Into Light

The townsfolk knew she lived there; maybe. Sometimes Mrs. Beardy, nine miles North, said she’d seen someone hanging wash. Old Frank, the property South, couldn’t say the same -he didn’t pass Monty McCrae’s place for no reason, he’d said.

Or would’ve said. Maybe.

Old Frank wasn’t into talking, especially about others’ business. Everyone felt that way: leave someone alone if he wanted.

That’s why no one, not even Angelique (formerly Mrs. Monty) McCrae, recognized the lady in red who finally left a life of shadows, walked down the dirt path to a hired car, and rode away to freedom.

©2023 Chel Owens

Photo by Ekaterina Astakhova on Pexels.com

Written in response to Carrot Ranch‘s prompt:

January 16, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a lady shadow. Who is this person and why do they lurk in the shadows. What is the tone and setting for your story? Go where the prompt leads!

When the Shadow of Me Returns

Last night my Other Me reappeared, the one of shadows. For, truly, that is where she always stands, lurking: the shadows of thoughts, the shadows of feelings, the shadows of anything I see or do.

It is she who colors a happy idea with doubt.

She deepens the uncertain edges of a frown in every smile.

The fear of possible failure to proposed activities? Also her.

I hadn’t seen her in a while; thought her to be gone. How little I knew. How I forgot. She does not ever go away, especially when I choose to ignore her instead of keep working to repel her. Especially, when I want her.

Last night I felt her; nearer and nearer. And, like a fool, I let her come. I asked her to grow, expand, envelop, then smother. Anything, I thought, is better than what I feel.

Because the Shadow of Me does not feel.

As I settled beneath the apathy and self-pity that I invited in, I twitched a bit in discomfort. Some part of me recognized the old, unhealthy patterns. Something deep within, in a timid voice, whispered, “I don’t think we want this.”

“Do we?”

Yet, not until this morning did I notice the source of the rain. Standing –no- languishing morosely in depthless puddles I blamed anyone but her; anyone but me for bringing her. Like a fool; I cursed the weatherman, the water, the sky, the mud. I failed to name the shadowed storm. It is Depression. And it is not what I needed.

Because, as familiar as Depression is, it is not a good solution.

As easy a solution as Depression appears, its fallout is more difficult to clean up than actual resolution.

But who wants to stand and face her troubles when Depression promises otherwise? I can tell you: not me. No, I chose fear. I chose to see My Shadow’s effects: small rocks on the trail ahead made to look like looming boulders; a few grumpy observations from my companion augmented to devastating predictions against success.

So I turned back.

Rappelled to our base camp of years ago.

And sat outside the tent, in the rain.

I’m still there, you see, but have shifted a bit. My seat felt somewhat wet so I moved to a less-muddy patch. Still depressed. It’s a new day, though; I can see the pervasive grayness is a lighter shade.

And, no, I’m not ready to climb again. ‘Tis a daunting thought.

I think I’ll start with an umbrella. From there, I just might gain the perspective I need to change into dry clothes and eat some rations. We’ll see.

7 Tips From a Reticent Spymaster

When it comes to fantasy storytelling, Charles Yallowitz is your man. From why only some vampires can (and should) reproduce to the proper way of knowing the best mapper shop in town, he’s the expert.

He recently dragged one of the best spies from his Legends of Windemere series out to ask him for 7 Tips to Being an Effective Spymaster. The post is as follows:

(From a Yahoo image search)

So, I’ve asked Kai Stavros from War of Nytefall: Rivalry to give some tips on being a spymaster.  He doesn’t really want to share his secrets or be out in public, so he gave me a list.  It was written into my car with a warning that I should never ask him to do anything like this again.  Here we go:

