Twisted Shadow
    The world is a cruel, pointless place. Cold and darkness drift in from every angle, and yet the humans only seemed to notice this during the long winter months. They can be found huddled in masses seeking warmth and sensation, or so they think. Hundreds of years of existence and I still didn’t know what they were really seeking, but I was aware that it was so much more than they ever thought.
    Yes, hundreds of years.
    I had recently celebrated my bicentennial, though I couldn’t be sure how long ago that had been. Time moved differently for me, sometimes ungraspable and quick, others unbearably slow. Months could pass by in a matter of minutes, or days could pass by in a span of years. One thing was for certain, time was not my friend, even if it was the only unlimited thing I had.
    The first snow of the season fell the night before, the people moved closer together, sharing the heat that radiated from their bodies, their breath escaping their lips in small clouds of warm condensation. I didn’t feel cold, neither did I ever feel warm. It was as if I were a block of ice gliding through the world.
    I hungered for them at these times more than usual. It pained me to feel it, to be so eager to rip out their throats and take the warmth into myself, never to be felt again. Truly, I was a monster.
    But I was a curious monster.
    The air was brisk, frigid even to the old woman I was walking behind. She was 22 the first time I followed her and glowing with excitement. It was the night before her wedding day, nearly 50 years prior now. Curiosity had driven me then, as it did now, to know if she had found that missing link. I had done this with this woman so many times now that I couldn’t really even give it a number.
    Intriguing, absolutely intriguing. The words echoed in my mind every time I found her again, especially though, the first time I ever saw her, with her hair floating majestically on the breeze, her cheeks glowing a faint rose from the cold. Her thoughts buzzed in my head back then of her upcoming nuptials. Yes, I can hear people’s thoughts, but only if I put the effort into it, which I didn’t often care enough to do.
    People were usually only any good to us in one way, nourishment. The more derisive of our kind played with their food, drawing out the inevitable, but there were some of us that took no pleasure in the kill, in the pain we caused. I was the latter.
    I ate only because I had to, because of the need, want had nothing to do with it. But then there were times when want, desire crawled to the surface, like when her scent was first carried to me on that winter breeze. Regardless, I refused to feed want.
    “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” At first, I didn’t know who she was talking to, nobody else was around. Though I had often listened to her speak, her voice had become ragged with age and what seemed to be grief and I barely recognized it nor did I realize she was speaking to me for the first time. “Do you drink coffee?”
    Her eyes gazed up at me, a vivid hazel that I had never taken in before. Living as a shadow in her life, I had never before looked her in the eye. How, in all these years, had I never looked into the eyes of the woman I was most fascinated by?
    Resistance, avoidance, fighting temptation. I never wanted to hurt her.
    Unable to find the words to answer her, I nodded. Honestly, I did not drink coffee, we only ever drank blood. Yet, the offer was welcoming; she never stopped intriguing me.
    Following as I usually did, she led me to a small café on the corner, waved at the waitress and ordered two coffees. Placing the cups in front of us and pouring the steaming liquid into them, the waitress smiled at me, a warm, flirtatious grin that reminded me how appealing I looked to them. Our first weapon, beauty.
    Looking down at the swirling dark liquid, I wondered why she had offered this to me, her stalker. Did I look cold? I was cold. I wrapped my hands around the mug, the warmth soaking into my icy hands.
    Silence settled on the table uncomfortably but I didn’t know what to say to her. Millions of questions formed like a storm in my head but mostly, I just wanted to know what she was thinking. Letting down the barriers in my mind so that I could probe deeply into hers was seemingly simple for an act I had not done to anyone in something close to a decade.
    -He’s gone.- She thought, pain ripping through her thoughts. -He’s gone and I’m still here. Why am I still here? Please let me be with him. I need him, I miss him. Let me go…-
