The shadow caught my eyes as it flashed across the ground. I jerked my head up to find the source only to spot a leaf floating down from the branches above. The two seemed at impossible odds. How could the shadow move so fast compared to the dancing leaf? Perhaps it was just one more of those truths that science could attempt to explain but I would prefer to remain a magical mystery… So, I watched the leaf as it twisted and paused, dropped and spiraled, until it came to a soft landing on the grass at my feet. The first of many I witnessed that day where the shadow sped across my vision while the leaf waltzed with the breeze.
The long stretches of night, when the rest of what remains of the the world is sleeping, are the worst. The minutes clunked dully on the clocks and nerves until all time keeping apparatuses were removed from the house in a moment of calculated fury. It was a decision that has yet to be regretted even though time continues slowly regardless of their presence.
Insomniac dreams come to life in the small hours as the darkness presses against the home and shadows launch long claws. The delusions and hallucinations are easy to spot after years of growing familiar with them, but they can still be unsettling at times. When foes real and imagined are hunting you, complacency is foolish.
I can only count on myself. All my friends and family gave me up for lost years ago, before I learned to spot the difference between waking nightmares and the true terrors of our present world. They said the lack of sleep would drive me mad and had, in fact, already done so, but they were too scared to see the truth of my situation. Cowards. All of them.
Dark times had come and I had to walk that fine line between insane and sane so I could see how best to do battle. I never gave myself to the madness, and I never will. But, I had to see it. I had to know what it felt like crawling under my skin to be aware enough, and open my eyes enough, to see the monsters laying siege to our way of life.
It was with sadness, I watched my friends and family walk away from me, succumbing to the ravages of the night. The same affliction in the darkness could never touch me because I refused to sleep. I stayed awake so I could see the beasts coming and fend them off. I tried to warn the world. I did. I tried. I failed.
But, I’m still here, and I’m still fighting.
The gathered crowd huddled together, stealing warmth from their closeness, and hoping the reduced exposure to the elements would protect them from the harshly frigid conditions. They shivered as one. Their blankets and parkas rippled in the breeze despite their best efforts to keep them wrapped firmly in place. They all hoped for a miracle.
They willed Phil from his hiding place. They urged him on. They needed to know what his prediction would be. They needed it to be different from the curses the forecast had already hurled in their direction. They needed winter to be done.
The feeling of hope, the feeling of desperation, was so prevalent that the occasion was eerily quiet compared to prior years. The crowd stood on their toes. They held their breaths. They watched unblinking as the furry creature emerged from his burrow to definitively decide the fate of the seasons.
The quiet was shattered as one woman screamed and another fainted. There were groans and shouted curses among the men. Children began to cry. A low murmur of disapproval rose to a cacophony of chaos. Phil, wisely, turned and tried to return to the safety of his home, but it was too late.
A man named Phil, a cruel twist of fate, had already broken free of the mob, rushed forward, and was able to snag the hog by the scruff of its neck before it could descend out of reach. There was no collective cheer of triumph. No celebration. No outpouring of relief. There was just a constant murmur, a force of guiding pressure, that ushered the two Phils into a truck.
The mass watched as the vehicle sped away. They all knew where it was headed. They all knew the inevitable outcome. While some had begun to sober from the effects of disappointment and despair, it had gone too far to stop it. From the moment it saw its shadow, the ground hog never stood a chance.
They remained together in their solidarity, together in the righteous vengeance and horrible knowledge of the atrocity about to occur, until the explosion from the rock quarry reverberated back to them. Then, eyes askance, ashamed, saddened, confused, they dispersed to their separate homes, to prepare for the six additional weeks of winter they would have to suffer through. They would go to their beds that night fervently hoping that the day would repeat itself on the morrow, that they would be given another chance to do the right thing, that Phil would be given another chance to not cast a shadow.