  1. Never do public appearances unless they are on your terms . . . Just going to voice a complaint right away, huh?  You know, I could have asked another of my spy characters to do this.  Well, I don’t have any, but I know a few who would willing to make stuff up.
  2. Always double-check your information.  (That makes sense.)  Torture is a good way to confirm . . . Really!?  This is what I get for asking a vampire how this goes.  In his defense, vampires regeneration, so what would be a fatal wound for a mortal isn’t a big deal for them.  Still, there could be kids reading this, Stavros.
  3. Maintains some friendships with your coworkers, but remain distant.  You don’t want to get attached to those you might have to sacrifice for the sake of a mission.  The exceptions are your masters or employers depending on your personal employment position.  (That was bizarrely bureaucratic.)
  4. Never fall in love because that will inevitably be used against you.  If not your lover then children, so celibacy is a good idea as well.  (I know of one famous spy who would really disagree on that last one.  Why doesn’t that guy have kids on every continent?)
  5. When sending messages, you must write in code to protect your secrets.  It is best to have multiple code systems and randomly cycle through them.  Only one person should know the locations of the scrolls needed to decipher them.  It helps to put two spells on the messages as well.  One is to share the information with your employer if you and the translator are dead.  The other is to curse or kill anyone who manages to get even one word correct.  (Wow.  That’s actually a good one.)
  6. Never agree to appear on a blog to share secrets.  It doesn’t matter how much the author pathetically begs.  (And we’re back to the sass.)
  7. Uh . . . This one is in code and I don’t want to risk anything.  I mean, he did give me a warning in #5.  Oh, it’s just messy penmanship since I guess he was in a rush to get out of here.  The tip is: Don’t bring attention to yourself, but don’t try to hide from society.  You need to find something in the middle because blending in and understanding human nature are essential tools of the trade.  (I think that was cursed . . . No, just the Taco Bell I ate, which is basically the same thing.)

—–

See? Spies can be handy -you know, when they’re not stabbing you in the back or whatnot.

Be sure to check out Charles’ books for more adventures. He writes unique stories where vampires are the main characters, and not because they sparkle.

Captain Misnomer

City Smoking

“Is that all of ’em?” Dash asked, between heavy gasps of air.

Strong looked around, then darted across the square and back before Dash finished blinking. “I didn’t see anyone, but maybe we need Stretch.” Unlike Dash, his breathing was normal.

“Need me for what?” Stretch yelled. They looked up, and up. Shading their eyes, Dash and Strong saw a Stretch-shaped silhouette poking from a broken window in the building behind them. He looked to be ten stories up.

“If you see or hear any more damn robots,” Dash said under his breath, groaning to stand. He coughed in the thick, smoky atmosphere.

“Okay!” Stretch called back.

“I’ll pop over and see if Rad’s found that submarine,” Strong said quickly, and was off before the other two even thought to respond.

Dash looked up to the building again. He could vaguely make out Stretch, through the naturally-waning light of dusk mixing poorly with the smoking fires from the armored vehicles around him.

Stretch’s shape cupped hands around its mouth. “All clear!” He shouted. “I’m. heading. down.”

A small breeze passed between the skyscrapers, clearing smoke and cooling Dash’s sweating face. He couldn’t see any movement either, but had learned to never count on his limited sight.

“Nothing to report from Rad yet,” Strong said, at Dash’s elbow. Not surprising, the huge man nearly jumped out of his spandex.

“Sorry,” Strong added quickly, grinning.

Dash waited for his heart rate to slow, clapping a giant hand over his chest as he recovered. He was tempted to “accidentally” clap his speedy associate on the shoulder in response; but that sort of trick only worked once, and once had come a long time ago already.

Deliberate, even footfalls echoed behind them. They turned to see a tall woman with a wet, black ponytail jogging through the rapidly-clearing mists. “Rad,” Dash said, happy that the approaching steps had not belonged to more enemies.

“Strong. Dash.” Radio acknowledged, as she reached them. She tucked a stray strand behind her ear calmly, subconsciously smoothing her minuscule gills as well. “I searched most of the bay, and could not find our target.”

The door of the nearest building opened, and Stretch descended the stairs to join the party.

“I may have heard a motor in the water just before the robot army opened fire,” Stretch told Radio. She gave him an exasperated look, to which he shrugged.

“Next time, tell Rad before she has to get her feet wet,” Dash reprimanded the forgetful Stretch. Sometimes, he felt Stretch missed obvious sights and sounds as he sought the subtle ones.

Strong bounced up on his heels, impatient. “Where’s Shade?” He blurted.

Dash looked around quickly -quickly for him. “I don’t know! I forgot she was with us during the fight!” He couldn’t believe he’d lost track of her.

Radio laid her hand gently on his massive bicep. “It’s okay, Dash. She usually waits in the plane. I forgot she came along, as well.” She turned to Strong, raising a dark eyebrow expectedly.

