Shadow and Dust

a short story by ANALICIA TORRES

The great clock  in the village’s square chimed. Several thunderous echoes boomed from the high tower that loomed over the bright city. The roarious crowd snapped their heads to look up at the small hand of the clock, their eyes watching in terror as the big arm moved in tortuous sweeps. With the sudden swiftness of a desert roadrunner, the citizens released a simultaneous shriek and ran, their business within the city long forgotten. Dust scattered in the wake of so many hurried footsteps; far off in the distance, a lone child wailed for the parents who had long forgotten him. Doors rushed to close, curtains ripped to shield the windows, shutters slammed shut to block out the darkness they knew was coming. A straggler swept up the abandoned child in his arms and stumbled to an open doorway. His foot crashed crookedly on the bottom step of a tavern; he landed on the ground in a heap of spilled coins and ribbons. The child rolled out of his grip and pulled at his arm to get him back to his feet.

The clock finished its eleventh cry.

The man’s body shook in sheer terror. He staggered to stand and searched frantically for the little boy; the small form of him was already through the doorway of the pub. Safely crossing the threshold, the child flung himself onto the floor with reckless abandon and watched in the fading sliver of moonlight as the door was pushed closed. The man glanced around the square in panic, searching for somewhere to hide. Shops were boarded up, homes snuffed in darkness. The city teemed with black shadows. He let out a fearful noise that bellowed forth from the pit of his stomach and clutched his messenger bag to his chest. He dived into an alley and kicked away the large piles of garbage, hiding in the stench and piling it all back on top of him. He squeezed a ray of tears from his beady eyes and locked his hands together in prayer. Please don’t find me, please don’t find me, he begged. Fish bones and slime pushed into his pores and scratched against his skin, but he didn’t dare bat them away.

Hidden within the shadows of the midnight pines looming above, a silhouette of pitch black leaned against the trunk. From a lone hill, he watched the peaceful city erupt into tumultuous chaos at the shrill cry of a machine. A twinge of dark pleasure filled him. His hands played with the electricity in the air as the clock chimed on, his posture unlike those of the people’s. On the eleventh chime, his piercing gaze fell on the city again. A single shape still wandered through the square, his movements erratic and terrified as he looked about to find someone to save him from what was to come. His figure slipped between buildings.

Up on the hilltop, the wraith grinned. He raised his hand toward the city and waggled his long, leather-clad fingers. “Find him,” he commanded hungrily.

Skeins of shadow shot from his palm, trickles of darkness oozing from the tips of his fingers and spilling through the into the grass. The small fledgelings snaked along the ground in jerking movements, slithering down the hill to find the poor soul and ravish him. He flexed his cold fingers to warm the strength back into them and headed down while humming an ominous tune as if it was a holy hymn. He kicked pebbles along the streets and watched them evaporate into ash. Frowning at the blowing particles, his attention was snagged by the loud scream that pierced the air. His beautiful children of death brought out the lone straggler from the alley, the tendrils wound about his form and tightening their grip the more he struggled to get away.

The wraith’s glowing red eyes narrowed on him, a look of feigned disbelief crossing his face. “Nathaniel, is that you?” he asked incredulously. He shook his head. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. You know better than to stay out late. What would your mother say?”

The man trembled. “I’m s-sorry,” he said. “If you let me go, it will never happen again. I swear.”

“Now, now. You know that lying is a sin.” His eyes burned brighter.

“Please!”

“Come along, Nathaniel. I’m hungry.” He stepped closer and pushed his fingers into the man’s quivering chest. Nathaniel gasped in pain. The comely features of his face caved in, his cheeks hollowed and his eyes rolling back. Shadows overtook his veins. The last ounce of life seeped out of him. The wraith relished in the feel of new energy and sighed in ecstasy. He released Nathaniel and smiled as his form hit the ground and disintegrated into dust. The remains blew along with the wind.

The small tendrils floated there a moment longer, trembling with insatiable gluttony. The dark shadow leered. “Greedy little things, aren’t you? You’re still hungry.” The fledgelings rippled with excitement. His smile grew wider. “Me too,” he said darkly and turned back toward the city.