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Neuroaxiom
January 24th, 2011, 10:27 PM
This is a strange, little story I wrote one time when I was up late. It's around 1500 words, so it's in the awkward borderland of short story and flash fiction.


Shadowman


Said the Shadowman to the child, “Lay not in thy bed, oh little one. Follow me.”

Said the child to the Shadowman, “Be gone from me, vile thing.”

Said the Shadowman to the child, “Dost thou know not, ill-tempered youth, what I offer thee? That thou should cease to be a child, that is most assured. That thou should go to service in the name of thy king, that is most assured. That thou should turn from happiness to death, that is most assured. Oh child, I offer thee much more.”

Said the child to the Shadowman, “I do not understand you, vile thing.”

Said the Shadowman, “Indeed. Such is the burden of youth.”

Said the child, “Be gone from me.”

Said the Shadowman, “Ne’er shall I go, until thy bones are very old. Not until thy will hath turned to death shall I trouble thee no more. Sleep, now, oh child, if thou wouldst, if thou art able.”

And the child slept ever so soundly, in the trappings of the night, those shadows and formless hues surrounding, when the Shadowman seems but the whisper of a harsh dream. Waking, she turned to the early dawn, with its light, and smiled. A fair child of columbine skin, she was aglow with that sweet light in the wilting of the shades around her. How the night fades!

To the courtyards of some elder keep she went, playing behind the walls of that strange capitol, its name forgotten by modern men. There in the warmth of summer noon she danced and sang beneath the broadleaf trees. The corbeau folds of her garb catching the light and drinking it in, warming her all the day after the night’s chill. In those happy hours the fear of eventide turned to laughter. The pangs of the heavy night-watch fell away and disappeared, like the melting of drear winter’s bitter frost. There in the sky the sun wandered on its well-worn way, going thence behind the walls and casting long a shadow upon the child. Still she danced and sang, taking no notice of the waning day, thinking naught of the deep night and its drawing nigh.

To supper she went, dining with her dear father and dear mother. A dozen porcelain dishes set with utmost care across the long table filled her gaze. Upon them, fruit and cream, bread and butter, roast duck and well-aged wine for father. For her, milk. For mother, tea. The gong sounds and the servants depart. They eat together.

“Dearest,” says Father.

“Yes, my Lord?” says Mother.

“Never before this evening have I seen you look so lovely,” says Father.

“Thank you, my Lord,” says Mother. “Your hand has provided well for me and your daughter.”

“Daughter,” says Father.

“Yes, dear Father,” says the child.

“Behold your mother, isn’t she lovely?”

“Yes, dear Father.”

Father smiles. “So shall you be for the Prince, when he calls.”

“Yes, dear Father.”

When they had supped and when they had drank, when all the routines of ceremony had been satisfied, they dressed the child for bed and dear Father bade her off to sleep. There she lay, gazing out her little window, to lands unknown and skies unfurled before her. In that night, the moon was pale and bright and the stars were happy to display their celestial splendor for a time.

Again the Shadowman came, and again the night after. Every night for many long years the Shadowman came to trouble the child until she was a child no more. And laying, one night, amidst her soft pillows and warm blankets, he came and spoke to her again with his cold voice, his serpentine whisper.

Said the Shadowman to the woman, “Lay not in thy bed, oh beautiful one. Follow me.”

Said the woman to the Shadowman, “Be gone from me, vile thing.”

Said the Shadowman, “Dost thou love me?”

Said the woman, “I do not love you. Be gone from me and do not trouble me this night, for tomorrow I am wed.”

Said the Shadowman, “To whom?”

Said the woman, “To my King, he has called for me.”

Said the Shadowman, “Doubtless he hath seen flower what I hath seen in bloom these many years. Come now and I shall spare thee so dull a service as to a king of men. Come now to my own kingdom in Nod.”

Said the woman, “Be gone from me.”

Said the Shadowman, “Ne’er shall I go, until thy bones are very old. Not until thy will hath turned to death shall I trouble thee no more. Sleep, now, my lovely, if thou wouldst, if thou art able.”

And the woman slept, lost in the swirling and the buzzing of nervous dreams. And the night passed, as all nights must, to her waking. But there was no gentle dawn to greet her, no happy morn to see her free from the clinging night. The Shadowman had filled the sky with billowing clouds and rolling thunder, to withhold the morning if he could. Alas that the night abides!

