Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Flash Fiction: "Where the Shadows Are - Part I" (a story in the Shadow Fabric mythos)

I found myself writing a piece of flash fiction based on some of the groundwork I laid when plotting my novel, The Shadow FabricThis 500 word story, titled "Where the Shadows Are - Part I", is the result:

The smell was worse this time. Before, the body was only two hours’ dead; this time it was two days. Such a difference. For a moment Amanda wondered how many more bodies she’d find before the shadows allowed her peace.
            She pushed a rag to her face, coughing. With her other hand she swatted the flies. Her bare feet sank into the sand, suggesting the tide was coming in. As the only human on the island, she was there to obey, and if she fought that peculiar obedience, the shadows – her puppeteers – made her do things, made her think things. Vile things no lady should ever think, let alone action. These last several days, all she was ever with was death. She’d be just another body soon, she knew that. Dead, and then food for the shadows.
            With reluctance, she poked the rag beneath her bikini waistband and grabbed the corpse by its feet. Grunting, grimacing, she pulled it towards the tree line. Her strength amazed her. This was one fat Greek: bloated, the flesh shrivelled by the sun and the sea. His head left a snake of disturbed sand behind. Maybe she recognised him from the main island; perhaps, last week, he’d served her cocktails.
            A flood of grey pushed into her head, and the memories fell away, feeling the shadows swarm, tearing away thoughts of her past.
            Now, almost out of the sunlight, her muscles screaming, she closed her eyes. She hated to come in from the sun, yet she did it. Obeying the shadows was what mattered.
            Still with her eyes closed, she felt the shade wrap around her, and she dropped the legs. The sound – that dead sound – echoed through the trees. Scratching her neck, fingers raking sunburn, her nerves flared like there was a blowtorch held against the skin. Another waft of the wet, salty stink, and she spewed. At least the shadows allowed her that much. When she’d finished, she wiped her mouth.
            “Let the shadows take me,” she whispered, finally opening her eyes. The bitterness still inside, her legs folded and she sat cross-legged. She squinted into the sunlight lancing through the branches, that broken canopy offering little reassurance from the flitting shadows in her periphery.
            How many other islands like this existed in the Mediterranean? A place of solitude for the solo-traveller, a romantic escape for others… then you had this: an island where the shadows own you, where the shadows feed on the bodies they find. That same darkness kept Amanda alive, only just, to drag corpses from the sunlight, to bring them to the centre of the island. To the Temple.
            She knew her body would soon be offered. Often, those playful shadows suggested that.
            She wished it would be now.
            She was ready.
            Further ahead, the grinding of stone over stone made her snatch her head up, and she blinked into the unfolding darkness.
            The corners of her mouth tugged into a smile.

Did you enjoy the flash fiction?

Here are the opening pages of The Shadow Fabric

Unable to blink, I shot a quick glance around the dining room. My heartbeat stormed my head. I had to get out of there, I had to leave the other men to it. These brothers had a lot of hate to throw around.
       The black fabric draped across the table and chair, tracing every contour. It flowed over the wood like liquid. Hugging tight whatever it touched, it turned everything into a shadow, a silhouette, a featureless dark blot of its former self. The way it moved defied physics.
       My throat clamped around a cry that came out a whimper.
       I had no idea what Stanley intended. The strange fabric didn’t travel far from his hand, and where the material ended, it rippled and pulsed, pulling further away, yet unable to claim more of its surroundings. The more it unfolded, the dimmer the room became. My skin itched as it sapped the light.
       Victor and Stanley stood facing each other: Victor, with his eyebrows pushed together, the ornate blade clenched in a fist, and Stanley, with his jaw tight and a twitch at the edge of his mouth. In Stanley’s grasp the fabric quivered, its material reminding me of the way midday sunlight reflects from the surface of a swimming pool, the ripples a criss-crossing of movement. It was peaceful to behold, hypnotic almost. But this thing was dark and stifling to observe.
       There was nothing remotely tranquil about this.
       I wanted to leave them to whatever absurd game this was…yet my feet refused to move. The familiar ache in my knee rushed through my body, drumming in my skull, telling me I was useless. Since the car accident the knee often was useless. I couldn’t leave Victor, I knew that. The man looked as terrified as I felt.
       “I hate you, Victor.” Stanley’s nose was no more than a thumb’s width from his brother’s.
       “No,” Victor gasped. His hand shook, his knuckles whitening around the knife. “Don’t!”
       I didn’t know who or what Victor spoke to. Was it Stanley? The shadows? The knife?
       In a blur of darkness, shadows coiling his arm, the blade slammed into Stanley’s chest. Blood spread and he staggered back.
       Victor’s eyes widened. Clutching the weapon, he stumbled from the fireplace, away from his brother. The knife slid out, sucking at the wound. A jet of scarlet misted the air, and then oozed.
       I could only see darkness…so much darkness, and my lungs went tight.
       The fabric—the Shadow Fabric—closed around Stanley’s buckling legs.
       The remaining material swept from the table, away from the violin case. Black tentacles whipped and grabbed Stanley. The darkness enfolded him as his eyes glazed over. It dragged his body along the carpet a short distance and tightened its grip.
       My jaw muscles twitched as I clenched my teeth.
       The Fabric began to shrink. Still in its embrace, the last I saw of Stanley was his dead stare.
       “Vic…” I whispered, and gripped the back of the sofa.
       My boss dragged his eyes away from the retreating shadows and stared at the knife. Behind him, the mantel clock hammered out several seconds before the weapon slipped from his hand onto the carpet, where it bounced with a red splash.
       He fell to his knees. “Oh God.”
       The Fabric vanished.
       I dashed across the room as much as my leg would allow and staggered to a halt beside him. Sobs wracked his frame as I grasped his bony shoulder.
       On the table next to where Stanley had been standing was the violin case, still open like a crooked yawn.
       A million thoughts tumbled through my head, but I couldn’t find the words. I’d been Victor’s chauffeur for no more than a day, and already I’d witnessed him stab his own brother. What the hell?
       I don’t know how long I remained like that, holding him, with light creeping reluctantly back into the room. Victor shouldn’t have been surprised that the shadows had taken his brother. After all, those shadows—the darkness—are associated with all that is dead…or should be dead.
       Silence clogged the air like we were buried in a tomb.
       For some of us, there is a moment in our lives where all we’ve believed real is whipped out from under us and we’re left to survive in a world that’s a lie. All the things in life we’ve taken for granted are sheathed in a weak veneer, behind which stands the shadows.
       For me, this was one of those moments.

Mark Cassell's dark fantasy novel is available
from all bookshops and also Amazon.


Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorMarkCassell