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 As if it was a carton of milk about to go out of date.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

Jasmine Chettiar
14:42 Jun 01, 2021

Hello, Nina! This is an amazing story, and such a deserved win. I think an author named Aaron Haris has copied your story, though. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/95/submissions/68950/ That's the link. I'm not sure if you want to say anything, but I thought I should tell you. You've obviously worked hard on this and I don't think it's fair for them to copy off you.

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Nina Chyll
15:31 Jun 01, 2021

Cheers! Thanks a lot. I’ll try and take it from there. Well spotted!

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Jasmine Chettiar
15:40 Jun 01, 2021

No problem!

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05:50 Jun 01, 2021

I always read on my phone and intend to comment later on the laptop and get distracted. Anyway, I read this weeks ago, and loved it, especially the ending. I love how you feel bad for the narrator, and then at the end...what?! Masterful stroke. Congrats on another great win. I love reading your stuff.

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Nina Chyll
10:03 Jun 01, 2021

Thanks a lot! Very much appreciated.

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09:08 May 28, 2021

Loved your story. What a beautiful description through out! Really loved how you described your house as the organs of the body. Pure genius and a deserving winner. congrats!! What was your inspiration?

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Nina Chyll
15:58 May 28, 2021

Thank you very much! I loved the prompt and when I decided to cram in as many types of shadows into the narrative as I could, it all came together. The house-as-body series started with just one simile, and then, I decided to extend it because I felt like it worked well.

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Anjali Venugopal
07:32 May 28, 2021

Story and plot aside, the writing alone, is enough to justify your win. Sometimes I'm so deluded about my own writing skills, I'm almost offended when my stories disappoint and fail to impress, even me. Then I read the words of a real writer, like you, words that convey talent, ability, meaning and thought, simultaneously and throughout, and the fact that I could delude myself becomes offensive. Great read. Great writing.

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Nina Chyll
15:57 May 28, 2021

Sounds like you're definitely way too harsh on yourself! I know what that feels like so it's hypocritical of me to say be kind to yourself, but I'm saying it anyway. Thank you for the incredible compliment.

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Julianne Baldiga
18:56 May 27, 2021

Ok I completely love how you referenced the different rooms as different body organs. And I loved how you showed the character seeing the people hugging through a shadow becoming 1 and then separating into 2 again. Loved it

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Nina Chyll
19:02 May 27, 2021

Thank you very much! I really felt inspired by this prompt.

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Shrinidhi Joshi
08:06 May 26, 2021

This is incredible. The way you described that shadow part was so good.

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Nina Chyll
08:55 May 26, 2021

Thank you!

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Gabriella Dolor
03:53 May 20, 2021

This must be the best story that I have ever read on this website.

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Nina Chyll
11:37 May 20, 2021

What a compliment - thank you so much.

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15:06 May 19, 2021

Very cool experience I learned some things from this story. I like it. Good job.

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Nina Chyll
11:38 May 20, 2021

Thank you very much and I'm flattered it was a somewhat educational experience!

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12:46 May 21, 2021

No problem Nina chyll you really deserved that win. Hope to see you at the top one day.

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12:46 May 21, 2021

No problem Nina chyll you really deserved that win.

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12:46 May 21, 2021

No problem Nina chyll you really deserved that win.

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15:13 May 18, 2021

Now Nina I honestly want to tell you that you are an amazing author and this short story was absolutely amazing. I loved how you used negative space between the couple and was just a good use of shadow. Also the two shadows merging on the sidewalk was a great image, and you found all kinds of clever little ways to integrate shadows. Also can I tell you how realistic your Short story was. It was just amazing. But of course I do want to give you constructive criticism regarding their short story. Now don't get me wrong I thought your short st...

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Nina Chyll
20:04 May 18, 2021

Thanks for the feedback! Not sure entirely what you mean as there are only really two characters in the story: you and I.

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Zae Johnson
03:25 May 18, 2021

There were certain parts where I was a little confused but overall this story was absolutely amazing. The second thing she wanted to tell her ex has quite surprising. Love the ending. Great job, Nina.

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Nina Chyll
11:38 May 20, 2021

Thanks a lot!

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Zae Johnson
14:55 May 20, 2021

No problem!

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Safaa Ismail
21:06 May 17, 2021

That was an AMAZING story. I loved your style of writing, I’ve never seen anything like it! Also the story you told was beautifully composed, and you did it much better than anything I’ve seen so far. It had the perfect amounts of sadness, loneliness, and(my personal favorite), vengeance/revenge. Overall, I really really loved it!

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Nina Chyll
21:20 May 17, 2021

Thank you very much! I very much appreciate the kind words.

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Malcolm S
19:47 May 17, 2021

I can relate to this so much. Thank you for writing this amazing piece. Well done Nina!

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Nina Chyll
21:23 May 17, 2021

Thank you very much!

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16:32 May 17, 2021

My only comment is that writings like this are the reason we call Literature an art.

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Nina Chyll
21:24 May 17, 2021

Wow I'm speechless. Thank you so much.

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Sara Puno
16:20 May 17, 2021

I love the imagery in this story and I'm not even gonna lie, the plot twist at the end made my jaw drop. I loved it so much !

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Nina Chyll
21:24 May 17, 2021

Thanks a lot! The prompt was amazingly helpful in writing this story.

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Amy Jayne Conley
08:51 May 17, 2021

Oh my... I am speechless... I could feel the discontent throughout it, and indeed it felt like shadows were consuming every inch of their lives together... but that ending. Wow. 5 o'clock shadow. Damn, friend, this is incredible! And WELL worth the win!! Congratulations on an amazing piece of art!

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Nina Chyll
11:39 May 20, 2021

Thanks very much for this. I was pretty chuffed with the 5 o'clock shadow!

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Amy Jayne Conley
12:22 May 20, 2021

I really loved it! <3 Looking forward to the next ones from you!

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N K
07:51 May 17, 2021

That was so amazing, Nina! Congratulations on another well-deserved win! The writing and the descriptions were so so beautiful and I really love the flow of thoughts in first person.

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Nina Chyll
08:45 May 17, 2021

Thank you very much for the kind words.

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23:57 May 16, 2021

Hello, I am new to this website, and I was intrigued by the title and first few lines of this work. This was an amazing read, and I resonated a lot with the narrator of this piece. My favorite part is how the house was first described as a body in the motion of decay, but by leaving the husband, there is new life in it. I also audibly gasped at #2.

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Nina Chyll
08:45 May 17, 2021

Haha, I’m glad I got an audio response as well! Thanks a lot for the comment.

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Marie Bishop
13:39 May 16, 2021

Brilliant!

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Nina Chyll
08:45 May 17, 2021

Cheers!

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Ethan Henry
08:51 May 16, 2021

Love this story

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Nina Chyll
08:46 May 17, 2021

Thank you!

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Eric D.
20:25 May 15, 2021

God, you're good at painting visuals and using great descriptive examples, ending made me do a double take, like wait- what !?

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Nina Chyll
21:11 May 15, 2021

I'm really glad it's managed to surprise! Thank you for the kind words.

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