But, February 3rd dawned under a fresh blanket of snow. It covered the town. It covered the quarry. It covered the burrow that would forever more be vacant. It could not cover the stains on their hearts.
While they used the cold as an excuse to avoid each other, everyone knew it was the truth in their eyes they couldn’t stand to see. Eventually they would pack up their lives and secrets and move away from each other, trying to run from what they had started and finished that long ago February 2nd. The ground hog would never cease to haunt their dreams, though.
Word Count: 532
This bit of silliness is obviously a twist on the movie Groundhog’s Day, if you didn’t catch that while reading it, and was inspired by this week’s Papi Prompt!:
What: 500-1000 word maximum flash fiction story
Use the following: The Ground Hog never stood a chance…
When: Due before next Monday to be included in the results.
How: Ping back [to the Papi Prompt post linked above].
I know the answer, but how many of you are ready for winter to be over?
Here, in California, I’m still waiting for winter to start. Want to trade places with me?
The sign, a simple wooden plank, swayed with the evening breeze and Gabriel had to stop walking to read the faded lettering. The flickering light from the distant street lamp made the task nearly impossible, but eventually he was able to confirm he had found the store he’d been looking for. He tugged on the heavy door and stepped into Jackdaw’s Bookshop.
The door, propelled by a fresh gust of wind, banged shut behind him as his nose was assaulted by the smell of old ink and older paper. The preciousness of the inventory meant that only a few candles were scattered about the square room leaving the interior nearly as dark as the street Gabriel had just left. But, it was warmer inside, and that wasn’t something he was going to complain about.
He removed his gloves and let his fingers flex and soak in the comfort of a respite from the biting chill of the wind he had been traveling through. His eyes scanned the floor to ceiling shelving system that was overflowing with books, scrolls, and piles of parchment bound in twine. Row after row, case after case, wall after wall, the books covered nearly every inch of available space. He was impressed with the collection and started to spin in a circle to revel in the full inventory.
A low cough broke his trance before he could turn all the way around, and he whipped his head towards the source. His right hand dropped quickly, smoothly, a motion of experience and skill, to the hilt of the dagger on his right hip. But, as the source of the cough came into focus, a small man seated behind a polished oak desk and mostly hidden behind an open tome, he relaxed and let his hand drop, just as smoothly, to his side.
Gabriel’s lips twisted into a mischievous smile. If the man behind the desk was Jackdaw, and the rumors were true, his dagger wouldn’t have done him much good anyway. Gabriel wasn’t one to doubt his own abilities though and was sure if a fight had arisen the outcome wasn’t certain. He always gave himself a chance.
“Can I help you?” While small, the seated man’s voice was deep, and the words were clear despite how quietly they had been spoken.
Gabriel left the mischievous smile in place and turned to face the desk. Casually, he stepped to it. There was a swagger to his steps, a nonchalance that hinted at a mixture of arrogance and confidence. “Are you Jackdaw?”
A single nod was the man’s response, barely perceived in the low light of the room.
Gabriel’s smile twisted up further at the corners, “In that case, I’d like to buy your most expensive book.”
Jackdaw closed the massive book and placed it on the desk in front of him. He leaned forward in his seat and steepled his fingers, “Who sent you?”
The animosity behind and pace with which Jackdaw scowled nearly sent Gabriel into motion again. He held his composure and his resolve, but grew increasingly worried as hatred dripped from Jackdaw’s eyes.
“What makes you think I’ll sell you anything?” He growled. The words were aired with such force that they echoed off the books in a cacophony of ringing threats.
In reply, Gabriel withdrew his money pouch from his belt and placed the bag on the desk so more than a few coins would spill onto the wooden surface. The candlelight flashed in brilliant caresses on the rich hue. “I pay in gold.”
Jackdaw’s eyes drifted down to the pile of money. Gabriel was disturbed by how relieved he felt to no longer be under the bookshop keeper’s intense glare. A voice in his head told him to run, but he had learned long ago that voice couldn’t be trusted. That didn’t keep him from flinching when Jackdaw reached across the desk to feel the heft of the money pouch.