    I removed myself from her head but her pain had already saturated me as well. Part of me longed to take that pain away from her forever.
    “You haven’t aged a day, have you?” She asked me, her voice carefully measured and equal.
    I looked up into her eyes, overly enjoying being able to do that now. “Not in the way you mean, no.” I answered quietly.
    She looked away, quiet remorse shadowing her face. “50 years and not a day older. If only-”
    “No.” I said coarsely, my voice on the edge of a growl. “You never would have wanted this for either of you.”
    “My husband died this year, did you know that?” She said it as if I had not just snapped at her, as if she was begrudging her woes on an old friend. Her eyes tried to be inquisitive but all that flickered there was longing. Longing for what, I had a guess but I would not delve into her mind again to be sure.
    I nodded, reverting my eyes to the coffee once more. I knew, of course, but only because I had broken into her private thoughts and the pain I felt there was still resonating through my numb body.
    She cleared her throat needlessly, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “Why?” Her voice cracked over the word and drifted between octaves as if it was strained with disuse. “Why have you lingered in my shadow all these years?”
    Hesitating, I wondered how much she had been aware of and how much she really wanted to know. “Curious.” I said cautiously. She waited for more and I knew she deserved it. A one word explanation was hardly credible to a fifty year obsession.  “I wanted to know what life was like; how it felt, how it went, why you lived it.”
    “Did you get your answers?” She asked, neither shocked or disturbed by my honesty.
    “No.”
    “In all this time, all these years?”
    I shook my head.
    She didn’t ask the important questions, she didn’t seem to give a damn how any of this was possible. Would she wake in the morning and pass it off as the senile meanderings of an old woman? Or maybe she would think it was her imagination, a vivid dream that had been haunting her?
    “It feels painful sometimes, but other times, it feels amazing and overwhelming. It never goes as planned but usually the outcome is better than the plan. We live because we are alive.” She took a long sip of coffee then, her eyes never leaving mine. “You should have just asked me years ago.”
    I chuckled at this, a sound I had not made in countless years. The edges of her mouth played upward but a true smile did not form. It seemed, though I was woefully negligent on the concept, that her pain was too substantial to be breached by a moment of lightheartedness. “So, will you take me now?” Hope rose in her voice and wavered in the air like the last note of a sympathetic song.
    Thrown off by her plea, I replied to quickly, bewilderment coating my usually controlled voice. “Take you?” They were 2 simple words but they rough and unpleasant on my lips.
    Her eyes widened with -what?- fear? I wasn’t trying to scare her, but, naturally, she should have been afraid. “Aren’t you death?”
    My eyes looked down and began tracing the patterns in the Formica table, avoiding eye contact and beseeching myself for having put myself in this predicament. “Once again, not in the way you mean, no.”
    Silence overcame her then, her voice seemed to be lost in the engulfing pain that I would not remove for her. Thirst ached in my throat, my insides were burning to be quenched. Not her. I would not do this to her.
    “I should go.” I was out of my seat and almost to the door before she could even hear my words, let alone react to them.
    “Will I see you again?” She called after me.
    I cocked my head but did not look back at her. “You were never supposed to see me in the first place.”
    After the light has been shed on you, even just partially, it is nearly impossible to return to the shadows. I disappeared again for several months; it was easy to do since there was never anyone to miss me, and what were a few months to one unaffected by age?
    But it was just one of those dreadful things; time was once more my enemy, moving agonizingly slow and making the months move in a span that could have been centuries. And the entire time, she haunted me.
    She had lived a full life by her definition, but did that mean that I should give her what she wanted and take it from her, that I should be the one to remove the vibrancy from her hazel eyes?

