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

250 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 As if it was a carton of milk about to go out of date.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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250 comments

Claire Lindsey
15:27 May 14, 2021

Can’t believe I missed this one! I’m always in awe of your talent for unusual imagery. It’s a living, breathing story chronicling a dying relationship. Congrats on the win, it’s absolutely deserving of one :)

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Nina Chyll
20:10 May 14, 2021

Cheers, Claire. No worries for missing it at all, and thanks for your great feedback on my other stories - always very helpful!

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A.Dot Ram
15:09 May 14, 2021

Wow, you're on a roll! Congratulations.

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Nina Chyll
20:12 May 14, 2021

Look who’s talking! Three shortlists in a row - congratulations. I was really hoping the drag story would get recognition, it’s beautiful to the core.

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Lilia May
15:09 May 14, 2021

Wow I LOVED the ending

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Nina Chyll
20:12 May 14, 2021

Thank you! Hope it was a shocker.

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Strafi Writes
11:06 May 11, 2021

this was the first time i read a story with sentences trailing off in such a clever way. almost like their relationship, just fading into nothing. the imagery is fantastic! "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." - this paragraph specifically was just so beautiful...

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Nina Chyll
11:15 May 11, 2021

Thanks a lot for the very thoughtful comment! If I'm perfectly honest, I was half-expecting the readers to hate the trailing prepositions, but it turned out for the best, so I'm really chuffed about that.

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H L McQuaid
13:25 May 08, 2021

Yaaaasss. A thousand times yes. So good. I love the play of light and shadow, straight and curved, the allusions to the house as a living organism. And now some really minor points. consider rewording this: " I hate the back garden glass door" to something like 'the glass door to the back garden' to make it a bit easier to parse. I didn't understand what 'that margin' referred to here: "I wonder what our bedroom would be by that margin." you could probably omit 'as it turns out' here: "I looked it up and the spleen filters bad blood a...

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Nina Chyll
09:19 May 09, 2021

Ah man thanks so much for the lovely, lovely compliments! Cheers for catching some things for me. I was thinking about “the margin” and tried forever to find a different way to word it but couldn’t think of anything. Essentially it means she’s going to define their bedroom in the same way she did the other rooms, but I did see this wasn’t the perfect fit for an expression there, and I’m glad you’ve caught it out. Same goes for the glass door, I reworded this endlessly wondering which version is better. You’re like some magician, Heather, ...

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H L McQuaid
09:44 May 09, 2021

Nina, you do the same for me, pointing out things I'm not quite sure about, so maybe our brains work in similar ways. ;) Glad some of it was useful. It's a great story.

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Mark Wilson
13:00 May 16, 2021

You are a wonderful storyteller, Nina ~ Words, visions and ideas meld so well together in the development of the story and its 'shadowed' characters. A delightful and 'insightful' read; the semi-colon metaphor was genius! There are times when a reader feels the need to 're-read' a section of a work to gain more clarity. Not so here, its vagueness 'was' its clarity. I've re-read for pure pleasure, and nothing more. I related to the characters and suffered with them. The last paragraph sliced at me as if it 'were' me, and I was even angr...

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Nina Chyll
08:46 May 17, 2021

What a lovely compliment, thank you very much. Clarity in my writing is something I’ve been very actively trying to work on as I think I tend to driff off a little, so I’m glad I managed to achieve it for you in this murky piece. Thank you!

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Twisty Girl
15:50 May 15, 2021

I love this! It is a lesson in descriptive writing. From word one, I was hooked on what was going on, in-spite of there being no real plot hook to speak of, it didn't need one, the character of the piece; how you used description and language to create a picture and a voice without ever giving us a name or face to attach to, pulled me in from the start. Reading through it, I found myself watching it play out in an old semi-renovated house, with a unique layout. Too many bedrooms, filled with boxes, both couples belongings, and some of the ...

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Nina Chyll
16:30 May 15, 2021

Thank you very much for the interesting interpretation! I left the details out of how the house might look precisely for this reason: so the reader can decide how it looks themselves. So I'm glad this worked here and you have your own, unique vision of the story. Thank you for the wonderful compliments. We're all learning here for sure!

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Twisty Girl
17:06 May 15, 2021

Sometimes lack of visual description can hinder a piece, but you gave us just enough and then refocused on the emotion of it. Making that the driving-force. It really worked to create something that everyone can read and experience differently. Leaving out character names and descriptions allows people to imprint on the story, the same way they would in a first-person game, viewing it through the words. It's told as though there is an assumption the reader is already aware of the writer, instead of hand-feeding us information. You earned th...

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Nina Chyll
17:10 May 15, 2021

Thank you so much for all the insight and the incredible compliments. Best of luck with writing this week and I'll be sure to give it a read!

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Twisty Girl
17:36 May 15, 2021

Same to you :)

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Amanda Fox
19:02 May 14, 2021

I am so glad to see your story as the winner - it was my favorite from this contest pool. So so good

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19:51 May 14, 2021

Absolutely agree. This is a tour de force! Seamlessly elegant. Loved every word.

