When the Shadows come out

Submitted into Contest #100 in response to: Start or end your story with two characters sitting down for a meal.... view prompt

10 comments

Fiction Fantasy

Accepting Mica’s dare was a big, big mistake.


I realize that now that I’m standing here on top of the flight of crumbling stairs, gawping at the height she wants me to jump. The wind is whipping at my crazy curly red hair, blowing it everywhere and making it hard for me to see. I’m scared the wind will whisk me away along with all the autumn leaves, and I know that instead of floating daintily to the ground, I’d become an ugly human jam on the cement way down below.


The old railing of the abandoned Children’s Hospital’s main staircase has long since clattered to the floor quite few feet down, so there’s nothing proper to hold onto. It’s too late to back out, though, and right now I’m just trying muster up enough courage to jump the thirty orange stairs.


The breeze blows a dusty orange leaf into my mouth, and I nearly choke.


‘’What are you waiting for?,’’ Mica calls up to me, her voice bouncing off the old yellow and blue walls of the Children’s Hospital. ‘’Come on, jump!’’


‘’Just give me a minute!’’


‘’You said that five minutes ago!’’


‘’Yeah, well…. turns out I still need a few more!’’


Even though I couldn’t see her properly from where I was perched, I could hear her groan. She was getting annoyed with me, and I couldn’t really blame her; I’d been the one who’d suggested we play truth or dare, and I’d been telling her over and over again that turning down a dare was never an option.


Yet here I am, turning down a dare. Except that’s not what I’m doing. I am going to do the dare, obviously, I just- never mind.


‘’Tally! You’ve been up there for ten minutes now, it’s getting late! If you’re gonna jump, jump!’’


Carefully, scared I’m going to fall and hit the cement, I crane my neck to see my best friend staring up at me with her arms crossed, the wind messing with her white-dyed shoulder length hair, her big circle rim glasses reflecting the rapidly dying sunlight.


‘’For Pete’s sake, Tally, you do parkour!’’ she glares up at me, and I can’t be sure, but I think she rolls her eyes. ‘’I’ve seen the stunts you pull at practice; this should be child’s play to you!’’


‘’There’s matting and safety equipment at practice! And coaches to see you do things right! Here, if I jump and I do something wrong, I could break my neck! Or worse!’’


‘’Then why the hell did you accept my dare?,’’ she calls up to me, cupping her hands around her mouth. ‘’I meant it as a joke, you know. But, no, you insisted that you get up there and jump! So, if you’re gonna jump, just do it already, because it’s getting dark, and you know what happens when it gets dark.


She’s right. The Children’s Hospital was an awesome place to hang out at during the day, with tons of abandoned rooms to explore, and creepy old things to find and wonder about. But I’d rather not spend the evening here: night time is when the Shadows come out.


And trust me, you don’t want to stick around when the Shadows come out.


‘’Fine!,’’ I shout, just as a particularly strong, cold gust of wind threatens to push me off the stairs. ‘’I’m gonna do it! Get out of the way!’’


‘’It’s about time!’’


I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and in my head I count the steps in my run-up:


One, two


Three, four


Five, six


Seven eight


Nine and


I’m leaping, flying, soaring though the air. The wind whistles in my ears, and my orange curls are in my face again, making it hard to see where I’m going to land. For a few moments, it’s like my heart doesn’t beat at all, it’s like it’s standing still with the rest of the world, the way it only ever does when I’m in the air.


The drop is higher and takes a lot longer than I’d anticipated, and I find myself starting to panic slightly.


Luckily, I remember to bend my knees and form a slight ball with my body, just like Coach had taught me to do when I’m jumping big distances, and my hair is swept out of my eyes just in time to prepare for the landing.


Now it’s just touch down, roll to absorb the impact… bounce back to my feet and stick the landing.


‘’Thank you, thank you,’’ I say with a smile, bowing left then right then left again, like I had seen the Olympic gymnasts do whenever I got the chance to watch television. I was out of breath, but I was sill going to put on a show. I can’t not put on a show.


‘’What d’ya think?,’’ I ask Mica, who was standing there, pale as snow with her mouth hanging open slightly. I assumed this was because of the awesomeness of the stunt I’d just pulled and smiled victoriously as I patted her on the back.


