Do you ever wonder if you have a story to tell? I have never thought of my life as being worth putting in writing. What good would a story about somebody fumbling through life do the world? Isn’t that everybody’s story? What makes my story more compelling then someone else? I am not famous, rich or successful. I am a regular person living day to day, with the same worries that everybody I have ever met has as well. As far as I can tell the stories that were published had a lot more to offer then mine. So what changed? Why are you, hopefully, reading my story? A lot. Nothing. I don’t know.
The day I became interesting.
It started out as an ordinary day. I was at work. The glamorous life of a grocery store employee, an overnight stocker and cashier. I was unloading the weekly shipment when I first noticed something strange. The city was unusually quiet and at first it seemed peaceful but as I listened I soon felt fear creep up the back of my spine. Something was off. The quiet was unnatural. Oppressive. I became suddenly aware that I was alone. My coworkers and the truck driver were gone. I was alone on the unloading dock.
All of my instincts were telling me to run and hide. Unfortunately I was unable to move. I have read about being stuck as if your feet had sprouted roots, trapping you to the earth where you stood. This was not like that at all, it was like my body didn’t belong to me. Like I was merely a visitor inspecting a statue. I simply did not have the strength to pick up my feet and run away. I was stuck; alone and terrified of the silence. I began to wonder, if I could move, would I see hundreds of people stuck like this all around me. Stuck in one spot and terrified. Was this why the world had gone eerily silent?
I realized it wasn’t that the world wasn’t actually quiet. I could hear something, panting. The sound suddenly filled the silence and it seemed to come from all around me. Then I saw the source of the noise, large black dogs were slipping out of the shadows and surrounding my immobile body. The panting continued for some but others emitted a low warning growl. The growl was deep and vibrated my entire being. Warmth spread across my midsection and it took me a second to realize I had managed to pee myself in fear. I was beyond caring because I could tell my number was up anyway. The shadow dogs seemed to find my terror intoxicating because the growls were replaced by what seemed to me to be mocking grins.
“Have we terrified this young man enough boys?” Boomed a voice from the deep shadows. In response the dog tails wagged as they sat down and resumed their panting. The darkest shadow seemed to break away from the other shadows and move toward me. As it did layers of shadows stripped away from the figure and I began to make out a small figure. The figure still was mostly concealed and the voice was still terrifyingly loud when it spoke next. “Human, we have need of your services. Come with me and offer aid.”
If my body had been capable I would have turned to look behind me to see who the shadow spoke to but it became apparent when no answer came forth that the shadow figure could only be talking to me. “I require an answer.”
“An answer? You did not ask a question, Shadow Man. You simply spoke a command. So far, I have no reason to trust you or go anywhere with you. You terrify me with your shadow hounds, root me to this spot and cause me to pee my pants in terror. As far as I am concerned you can go spit.” Once again I felt the urge to look behind me to see who spoke despite knowing full well that the words had come bubbling out of my mouth.
“Shadow hounds? I like that. It sounds more ominous then the name I gave them. ‘The pack’ sounds like a group of annoying teenaged wannabe thugs. I thank you for the name for my ‘shadow hounds’ but I still require that you come and assist me.” The shadow man gestured for me to come and this time I did. I am still not quite sure why.
“You are a perceptive human. You could feel me coming while the rest of the humans froze unaware. I exist in between time and my presence tends to cause low intelligence beings to simply stop until I leave an area. You couldn’t move until I spoke to you but you were fully aware. This means there is hope for you, unlike the rest of humanity.” His words were dripping with venom. I knew this man held no love for humans including those he deemed to have hope.
“Interesting. Since I come with you of my own accord I will ask a few things from you. First, some new clothing that does not reek of urine. Second, tell me your name.”
“Ah, reasonable request, the first one is. The second is problematic. Names are power. I will not tell you my name but I can give you a name to use if you like. Although I can tell you already have one for me and that is fine as well. Although change man to king as I am the king of the world we are entering.”
“You want me to call you Shadow King? Seems odd to me but I’ll go with it. So when can I change clothes?” I asked
“It will happen once we cross the threshold, humans these days have no sense of style. I made sure that the threshold would redress all entrants in an appropriate manner when meeting with me.” And as we crossed the threshold shadows enveloped me and I could feel myself become clean and dressed in light, loose clothing. When the shadows parted I was wearing black slacks and a purple silk shirt and what seemed to be boxers; looser then I was used to but at least they were clean. The Shadow King was no longer covered in shadows. He was a small dark skinned man with angular features. He almost looked human but only just. There was something off, some energy that told your hind brain that he was dangerous. His eyes were a yellow color that I had only seen on television shows about werewolves. He smiled at me and I got the distinct feeling that he had too many teeth. “You look much more appropriate for a meeting with the Shadow King.”
I nodded stupidly at him. My words were caught up in the part of the brain that was in fight or flight mode, meaning they were once again not readily available to me. Luckily for me the Shadow King had no intention of letting me control the conversation, or was that lucky, I’m still not sure. “I need you to do something human.” I bristled at the lack of my name as he spoke to me. He hadn’t even asked for it. The arrogance of that act really got under my skin. I was about to mention it but part of me was reluctant. He handed me a hot drink and I suddenly realized the Shadow King’s realm was bitterly cold. I took a sip and it was awful, I placed it down on the table I was suddenly sitting at.