    Spring was just overcoming winter when I allowed myself to reenter the city. Last autumn’s bulbs were awakening and clawing their way through the frozen tundra even as I walked above them. The house she had lived in for the majority of her life, the home she had shared with her husband, where she had raised her children, had fallen into disarray. No new growth was trying to claim existence in her yard or in her trees. Had she welcomed death so openly that it plagued her whole world?
    Standing in the would be shade of her desolate trees, I stared up at the house I knew so well. I had watched as her husband designed it for her, as it was built, as she filled it with love and laughter and that one thing that so desperately eluded me- life. The house had once breathed, the walls once full of stories, the windows once graced with light. Now, it was nearly as dark and lifeless as I was.
    Though she came treading softly, I heard her approach but did not acknowledge it. Her lumbering gait was not the graceful whisper on the earth that it used to be; her brittleness betrayed the age that my eyes yearned not to see.
    Her eyes traced my silhouette; recognizing, observing and then shutting down as if she could see through me to the demon inside. The barely audible wheeze in her lungs revealed the slight hitch in her breath to me, and the small hardly there noise drew my eyes to her so I could search her features for the fear I knew had to come eventually.
    “I didn’t expect you to come back.” She said, and though she sounded the same as when we had coffee, I, now, took in the rattling drawl of an ancient voice, a voice that had spoken too many words, laughed too many laughs, and cried too many tears. As I stood before her, bewildered by the effect her age was suddenly having on me, she took my silence as a need for more. “No, I didn’t expect you to return, but I still waited for you. An old lady still has hope, even if its small.”
    My deadly gaze held hers in a fierce and tantalizing lock. Everything about me screamed look at me, and yet even as she looked and was taken in as anyone else by my appearance, I hoped she’d find the will to turn away. “You think I came back to kill you?”
    “People don’t live forever.”
    “It shouldn’t be up to me to decide how or when you should die. I shouldn’t have that power. I don’t want it.”
    And then it was her eyes that became piercing and riveting, it was her that was drawing me in. “The decision has already been made and not by you. I’m old now and everyday I grow older and more lonely. The life I wanted to live has been lived. I only have one more wish.”
    Wishes were for falling stars and lucky pennies, not made to monsters in gloomy settings. It was a request she wanted to make and I didn’t need to ask; I was sure I already knew, just as sure as I knew that whether I wanted to hear it or not, she was going to tell me anyway. It came in a small, tired voice that didn’t belong to her. “When the night comes to an end, I would like to join it.”
    As unbearable as I feared the words would be, they crashed upon me in terrible waves. Closing my eyes, I took in several slow breaths and searched for ways to prolong the moment she craved. When I reopened my eyes, I realized that time had once more betrayed me and allowed the formidable night to fall around us.
    She sat quietly in a swing beneath the dying trees, her eyes staring blankly up towards the alleged heavens. There was no need to read her mind to know that she was thinking of her husband, and all of those that she had lost and believed were waiting for her. I didn’t know if there was any sense in the belief, nor did I have any clue what was going to happen after tonight.
    “Does it hurt?” I asked, my voice smooth as ice and just as cold. “Does it hurt to live? To love? To lose?”
    A soft sigh passed through her lips before she spoke. “I didn’t used to think so. Pain would come and go, but every moment without it made every other one seem worth it. The times that your heart pounded with excitement always seemed more important than the times your heart pounded with agony. But now…” Her eyes shone in the star light like diamonds laying on the bottom of a pool. They were soft and lined and glistening with unshed tears. “Now, everything hurts. Every movement, every thought, every heartbeat. Will the pain go away?”
    There were very few things I didn’t know the answer to, but this was one of them. Understanding life was beyond me, so how was I to know what it felt like when it ended? Though death was twined with who I was, I knew nothing of it. Perhaps, I knew nothing at all.
    Lies and hope were all I could give her now. “It’ll feel like falling into a dream.”
    “What will you do?” My eyes bore into hers questioningly. If she was asking how I would help her, I wouldn’t answer, it was best left unsaid. “Without me to follow anymore, without my life to watch, what will you do?”
    I chuckled softly. It was the last thing I thought she would be considering now, the fate of her shadow and would be murderer. “I suppose I will have to find a new obsession. Or maybe a hobby. I hear whittling is a good way to while away time.”
    It was her turn to chuckle. It was brief and quiet, like air blowing softly through a garden. Then, she wandered back into the space of memories and longings and I let her go there peacefully, giving her the time to process what was left.
    There was nothing more I wanted to give her than time. I longed for it to be one of those moments that time moved slowly and the night would go on endlessly but it never could have been so.
    Curled up in the swing with the stars still shining down upon her, I listened as her breathing slowed and sleep came over her. Gently, I lifted her into my arms and carried her to her waiting bed where she would be warmer and far more comfortable. Laying in the comforts of her expensive bedding, her eyes drifted beneath their lids as if she were watching an old flickering movie, and a soft shadow of a smile crept at the edges of her pale lips.
    I waited out the sunrise in the corner of her room, wondering if I had the strength to fulfill her wish but do her no harm. There was once a time that I yearned to do this, to drain her of life, but all I wanted to do now was go back and erase everything. Take away the things that hurt her, the things that would turn her against herself.
    As the sky began to soften and light started to spill over the horizon, I closed my eyes and wished for a different ending. My hands, that had so often been covered in blood, that had so often brought the end to lives, curled themselves into fists and refused to do this awful deed. As the sun pulled itself negligently upwards, her pulse slowed and drifted like the last waves of low tide. Light splashed through the window and washed over her as she drew in one last final breath.
    As if fate had waited beside me through out the night, I stood by helplessly as she got her wish. Once more nothing but a shadow in her life, I witnessed her final moments play out just like I had promised. She had done nothing more than fall into a dream.
    And her shadow stood by, quietly feeling the pain she knew and feared, the pain she’d chosen to run away from.
    So this is how it feels to live? Maybe.
    This was how it felt to feel. Life was still too far a stretch for me, though now I knew more of how it felt to end.
    I would never be more than a twisted shadow.

Comments:
 
frederic   frederic wrote
on 6/3/2009 8:01:03 PM
This is a truly outstanding story. You show a lot of skill in characterization. Your narrator has chosen this one interesting woman to follow, like a case history, and conveniently she is her death. Well-written. "There on the shelving,/Three dark gentlemen,/Might they direct him?/Three gentlemen." from W.S. Merwin's early "Ballad of John Cable." The three gentlemen are death. This story also reminds me of my thinking for "Having Lived Life," one of my 1 act plays. It's on Writing Room.

LittleBirdieXx
Short Story
Fantasy
writing LittleBirdieXx
I don't fail, I succeed at finding things that don't work!
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Rating: 10.0/10

Synopsis
Super natural/Fantasy. A vampire craving knowledge of what it feels to live, follows a woman for 50 years, obsesses over knowing how she finds happiness and gratification. Over all these years, he learns nothing, feels nothing, until the object of his fascination asks him to bring the life he is so obsessed with knowing to an end.
A Word from the Writer
When I started writing this, I worried that I'd been too influenced by Twilight. If you feel that it gives off the same vibes/impressions, please let me know. Critique is very welcome!
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