In the Shadows
© 2005 by Sylvia A. Nash
It's late on a Sunday evening--just between day and night when what's real and what's not real walk side by side in the shadows. Half the people who live on the street are walking back to their houses and apartments. Young couples walking arm in arm, lost in each other. Singles jogging along with their headphones for company. Young families spending a little quality time together.
Most of them don't see the figures in the shadows. Most of those who do see them turn away and pretend they don't. They don't want anyone to think they're crazy. But they give themselves away. A glance over the shoulder. A shudder. A tug to pull a sweater closer.
Only a few are bold enough to say they see the figures in the shadows. Lost. Sad. Desperate figures. Figures waiting for someone to come looking for them. To recognize them. Waiting for such a long time.
The bold ones, the ones who dare speak of the figures, are usually new to the street. Like the little girl whose family is walking back home this evening. The mama and daddy chattering excitedly about their new apartment. The little girl singing a nursery rhyme. They just moved in day before yesterday. A new apartment in a new building.
All of the buildings on this side of the street are new. A huge fire burned every home and apartment building to the ground a few years ago. The fire started at the bakery at the end of the street one morning just as everyone was beginning to stir. One of the ovens simply exploded. The fire in the kitchen passed quickly to the
building next door and so on up the street. The buildings were old. The wiring was old. It happened so fast.
You can't tell it now, though. Trees, shrubs, flowers. Fresh paint. Everything looking new and neat. Except for the figures in the shadows. Waiting.
"Mama." The little girl tugs at her mama's coat sleeve. Her mama walks in the middle. Her daddy walks on the outside, nearest the street, meaning to stand between his family and harm's way.
"What is it, dear?"
"What's wrong with the woman?"
"What woman, dear?"
"The woman. There." She points at a figure in front of her between the sidewalk and the building.
"Now, my little one," says the daddy. "We've talked about make-believe. There is no woman." The little girl hugs her dolly closer.
The figure whispers to her, "It's okay little girl. They can't see what you see." The little girl takes no comfort in the words. She can't hear them. She only sees the charred lips opening and closing. Now she clutches her dolly with both arms and steps sideways quickly until she is between her mama and daddy. The figure sighs
and moves closer to the building, back into the shadows.
Half way down the block, the little girl turns to look back at the place where she saw the make-believe woman. Satisfied that no one really is there, she starts skipping along and singing her little song again. "Pat a cake, Pat a cake, baker's man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can...."
Bio: My writing credits include articles, interviews, essays, book
reviews, poetry, and one short story. My first and only published
short story, "A Man" (January 1966), was actually submitted by my
high school English teacher to the Beta magazine. Since then, my
writing projects have been primarily nonfiction. I have always loved
to read fiction, though, and would now like to concentrate on writing
fiction. My credits include the following:
"Hassle-free Zoo Days" (May 2002) and "Genealogy for Kids"
(September 2002) at GeoParent (http://geoparent.com)
"The Music of the Partons: A Smoky Mountain Heritage" (interview
with Stella Parton), Smoky Mountain Memories, September 1995
"Uranium may make future cancer cure" (interview with Dr. Oren Webb,
Technical Manager in the Chemical Technology Division at Oak Ridge
National Laboratory), The Knoxville News-Sentinel (newspaper), April
My other experience includes eight years as a classroom teacher (high
school English, journalism, and French; junior high school reading
and computer science), fifteen years as an admissions coordinator at
a university, and one year as an adult education teacher (my current