“It is very nice here if you can get past the cold. You should see it during daylight time, it is beautiful. Of course once you really see in the shadows the view is unsurpassed by anything on Earth.”
The conversation confused me because I could not keep track of it in my mind. I was not sure how we had got here and seated at this table that looked over a vast dark abyss.
“Drink human. It will help keep you warm.” I did as I was told but the lack of my name irked me a great deal. The drink was bitter.
“A Shadow King’s primary job is to manage the shadow realms bloodlust. Some of your history, human history, has been shaped by humans that were infected by shadow. The spillover is expected of course. We occupy some of the same space on this world as you humans.” He smiled at me again and my fear was replaced by loathing that ran deep. “Humans are the worst creature that could be infected by shadow. The murderous rampages are bad but truly astounding is monsters that wrap it in political or religious doctrine. Humans are monsters. They are what keeps the children of the shadow realm up at night. Humans are our bogeymen.” He looked at me without smiling, his eyes sparkled like amber fossils. My loathing went up an octave as we continued to look at each other. I broke eye contact first. I grabbed and took the last drink of my suddenly empty cup. I wanted more. Sensing my sudden desire for more of the drink a shadow servant appeared and poured some in my cup. I greedily snatched it up and guzzled it before demanding more from the servant. The shadow king began to speak again and I found his words confusing and irritating. He talked too much.
“Listen, Shadow King,” I interrupted, my words came out angry and slurred, “I don’t know who you are kidding. You are a horrible ruler, your pestilence overflows in to every place it can. You have no desire to keep it away from humans. You want us to be infected!” I was angry and when I grabbed my cup, some of the drink sloshed on my shirt. I cursed and began trying to suck the drink out of the fabric. If this bothered the Shadow King he drew no attention to it but I still felt his judgment. That rankled and I growled at him to show him my displeasure. His response was to smile at me.
“Perhaps you think you could do a better job?” He asked with that ever present, self-satisfied smirk.
“I think no such thing. You told me you were lousy at the job when you were explaining what you do. I am just tired of your attitude.” I said, at least I am fairly sure I said that, because there is a part of me that only remembers growling. Either way his smile did not falter.
“Let me ask you again human, do you think you are more suited for this job then I?”
“I have a name you know!” I growled.
“I know,” he said with a twinkle in his golden eye, “….human.”
I was out of my seat and had my hands around his throat before I was aware of moving. I was trying to choke the life from his sparkling golden eyes. He did not look concerned, nor did he seem to be fighting me. My grip began to loosen as my rage continued to grow. It didn’t make sense but I soon became aware of a steadily growing pool of dark crimson that enveloped us. My eyes threatened to close and my hands were not working as they should. I looked at him and he merely offered that same smile. This time it no longer seemed to mock me or enrage me. Instead it seemed to pity me, but it was the exact same smile. I felt a deep searing pain in my gut and it pulled my attention away from his smile. I had been stabbed, gutted really and most troubling was that I was not sure when of how it happened. The crimson pool surrounding us was my blood.
“You have fire Jason Moore.” The Shadow King whispered to me. “It is far down in your person but it is there. It took several glasses of the potion to get it to come out but come out it did. I have a question for you. Just one more question and then I will leave you to your fate.”
I looked at him with wide open eyes. It took a second for my brain to concentrate enough to blink. My eyes closed and wanted to stay behind closed lids but my brain forced them back open. When I could see again the Shadow King no longer lying beneath my body. My body that was rapidly draining of life. I had once again lost time in this shadow realm. I should never have come here, I wondered if anyone missed me. I wondered if my body would be left behind somewhere. Would they look for my murderer?
“Before I ask you the question Jason Moore,” He said my name again, when had he learned it? Had he always known it or had I told him during one of my many blackouts this evening? I wanted to ask but my lips would not move. “I must tell you something. Your wound is fatal for a mortal such as yourself. So you will die here tonight and for that I am truly sorry. No matter what you will never be you again, not exactly. It is necessary though, please believe that.” I continued to stare blankly at him. I wanted to curse him but my body was not cooperating. “Now for the question, I require an answer from you but in your current condition I know words are not a possibility. A blink shall suffice. If your answer is yes blink once and if no blink twice. Do you understand?” I blinked once. “Good. Jason Moore, Do you think you would do a better job than I at the job of Shadow King?”
I thought about my body lying here slowly leaking my blood across his floor. I thought about the life I had lived. I thought about all the decisions I had made that led me to this point. I thought about all my lost dreams and then I closed my eyes. Images floated across my eyelids. Moments both joyous and heartbreaking. Memories of all the confusion, indecision and pain. Times were I felt good, smart and on top of the world. And those earlier days when I would often find myself bored and looking for some mischief to get into. I thought about what people had said to me during those early years. I had never really lived up to the potential that others had expected of me. I had not accomplished the things I had meant to. I was a man unfulfilled. I was a lost puzzle piece trying to find the right puzzle. I had always believed that I existed in the wrong time or perhaps the wrong world. I wondered if I had been looking for my spot in the wrong puzzle. I suddenly knew my answer and I opened my eyes.
I made sure that they stayed open while I looked around. The room was empty. I was alone, laying on the floor in dried up blood. The pain was gone and there was no evidence of the wound that had nearly killed me. The knife was by my side but not in my side. I went to stand and that was when a shadow servant appeared and helped me to my feet.
“Where is the Shadow King?”
“You are here sir.” The servant replied.