This story is by Coleen Holley and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Golden light glinted with a dull shine off the window, casting shadows across the floor, creeping up the wall. I flipped over in my bed, threw my arm across my eyes trying to block the light. How could I possibly sleep with that thread of sunlight working it’s way across the room?
The incident ran through my head, like a freight train barreling down the tracks. Over and over again the scenario played itself out, resembling a train wreck in my head. The grind of the wheels, the chug of the engine, the whistle blowing.
“Leave me alone,” The words were a hoarse whisper out loud, but they screamed in my head, reverberating off the inside of my skull. I wiped the cold tears from my eyes. No one could hear me, and the sound of my own voice cut like jagged icicles dropping from frozen roof tops. There was no one around to hear, let alone to care.
Why would these thoughts not go away? Why did I torture myself with them, day after day, tossing and turning, agonizing on events I had no control over? This life, this being, this existence, is not what I wanted. It isn’t what I would have chosen if I’d been given a choice. I had no choice. My childhood training was complete. I had to make my first conquest, or ‘They’ would punish me.
“Go out, find a nice young man, give him the experience of a lifetime,” ‘They’ said.
So I did.
One day at dusk, I was walking by the skateboard park. I saw a handsome young man and watched him mesmerized, as he spun and jumped on his board. He did flips, he slid across the rails, he accomplished feats on his board that amazed me. I became infatuated by his prowess. I went to the park every day for weeks on end to watch him.
After a few weeks, he noticed me watching from the shadows. I didn’t want him to see me, so I slid back into the cover of the trees. He shivered a little and gathered up his board. He walked straight towards me.
I pulled my hood up to better conceal my face and took a chance. I stepped from the gloom of the forest into his path. He jumped back with a start, “Oh, hello. I almost didn’t see you there, you blend right in with the woods. Haven’t I seen you hanging around here lately?”
I ducked my head, I hoped my fear of speaking to him didn’t show in my voice, “I…yeah, I was watching you skateboard. You’re very good. Is it hard to ride that thing?”
He shrugged his shoulders. I couldn’t tell if he could sense my anxiety. Going out in daylight, away from the obscuring shade of the trees took me to the limit of my endurance. He didn’t seem to be afraid of me, “Naw, it’s pretty simple once you get the basics down. You just have to keep your center balanced on the board.”
This was my chance to prove I could do this. To prove I wasn’t afraid to take the final step in my training. “Do you think you could show me some time?” I asked. I was sure my voice trembled, thank goodness, he didn’t seem to notice.
“You want me to show you how to ride a skateboard?” He asked, half turning back towards the skate park, his mouth curved up at the corners. His sandy blond hair curled up from underneath the baseball cap he had on backwards. His t-shirt was tie died, yellow, green, blue, and red. His khaki pants were a bit baggy around the waist, but didn’t fall down more than an inch, unlike most boarders. “It’s starting to get dark, maybe we should do this another day.”
“I’m not afraid of the dark,” I said. I straightened my spine and squared my shoulders. I kept my head down, I still didn’t want him to see what my face looked like beneath the hoodie.
“Well, there are stadium lights across the street, that should give us enough light for me to show you some of the basics, but on two conditions, okay?” He looked down at me, trying to see past the shading on my face.
I tilted my head to the side, it wasn’t time yet to let him see the pallor of my skin, the dark circles under my eyes. I couldn’t let him see the amber glow of my eyes in full dark, I had to keep myself in the shadows. “Okay, what are your conditions?”
“First, you tell me your name,” He peered at me, rocking his head from side to side, trying to get a good look at my face.
My name? I almost panicked. I didn’t have a name. ‘They’ called me student number 1027, I only had a vague recollection of ever having a real name. I scraped my teeth across my bottom lip, “Um — ” I hesitated, running through the names I remembered: Maggie, Melody, Miriam, “Monica, my name is Monica.” I glanced up at him, forgetting to keep my face obscured.
He didn’t recoil as he saw my sallow skin and dishwater blond hair peeking out from its concealment. “Second, you let me show you some real moves tomorrow, when it’s light outside.”
Daylight. Full daylight. Oh how I longed to go out in the full, bright sun. It went against everything ‘They’ said I was supposed to do. Of course I was afraid to be seen in full light. It might reveal the scars on my arms, the knotted welts around my neck. I could wear the sweatshirt again, maybe it wouldn’t be too obvious if I kept my arms and face covered during the day. Feigning reluctance I said, “Tomorrow?…I don’t know, I have some things I have to do tomorrow until later in the afternoon.”
“Sure, tomorrow afternoon is fine. Can we meet around four o’clock? All right then, if I’m going to show you the basics this evening, we’d better get to it.” He turned and started back up the trail to the skate park.
I couldn’t tell if it was my heart or my stomach lodged in my throat. This was it, my chance to prove I was one of ‘Them’, that all ‘their’ training and effort was not in vain. I followed him up the slight incline.
He set the board down and showed me how to stand on it, “Bend your knees and balance, keep your weight centered over the middle of the board. Give yourself a few pushes with your foot, then swivel your hips to turn.”
I did as he said and was able to go a few feet before falling on my butt. He laughed and helped me up. “It’s getting too dark for me to show you any more tonight, I’ll show you how to do more tomorrow.”
It was almost dark. I let my hood fall back and gave him my most engaging smile, “Okay, tomorrow then. Can you do that flip you’ve been working on for me one more time before you go tonight?”
He grabbed his board and ran up the ramp, he didn’t notice the pallid cast of my skin or the green-gold glow of my eyes, he was eager to show off for me.
He slid down the ramp and up the other side, flipped around in mid air and came back down, only to skate back up the ramp and gain momentum for the big flip he did after a few runs up and down the ramp.
As he neared the apex of his flight, just before he was going to do the back flip, I stretched out my hand, letting the light from the lamp behind me cast a long shadow that looked like I could reach out and touch him on the board. I gave a little flick of my wrist, and sent my shadow to touch him. I gave it the barest nudge, but that was enough.
He tumbled off the board and landed with a sickening snap. The skate board flew end over end and he rolled and slid several times coming to a stop at my feet. I felt my stomach lurch. His back bent at an odd angle and blood gushed from his nose and the gouges on his face. His eyes flew open as he recognized what I truly was, “You…you’re one of ‘Them’ aren’t you?” A ragged breath escaped his lips. “I thought the Umbra were myths.” He groaned and his eyes fluttered, perhaps for the last time. “You… monster, why did you do this to me?”
I looked at him, my fear at being what I was taught to be gone, replaced by revulsion for what I was…a monster. “I never wanted this,” I said, “but I am a shadow, a monster, and it’s my life, or yours.”