Shadows Deal

The church bells rang out through the damp night, shaking loose the birds who’d nestled in nearby trees for the night and starling the rodents in the brush. Even the wind picked up and shifted direction, seemingly frightened away from the small stone shape, whipping her hair over her eyes as it sped away behind her. Her skirts fluttered and lifted around her legs, bringing a chill over her, even through her tights. She shivered and shifted her weight, tugging her shawl tighter across her chest, the leather of her boots creaking as they stretched with her movements.

She’d been standing there for hours already, waiting for these bells to bring, watching for night and stillness to truly fall across the clearing. The bells rang again, echoing over the empty clearing around her, chimes fading as they tumbled down the hill to the valley below.

Bells for the chastened, bells for the fallow, tainted, mired…

The residual reverberation of the bells clanging sent another shiver through her and she took an involuntary step back.

They say bells chase away evil and cripple the non human element. Like many things that are whispered over hushed rooms and tightly gripped rosaries, it wasn’t true. She shivered again. Bells do not damage or cripple, but bells had power and these bells most of all.

As she watched, the wind shifted again and seemed to twist over the tower of the church, carrying with it black shapes and shadows. A crescendo of souls, spiraling and silently screaming into the night, drifting off to some unknown purpose, carrying with them layers of light and comfort.

Bells for singing, and singing for sorrow, sorrow for longing, they longingly follow…
Bells for the future, unyielding, for ‘morrow… Bells for the fortunes, of fools, kings, and…

The doors to the church creaked and she watched the priest struggle under their weight. She shifted back another step, willing the shadows to gather at her body. He turned and leaned his weight against the stubborn wood, slamming the doors tight and twisting a massive metal key in the heavy hollow lock. She heard it clack resolutely and watched as the old man tugged his red coat tight and hurry away through the church yard, beginning the long walk back to the town below.

No one stayed near the church long after dark, not even the clergy, though none realized why.

She did not worry over the lock on the church door, knowing that around the back, a side door would open easily for her. She was expected. Still she did not move, watching the lines of the stone walls, searching the yard and the shadows for some sign, some impossible boon to turn her purpose.

For the lost, for the restless, the desperate and true…
For the liars, the murderess, for them we chime too…

Heaving a great breath she broke out through the gravel lot ahead and picked her way carefully through the weeds to the left side of the church front.

She could wait no longer.

It was darker on this side path, where the moon light would not reach. She ignored the snags that groped and plucked her clothes. All weeds and pests and clinging beasts. She reached out her hand and let her fingers drift over the cold stone of the walls, feeling the lines of one slab to the next, continuing in the darkness until she felt the stone turn to wood. She pressed into the wood and it gave freely at her palm, swinging silently into a darkened space. She stepped into the dark of the room, moving her feet only small gaps at a time, arms clasped tight across her middle, until she heard the door thud shut behind her. There she stood, alone, listening for the sliding of foot and fabric, waiting.

Forlorn in the darkness, don’t you dare the bells chiming…
For alone in the darkness, there is one who waits, spritely…

She knew, even before the match struck that her wait was over. A candle burned dimly over a doorway to her right. Swiftly she crossed the room and took the single taper down from the wall, following the glow of her candles light through a narrow hall and down a steep staircase, following a path she knew instinctively. Never wondering how.

She continued through halls and stairwells that twisted and snaked in the stone beneath the church Finally, ducking through a very short door, she entered a long narrow room lined with simple wooden pews. Along one wall a fireplace housed a scattering of merry embers among the coals. She pressed her candle into a nearby hollow and blew out the flame before walking down into the room. Settling herself at the front pew, she gazed into the fireplace and waited.

Foolish child of daughter’s fool love…
Flight for the wicked, in wicked fallen dove…

Soon the shadows gathered up before the fireplace, shifting and swelling, finally taking the shadow of what she imagined to be a tall robed man. The shape stood between her and the embers and she felt its eyes on her, though she knew not if it had eyes at all. She did not speak, but waited, still as she could beneath the shadow’s gaze, her heart leaping in her chest.

“Why do you come?”

She jumped and shivered in the cold. “My daughter… my daughter has been murdered.”

The shadow did not move or speak, only waiting, staring at her with impossible eyes.

“She was young, so young. They stole into our cabin. They murdered my child.” She whispered and let her eyes fall to her lap, warm tears streaking her cheeks and splattering over open hands.

The shadow considered her a while and shifted in its place. “Children die.” The voice was harsh and higher in pitch then before, it reminded her of her grandmother. “Why do you come?”

She clenched her fists in her lap and raised her eyes defiantly. “She did not die! She was murdered!”

She gasped at her audacity as the shadow lunged toward her, resting inches from her face, bent and peering into her red eyes. It stood straight upright once more, but did not retreat.

“Why do you come?” The voice repeated, voice oscillating in pitch, causing her to gasp. A queasy emptiness seemed to swell out from her belly, creeping up her throat.

She inhaled deeply and hesitated. Why do you come? Sitting upright she looked straight ahead, unsure of where the shadow’s face might lie. “I – They must pay for what they’ve done.”

“Ahhhh…” The shadow retreated, shrinking some as the firelight burned brighter, flames licking up from empty coal beds. “Vengeance?” The shadow whispered, voice rising. “Power?”

She did not answer, but sat still and watched as the shape twisted and shifted before her. Her skin began to sweat, but she did not move to wipe it from her face.

“We can make them pay.” The shadow paused again, tilting sideways at the top, a mimicry of tilting heads. “You come late?”

She knew it was more a statement then a question, but answered anyway. “I was afraid.”

“You are afraid still.” The voice that reached out to her seemed familiar.

“I am.” She did not like to admit it. She felt the shadow’s pleasure at her admittance, though it did not respond. “You knew I would come?”

The shadow shivered in the firelight, solidifying at the edges. “You are mine.”

She did not understand the answer, but knew the truth of it still. “What would you have of me?”

The shadow laughed and shook, letting loose layers of cloth pool at the floor. She stared in shock as she recognized her naked body. Her own face smiling back at her from the shadow’s core. “Come.” The shadow beckoned with her voice. “We will make them pay.”

She hesitated, knowing it was too late to leave, even as she wished to run. Instead she unwound her shawl from her throat and set it beside her on the pew. Rising to stand before the shadow, she removed the pins that kept her long hair tight. The shadow laughed as she shook loose her amber locks.

“I’m ready.” The shadow clone lunged toward her and wrapped its limbs around her before she could take a breath. Crushing its mouth to her own, she felt a shadow tongue run the lines of her mouth, and relaxed into its embrace. Enjoined and enjoying her shadow lovers touch, and felt her soul consumed.

Mine are the bells that strike the night sweetly…
Mine are the bells that strike through the soul…
A bell for the shadows, a bell for the slaughter…
Mine is the face, you see in the water…

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