Into the Shadows

Don pushed forward, knocking a woman to her knees. She let out a weak moan as she fell to her side. Her left leg resounded with a sickening crack as it hit the hard-packed, foot-trodden soil at the edge of The Fountain. Don ignored the woman, stepped over her, and bent down to take a gulp of life-giving water.

He drank deep, ignoring the protests of the other Survivors around him. He was shocked from his reverie when he felt strong hands hold both of his arms, felt searing heat radiate from those hands, and knew he had been caught.

“I’m sorry,” Don said. He felt himself begin to cry, his body shaken by fear with a tinge of regret. His heart felt honest shame. “I was just so thirsty!”

The Light Man looked at Don. The Light Man’s face betrayed no emotion. It appeared to be cut from glass. Green luminescence grew in intensity the more Don wallowed and complained. The more Don protested he had done nothing wrong, the firmer the Light Man gripped Don’s arms.

Don knew it was useless. He never should have betrayed the order. He knew the rules, knew the punishment. Knowing there was nothing else he could do, giving into the inevitable, Don followed the Light Man to the land of skeletons.

The skeletons were hidden in the shadows beneath a rocky ridge. Don could hear their sound of their dry rustling.

Atop the ridge, atop the rock sheltering those in the shadows, The Council met and punished those who performed more heinous acts of heresy, who dared to question, or who dared to defy The Council with a threat of open revolt. Fortunately, Don’s punishment would not be so severe. It was downright merciful compared to what happened above on the rock.

All the same, it was not pleasant.

Things moved in the darkness beneath the rocky outcrop. Clouds of dust were stirred up by the movement of the poor suffering souls hiding in the shadows. Don could feel them watching him, could feel their hunger. Above that, however, he felt their thirst. His tongue swelled with just the thought of a prolonged absence from the life-giving shores of The Fountain. He could smell the metallic scent of the water in the air, oxidized and bright compared with the dusty scent of desert—the smell of water with just a trace of algae and perhaps something else, something harder to define, more _alien_.

He savored the scent, the thought of the water in his mouth. He struggled a moment against the Light Man. The Light Man’s hands became bluish green flames which singed Don’s skin. He relaxed.

The Light Man released his grip and pointed to the shadows. “Go. Now.”

—§—

Don looked at his arms, saw the flesh singed from them; could smell burnt hair, burnt flesh. Understanding he had no choice, Don nodded his head. He ducked down into the shadows.

While his eyes adjusted, too-thin bodies snaked around him, whispered voices both husky and dry rushed at him in the darkness. Don sat down, terrified.

“Welcome to hell.” A raspy voice said. Laughter rattled bones.

Don jumped back. He could feel the mouth as it spoke into his ear, a mouth devoid of skin. Don turned to face this person, and shouted out in shock. The permanent smile of a skull faced him. The skull moved, bits of skin hanging down like straps of tattered leather. It spoke in hushed tones.

As terrified as he was, Don dared not run. He would still rather be here in the shade than crucified on top of the ridge above under the baring light of day. He knew he was a sinner. He knew he belonged here.

At least down here, where the world was a shadow, there was no glaring sun to light and expose his sin to the world. Here he was unexposed, a hidden thing, drying up but still alive.

Ω

T.J. McIntyre  T.J. McIntyre's website has seen his short fiction and poetry published in numerous publications including recent appearances in Everyday Weirdness, Ruthless Peoples Magazine, and Scifaikuest. He is a member of various writing organizations, including the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), and serves as a moderator for the Lobo Luna and Western Writers writing communities on LiveJournal. Until earlier this year, he published Southern Fried Weirdness, an anthology and web zine celebrating speculative fiction and poetry with a Southern perspective. He lives in a busy household in the muggy heart of rural Alabama with his wife, two young sons, an aging Doberman mix, five tiger barbs, and three salt-and-pepper catfish.

Other works by T.J. McIntyre