‘’Did you see that, Mica?,’’ I say. ‘’Wasn’t I awesome? I was like, woosh, and it felt like I was flying and was completely weightless, and I’m so gonna tell Coach about it, because it’s the biggest gap

I’ve ever jumped, and maybe he’ll- ‘’


‘’We’re leaving,’’ Mica suddenly interrupts me. She grabs my arm and starts speed walking to where we’d left our backpacks earlier; in one of the crumbling corners of the old, abandoned Hospital.

‘’Now.’’


Confused, I try to push her off me, but she just tightens her grip on my sleeve and keeps waking. She might be built like a twig, but her grasp on my wrist is strong.


It only takes a moment for me to realise she’s shaking.


‘’Why?,’’ I ask, mad and hurt that she didn’t even bother to acknowledge my jump. ‘’Mica, come on, we can leave if you want to, sheesh, but there’s really no need to hurry; we still have an hour before the sun goes down. And can’t we just take a moment to appreciate that jump because- ‘’


‘’No,’’ she says, hastily slipping into her quilted jacket and stuffing her purple notebook into her bag and slinging it over her shoulder. ‘’We have to get out of here. Now.’’


‘’Mica, please, why- ‘’


'’Tally, it’s Winter Solstice.’’


‘’And? What does that- oh. Ohhh,’’ my hand flies to my mouth and I hurriedly join her on the ground to pack up my own things. Twice my hands can’t get a proper grip on my water bottle, and Mica has to help me pick it up.


By the time we’ve finally gotten everything together, it seemed a lot darker than before. It felt like my blood had turned to ice, and I shivered even though I was wearing another hoodie over my pink one.


How the hell did I forget about the Winter Solstice?


‘’Tally, now probably isn’t the best time to tell you but… I -I think I saw a Shadow, earlier, just when you started taking your run- up,’’ my best friend turns to me, her eyes darting this way and that, terrified. ‘’No way it was a Faded Shadow. No way: it was huge. At least fifteen feet tall, pure black and sort of faded around the edges. It had these massive yellow eyes and – I’m scared, Tally. I’m friggin terrified. You know what happens when the Shadows come out.’’


‘’Hey, it’s okay, it’s gonna be okay,’’ I say, and wrap my arms around her shivering body. ‘’I’m scared, too, but we’re gonna get out of here, I know it. I didn’t bring mine, but you have your phone, right? Shadows can’t stand light; we’ll be perfectly safe as long as we have a torch.’’


Mica looked up at me, her glasses slightly fogged up, her big blue eyes one blink away from giving into the tears.


‘’Tally, my phone’s dead.’’

**

There was only one way out of the part of the building we’d been playing truth or dare in, and unfortunately that was through the Room Hallway.


We call it ‘’the Room Hallway’’; because of all the rooms you can access through it. When the Hospital still accepted patients, Room Hallway was probably where they had all stayed, awaiting diagnosis and recovering or dying from illnesses and injuries. During the day, it’s an awesome exploring space for us, but during the night, it may as well be called Certain Doom Hallway: there are endless nooks and crannies for Shadows to hide in.


And everyone knows what happens when the Shadows in hiding come out.


‘’Come on,’’ I say as I grip my bag’s shoulder strap with one hand, Mica’s hand tightly with the other. ‘’We can do this. On the count of three, we’re going to sprint as fast as we can. Just outside Room Hallway, there’s that building that was definitely an operating room while this place was still in use, and there’s a massive rip in the wall there that we can climb through, and we’ll be out.’’


I was talking really fast, and I was getting out of breath. It seemed to get darker every passing second; and the lighter it was, the better were our chances of surviving the trip home.


‘’There are Shadows in the Forest,’’ I say, gripping Mica’s hand even tighter. ‘’Hundreds of them; it’s practically their home. But we’ll only have to run a short way. There are Light Guards just outside the forest, they’ll be able to help us get home.


Mica nodded, a tiny nod, and peered into the darkening hallway.


‘’We still have some daylight left. The Shadow you saw probably was Faded; there’s no way Midnight Shadows can come out this early. Are you ready?’’


‘’As I’ll ever be, I guess.’’


But she was still shaking.


‘’On the count of three. One… two… three!’’


We run. As fast as our legs could carry us, even though it didn’t feel extremely fast at all. It was already hard to see in the faded light and combined with the dark atmosphere of the building it was nearly impossible. Once, Mica trips over some rusty metal contraption, and while in the daytime I would’ve stopped to examine it, now was not the time to.