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Nina Chyll
19:56 May 14, 2021

Cheers for your kind, kind words, Deidra!

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19:59 May 14, 2021

I'm a total Chyll-fan. You are an extraordinary talent. I have to ask: Are you an English teacher??

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Nina Chyll
20:22 May 14, 2021

Wow, thanks a lot. I am blushing a little. Ha! No, I’m not. I have to ask: why do you ask? PS did you mean English as a second language?

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20:59 May 14, 2021

I’m a high school English teacher. I just wondered if you were a member of the tribe. The nerd herd... The grammatical shout outs were having me fan gurling hahaha 😝

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Nina Chyll
19:55 May 14, 2021

Thank you, what a great compliment. Very much appreciated, Fawn!

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Francis Daisy
17:41 May 14, 2021

Phenomenal. So empowering. Thank you.

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Nina Chyll
19:50 May 14, 2021

No, thank you for reading and leaving a lovely comment!

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16:43 May 14, 2021

Ouch. Beautiful imagery

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Nina Chyll
19:53 May 14, 2021

Thanks a lot!

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Esther Rose
16:22 May 14, 2021

This was masterfully done! Congrats on a well deserved win.

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Nina Chyll
19:59 May 14, 2021

Thank you very, very much!

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Pippin Took
16:05 May 14, 2021

WOW! Another win! Maybe the universe is trying to tell you something.... The Universe: KEEP WRITING!!!!!!! Me: The *_UnIvErSe_* is correct :D

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Nina Chyll
20:02 May 14, 2021

Thanks, what a sweet, sweet comment. Really made me smile.

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Pippin Took
20:04 May 14, 2021

Np :DDDDDDDD anything, uplifting=amazing

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16:04 May 14, 2021

Congratulations on your second win; it's so well deserved! They're almost back-to-back as well. You're really killing it! Great job!

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Nina Chyll
20:02 May 14, 2021

I’m pretty shocked to be perfectly honest, and very grateful. Thank you for reading!

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20:16 May 14, 2021

No problem!

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Isabelle K
16:00 May 14, 2021

Oh my god...another amazing story! I loved the whole prepositions without nouns part and metaphor for the house and organs. The descriptions of the house and the colors in the main character's relationship created a spinning, beautiful masterpiece that fit so well together. And the ending...loved so, so, so much. I had kind of forgotten that number 1 was still going (whoops), but number 2 was such a great way to add humor and a great way to end the story. Such a well-deserved win, yet again!

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Nina Chyll
20:07 May 14, 2021

I was hoping at least some readers would forget that no. 2 was still in the works and only remember when it finally turns up, so I’m glad someone fell into my trap! Thank you so much for the lovely comment. Much appreciated.

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Isabelle K
20:33 May 14, 2021

You completely got me!

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Isabelle K
20:33 May 14, 2021

You completely got me!

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Isabelle K
20:33 May 14, 2021

You completely got me!

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Missy Talbot
15:32 May 14, 2021

Beautiful story, very visual and haunting.

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Nina Chyll
20:09 May 14, 2021

Thank you very much for stopping by and the sweet comment!

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Nooi Lili
15:27 May 14, 2021

Great story. I see why it's a winner. The poetic language and rhythm it has to it, is so alluring, kind of wants you to read some more.

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Nina Chyll
20:11 May 14, 2021

What an incredible compliment - thank you, I’m humbled.

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Shea West
15:08 May 14, 2021

Nina!!! I'm so very glad you won this one. Because it truly was so well done, and beautiful.

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Nina Chyll
20:12 May 14, 2021

Thank you so much, Shea. Very much appreciated.

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Dann Jamal
21:19 May 11, 2021

I love it ! Your description and narrating is just perfect

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Nina Chyll
20:12 May 14, 2021

Thank you very much!

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Brittany Gillen
19:27 May 11, 2021

Nina - Thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed journeying through your house. My favorite room was the bathroom, totally because of the scary tree. The use of its shadow trying to get at your main character was brilliant. It was my favorite shadow in the piece. "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." - Brilliant! My one piece of feedback might be to add the "..." at the end of his unfinished sentences. I know it may feel cliche, but ...

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Nina Chyll
20:15 May 14, 2021

Hi, sorry for not responding before! Must have got missed in the notifications. Thank you very much for the feedback. I didn’t think the tree would be anyone’s favourite and I’m glad it found its home with you. I was thinking about putting ellipsis after the prepositions, but I decided against it as I didn’t want it to feel like the characters were trailing off, as in deciding not to finish their sentences midway. Rather, I wanted it to feel a little more final from the get-go. Thank you very much for the observant, kind comment!

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Anna Harris
08:49 May 07, 2021

Terrific story, Nina,

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Nina Chyll
09:14 May 09, 2021

Thanks for reading, Anna!

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