This story is by ML Pilalis and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Lilac Jones, Miss Lilac to her preschoolers, met Death quite casually one sunny Friday morning as she walked up a steep San Francisco hill on her way to teach at Golden Gate Preschool. She stared at the ground as she thought about today’s art lesson plan, silhouette cutting. She’ll have each child lay down on black butcher paper, have a teacher trace their bodies in chalk, and have each child cut out their own shadows. Cutting is hard work for chubby little four-year-old fingers; this should keep them busy for most of the morning. She took special note to keep rambunctious Jacob, and his scissors away, from Ariel’s long curly hair – no incidents like time! – when a voice cut through her thoughts.
“Miss Lilac! Miss Lilac!”
Lilac lifted her head, squinting against the sun, and looked further up the hill. There he was, rambunctious Jacob, spinning and twisting in his mother’s hand. His mother tried to pull him up the hill, but he yanked her hand backwards. Probably wants to run down here and walk with me, Lilac thought. “Not yet, Jacob, not yet, give me a few more minutes of peace,” she whispered under her breath.
She sighed and waved up to Jacob. “Good morning, kiddo,” she said and blinked hard at him, and at his shadow. His shadow mimicked him, twisting and pulling at the mother’s hand, but it looked off, the color too dark, almost a solid black, and the shape too crisp. Jacob’s mother pulled his wrist hard, and Jacob flipped around to walk forward up the hill.
But his shadow didn’t mimic him this time.
The shadow shifted. It rose up off the ground and coalesced into a dense walking outline of Jacob. The shadow’s color swirled up dark, too dark; Lilac couldn’t see Jacob through it. The now three-dimensional shadow of Jacob walked a few paces behind Jacob, before stretching out long up the building, stretching, stretching, until it pulled apart from Jacob and walked up the building on its own.
Lilac froze. Shadows don’t do that. Shadows stay attached to the object they’re shadowing. And shadows certainly don’t walk up buildings and start picking at broken concrete blocks and shoving them towards the—
“Jacob! Watch out!”
Lilac sprinted up the sidewalk, her thighs burned as she raced up the steep incline.
Jacob spun around, a big smile on his face.
Lilac looked from Jacob, up to the shadow and the concrete block teetering near the edge of the building up above Jacob’s head. The block teetered. The shadow waved at Lilac, and shoved the block. Lilac shrieked. She sprinted, covering the last few feet between her and Jacob. She dove up the hill, pushed Jacob up the sidewalk, and out of way of the tumbling concrete block.
Jacob fell backwards. Lilac skid on her knees and fell onto her side. The block smashed down with a thunderous CRACK right where he had been standing.
“Miss Lilac! Why? Why you push me?” Jacob began to cry, his face scrunching up.
“You pushed my son?” Jacob’s mother yelled at Lilac as she dusted off her sobbing son.
Lilac waved at the broken concrete block scattered across the sidewalk. She looked up at the building. “That almost hit him,” she said. “But where is it? Where’d it go?” Lilac said referring to the shadow; she swiveled her head searching for it, but it was gone.
“It’s right there, Miss Lilac,” Jacob said. She spun around, and saw he was pointing at the bits of broken concrete, not the shadow. “It coulda smacked my head. Ima take a piece to school and show everybody!” He scooped up a large chunk proudly.
Lilac nodded her head. Jacob’s mom sighed, grabbed his other hand, and began marching them up the hill again, towards the preschool across the street. “Thank you,” she said to Lilac.
Lilac nodded her head and dabbed at her bloody knees. She’ll put super hero bandages on her new ‘ouchies’; the kids will get a kick out of that.
She began to follow mother and son up the hill, stomping on Jacob’s shadow with each step. Lilac shook her head. Ok, it probably wasn’t a shadow that pushed the concrete down at Jacob, just a trick of the light or something. No big deal. Shadows don’t come to life.
At the intersection, Jacob’s mother stared at her phone as pushed the pedestrian crossing button. Jacob’s shadow began to rise. Lilac stomped on its head. It crumpled, then began to rise again. She stomped on the shadow’s head again, her heel smacking the sidewalk hard enough to break off. The shadow fell back down. It began to swirl like a blackened mini tornado. The air smelled of rot. It rose up off the ground, once again a dark independent entity. It reached out its right arm.
And pushed Jacob into the street.
Lilac yelped. She grabbed the back of his shirt hauling him back onto the sidewalk just as a garbage truck rumbled by.
“Jacob, are you ok?” Lilac bent down to him.
“It got my rock! It got my rooooock!” He cried. In the street, the concrete chunk was smashed into even smaller bits.
Jacob’s mother looked up from her phone. “You’re fine. It’s just a rock.” Her eyes flicked back to her phone.
Lilac patted Jacob’s shoulder, but she wasn’t looking at Jacob, she was staring at his shadow. His nice normal shadow. She bent down to touch it. She’ll have to keep him close today, keep an eye on that shadow. She turned towards the intersection and the preschool across the street.
And gazed eye-level into her own shadow, her own silhouette, her own shadow arm reaching out to touch her head.
Her last thought – before the searing pain stabbed into her brain, the most intense pain she had ever felt – was that the class, and Jacob especially, would definitely not be cutting out their own silhouettes today.