Because everyone knows what happens when the Shadows get you.


The hallway seems to stretch out forever, and while we’re running, I could feel Shadows’ wispy arms reaching for my hair, grasping my ankles weakly and tugging at my hoodie. From the corner of my eyes, I could see little spheres of yellow light bobbing up and down, Shadow eyes.


Mica’s sweaty hand was starting to slip in mine, and at the end of the hallway we make the sharp left turn into the old operating room, nearly skidding on an oily red part of the floor. Years of brutal parkour training finally pays off when I expertly lazy vault over the crumbled wall, and dive roll into freedom.


Also known as the forest floor.


I’m actually pretty proud of myself: two perfect unprepared stunts in one day.


Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to bask in the glory of my deeds, because I’d let go of Mica’s hand when I slithered over the gap in the wall, and she was struggling to get herself rolled across the wide concrete pile.


I trot back to help her out, and just as she drops safely to the ground -bending her knees to absorb the impact like I had taught her, I’m so proud- I look back and stare straight into a pair of massive, glowing yellow orbs.

**

School had taught us many things about Shadows. Every kid knows what Shadows look like, even if they’ve never seen them in real life. Every kid knows that Shadows thrive in and feed on the very thing they are made of: darkness, and that’s why they are afraid of or perhaps allergic to light. Every kid knows that you should always carry a light source with you, just to be safe. We know that, although most of them are vaguely human shaped, they have no ears, noses or any sign of reproductive organs, and we’ve yet to discover where they come from.


And, most importantly, we know that Shadows range from light to dark, and that the Darker their colour, the bigger and more dangerous they are.


The one I’m staring at right now has to be at least fifteen feet tall, and pure black. It’s taking up nearly the whole back wall of the operating room where it’s squatting, staring at me with its huge, shimmering yellow light bulb eyes. The edges of its large translucent black body blends nearly perfectly with the dark grey wall, and I know that the moment it was merged completely, the only clue to its existence the scary yellow orbs, it would be invisible.


And deadly.


‘’Tall- ‘’


‘’Shh,’’ I whisper-interrupt my best friend, not daring to take my eyes of the monster that was rapidly bleeding into the wall. ‘’Don’t panic, just stay calm and back away carefully. Slowly. I know a place we can hide; it’s not perfect, but it’s surrounded by light and right now it’s closer to us than the forest edge. We can stay the night, and we’ll get home first thing in the morning.’’


Mica appears by my side and slips her hand into mine again. It’s sweaty and shaking, but warm and it’s comforting to know I don’t have to face this alone.


‘’Okay,’’ she whispers. ‘’ Where do we go?’’


‘’Left, then do a full one-eighty and go straight ‘till we come to the whirly tree.’’


‘The whirly tree?’’ Mica whispers. ‘‘That’s barely any distance from the Hospital, and last time I checked, there aren’t any lights. So…?’’


'‘It’s a long story,’’ I couldn’t look her properly in the eyes, even though I wanted to. ‘’You just have to trust me on this one. Unless you want to run through the whole wood without any lights to get to the edge, and risk facing even more of these monsters?’’


I could feel her hand grip mine tighter.


‘’I trust you Tally. Let’s go.’’

**

‘’That was the most terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t believe it.’’


Mica flops onto one of the mattresses of the Whirly Tree Treehouse. We call it the Whirly tree because its branches twist this way and that, making the trunk look like a knotted rope. Until a while ago, there hadn’t even been a treehouse here - just the tree and its curly branches- but Mica’s birthday was around the corner, so I thought…


‘’We’re gonna be in so much trouble.’’


‘’Nah, we won’t.’’


‘’How can you be so sure?’’


‘’No one’s gonna find out, that’s how,’’ I say, rummaging through the tiny wooden cupboards I’d installed here a few months ago, in search of the food stash. ‘’We just don’t tell anyone.’’


‘’We can’t just- ‘’


‘’Crackers and cheese or dry cornflakes?’’


‘’Is that even a question? But-’’


‘’Fair point. Water or- ‘’


‘’Tally,’’ Mica says, sitting up straight. ‘’We can’t just not tell anyone.’’

‘’Can we just forget about it?,’’ I say, not looking her in the eyes when I hand her a plate of crackers. ‘’Let’s just eat and go to sleep, please.’’


