Mark awakened abruptly, sweaty and unsatisfied with his rest. He turned a little on his right side to look at his alarm clock: it was 5 o’clock in the morning.
Mark sighed, then turned back to a supine position, staying there for a few minutes, eyes looking at the emptiness between him and the ceiling. Being an hot and humid summer of July one would assume he was just having a bad time sleeping due to the unbearable heat, but it wasn’t just that; he seemed to never actually have a good sleep, always going late to bed and waking up on twilight since when…
«Stop» He didn’t want to start thinking again about that accident; it had already devastated his life so much and doing it would only make matters worse.
So Mark got out of his bed, went to the bathroom to wash his face, admire his fit shape in the mirror and then went to the kitchen with the intention of at least getting a good energy-filling breakfast. Until depression stroke him again: looking at the food available he just couldn’t find something that satisfied him; eventually he eyed an almost empty bottle of some quality whiskey. He grabbed it, poured the remaining liquor in a glass, added some ice and then drank it.
Despite giving the opposite impression, Mark wasn’t an alcoholic; he usually just enjoyed having fine drinks from time to time. Recently however, he started to really get on the edge sometimes. He knew that, he knew it had to do with his current state of depression and he knew it was due to…
«ENOUGH!» he screamed in his mind, throwing the glass in anger. The glass shattered, sending many shards and some ice all over the floor.
— Oh yeah, nice move man, nice move… now guess who’s gonna clean your mess? — he said to himself, sarcastically, and sat on a chair, sighing.
Mark had always lived alone since he left his parents, never had any nice relatives to visit from time to time, no “significant other” to share his life with and never hanged out with friends besides rarely chatting online with some of his old school-mates. This was partly because of the fact that he had to leave his hometown and move in a rent house far away for work, but mainly it was due to his introvert nature. The only company he had always enjoyed was that of his younger brother Alex.
In youth, Alex and Mark had been a couple of happy-go-lucky boys, always playing tricks and jokes to people, never ceasing to make their parents worry while enjoying and exploring the beauty of life. They kept having fun times together but as they grew up Alex showed a lot of interest in science and magic subjects, while Mark just couldn’t wait to leave school and start a new life on his own. So eventually Alex went to college and Mark took the first job he could find and became a metalworker in a port away from their hometown. They promised to go visit each other at least once every year. Everything was fine until Alex got his long awaited Doctorate in Alchemy and the two brothers decided to celebrate the event their own way before telling the news to everybody else. And that was when tragedy hit them.
On that fateful day, Mark was awaiting his brother at the railway station. At first, the train was announced to be 10 minutes delayed. Then it became a 20 minutes delay. Then 35 minutes. 50 minutes. An hour and 15 minutes. And finally, the train was deleted; Alex never arrived or answered Mark’s phone calls. Some said it was a mistake of the train driver, some said a railway conjunction had broken and others even speculated it could have been a terrorist attack; the truth didn’t matter to Mark, only the fact that the train had derailed and Alex was dead.
The loss of the brother was something that Mark just wasn’t ready to handle, making him almost lose any real interest or purpose in life. He never managed to find the will to go back to work, which led to losing his job too. And so now, a year later, there you have him contemplating his fate, sit on a chair in his kitchen at 5 o’clock in the morning. You could say Alex’s death had left a mark on Mark…
«Well, the day I do the chores at 5 AM has yet to come and I don’t feel like going back to bed now…» and so finally Mark stood up, leaving the mess he made as it was, and prepared for a jog in the open.
Mark had ended up liking a lot to jog and exercise so early in the morning: firstly, because it really made him vent off and distract his mind from his problems. Secondly, because it made him maintain his good shape; finally, because he didn’t have to bother meeting anybody since where he lived it looked like being in a ghost town on that time of the morning.
That morning was going to be different however, as after reaching the seaside, his favorite jogging spot, Mark had a peculiar encounter.
He didn't notice them at first, but then he saw with a glimpse of the eye a pair of tiny, shiny and colorful lights gliding silently at his side, just above the sea, always changing in brightness and color and playfully chasing each other while following him.
«Oh, ignis fatui, how cute and strange... It’s quite late for them to appear at this time of the day. I wonder if they'll keep following me...»
So Mark kept on jogging along his usual path, turning often his head to see the whereabouts of those magical creatures; initially they just seemed to travel along his same direction, but soon they started to behave very differently. At first, they simply went closer to him, but afterwards they began dashing towards him, almost launching themselves against his body, even though they never touched him as they always turned at the last second.
— Hey! Stop that! What are you… AH! — shouted Mark while dodging the umpteenth dash of an ignis fatuus.
As far as common knowledge goes, these creatures of magic dwell in calm natural spots, mostly in lakes, ponds or swamps; they are seen at night but it is debated whether they do disappear with sunlight or actually become invisible during the day. Whatever the case, an ignis fatuus generally minds his own business, wandering around like a bumblebee and being harmless to people even if threatened.
It is said however that meeting one of them close-up or having one of them interacting in some way with you is never a coincidence, but an omen about an imminent event or even about your fate. However, Mark had never asked for any of that and yet he now had to deal with two of them! He definitely wasn’t liking it and this made him worry too.
— Out of my way! — he shouted, taking a detour to avoid those creatures. But they simply turned with him and in no time they were behind him.
— Play time is over, leave me alone! — he shouted again, now running at full speed. In response the ignis fatui accelerated and were once more right behind him.
«What do they want from me?»
He was determined to get rid of them and so he headed to a nearby park where he thought to slow down his pursuers thanks to the vegetation.
«Are there some wrongs I have to righten?»
Mark’s heart was pumping hard and fast in his chest, he even felt his head pounding!
«Is something really bad about to happen to me?»
He finally reached the park: he jumped over bushes, moved in zig-zags between hedges and turned around trees, he tried everything he could think of in order to leave behind those ignis fatui but they seemed to never tire or let him go away no matter his attempts.
«Am I going to die an early death?»
Lost in his worries, Mark didn’t notice in time an exposed root in his path, stumbling on it and losing his balance, eventually falling down with a painful sprain on his left ankle.
Mark cried out in pain, rolling on his back, not yet able to get up after the injury. For a moment he just stayed there, panting, eyes closed, all covered in sweat and dirt. Lost in his current predicament, he didn’t realize that in the meantime the ignis fatui had reached him and were now floating in circles right above him; when Mark opened its eyes, he saw them merging into one big, flaming light almost the size of a soccer ball. It then lowered itself to rest a few centimeters over Mark’s belly.
He stared at it for a while, not quite understanding what was happening: it just stayed there peacefully, without making any noise or emanating any heat, only shining its light on him. Finally Mark got some courage and tried to touch it; as he did, it made an almost blinding flash and vanished.
He stood up. He was still panting a bit, yet he wasn’t feeling tired from all that exertion . He shook off some of the dirt covering him and only then he realized it: his ankle didn’t hurt anymore. It was as if he had just awaken from a bad dream. He looked around, confused: nobody was on sight and at the horizon the sun was fully risen above the sea. He guessed it was probably something past 6 AM.
«What just happened to me?»
Still puzzled, Mark decided to just walk home; before leaving the park however, a poster got his attention. Its title read:
“Integrating magic and technology for the global benefit since 1970”
My first story!
Initially I thought to make one bigger story, but since this took so much time and effort, I eventually decided to split it in two parts but that can each be read as a standalone story too. So you'll have already an idea of what i'll submit in the future...