Shadows in the Sunset
Laura Duke wipes the sweat off her forehead and smudges her cheek with dirt. She surveys her work and the parcel of land that sprouts the seeds she planted. She has been in this borrowed home for months now, and she now calls it her own. She has seen neither hide nor hair of Rainier, her mysterious rescuer, though she feels his presence at night, like a watchful eye that follows her progress, but respects her space and her need for solitude.
The work on the small farmstead has cleared her mind of years of gaslighting, lies and manipulation. Laura sits on her stoop and pets the goat that follows her every move. The sun sets and her shadow grows tall and lean and long upon the earth, and enters the deep forest that protects her from worldly time and space. The cicadas buzz and birds chirp in the lazy evening. Laura loves these days and gives thanks for the new life. Her wounds have healed since the fateful night she vanquished her devil, and her body is now strong and lean and solid, and that sturdiness has crawled to her mind and taken root, displacing the jagged insecurities her devil planted long ago.
The sky blazes in hues of orange and yellow and red, and the crimson sun beams upon the tree trunks. Every evening, her shadow reaches far into the forest, like feelers searching the world for the last remnants of her devil. He is gone, and her brain relaxes, ripping out yet another of the remaining weeds in her mind.
Nightfall approaches and Laura shivers in the cool breeze; the goat bleats. Memories of her devil come at night, and Laura prepares to shut off all contact with the outside world. As the world falls into shade and darkness looms, her own shadow shrinks and the dread creeps and slithers into the cabin. But Laura knows inside they cannot find her, though the devils—his people—hunt and lurk, and seek her deep in the pitch blackness.
The wind blows through the trees with its melancholy lament, and Laura knows they are slithering about—those who move in the black mist. She feels their closeness. She has seen their silhouettes upon the windowpane, their bony tendrils scratching at the glass and seeking the lock, but the sudden screech of an owl, or the growl of a tomcat drives them away.
Once, she dared to peek into the darkness as the dread unclasped her heart and the black mist billowed away at the ghostly howl of a wolf. Moonlight gleamed on the magnificent creature; the silver rays glinting off the white and gray coat. The wolf gazed at her, fixing his piercing blue eyes on her, and Laura’s heart skipped with vague recognition. Those eyes rescued her and appeared from the hazy dreams of convalescence, but before she remembered, the wolf vanished into the woods.
The goat bleats its impatience with Laura; it knows now is the time to shelter inside the cabin. It knows those in the black mist are coming, searching, hunting, desecrating, menacing.
Gray clouds roll across the blazing sunset, and the last rays dip into the horizon. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and lightning flashes across the darkening sky. Laura shivers, and her shadow returns and whispers the fight is getting nearer. The last stand is coming, and she must prepare. She must be ready; the devils in the black mist will soon find her and kill her. But not tonight, her shadow says. They are not hunting her; tonight they hunt someone else.
“Who?” Laura asks the gusting wind.