“Right,” Strong said, and was gone before he was done speaking.

“Didn’t Snipe come along, too?” Stretch asked Dash. Dash rubbed a sooty hand in his short, blond hair, considering.

“I don’t know.” He concluded.

“Well,” Stretch joked, “If you don’t know, we’ll never find her.” He laughed his nasally snorting chuckle for a bit, then stopped when no one joined in.

Radio looked sideways at Stretch. “Isn’t that your area of expertise?” She queried.

Chastened, Stretch nodded. “I’ll… um, I’ll go look around,” he said, and headed into the damaged square. The only lingering smoke was centered around a few smoldering trucks, but it was enough to irritate his movement-tracking.

“I wish you’d found that sub,” Dash grunted. “I’d like to smash the guy that just blew up a whole city block.”

Radio closed her eyes in agreement, then opened them to meet Dash’s fierce scowl. “I did sense a somewhat warmer stream near a suspicious outcropping,” she told him. His scowl cleared. “But,” she continued, “I lacked the necessary strength to move it.”

Dash was thinking about possible options, that would hopefully not put him under water, when the streak of Strong returned. Dash opened his mouth, then closed it at Strong’s panicked expression.

“I need you, now,” he said, and was off again. Dash and Radio spent a precious half-second to look at each other, then ran in the direction Strong had. They caught brief glimpses of him as they moved, impatiently tapping a foot or literally bouncing up and down as he watched their much slower progress.

Dash cursed mentally, lacking the energy to do so aloud. He had trouble enough keeping tabs on Strong’s position in normal situations. In the waning sunset light, amidst the battle detritus, he had an easier time following Radio’s wagging ponytail than Strong’s intermittent pauses.

The more lithe Radio pulled ahead of Dash, who was breathing heavily again. She disappeared around a sideways assault vehicle; he pumped his stocky legs to catch up. As such, Dash nearly ran right into the back of her.

He bent over, supporting himself on the vehicle’s undercarriage, gasping. The metalwork groaned. “Careful!” Strong cautioned, raising his hands. “You’ll crush her!”

Peering around Radio, Dash saw the prone form of Shadow. The poor woman’s arms were wrapped several times around a deactivated robot’s carapace. Both lay in the shadow of the amtrack Strong was pushing against. He desisted, supporting himself on his knees, instead.

Radio drew closer, carefully. “I think it’s dead,” Strong guessed.

Dash straightened slightly, and stalked forward to check. Radio would be better at helping Shadow anyway, if she could be helped. He kept him eyes down, on the robot, focusing on its inanimate body.

“She’s still breathing,” Radio noted, as she squatted. Dash and Strong let out relieved sighs.

Dash began routine diagnostic checks on the robot, initially verifying that it held no self-destruct automations. He tried to ignore how Radio’s efforts pulled his project side to side; how her concerned mutterings grew anxious. Finally, Dash found a small, pulsing power source.

“Stop!” He commanded Radio, who had successfully unwound a layer of Shadow’s left arm. She paused, holding the oddly-flat appendage. Strong jumped and was suddenly at Radio’s side. Under their undivided stare, he pointed to the faintly-glowing battery. Strong immediately backed a few hundred yards away, though Radio held her position.

“It’s not completely dead, but that’s probably why Shadow isn’t, either,” Dash called to the flighty Strong. Radio nodded.

“I see,” she said, looking up into Dash’s sweating, dirty face. Dash saw that she remembered the last time a team member had approached a recently-destroyed robot; the last time they had fought with the naive, young, and overeager Invincible.

Strong remembered as well, choosing to keep his wary distance. “Get her off and run!” He recommended.

“I’ll need to do it, Rad,” Dash urged, gently. She nodded once, set Shadow’s arm down carefully, stood, and retreated toward Strong’s position.

Dash looked at the pulsing light, at the position of Shadow’s wrappings, and at the dead visual sensors of the robot. Somehow, Shadow had applied enough pressure to disconnect its receivers without turning it completely off. “She must have passed out from exertion,” he mumbled. Shadow groaned, barely audibly.

