Contest #92 winner 🏆

On the Origin of Shadows

Submitted into Contest #92 in response to: Set your story in a countryside house that’s filled with shadows.... view prompt

249 comments

Drama Romance Fiction

There are two things I have always wanted you to know about the house. Ever since you picked it out, in the middle of a recession, at a heavy discount, as you put it. As if it was a carton of milk about to go out of date. For us, you said, finally away from the hustle. And there are two things I have wanted to tell you. But I didn’t know how.


1. I hate the glass door to the back garden. It’s like a wound barely held by shaggy stitches. One measly screwdriver stuck into the lock would suffice to split it open, exposing the house’s organs viable to sell on the black market. The hall like intestines, dark and humid, slapped with some nonsensical paintings you were certain would triple in value sometime. The bathroom like a liver, maroon and old-fashioned, an old bonsai fig ruling over the windowsill. You always prayed it wouldn’t just drop dead, except trees don’t do that, you know, they die standing. ‘It will be worth a fortune one day.’ At night, it cast a shadow like a mad broom that developed an evil mind of its own and wanted to sweep us under the rug when we came in for a midnight pee.

I wonder what our bedroom would be if it were a body part. The spleen comes to mind, an organ so forgotten nobody can remember what it does. I looked it up and the spleen filters bad blood as it turns out. That’s about right, more often than not, we argued in bed instead of, and then you bought the big TV. ‘Who puts a screen in their bedroom?’ I asked you. ‘Couples with,’ you replied, ‘You know.’ Or couples without. Prepositions were often missing their nouns in our relationship.

So many people turned up for the housewarming party, old neighbours and new, and your colleagues from work, remember? You were a popular man, the best of. I was carrying a big pitcher of margaritas to the back garden. I wonder if anyone actually likes those, the snot-like mixture that smells vaguely of poison, acidic dreams and delirium. 

Through the glass door, I saw the backyard, plated gold by the setting sun, and your long shadow. ‘Oh, really?’ you said and it sounded so seductive I thought you had to be talking to me. How did you know I was there? Was it that smell of tequila?

And then, a different shadow stepped into yours, and I couldn’t tell them apart anymore. I stared at the blinding concrete tiles until the shapes separated again, yours straight and simple, hers like an hourglass. No words were said. Your favourite co-worker came through and stood next to me until you split in two again as if by the hand of an invisible shadow puppeteer. No words were said.

‘Why were you hugging her?’ I asked you later that night, one of our first nights in the new bed, with lights off. 

‘She’s going through,’ you trailed off. A dreadful divorce, I know. If I’d had a nickel for every time you said that, I could have probably been able to afford a packet of condoms for you.

The sheets rustled as you turned away to sleep, and your outline became a shadow of a mountainous landscape. I guess you could only ever be straight with her, and I recalled your outline in the blinding sun, imagining stepping on it and bashing its head in.

Time seemed to flow differently in the new house, leaking into all the new rooms which didn’t quite understand their purpose, and weeks were punctuated by new purchases like semicolons, separating one arbitrary chunk of life from the other.

You brought another painting home that day and told me it would hang on the top of the stairs, and I nodded. You unwrapped it and stepped back to join me, but I wasn’t looking. There was a gold smudge on the lapel of your shirt. ‘What’s that?’ I asked. You turned your head to examine it, which gave you a double chin. ‘It’s eye shadow,’ I added, you looked away to the glass door, and your eyes drowned in light, extricating all expression I could have guessed from the size of your pupils. 

‘Yes. She was crying today. Her ex is trying to take away,’ you explained and the missing part was substituted for a vague hand wave of a prestidigitator. What? The house? The kids? The chicken pad thai?

