- A short story by Feind Gottes
The stick hurled through the air in a grand arc Billy had perfected in the last few weeks. His best friend took off from his side as if shot from a cannon racing as fast as he could to where the prized stick would land. The stick barely hit the ground before it was snatched up to be raced back to the hurler. Champ came to a stop sitting down in front of Billy wagging his tail with a fervor that threatened to shake his hindquarters straight off.
“Good boy Champ!” Billy gave his best friend a few pats on the head as the German shepherd looked up at him appearing to almost smile, “Again?” Champ wagged his tail even harder as if to shout a very loud “Yes!”
The game of fetch went on most of the afternoon. Billy would toss the stick, Champ would race to retrieve it bringing the stick back to his master to start the game anew. This would go on sometimes for hours as the summer days seemed to crawl along as they do when you’re ten years old without a care in the world and a furry best friend to share them with. Billy and Champ were inseparable spending day after day playing fetch in the backyard as well as exploring when Billy was feeling more adventurous.
The true land of make believe lives strongest in the mind of a child and Billy was no exception. He would imagine himself as Indiana Jones exploring the wooded area behind his parents’ country home as though on some great archeological hunt for ancient artifacts or if he was lucky… lost treasure! His faithful companion, Champ, by his side they would explore the day away. Empty handed is how most of these adventures would end though Billy imagined armfuls of great treasure brought back though occasionally there would be an old rusty thimble or some such trinket dirtying his pocket. Champ was one champion digger after all. His mother wasn’t so fond of his soiled pockets but she couldn’t really get mad at her happy little man.
Billy was a few years away from learning the fine art of sleeping late so the summer days always got an early start. Billy no more than opened his eyes shortly after dawn with Champ right there kissing his face for his morning greeting.
“Ah Champ come on.” Billy wiped his face while Champ sat wagging his tail patiently waiting for him to hop out of bed.
Billy rubbed the sleep from his eyes sitting up on the edge of his bed. Champ’s tail thumped the floor waiting for his master to rub his head before they headed to breakfast where Billy would invariably slip him a piece of bacon or a sausage link much to his mother’s chagrin. Billy groggily made his way to the bathroom with Champ bumping against him the whole way. Champ then waited patiently by Billy’s usual seat while his mother readied breakfast.
“Aww mom, we don’t slay dragons but I bet Champ could, couldn’t you boy?” Champ’s tail thumped the floor in answer.
Billy’s mom set a plate in front of her son with a smile rubbing his head as only a mother is allowed to do, “Eat up, my adventurer needs his strength. And no slipping bacon to Champ!” She feigned anger while slipping Champ a piece of bacon herself.
“Hey, I saw that mom!” Billy gave his mother a stern look which lasted about a second before they both burst out in laughter.
“Now eat your breakfast before it gets cold you!”
Billy finished his breakfast which his mother had arranged in a perfect smiley face for him. Two eggs for eyes, silver dollar pancakes arranged as hair with a bacon strip smile to top it all off. Finished he got dressed and it was straight outdoors to begin whatever adventure the day had in store. A game of fetch began until the summer heat began to set in. It was going to be a real scorcher today tipping the thermometer somewhere north of ninety degrees with bright clear blue skies. The kind of day adults dread and young boys long for, the kind of day ripe for adventure.
Champ was smart enough to find some shade where he sat panting, patiently waiting to see what young master Billy would get up to next. Billy was lost in his own world of imagination twirling around for no real purpose when he noticed his shadow twirling along with him. It was tiny at the moment with the sun being nearly at high noon status straight overhead. Billy’s imagination began to wander as he twirled around. His thoughts turned to Peter Pan remembering how Peter’s shadow had a life of its own. He wondered if he could catch his shadow as Peter had tried to catch his own as it did its best to elude him.
Billy stopped his endless twirling, a bit dizzy yet trying to concentrate on the small shadow at his feet. He stared down at it like a cat tracking its prey waiting patiently for the perfect moment to strike. The world disappeared in that moment, there was only Billy and his shadow locked in a staring contest of epic proportions. Billy stood still staring down at the black shadow at his feet wondering what, if anything, it did when he wasn’t looking. His thoughts began to race with ideas of his shadow going on grand adventures without him, perhaps his shadow was the dragon slayer his mother had joked about. Time stood still in the midst of the epic staring contest until a bump from Champ broke Billy’s concentration at long last. His shadow trembled from the bump as Billy turned to acknowledge his attention starved companion. Out of the corner of his eye Billy could swear his shadow had raised a hand as if to punch him though when he quickly jerked his head back to it his shadow was there doing nothing just as it had been during their staring contest.
The game of fetch started again until Billy was bored throwing the stick and Champ was panting in the day’s heat. They stopped to rest in the shade of the sole tree in the backyard, an old maple whose gnarled trunk and limbs were perfect for climbing when the mood struck. Billy was too hot and sweaty to consider climbing at the moment. Champ had wandered to the house to get a much needed drink so Billy sat just waiting for his best friend to return. The very light breeze of the sultry summer afternoon swayed the old maple’s leaves bringing Billy’s thoughts back to his shadow.
The idea that his shadow had moved on its own set Billy’s imagination on fire. Thoughts of his shadow going on great adventures taking on wild beasts with a trusty sword and no fear for a shadow had nothing to fear. Could a shadow be killed? He thought. This thought dominated his ten year old mind. He pondered on it long and hard coming to the only possible conclusion, a shadow couldn’t be killed. At least not by any normal weapon of the material world. His imagination had found a new tangent to ride off on thinking about all manner of weapons he’d seen, mostly on television, from swords to axes to maces to guns but nothing he could think of would do the trick on a shadow. Slice it with any weapon you wish and the shadow remains. Sitting in the shade of the old gnarly maple gave him the only thing close to an answer he could possibly think of which was complete dark. That only led him to another question, what happened to his shadow at night? What did it do when he wasn’t looking? Before he could start off on yet another tangent Champ rounded the corner of the house at a sprint straight back to his best friend.