Attempting to imitate the gentler Radio, Dash continued her work of unwinding Shadow’s twisting limbs. He kept glancing anxiously from the arms, to the light, to the robot’s head. He kept his ears tuned for the telltale beeping of an activated self-destruct.

He needed only to lift the robot body once more, to free the last layer of arms, when he heard the warning knell. “Strong!” He shouted, lifting the metal casing. Before the last echoes of his comrade’s name could fade -just before throwing the flashing, fiery, exploding robot over the armored vehicle; Strong came. Dash saw Shadow’s body pulled free and quickly removed from sight.

Dash felt a sudden, heavy pressure on his back as the assault vehicle fell onto him. His ears rang with sound; his face felt singed. Dash coughed. “I guess I’m not the handsomest guy on the team anymore,” he told the churned-up asphalt beneath him.

Someone else coughed, very near to his crouched position. “What makes you say you ever were?” Sniper’s voice asked, from just outside the vehicle. Dash pushed up, throwing the car from him, to glare around.

Sniper laughed her tinkling laugh, from the deepening twilight nearby. “If you’re finished resting, let’s go check on Shadow.”

Dash grunted, and limped to where Strong had been. Holding a wall of rubble for support, he made his way around a small pile of passenger cars and down a deep groove. “Strong?” He called. “Rad?”

“They’re just ahead,” Sniper’s soft, mischievous voice told him. She sounded a few feet behind him, but he could never be sure.

They cleared an upturned truck on a ridge of street, and found the rest of the party. Stretch looked up as Dash approached, apologetic. “I couldn’t find -” he began, but Dash held up a hand. Sniper giggled, and Stretch’s expression changed.

“That’s enough,” Dash admonished, then turned to Radio. “How is she?”

“She’s alive,” Strong responded without hesitation. He sensed Dash’s disappointed stare. “What?”

“We need to get her back immediately, but she is alive.” Radio smiled gratefully at Dash, then turned to Strong. “Thank you, Strong, for rushing to grab her.”

Strong looked modest, and pleased. Dash considered defending his pride, but agreed with Radio about the praise. When they’d needed him most, Strong hadn’t hesitated.

“Will you carry her, please?” Radio addressed Dash. Nodding, he stooped to cradle the fragile Shadow. She weighed nothing in his enormous arms. He looked around at the battle-scarred, smoke-smudged group -except for Sniper, of course.

“You know we can’t take the plane now,” Sniper piped up, from next to Radio. Radio started slightly, but tried to cover her surprise. Reacting to Sniper only encouraged her.

“You’re right; we’ll have to walk,” Dash acknowledged. Shadow was their only pilot. He hoped he could make it to headquarters.

“No problem,” Strong said, and was off. Darkness was falling, but even daylight would not have helped them follow his trail.

“Show-off,” Sniper’s voice said, in Dash’s ear.

A Quick Witch Trip

pexels-photo-547264

“What wond’rous thing, this shopping cart,”
Grismelda said, to Shadow cat.
The cat looked bored; he licked a paw.
A cart, wond’rous? He’d pick a rat.

“Eek!” Gris screeched. Shadow looked up.
“What are these monstrous gold things?”
“You mean the corn?” A worker asked.
He hated Hallowe’ens.

Curious now, she tried a taste
Of yellowed, husk-wrapped coblet.
“Ugh!” She spat. Her cat hissed back.
“These corns taste worse than carpet!”

“You’ll have to buy that now, you know,”
The worried worker noted.
Gris sneered, but dropped it in her cart,
“We’ll make it candied corn,” she voted.

A second (and last) entry for The 7th Annual Halloweensie Contest.

Midnight

Candy Corn Men.jpg

Tick, tock, said Grandma’s mantel clock, pointing to ten.

Sadie watched it, frowning. It would never be Halloween at this rate!

She sleepily scrambled to the sofa arm. Perching unsteadily, she stretched shadowed arms to retrieve the clock. A bowl of candies knocked loose and spilled to the floor.

She stopped, listening. Only the clock said, Tick.

Prising open the monstrous, creaking casing; she nudged both hands to point up: midnight.

Ching, it said, then, tock.

“Hello!” a cheerful voice greeted. She looked down. The spilled candy corns were moving. A tiny hand waved.

“Hello!” It repeated, “May we eat you?”

Crafted for The 7th Annual Halloweensie Contest.