Shadows of People Past
On the thirteenth day of May, a shadow escaped Trotter Home. It found a tiny crack in the window, not wider than a hair. But it was enough for a shadow to seep through, and seep through it did. Rejoicing at its freedom, it wove around the little house, leaving a faint trail that smelled of smoke and dust. It brushed the green grass, yellowing the tips, and expanded so that it filled the backyard entirely, wilting the flowers and drying up the marble birdbath.
The shadow smiled to itself in satisfaction.
But it wasn’t done. Shadows are never done.
It was Kittie Moore who smelled it first. She was curled up on the sofa with a blanket in her lap, a book in her hands, and a steaming mug of chamomile tea at her side (which is how everyone should spend rainy afternoons on the thirteenth of May) when she lifted her nose and smelled the smallest hint of smoke.
But not just smoke. Dust, too. Kittie frowned and reluctantly tore her eyes away from her novel, sniffing deeply. Then she coughed, since that is what happens nearly every time you smell dust.
“Mother?” Kittie set the book down on the couch--forgetting to mark her page, unfortunately--threw the blanket off her lap, and stood up. The gentle pattering of raindrops on the window was very peaceful, so much that she wanted to lay back down again and perhaps take a nap.
But she smelled smoke. And that was never a good sign. You should never--and I mean never--mix smoke and rain.
Kittie feared the worst.
“Mother?” she called again, walking into the kitchen. The smell of freshly baked cookies hit her nose, and she breathed it in, smiling. Her mother, Mrs. Moore, was taking a pan out of the oven.
“Yes, Kit?” she said, laying the tray on the table. “Would you like some more tea? I boiled another pot.”
Kittie shook her head. “No,” she said. “Do you smell smoke?”
Mrs. Moore sniffed the air. “Not a trace,” she remarked. Then she frowned. “Did I burn the cookies?” she muttered.
Kittie reached out and took a cookie--then dropped it. “Ouch!” she exclaimed, sucking her thumb. “Sorry.”
Mrs. Moore didn’t reply. She was staring openmouthed at the fallen cookie, frozen, with one hand on the oven mitt and the other clutching a wooden spoon. Kittie followed her gaze, and her stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch.
The cookie was rotting. White mold was growing slowly on the surface, dissolving the once tasty treat. A terrible smell wafted up into the air--rot. Grime. Rancid dough. And... smoke.
“What on earth...” Mrs. Moore said, crouching down. She reached out a hand to touch the cookie.
Kittie saw the shadow, lurking in the corner. “Get out of the way!” she screamed, pushing her mother away just in time. The shadow dove out of its corner, lurching itself at where Mrs. Moore had been just moments before. It hissed and evaporated, leaving behind a faint scent of smoke and dust.
Mrs. Moore fainted.
Kittie shook her mother, terrified. “Wake up,” she pleaded. “Please, wake up.” She lifted her mother’s wrist and felt a pulse. She sighed in relief. The shadow hadn’t touched her. She was breathing.
Kittie Moore shivered. A shadow had escaped Trotter Home.
And if she didn’t put it back...
She didn’t want to think about the consequences.
The shadow whisked itself away, out of Kittie Moore’s home. It hadn’t touched the girl’s mother, hadn’t managed to end her. It was Kittie’s fault, she had pushed her out of the way.
The shadow growled. It hated failing.
But it had a second destination, and no amount of fails was going to stop it. The shadow flew in and out of the woods, zigzagging through trees, and quite possibly scaring a few birds to death. Birds could see it. Just like Kittie Moore.
The graveyard was only a few miles away from Trotter Home, and the shadow felt almost afraid of being so close by. The closer it was to the house, the more exposed it felt. But the graveyard was somewhere he had to go, and petty fears weren’t enough to stop it.
It reached the graveyard in a matter of minutes. Finding the right grave was the hard part. The shadow could barely read, seeing as it had no eyes. It tried to feel for the words, to feel for shapes as it did when traveling. It felt a circle carved into a grave... O. Was that it? After the O came a cross.. a T. O...t...t..o. Otto.
That wasn’t right.
The shadow went through each and every grave, feeling for the letters, until it came across the one it had been searching for. J...a...x...t...o...n... Jaxton... And then the letter that looked like two upside-down Vs. What was it? M. M... and then two more Os... Moore. Jaxton Moore.
Here we go.
The shadow lowered itself down to ground level, until it was almost touching the grave.
Jaxton Moore was coming back.
