. Be safe. There’s nothing out there for you but pain.’

She wraps her arms around me. Her face is hidden behind her veil.

‘Will you hurt me?’ I ask.

Yes. But so will the world.

She takes me by the hand and leads me home, where I am safe. With her.

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I see a woman across the way with eyes that shine like stars: when her gaze meets mine, she smiles, blushes, looks away, and I wonder what it would be like to speak to her, to share a moment in conversation, an instant reflected in eternity.

But I cannot find my courage. The Black Oracle wears it around her neck like a stole, twirls it around the ends of her fingers.

‘May I have my courage, please?’ I ask.

She laughs, the laugh my teachers used to give me, rain on a summer’s day. ‘Whatever would you need your courage for?’

‘I want to speak to the woman over there, the woman with eyes like stars.’

‘Oh, you won’t need your courage for that.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because she will say no.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because she is finer than you deserve. Because you will trip over your own words. Because you are a fool, and you will only earn her disgust and her scorn. Because you are safer if you hold your tongue. Because I am the Black Oracle, and I know.’

I do not speak to the girl with eyes that shine like stars.

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Every day I labour: I scrape and scratch and claw and bite for every inch, every scrap, until my nails are raw and bloody, and I think it would be good to find different work.

But the Black Oracle whispers to me; ‘My sweet, whatever is the matter?’

‘I am unhappy with my work,’ I tell her. ‘I want better fare. I want my heart to soar when I work, to feel it take flight inside my chest, to feel it fly above the clouds with every beat. I want to make the world a better place before I am taken from it.’

She offers me a sad smile. Her lips are true and black. ‘Oh, my love, come now. You are so small, and the world is so big. If you reach out to change it, it will only crush you.’

‘But I am not small,’ I tell her. ‘I am the same size as everyone else. I deserve happiness, don’t I?’

She puts her arms around me, clutches me to her chest. Her breath tickles the ends of my ear, as cold as grief as she sings to me.

‘If you were happy, would you know what to do with yourself?’

‘No,’ I whisper.

‘Then come, stay with me a while, and do not dwell on such things.’

Her arms stretch around me like a spider’s legs.

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I stand on the edge, look to the left. The tunnel is black as night. The crowd couldn’t stop me, even if they wanted to. Which they do not. They can’t even look up long enough to see me.

I hear the engine roar down the tunnel towards me with the power of a storm. I close my eyes, clench my fists, try to push myself forward.

There she is. The smell of salt, of rain on pavement. When she takes my hand, the cold rushes from my fingers to my spine. It wraps around my neck, long, thin fingers.

‘What are you doing?’ she whispers

‘I want to leave. I want to escape. I want it all to stop.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I am too small to survive this world, and you have taken the courage I need to face it.’

She tilts her face. I cannot see her face, behind the veil, gossamer, light as the wings of a moth.

‘You won’t do it.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because I am the Black Oracle, and I know. What would these people think? Are you so selfish? Do you really wish to be a burden on them?’

I shake my head. ‘No.’

‘Then come with me. Take my hand.’

She pulls me close, holds me, her arms as cold as saltwater, and I know in my heart that she can never let me go.

Patrick Welsh

Patrick Welsh

Patrick Welsh was raised in Newcastle and attended the University of St Andrews. He also studied Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and in 2012 he was a finalist for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awards. His fiction has previously appeared in the horror anthology Blood from the Quill. Find him online @PBEWelsh
Patrick Welsh

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