There’s a thin barrier protecting us from the world of the Other. Something escaped.
Cast the Shadows
She sat and stared at the boy in front of her.
He ignored her, dark eyes still staring far away and willingly lost. He was a lanky boy, tall for his twelve years, but everything else about him seemed so small. From shoulders that poked through the shirt, to a stomach that looked like it could do with more filling, it was easy to tell something sad weighed him down.
Adele tapped her pen against her paper. “You don’t have to say anything just yet, Tyler, but I want you to know that you can talk to me.”
“You’re my friend, right?” The words, clipped and harsh, were accompanied with a special sort of pain. She’d seen it before, but rarely so raw. The boy looked away from the mirror and into her eyes. There was fear in his eyes. Eyes that had seen too much. Adele couldn’t explain it, wasn’t sure what made her so uneasy around the boy, but there was something about the way the light reflected off Tyler’s eyes, something about the glint and echoes of the reflections in his view. Something, somewhere, somehow was...off.
She swallowed. “Yes. I’m your friend.”
“Bullshit.” He leaned his head forward, hair falling across his face. He buried his face into his hands. “You’re just like the others.”
“Tyler, we’re all just trying to help. We just want to know what happened.”
“And what am I supposed to say?” he whispered the words, so low that she barely heard. She leaned forward to catch everything that he said. “How do I...even try to explain? You won’t believe me. No one will.”
There was a strangeness around him. He’d been touched by the Other, of that she was certain. Humans didn’t graze that side of the realms and come back unscathed. “Try me, Tyler.” She whispered the words too, away from the ears of the police that wanted her to find out what the child was capable of. “You’d be surprised what I’ll believe.”
He looked at her between fingertips. “You’ve seen it too?”
“I’ve seen…” she hesitated. “I’ve seen things. Look into my eyes...we can always tell who has seen the doors.”
He looked at her, really looked, and she could feel that familiar sensation of layers stripped away. He was seeing things that humans weren’t meant to see. Finally he nodded. “Can you save them?”
“I don’t know...can I?”
Tyler’s eyes filled with tears. “No. I guess not.”
He shook his head, tears pooling and spilling down his cheeks. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Adele nodded. “When you’re ready to talk, I’ll come back.”
“Are you going to go back there?”
Adele didn’t answer him as she scooted her chair back and stood. “Get some rest, Tyler.”
“Just...don’t. Don’t look into the lights that cast the shadows.”
The words caused a tremor to run along the length of her spine. The sentence followed her as she made her report to the detectives, who frowned and demanded she at least get some sort of explanation for the gore they’d found him in the middle of.
She’d done the best that she could, and they knew that as much as she did.
Tensions ran high because everyone knew what they dealt with wasn’t something natural. No one wanted to believe someone so young could be capable of that, of what was left behind in the home.
She’d seen the pictures.
Adele wasn’t a fan of going to a crime scene. It had been investigated, tore apart and cleaned up, but those memories had left lasting imprints. The scars left on the world would be fresh.
And what would it accomplish, really? She thought. She sat in the idling vehicle, eyes on the home’s doorway. It’s not like I’ll find evidence that’ll help that boy.
“Curiosity,” whispered a voice, not entirely in her head. “Once you’ve been touched by the Other, you’ll always be drawn to it. Irrevocably so.”
“It’s not curiosity,” she whispered. She rubbed a finger down the beads of the bracelet she wore. “I just have to make sure the door is closed.”
“Then come, little witch.”
Adele took a shaking, shuddering breath and turned the car off.
Gravel crunched underneath her boots as she approached the door. She placed a hand on the wood, feeling the warmth and pulsing heartbeat of the home within.
The home let her in. A slow and faint amber glow emanated around her. It came from everywhere and nowhere, casting long and winding shadows against the walls.
Adele blinked into the lights, put a hand up to shield her eyes.
The house in front of her shimmered, wavered. There, in the glow of death, was a door to the Other. She could see past the barrier, like seeing through dirty stained glass or the heat shimmer of the desert. Beyond that doorway was the living room--movements flitted and fluttered just beyond clear sight.
Adele reached a hand out, grazed against the tremoring barrier. It sung to her touch, a pure and solid and deep chime. There was warmth in that touch, wetness and life. A moment’s hesitation where she ran a hand against the beads that wrapped her left wrist once more, and she stepped into the threshold.
Beyond the barrier, in the Other, sounds echoed in her ears. The air had a dampness to it, making it much more difficult to breathe. The home seemed claustrophobic, walls that echoed in impossible ways clenched around her in time with her frantically beating heart. She felt the life fluid that pumped through the home, that brought the things to feed in the lights--that had fed the family to the things.