So she rose from her bed and dressed. To meet her maidens in the courtyards she went. There they gathered beneath the darkened sky to prepare the woman for her wedding. Above, the bells of the keep rang out their somber tune. They took her to the marriage chamber and shut out the day behind locked doors and closed windows. Before a bare altar she met her betrothed, the King, and there they were wed, bound together by solemn vows and rigid promises of everlasting chastity. There she knelt before the King, now her Lord, and he led her away.

“Dearest,” says the King.

“Yes, my Lord?”

“Are you pleased with me?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Come, let us eat.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

When they had supped and they had drank, her Lord bade her to bed. Together they went, man and his wife, to the King’s chamber. And the Shadowman followed. Again he came that night and every night after for many long years to the side of the great bed where the King and his Queen lay.

Said the Shadowman to the Queen, “Lay not in thy bed, oh majestic one. Follow me.”

Said the Queen to the Shadowman, “Be gone from me, vile thing.”

Said the Shadowman to the Queen, “Hast thou enough of this mortal frame? Hast thou learned what it means to be the prize of temporary kings? Come thou, my Lady, and follow me.”

Said the Queen, “Why have you troubled me all the nights of my life, you wicked thing? Why do you interfere with me?”

Said the Shadowman, “Dost thou love me?”

Said the Queen, “Never shall I love you. You are a shadow in my thoughts, a weight upon my heart. Be gone from me!”

“Dearest,” says the King.

“My Lord?” says the Queen.

“Do your dreams trouble you?”

“They do, my Lord.”

“Come and I shall soothe you.”

Said the Shadowman, “Ne’er shall I go, until thy bones are very old. Not until thy will hath turned to death shall I trouble thee no more. Sleep, now, your highness, if thou wouldst, if thou art able.”

And the Queen slept long in darkness. Tossing and turning in dreamlessness, the night passed away about her and the day took hold, but she would not wake. Her Lord, the King, called the finest magicians and masters in his realm to her side as swift as they might. The elders made council together concerning the condition of their Queen. The servants let loose their tongues. The King sat upon his throne, grim and terrible to behold. For months the whole of the King’s land lay under a thick shadow and the people began to curse their King for his foolishness in taking so frail a bride to his bed.

And the Shadowman came again when it was night and spoke to the Queen, rousing her from her restless prison.

Said the Shadowman, “Dost thou love me?”

Said the Queen, “I cannot love what is not there.”

And she went to her Lord before the Shadowman could speak again. As she approached him, the clouds passed over the realm and there was daylight once more. There was after that a long peace in the realm and prosperity for the people and they forgot their distress over the Queen. Together with her Lord she slept ever so soundly for many nights. But the Shadow man came again and again until many years had passed and the Queen was very old.

Said the Shadowman to the old woman, “Lay not in thy bed, oh aged one. Follow me.”

Said the old woman to the Shadowman, “Be gone from me, vile thing.”

Said the Shadowman, “Come thou, old woman, after me, and I shall restore unto thee thy sight and thy youth. I shall again make thee young and fair as thou were once, if thou wouldst but love me.”

Said the old woman, “How can I love what I cannot see? Let me see your face.”

Said the Shadowman, “This request, among all, I must not permit.”

Said the old woman, “Then I can never love you.”

Said the Shadowman, “Behold my face.”

And the Shadowman came out from the shadows. For but a moment, night itself rolled away, and the old woman saw his face. And as her eyes fell upon what eyes, what nose, what lips were there, her heart ceased to beat and she breathed no more.

Said the Shadowman, “Sleep now, old woman, for thou must, thou must. Ne’er shall I visit thee again, for thy bones are very old and thy will hath turned to death. I shall trouble thee no more.”

bazz cargo
January 25th, 2011, 11:25 PM
Hi Neuroaxiom
A seriously Gothic piece of work, all texture and grim reaper. Not sure about the chastity bit, I thought the King would prefer to have his wicked way. I am only just finding my way around, and yours is the first story I have read. I like it. Thank you.

Bazz Cargo.

Quote : If music be the food of love, I have botulism.

Neuroaxiom
January 27th, 2011, 04:26 PM
Hi Bazz,

Thanks for your review. I'm glad you liked it. I thought it would be a good one to post first, since it's so short and sort of ambiguous.

In response to your question on your thread, I'd be happy to keep in touch!

Neuro