The sounds ratcheted through the empty house. A click, a pop, then a slow hissing that whispered into silence. Karr sat in the corner of the front room and watched shadows shimmer and dance around her. She hugged herself, wrapping her arms around her thin frame, holding still. Her jaw jutted out. Moon faced, her father used to call her. She searched the shadows and wondered if one of them was him. He had been in the car with her.
Sunlight streamed in from the front picture window, but the shadows ignored it. They ignored everything, whirling and bobbing through the house with clear, baffling intent. They clicked into being, popped between the rooms at some random interval known only to them, then whisperhissed into oblivion after a few days.
Karr knew she should have faded into nothingness as well. She remembered the road, the crash, then the bone wrenching click as she arrived at this odd country house. Her hands had been red and bloody though, not transparent shadows, and her skin glowed deep brown. Her jeans and t-shirt were torn but serviceable, her jewelry neatly shone at neck and ear, and one of her shoes was missing. She was full of life, not shadow.
Her voice was gone. The first day she had wept silently, screamed soundlessly, and tried to catch the shadows to no avail. It took her until the second day to realize that she wasn’t hungry or thirsty. Her body was solid and real, but frozen in time. She had checked her wrist for a pulse. Nothing.
The sun rose and fell outside, but the doors and windows of the house didn’t open. There weren’t even doorknobs on the doors. The faucets in the kitchen gave no water, the heating vents stayed cold. This small country home had three bedrooms, one bath, lovely views of farmland and the distant glint of a river, but it wasn’t built for the living.
She sat in the corner, out of the way of the shadows as they performed their intricate, baffling choreography. Why am I not a shadow? she thought for the thousandth time. After being there for a week, she was ready to whisper into silence.
Karr stood up, keeping her back against the corner as she slowly rose. She tried again to emulate the dances she saw around her. Her elbow bent, arm sweeping through, as she bowed at the waist and then arched her back up and sideways. She spun around, whipping through shadows, not feeling them but smelling their soft, powdery scent, clean and light. She ran and leaped, feet splayed out, arms flung to the side. Her body stayed solid.
Two weeks in, she decided to move the area rug in the living room on the off chance she could pull up the floorboards and dig her way free. She discovered a small hatch, flush with the floor. A ring was set into it.
The ring seemed to invite her pull. The hatch swung open easily, silently, and laid flat on the floor. The shadows danced over the yawning gap, ignoring the deep black hole. Karr looked down and saw a metal ladder disappearing into the darkness. One foot, then the other, and she was standing on the second rung down. Carefully she lowered herself, rung by rung, into the blackness, peering into the gloom below her. Her feet searched and found support, searched and found support. She looked up to see the square of light above her, spattered with the chiaroscuro of the shadows dancing.
Her foot reached down for the next rung and found the floor. She blinked her eyes in an effort to see better in the dim gloom. She was in a large room with cinderblock walls and a packed dirt floor. The ceiling was made of support beams. Near as she could tell, the room was as big as the footprint of the house.
There was a small glow in a far corner. She made her way over cautiously, reluctant to stray from the light trickling down from the hatch. Her steps stirred the dirt and dust rose in slow clouds around her. She reached the glow and saw it was a small wooden figure of an old woman, standing strong, her head tossed back, her eyes closed. The woman moved, tilting her head forward and opening her eyes.
Karr stepped back, startled. The woman smiled and darted her eyes down towards the dirt. Karr looked down at the figure’s feet and saw a tumbled pile of necklaces, dusty and dull. Her hand went to her own necklace, one that her mother had given her on her twelfth birthday. She wished she could speak. The woman glanced at Karr’s necklace, then back to the dirt. Karr shook her head no. The woman furrowed her brow and bowed her head.
Still fingering her necklace, Karr slowly walked back to the ladder. Thoughts bubbled up in her head. What if this is my one shot to leave? What good would putting my necklace at her feet do? How many people have gotten stuck here before me? Did she actually mean for me to leave the necklace?” She stopped and turned around.
Karr walked quickly back to the figure and unfastened the clasp of her necklace. It was a simple silver chain, with a small obsidian bead. Her mother had given it to her and told her the stone would keep her safe through life. Karr’s body rang with sorrow as she gently lowered her necklace and placed it at the feet of the figure.
The figure beamed at Karr and nodded slowly. Karr waited a moment, but nothing happened. The woman’s eyes slid sideways towards the ladder. Of course, thought Karr. I have to close the hatch. She gave an awkward half bow to the figure and walked to the ladder, climbing up quickly and closing the hatch behind her. She wished she could take a deep breath.
She tugged the area rug back into place, so accustomed to the dancing shadows that she simply moved right through them. Once the rug was square, there was a loud, ringing pop in her ears and she was in the hallway. She felt her body dissipate and looked down to see her skin drain of color. Her last thought was an overwhelming desire to dance.