If I’d said something then, it would have been the beginning of the end. But I didn’t, and some invisible line shifted closer towards me and I couldn’t inch away again. The shadows took on new colours every time and appeared on different parts of your wardrobe, cuffs, collars, and once, even your boxer shorts. She’d always worn a lot of makeup. I called your favourite co-worker, the one who stood by me and watched you intertwine once. ‘She is going through that divorce,’ he said, his voice flattened by the small speaker on the phone, and I didn’t cry to him. ‘Would you like me to come over?’ he asked, but his pitch didn’t rise at the end of the question, and he clicked off.

I told you I’d be working late that day, but I ended up coming home for lunch. It’d turned out, you know what, never mind. It doesn’t matter. I saw her car in the driveway, so I entered through the back door, turning the almost symbolic, meaningless key in the lock. All I really needed was a hairpin to pick it. Did you secretly want someone to break in and steal all your paintings and your hag tree, so there would be nothing left but the two of us, pumping air instead of blood in the house’s hardened veins?

I sat in the living room and waited on the desolate corner chair we couldn’t think of putting anywhere useful. You didn’t even spot me when you finally came in. I still like to think it was only because I was covered in a shadow so deep it felt like a blanket. But I know really that you couldn’t see me anymore, no more than you could see the works of art you so thoughtfully procured not for our viewing pleasure, but as a colourful investment.

We didn’t argue and you only took half the things and I didn’t argue. I wanted to keep the painting at the top of the stairs, and you didn’t argue, and you instructed me to wait for a couple more years before selling and I didn’t argue. You asked about the tree and I told you to feel free to it and I didn’t argue at all. I was relieved it wouldn’t try to get me at night anymore.

I’ve got rid of the glass door right after you’d moved out. It wasn’t cheap, but now, I can’t ever recreate that scene, the pitcher radiating cold, the concrete sparkling gold, the merging shadows staining my perfect garden floor. There’s now a wall where the door was, and the wound has closed, leaving no scar at all.

I often think about the useless rooms now, and what they are, and I think the house is one big brain, mine only to think and feel as I please. I gave the living room chair away to charity. I never wanted to sit in it again. Each room is like a lobe of my mind, and I have no photos of you up on the walls. The wallpapers underneath where they used to hang are a little lighter and fresher, and I ask people to take pictures of me when we go out, when I holiday with friends, at family events, dates. I get given new frames for Christmas and the bald wall patches disappear one by one.


2. The second thing I’ve always wanted to tell you about this house is that I’d slept with your favourite co-worker in our new bed before we ever did, and when you said it smelled used and considered returning it, that was just his sweat and mine. And when you pointed out the rash I had on my neck and breasts, that was just scratches from his five o’clock shadow.

May 05, 2021 12:09

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249 comments

Rohit Mukundan
08:30 May 07, 2021

That was an incredible experience. Also a lesson. I tend to focus on the plot and end up forgetting the way a story is told is just as if not more important than what happens in it. They're both in perfect sync here.

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Nina Chyll
09:15 May 09, 2021

I tend to go the other way, so I guess we all have our vices! Thanks a lot for the compliment, Rohit.

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A.Dot Ram
06:45 May 09, 2021

Nina, I admire your work so much. In this story, I like how the couple communicates (or doesn't) with missing words. It's realistic. Your use of negative space between the couple is another good use of shadow. The two shadows merging on the sidewalk was a great image, and you found all kinds of clever little ways to integrate shadows. Eye shadow (haha, I used that one, too!), five o'clock shadow, the bonsai, the blanket of shadows...it's a skillful execution of the prompt, as well as an engaging story.

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Nina Chyll
11:43 May 09, 2021

I didn’t think of the negative space as shadows, thanks for that interpretation! I had a lot of fun with this prompt, and I found that trying to stick to it throughout was a lot more work than just going with the flow, but in a very enjoyable way. Thank you so much for your thoughts! I’m flattered.

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Shea West
16:23 May 06, 2021

Alright, alright, alright (in my best Matthew McConaughey voice) You categorized this as romance, but there was a level of pettiness to it that I am here for. The way you described the house like a living being with organs that do all of the filtering and life giving was incredible. When I realized how long number 1 was going to be, I was prepared for a "I'm gonna stick it to you" ending, and damn if you didn't deliver it. The use of makeup on his body and clothes in relations to shadow imagery was downright clever. I especially loved ...