Kittie Moore ran out of her house as fast as she could, with an umbrella in one hand and an unidentifiable object in the other. To best describe it, it was a tiny silver cube, about the size of a strawberry. It had tiny symbols etched into the sides, with a small green rope wrapped around it, tied with many different complicated knots that Kittie had learned to tie herself.
To best name it, it was a key.
A key to Trotter Home.
Kittie ran through the rain, into the woods that separated her house from Trotter Home. She followed the trail of smoke and dust, trying not to trip over fallen branches and birds that had been scared to death. She leapt over the brook, zipped along the dirt path, and, still following the smell of smoke, finally ended up at the graveyard.
There was the shadow. In front of a grave.
She clutched the key tighter in her hand, trying to not let her fear overcome the need to capture the shadow. She walked briskly towards the graveyard’s gate, holding the red umbrella above her head.
She wondered which shadow it was this time. Daisy, the marine biologist? Olivia, the librarian? Or...
The shadow was standing in front of the grave she never wanted to see again.
Kittie’s jaw quivered. She had prayed each and every day, prayed so hard that sometimes she brought tears to her own eyes, that Jaxton Moore would never escape.
But he did. And he was here. Kittie Moore walked inside the graveyard, dropping the umbrella so that the rain pattered on her head and soaked her red hair until it was dripping.
She faced the shadow.
The shadow faced Kittie Moore.
She was holding an unidentifiable object. Best to name it, it was a key to Trotter Home. The shadow shrank back, afraid. It shouldn’t be afraid of Kittie Moore, but it was. Kittie could bring it back. Kittie could repair the crack that the shadow had found in the window.
“I’m sorry,” Kittie said, but the shadow could not reply. It had no mouth.
Kittie raised the key and ran towards the shadow. It could not do anything as she tossed into the air, at him. It could only scream inside as the box sucked it up, trapping it.
It couldn’t get out.
Kittie picked up the box from the ground, tears flowing down her face, mixing with the raindrops. She pocketed the box, feeling the coldness from it seep through the cloth of her coat into her skin. The threads holding her pocket together singed a little from the smoke, but she paid it no attention as she walked in the direction of Trotter Home.
It was only a few miles, but every step seemed to add onto Kittie’s already heavy burden that she carried on her shoulders. She was the keeper of Trotter Home--not by choice, but by duty. Her grandmother had passed on the job to her. “My dear Kit,” she’d said on her last day of life, “you must care for the shadows. Keep them in the Home. If they escape, repair the cracks and bring them back. Care for the souls. Please.” And with her last word, she put the little key into Kittie’s hand and died.
Kittie couldn’t let Jaxton come back. No matter how much she wanted to.
When she finally reached Trotter Home, Kittie opened the door--just a crack--and slipped inside. It was pitch black, except for Kittie. A bright light illuminated her, protecting her from the shadows that lay inside Trotter Home, lying there until their souls became black with hatred.
Kittie took out the box. She untied the ropes, releasing the shadow that was her drowned brother. It joined the other shadows, which were only small imprints of their former lives.
Shadows. That was all they were. Just traces, not real people.
But she didn’t care.
“Wait!” Kittie called. “Come back, Jaxton. Come back.”
The shadow turned at the sound of Kittie’s voice. She was holding out the box, tears dripping from her face onto the floor. It flew into the key, and Kittie closed the box and tied it again firmly. She then slipped out of Trotter Home, closing the door behind her.
And then she ran. She ran very fast.
The shadow grew excited as it felt where she was going. The graveyard.
One mile, two, three, four--they arrived. Kittie, out of breath and dripping wet, knelt by Jaxton’s grave and took a deep breath.
“I need you,” she choked, and opened the box.
The shadow silently thanked her. Then it dove into the ground.
Kittie was sobbing by the time Jaxton emerged. She felt the ground rumble beneath her, then stood up hurriedly. She watched as her brother rose from the dead--only he wasn’t dead anymore. He was back.
She ran towards him and threw her arms around her neck. “Jaxton,” she sobbed. “You’re alive. You’re okay.”
He was just an imprint, just a trace. But she needed him.
Jaxton hugged his sister back, shocked. He was back--he remembered drowning in the lake, then waking up in a strange house. There were so many other people there, and he stayed with them for a long time, until his heart grew heavy with boredom and eventually an irreplaceable darkness.
His mother. He remembered his mother.
He tried to kill her.
He understood now that he was, and always would be, a shadow of himself. He was part of the shadows of people past.