Colors were simultaneously sharper and duller in the Other. There was a terrible beauty in the mirrored world that mocked her own. Tendrils of shadows and thorns beckoned and tore at her clothes as she stepped forward, swimming through the power and warmth. What was real, what wasn’t no longer mattered--all tied together and formed at her will in this pocket of nothingness of the Other. All that kept her tethered to reality was the cold beads that she squeezed into her skin, leaving imprints.
“Little witch, with your gods’ prayers on your arm,” whispered a voice. A voice made of many voices, small and young and hurt and twisted into one. “We built this world for you.”
The Lights Ahead.
Circular. Perfect. Somewhere in her mind, she knew that these things weren’t kind things, but she felt drawn forward, stepping on the wet and breathing ground that strummed her heart’s beat. The shadows followed her with those whispered fancies and thorns, tugging her clothes and skin.
Don’t look, she thought with some difficulty. She squeezed her wrist, hard, to feel the bite of wood beads on skin, and stopped moving.
“I’m closing this door,” she said aloud, using her periphery vision to look forward. The words hung on the shadows, and she watched something with too many legs scuttle in the perfect lights ahead.
“We come now, regardless. It makes no difference to us.”
“What do you mean?”
“The land has been fed, the roots deep within this plane twisted into the fabric. Close the door, but we may pass.”
Adele took a few steps back, until her back was against the barrier of the Other, where her world sat plain and unremarkable. She unwound the prayer beads from her wrist, feeling that comforting coldness, and wrapped both her hands in the rope. She closed her eyes, began to pray.
The first sign the Other faded was the echoes and heartbeat. She could still feel it struggle in the dampness of the air, but soon that faded too and left the arid Arizona air in its place.
Adele opened her eyes and stood in an empty, normal living room. She turned to leave when she watched the shadow move. In the depths of those shadows, she watched a small amber light blink into existence and bob up and down. It briefly illuminated the face with each upward movement. A skull made of mostly maw and pincers and eyes, the fangs smiled at her.
It was massive, coiled around a spire of shadow with long spindly legs reminiscent of tree branches. More legs made cages on the ground where faces glimpsed in and out of existence, crying and dying in moments of time. Feeding it.
Adele couldn’t speak, watching the light that had enticed so many souls to rest in cages beneath their body. The question lay unspoken between them.
Sounds chittered around her, and she realized that the creature’s expanse filled the circumference of the room. Adele turned a half circle, seeing a long, sinuous body with faces screaming between the legs. The shiny body blocked her from the doorway.
“Names, they come and go.” Despite the words echoing in her mind, pincers clicked with the words, giving them a sharpened edge. “I’ve been called countless names through the civilizations I’ve watched rise and fall. You would not care to know.”
Her heart beat in her chest, painful and fast. She kept her eyes diverted from the amber sphere, watching it from her peripheral vision. “What are you going to do to me?”
“Nothing, little witch. Pass by this home. You’ve blessed it and I will leave it to die on it’s own. There are things in this realm I must tend to. You will be needed on a later date. I shall show you.”
The creature shifted in the shadows, the light flickering. Adele squeezed the ring of wooden beads threaded through her hands.
The realization stuck in her throat, twisted its way through her heart, and squeezed. This home was not the first, was not the last, and was not the only. She stumbled to her knees. “Oh gods,” she whispered.
It chuckled, shaking the many-legged body. The souls cried beneath it. “Now you see what lies ahead, or at least the path to it.” It didn’t wait for her to answer, uncoiling from the shadows of the home. The lights flickered once, twice, before blinking out of existence. Adele lifted her head, seeing that she was alone in the living room once more.
She coughed in the silence of the empty house and stood. She half expected something to reach out and touch her or to grab at her as she made her way out. There was something about this silence that was unsettling and prickled against her.
Adele got into her car, taking a deep, shuddering breath. Her hands gripped the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. Something had grazed against her world. Touched it and left it tainted--she could feel it. So many openings to the Other. How could the two realms coexist with so many tears between them? The beings that existed beyond the barriers behaved outside the realm of human understanding.
Adele was not afraid. The emotion she felt was much older, more primal. The sort of creeping dread her ancestors no doubt felt while being hunted by bigger, stronger predators. Worse, she knew she had a bigger part to play in whatever game the Others had devised. She had been let go—toyed with and released. It would be back for her. Adele leaned her head back on the back seat and closed her eyes. In the shadows of her eyelids, she could still see the amber lights bob up and down.
Don’t look into the lights that cast the shadows.
Adele sighed. A bit late for that, she thought. She turned on her car, pulled out of the driveway and onto the road. The house stared at her from her rearview mirror, silent and accusing. Late, and I’ll see them again.
Word Count: 1,958
Initially Submitted to: Short Shots, WDC Official contest https://www.writing.com/main/handler/first_in/1/item_id/1221635-Short-Shots-Offi...