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Nina Chyll
18:42 May 06, 2021

Thank you so much for the super thoughtful, complimentary thoughts! I wasn’t sure how to categorise it initially. I’m not a great big fan of those genre markers anyway, but I did think it was a little petty indeed and perverse somehow! I’m really happy you picked up on the eye shadows as part of the prompt response, yay! Thanks so much for giving my story such a thorough read. I’m so flattered.

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16:42 May 05, 2021

Nice work Nina! I love how you put this together! The whole prepositions without a noun was very clever. Plus a great ending.

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Nina Chyll
19:33 May 05, 2021

Thank you! It developed quite organically but I quite like how that part turned out. Not so sure about the rest of the story this time though.

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17:22 May 14, 2021

Hey! Congratulations!!!!

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Nina Chyll
19:45 May 14, 2021

Thanks!

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Neomi Shah
16:56 May 14, 2021

Oh my god, what an amazing story! The beautiful descriptions, the smart comparisons and metaphors, and the plot twist at the end- wow. The first point of the story was so sad and heartbreaking and then you just turned the whole thing around in such a brilliant way, that I can't hate the protagonist for her affair too. Your vivid comparisons throughout the story and the use of shadows to portray her as if she is unimportant and forgotten, just a mere outline of her self, is really stunning When you compared the house to human body organs, you...

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Nina Chyll
19:52 May 14, 2021

Ah man thank you so much for the incredible interpretation! I don’t know what to say other than I’m very grateful. I know this sounds silly, but I believe firmly you should decide for yourself what the nouns represent according to how you see them fit into the narrative. (And I mean it in the nicest way possible. You interpreted it so beautifully).

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I.B. Dunn
16:43 May 10, 2021

I'm always afraid to read your stories because they are too good. They make me see how far I have to go. This was fantastic on so many levels. The interpretation of the prompt was inspired. The descriptions and flow flawless. The story itself so heartbreakingly real and the end so poetic and appropriate. There are no good people in this story just great characters including the house. Great job.

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Nina Chyll
18:37 May 10, 2021

Thanks for such incredible praise, I'm a little speechless. You sure know how to pay a compliment! Thank you so much.

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Alison Brewis
21:03 May 09, 2021

This is great! Love the imagery, all the shadows, the eye shadows etc, so clever. Also I think the prepositions without nouns is genius. Sort of humourous, but in a dark way that fits with the story.

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Nina Chyll
18:38 May 10, 2021

Thank you very much for the comment. The story was indeed meant to dither somewhere closer to the line of humorous, but in a dark way, so thank you the very thoughtful interpretation!

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Alison Brewis
18:59 May 14, 2021

A well-deserved win, well done again!

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David Gottfried
16:00 May 14, 2021

Beautifully written. The unsaid words are really well done. It captures perfectly the dynamic between the husband and wife. I like this, in particular: "What? The house? The kids? The chicken pad thai?" That made me laugh. Brava.

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Nina Chyll
20:05 May 14, 2021

Thank you so much for reading and leaving such a lovely comment. It all started quite organically and I discovered I really enjoyed playing with the syntax. I’m so glad to hear I managed to make someone laugh with it!

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Anes Nia
05:31 May 07, 2021

The way you use similes and metaphors is fascinating, and the ending... oof that's something. Great story, I loved it.

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Nina Chyll
14:55 May 11, 2021

Thank you so much for reading and enjoying!

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Anes Nia
04:51 May 15, 2021

Glad your story won, you deserve it. Congratulations!!!

