Today’s short story is another from my past–I wrote this one in my early teens, and actual won second prize at a flash fiction contest, a local contest for a town I wasn’t from but lived near. It was the second, and last, prize I’ve won for my writing…the following year my entry to the contest was misplaced, and after that I was too old to enter, and too busy looking into novel-publishing to bother entering other contests. The prize was tasty, though–a gift certificate to a local pizza joint. I shared with Mom, of course; my sister as well, but then she also took home a prize so we got double the pizza. Om nom nom.
And now that I’ve gotten distracted and am now thinking about how tasty some pizza would be, I will leave you with this brief flash fiction. Its inspiration? I’m not sure…it just sort of appeared, like a shadow.
Through darkened streets the shadow crept. In this dark city it did not stand out. Pursuing its incessant need, the shadow did not pause.
Little more than a spirit, it felt neither the chilled air nor the hard street. It drifted along at its own pace, neither hindered nor aided by a slight breeze.
Only one thing could harm shadows, and that was light, which destroyed such creatures in one swift stroke. Even dim moonlight could end their slight existence in a second. During the day shadows cowered in basements, or crept along behind humans. The humans were moving shields from the sun, unknowing that ‘their’ shadow was fleeting, never the same from day to day.
This shadow despised humans, though, staying inside while the sun burned above. During the night, whether in streets or alleys, the shadow was careful, always watchful for the slightest hint of light.
Now, soft laughter caught its attention, humans ambling home from a restaurant dinner. The shadow paused, thickened with hatred, and listened.
“While you fetched the drinks, I told Barry about your ladder mishap, and he wanted to know why you bothered climbing them instead of hiring a professional.”
“I hope you told him I never hire anyone to do work I can do myself.”
“That’s what I said and he laughed at that. Jane did, too. She said she always insists on Barry hiring a professional.”
“Don’t get any ideas-”
The shadow continued on, ignoring the arguing couple. Neither was the one it searched for. Somewhere in this colossal city was that one, but not here. Not yet.
More people passed the shadow, speaking in quiet tones or silent. A few shivered, and glanced toward the shadow with a slight frown, though they saw nothing.
Here and there while it wandered, the shadow paused for a moment, swaying a bit as if it sensed something. Always it went forward again, the feeling lost.
A scream rent the air. Some gang mugging a lone traveler, no doubt. The shadow paid no attention, until a soft voice spoke up from the same direction.
“Did you think you outran Morgue?”
Another scream, and this time, the shadow came bounding across the street – to listen, not help.
“I think you will have learned when I’m finished.”
A tremor ran through the shadow. It knew that voice. It was that one. Here.
Over a pleading woman stood a man, tall and nondescript. He held a knife, the woman cowered behind raised hands, knowing her life would soon end.
The shadow pounced. The woman fled in terror. A shriek went up from the alley, then silence fell. Dawn revealed no trace of man or shadow.
The next night, astronomers marveled at the appearance of a brand new star. Astrologers argued, saying it was an omen, a lost soul had gained entry to heaven by completing its task. The argument was long and passionate. In the end, no conclusion was reached.
But the shadow knew.