‘’Forget about it? Just eat and go to sleep? Tally, are you crazy?,’’ Mica says, startled. ‘’ We just saw a midnight Shadow. Midnight! The sun wasn’t even down completely yet, how the hell did it get there?’’


‘’Don’t know, don’t want to know.’’


‘’We have to tell someone!’’


‘’You sound like our teachers!,’’ I spit. ‘’Don’t you get it? If we report the Shadow, we’ll have to tell them about the Hospital, which is supposed to be the kids of the town’s place, to get away from all the adults and just have fun! Without being told what to do, like we are every single second back home! What do you think will happen to the Hospital when the adults realise it exists?’’


‘’Look, Tally, I know what you mean- ‘’


‘’And the forest?’’


‘’Tally- ‘’


‘’They’ll close it off!,’’ I say, absolutely furious. ‘’They’ll shut it down! Our parents will ban us from going there, because it’s ‘’dangerous’’ and ‘’unclean’’, and we’ll be stuck at home with nothing to do other than stare at flashing screens!’’


Mica didn’t even seem fazed by my outburst, but by now I was so mad and exhausted I really couldn’t care less. She couldn’t just report the Shadow, it would take away everything we’ve built in the forest, all our games and hiding places, the ruins we’ve claimed and named after ourselves.


And my birthday gift to her; it would take away the treehouse, too.


‘’Look, Tally, I really don’t want to fight with you,’’ Mica says after a long silence. ‘’I don’t want to lose the forest any less than you do. So, we’ll do what you suggested; eat, go to sleep and get home first thing in the morning. Then we can decide what to do about the Shadow, because we have to do something about it. Deal?’’


I nod.


She gives me a pat on the back, sits down next to me and together we nibble at our crackers in silence.


July 01, 2021 12:24

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10 comments

Tommie Michele
12:54 Oct 22, 2021

I love this story! Your concepts are really cool, with shadows and light—I’m a sucker for writing with lots of symbolism so I tend to rely on light-shadow imagery a lot and it’s always fun to see the ways other people do it so well! I like your ending, too—sometimes, you don’t need a mic-drop last line, you just need an open ending like you did. As for critiques, I’m with Alex—I would love to see more of your worldbuilding and maybe have a few more sentences of explanation for some of the terms that aren’t mentioned much (ex. Light Guards)...

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Mila Van Niekerk
12:39 Jul 01, 2021

I submitted this while sipping a very terrible cup of cup o soup. Dumb smart person tip #1: NEVER add milk to cup o soup, EVER 🤢 This is my longest story yet!! 2910 words, yeah, baby!! I'd really appreciate any critique on this story; there are definitely ways I can improve, and that's one of the main reasons I joined Reedsy: to get feedback on my writing. Please, don't hold back; I need all the advice and critique I can get. This story is connected to the ''Wish they were here'', ''People Talk'' and ''Thunderstorming picnic'' universe, bu...

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Mila Van Niekerk
13:24 Sep 02, 2021

I got downvoted AGAIN. This is really getting out of hand 😥😭

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Alex Sultan
23:18 Jul 06, 2021

I think this story is pretty good. I like the build up to the conflict, and I think you did well developing a character along with interesting world building. For feedback-and this is tough when you're already at the word limit-try to expand on worldbuilding more in bits and pieces, just a sentence here and there to explain things. I think the term "Light Guards" sounds really cool, but there isn't any more detail on them past the one mention. I can imagine/infer their purpose, but I think a sentence or two explaining them from the author'...

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Mila Van Niekerk
06:29 Jul 07, 2021

I'll definitely keep that in mind, thank you 😊

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HIIIII!!!!! I haven't talked to u for agessss! btw do u have discord? If u do, u can add me, by user is TheDeadCarlaJaeger#2442 💖💖💖

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Mila Van Niekerk
13:23 Sep 02, 2021

I don't have discord, sadly, but it's so great to hear from you again! You have revived my dead notifications lol

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ah sorry for the late reply. Ive noticed that reedsy has been kinda dead lately tho-

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Mila Van Niekerk
06:25 Sep 07, 2021

Nah, it's fine. By the way, what webcomics do you read? I'm reading like.... 22 at the moment and I FINALLY convinced my friend to download WEBTOON, but other than her I've go no one to talk about them to. What genres do you read?

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ah! i love reading romance and thrillers. I haven't read webtoon in some time but I've read around 140 in total and most of them are originals. I rlly recommend tower of god btw but it does have 400 eps...

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