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H L Mc Quaid
16:02 May 14, 2021

I was so hoping you'd win this one. Yay!😁

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Nina Chyll
20:03 May 14, 2021

You’re so kind. Thank you so much for your incredible comments and continuously brilliant feedback. I don’t do this very often but: ♥️

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H L Mc Quaid
11:57 May 15, 2021

right back at ya. 🤗 Also, lurking in your comments, I learned that English isn't your native language? Mind blown-->🤯🤯🤯 But maybe that's partly what contributes to your unique voice. :)

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Nina Chyll
13:44 May 15, 2021

Thank you. You're too sweet for words. My English was mildly alright when I came to the UK after high school, but a lot of life has happened between then and now!

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Michele Duess
15:51 May 14, 2021

Love the ending. We realize he's not the only one to cheat, to ruin the relationship. Both had a hand in keeping secrets from the other. I wasn't prepared for that.

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Nina Chyll
20:08 May 14, 2021

Precisely. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we tend to believe a narrative as long as it’s coherent without questioning it, and how a different perspective can instantly change the initial understanding of the situation. Thank you so much for reading!

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Michele Duess
13:37 May 15, 2021

it was my pleasure

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Helen Ross
08:36 May 07, 2021

wow I love this! so clever to use the 'shadow' at the end, and I LOVED the ending, I wish there was a category marker for 'lost love' or something because I feel like most stories don't fit neatly into 'romance'. Great job, loved the trailing off sentences!

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Nina Chyll
09:14 May 09, 2021

Yes, romance is somewhat a stretch, although they do both have affairs, so hey ho, I guess those qualify! Thanks a lot for your comment, Helen.

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Helen Ross
20:33 May 14, 2021

Nina!!! congratulations lovely you deserve it!

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Rachel Loughran
11:30 May 06, 2021

This was incredible - you have such a unique style and your writing is so deliciously consistent throughout. I loved the wordplay (lack-of-wordplay?)and the extended metaphors and the ending was just - chef's kiss. Well done.

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Nina Chyll
21:04 May 06, 2021

Thanks a lot for the inquisitive read! I hoped some people would pick up on the ending’s shadow theme.

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Rachel Mann
08:11 May 06, 2021

Loved this! I think I’ve been in this relationship. It rang very true.

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Nina Chyll
11:00 May 06, 2021

Thank you so much for the seal of approval and I'm really sorry to hear you've been there.

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Josh C
21:12 May 05, 2021

That last line! Ingenious for this prompt

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Nina Chyll
21:13 May 05, 2021

Thank you kindly, my good man.

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16:28 May 05, 2021

Nina, this is truly fantastic. I loved the vivid imagery of the house as a body, you used the symbolism of it so wonderfully, building up the extended metaphor so well. I especially loved the bedroom as the spleen. You clearly have put a lot of thought into making your descriptions suggest so much more than their surface level. They feel really weighty and give a depth to the character's struggling relationships. I also really loved the idea of "prepositions often missing their nouns" it really adds to the idea that there was something br...

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Nina Chyll
19:36 May 05, 2021

Extended metaphors are my absolute favourites! I like trying to find more and more things to expand on the theme and I’m so happy if it works out. Thank you for reading and your very thoughtful comment!

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Scout Tahoe
01:22 May 15, 2021

This is clever! Congratulations on your second win!! Well deserved.

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Nina Chyll
10:49 May 15, 2021

Thank you very much. I'm so flabbergasted that I won!

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Sharmishtha Saha
17:50 May 14, 2021

Congratulations dear. Great story.

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Nina Chyll
19:50 May 14, 2021

Thank you very much.

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Rachel Smith
16:31 May 14, 2021

Oooo I love the ending! Brilliant read. Great metaphor with the rooms in the house being like organs, that worked so well. Congratulations!

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Nina Chyll
19:54 May 14, 2021

Thanks a lot! I was unsure about the rooms but it seems to have worked out well.

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15:39 May 14, 2021

Congratulations on your win! It's great how the objects in any given house tell so much about their inhabitants, you did a great work recreating it.

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Nina Chyll
20:09 May 14, 2021

That is definitely the case: I always feel a pang of anxiety when I have guests, it feels like my soul is on display. Thank you very much for the kind comment!

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