“What’s next Champ? Should we go on a new adventure?”
The German shepherd’s big pink tongue and sloppy kiss was the only answer he’d get. Billy stood exiting the cool shade of the maple to set off with Champ on today’s adventure. He knew not what it would be yet but he could figure that out as they went. Champ didn’t care one way or the other just happy to be at his master’s side. Free from the maple’s shade Billy’s shadow returned once again. He stood for a moment staring down at it while Champ waited patiently for what direction he would turn. Could it really have moved without me? No answer came from the black shadow stretched out before him now three times Billy’s natural height.
An impatient nudge from Champ broke the staring contest once again and once again as Billy shifted his focus he could swear his shadow raised a fist to punch an unseen foe. Billy’s quick glance showed a still shadow doing nothing that he wasn’t doing. Billy waved his arms like a madman watching his shadow do the same on the ground but making no move that he hadn’t made. The notion his shadow had moved now twice on its own nagged at his mind but another friendly nudge from his impatient friend brought him around again.
“In a hurry Champ? Did you see what I saw boy?” Of course the only answer that came was a quizzical look and a turn of the dog’s head. “Okay boy let’s go. I’ll race ya!” Billy tore off at a sprint with Champ keeping pace forgetting his shadow for the time being.
Champ easily beat Billy to their backyard sitting quickly beside his mother. When a minute later Billy broke out of the taller grass into the backyard sweating and out of breath Champ tilted his head as if to say, “What took you so long?”
“One day I’ll beat you Champ. One day.” Billy bent over, hands on his knees attempting to catch his breath looking down at his shadow but taking no real notice of it. If he wasn’t so out of breath from the sprint he’d have noticed his shadow choking him.
“Come on, get washed up before dinner. Your dad will be home in a moment.”
The evening passed far too quickly as it always seems to when bedtime is looming for a young boy. At dinner he had tried to ask his father how a shadow could be killed which both of his parents found hilarious as well as ridiculous. They paid no mind to their son’s insistence that his shadow had moved of its own accord telling Billy he had just been playing too hard and had an overactive imagination as any parent would in the same circumstance.
“It think my shadow is evil, I don’t care what you say.” Billy ended the conversation with a little defiance upset that his parents weren’t taking him serious.
“Alright you.” His mother said rustling his hair, “Now off to bed, no bad dreams of evil shadows. Nothing but sweet dreams for my sweet little man.”
“I’m tellin’ ya mom. That shadow is evil, I know it.”
“Oh now you’re just being silly! Go to sleep I’ll see you for breakfast in the morning.” His mother kissed his forehead turning out the light signaling the end of any more discussion.
She leaned down to switch on his nightlight but Billy stopped her, “Please mom I don’t want the light.”
“Ok but any nightmares and it’ll be the last night hear me?”
“Yes mom. Goodnight.”
“Love you, goodnight Billy.”
Billy’s mind raced in the dark. Gone were the thoughts of his shadow as a hero slaying dragons replaced with the overwhelming feeling of ominous dread. His young mind couldn’t even fathom what his shadow might get up to but he knew it couldn’t be any good. He wasn’t allowed to watch “scary” movies so any idea of true evil escaped him. He didn’t know why but he was afraid of his shadow now as if it was the beast, not the slayer of them. Fear kept him awake for a time but there was no resisting the exhaustion gripping him. Billy’s eyelids grew heavy quickly no longer able to resist sleep he slipped into darkness.
“Champ! Champ!” Billy woke screaming out to his best friend who was right there licking his face as if to say, “What? I’m here!” The dog’s tongue made him close his eyes tight for a moment reaching out to stop Champ’s slobbering, “Ok boy. Okay.”
Billy threw his legs off the side of the bed sitting up to rub the sleep, slobber and that wicked nightmare from his eyes. He stood stumbling his way out into the hall still rubbing away the nightmare, eyes only half open all the way to the kitchen. He smelled no breakfast cooking and his mother wasn’t at her usual place in front of the stove.
“Mom?” No answer. “Mom?” A little louder, still nothing.
Had she overslept? It wasn’t like his mother to do so but stranger things could happen he supposed. He stepped back into the hall finally noticing his own red footprints from his bedroom door to the kitchen. He froze with fear looking up the hallway. It wasn’t coated in red as it had been in his nightmare but there were several large dark drops leading from his parents’ bedroom door to his own. He called out as loud as he could for his mother and father yet still nothing but deafening silence greeted his ears. He took a couple hesitant steps toward their door calling out with no response. He stood before his parents’ door which was unlatched, slightly ajar. He gave it a push swinging it open with a slight squeak his father had never managed to get rid of no matter how much WD-40 he used on it.
Billy sank to his knees, the door wide open before him. The room was awash in crimson just like his dream. His mother’s arm hung off the edge of the bed as if reaching out to him, rivulets of crimson running down it dripping off the tips of her fingers. He couldn’t see his father but knew he was there as well equally bloody. The blood was everywhere coating the walls, ceiling and floor. Billy dropped his head into his hands but no tears would come, no scream came roaring from his throat. He was frozen in the scene of devastation laid out before him. Peering through his fingers he could see his slight shadow at his knees. For a moment it did nothing just staring at him as only a shadow can do. Then with Billy still peering through trembling fingers the shadow’s hand rose dipping a finger in the pool of blood beneath his mother’s hand. First it drew a half circle dipping its finger back into fresh ink before supplying two dots for a gruesome crimson smiley face. Billy’s eyes closed and all was black as his shadow.