When Gabriel felt Jackdaw’s eyes return to studying him, he was happy to see that the animosity had been replaced by curiosity. “This is more than my normal fee, but considering who sent you, I think you knew I’d need more, didn’t you?”
It was Gabriel’s turn to provide a single nod in response.
“Okay. You say you want my most expensive book but which edition do you want?”
“I would like to be able to shape shift into a shadow.”
Jackdaw raised a single eyebrow, “Do you mean a spirit, or the kind cast by light?”
“The kind cast by light.”
Jackdaw’s deranged smile unnerved Gabriel more than the glare had moments before.
The shopkeeper swiveled in his chair and withdrew a silver key from a pocket hidden deep within his robes. The key was inserted into a safe that had been painted to resemble the books and shelves that lined the rest of the walls.
Jackdaw withdrew a small leather bound book and then returned his attention to his new client. “Are you sure?”
Gabriel provided the single nod again, and Jackdaw flipped open the book and began chanting. The change was instantaneous. He felt his body melt away and he drifted to the floor to shift with the whims of the candles.
“To return to your normal shape you just need to clear your thoughts and picture taking a step in your body and then will bring you forward again.”
Gabriel followed the instructions and he was once again standing in front of Jackdaw’s desk. “And to return to being a shadow?”
“Think of being a shadow and it will be so.”
Before Jackdaw had finished giving the answer, Gabriel had already disappeared again. The shopkeeper wasn’t suprised moments later to see a section of shadow break away and slink across the floor to slip under the door. He cast a few spells to make sure, and once he was certain he was alone again, he picked up the tome and began reading where he had left off.
Word Count: 1,000
Off and running on a new writing challenge this week thanks to a tip from Arden for me to check it out. I rolled a 12 and a 5. Roll the dice for yourself and add a story to the mix:
All you need to do this week is to use a d20 or a random number generator to consult the table at the bottom of the document to roll for a story’s title. It’s a two-part title (meaning, two random numbers 1-20) and whatever title you get must fit the story you write for it.
You’ll have 1000 words, par usual. Post at your blog, link back to the challenge post. Due in one week — January 17th, Friday — by noon EST. Easy-peasy story-squeezy.
(Example of an earlier, similar challenge here.)
The title tables are (and you’re free to put the word “The” in front of your title):
- Dog Star
- Flight of the
- Kid’s Club
Photo Credit – unknown – if you are aware of the copyright holder, let me know and Ill give proper credit
The windowed entryway calls to you from the busy street. The light reflecting off the glass catches your eyes. The door is open, inviting you in. What’s there to be afraid of?
Stepping through the door though you notice the shadows piling up one on top of the other, the corners are competing to be the darkest, to hide their contents. The paint peeling off the walls give them a textured look, and the farther you peer into the darkness the paint shavings gives off the appearance of movement. You can’t stop the shudder that runs up your spine.
Still, you can hear voices drifting over your shoulders from the street you just left, and that gives you strength to step further into the deserted room. The light pours over you and your shadow stretches away from you until it too loses itself in the gloom at the far edge of the hall. You see other doors open to either side and you wonder which you should explore first.
Your feet step forward again. You feel compelled to test your resolve and see how deep into the abandoned building you can go. The part of your mind that normally would tell you that you are trespassing, that you shouldn’t be there, that you could get into trouble is mysteriously quiet. A half grin plays across your lips as you reach the first door.
Your eyes go wide as you peer inside, your mouth drops, the hair on your arms stands on end. The open door that had invited you in closes silently behind you, shutting out the voices, the reminders of life outside. A shadow passes in front of the windows blocking out the light that had been streaming through.
No one will hear your scream, but you will, long and loud.
This picture prompt is part of moi’s ongoing series of writing challenges. What do you see? Write it, post it, link it.