by: Frederick Foote ((Header art by the incredibly talented duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster.))
Laboring to become as thin, as weightless, and as quiet as a shadow, to help guide into the world that what must endure…
Watch the meadow. The meadow with its green, bright, sun-burnished bushes and flowering brambles running along the creek. There are flower colonies and colorful outposts on the meadow’s floor with blooms and blossoms in a dizzying array of pastels, irradiance, and primary colors.
I slouch in the woods bordering the meadow. In the cool shadows, I’m a shadow in training, laboring to become as thin, as weightless, and as quiet as true shadows. Just you wait and watch. I’m the shadowy sentry of patience.
She approaches, entering the meadow smiling and prancing, shoulders back, head held high, breast proud, in a short blue skirt and a sparkling white top. Ahh, the swish, swish of the skirt fabric on her tan thighs, the bounce of her bonnie, brown curls. I almost betray myself with a sigh, a smile, and a tingling between my own thighs. How unshadow-like of me. I’m a shadow. I’m a shadow, I remind myself.
Now she’s among the fat-headed sunflowers moving into the swarms of regular, devolved, and evolved flies, bees, bugs and other insects. She giggles. Her arms strike like snakes. She traps eight living, struggling insects between each of her fingers and her thumbs of both hands. She opens her mouth, inserts her right hand and withdraws it, free of insects. Without a break in her pace, she continues to dine on the living, flying insects.
A swarm of evolved bees with stingers on both ends of their bodies take offense at her attack. The EVs form into an angry swarm buzzing louder and louder as their number swell until they’re twice the size of her head. She sees them forming in front of her. She laughs and continues her steady march forward.
The EVs attack, targeting the sensitive flesh about her face and her eyes. Her mouth opens wider than humanly possible. She inhales with the force of an enormous vacuum and siphons in the swarm as a clear tissue descends to cover her eyes, and folds of flesh unfold to cover the openings of her ears and nostrils. She snaps her mouth shut. Her cheeks expand, surging to their bursting point with the angry evolved bees. She savors the meal crunching down repeatedly. Smiling, she wipes her lips with the back of her hand and continues on with her steady pace.
Additional EVs coalesce to buzz around her, mindful to stay out of reach of her powerful inhalation and her long, menacing arms.
A scarlet spitting serpent attracted by the insect activity crawls over to attack, blocking her path and rearing up off the ground to reach its six-foot height it spits deadly venom at her eyes. The EVs bees and other assembled insects speed away from the deadly fluid. Yet, she never breaks her stride, easily twisting her head to the side and letting the red jet of poison rocket harmlessly by.
Before the serpent can reload a salvo of venom she kicks her foot up, catching the reptile in the head with the toe of her shoe. The snap of the snake’s broken spine is as sharp as a pistol shot. Without a further thought, she sends its remains flying over her head.
In that kick her honey hole is revealed. A flash of darkened fur and my desire draws me from the shadows, and I become in that instant a lustful being. With that, she freezes, sensing my presence and her nostrils unseal and flare open twice as wide as normal. Her ears widen and push aside her curls. Ten inches of her forked tongue flick out and begin to test the air. Her eyes shift to an infrared view and the pores of her skin extrude sensors to detect minute changes in the currents of air.
She is magnificent, with a superlative beauty beyond compare. With a super-evolved human effort, I put all that comes with that idea aside. I sink back into shadow-hood. I’m a shadow, a shadow of a shadow. Flat as a shadow. I become emotionless as I shadow this beautiful death.
The EVs and other insects in her presence flee; even the flowers turn away from her. She pivots in my direction and stares right at me. She extends her claws; they rip through her shoes, double the length of her fingers. Her three-inch fangs overlap her lips. She flows directly at me. Every living thing makes way for her.
I’m a shadow. I have the substance of a shadow, the texture, the indifference, the soul of a shadow. I shadow.
She’s here! Standing on me. In me. The temptation to touch, feel, taste her is all consuming. I’m a shadow, a shadow’s shadow.
She breathes me in yet feels me not. Touches me yet is unaware of the rippling of my skin. Slowly she returns back to normal operating mode. Sound returns to the woods and meadow. Life returns to life. She’s back on her journey, faster now to make up for lost time. She has hours and many miles to go. I wait as a new breed of shadow.
I could never mate with her. In her eyes, I’m only prey. A meal to tease and torture and to delight in my pain and suffering as she dines on my flesh and drains my blood. She hunts my kind, the few true humans left, and the Invaders. She’s at the top of the food chain, for now. The sun’s setting as she returns from her great circle of a journey, back to the woods by the meadow and me, the lengthening shadow.
My life has been consumed in knowing her, in knowing all aspects of her being. I did not do it alone. Dozens of my kind perished yearning to know her, her weakness, her strengths; her hidden abilities that even she was unaware of. All of this effort, living and dying, to bring us to this moment as she travels in circles again, this time around the five-hundred-year-old Oak Tree. Circle, circle, circle. She does this seven times.
Between the roots, she digs and digs. She squats over the hole, grunts, sweats, moans and at last, delivers a glistening egg into the hole. She turns and blesses the greyish egg speckled in silver and green. She lovingly covers the fertile egg with earth.
In circles again she duck walks around the Oak urinating, marking her territory, seven times around. The stench is unbearable. A last prayer and she’s gone.
The hardest part is now. The wait to ensure that she’s truly gone. I feel her presence moving away, around, another circle, moving, moving out of reach out of my range. Still, I wait until the last minute.
I dig open the hole, expose the egg and release my straining penis and close my eyes and remember that flash of fur between her tan thighs. My copious seed drops on the egg and flows into its pores, consumed by the egg. The flecks about its shell change from silver and green to red and yellow.
I say a prayer of thanksgiving. I start to recover the hole when I sense something coming fast, angry, and hunting from behind me.
I’m a shadow again.
It’s like nothing I have ever seen. Not one creature, but a pack acting as one. Baboons crossed with hyenas moving on all fours or standing on two limbs, fast, flexible and deadly. They take her scent, roll in her urine-soaked earth, and frolic on her sacred ground. They know the egg’s there but they ignore it.
They sense me. Their leader addresses me. “Not your time yet. Her first. All of her kind, but eventually we will work our way down to your kind. Leave.”
I do. I leave off being a shadow. I leave. I flee. I run for my life.
Nine months to the day and I find myself back at the Oak Tree. She wants to be here, but the baboon-hyenas hound her every waking hour. They have killed many of her kind. She may be the last one for all I know. As I dig out the egg I see it’s beginning to crack from the inside. I gather the egg in my bag quickly. I feel her frantic approach, chased, and being chased.
I run to my cave. I pull the lever that drops the rocks that block its entrance. There’s no exit for me.
I open the bag, and release the hungry newborns. They’re famished so I open a vein in my arm to start them feeding. My work’s nearly done. I dream of her as our shark-toothed children claim their first meal.