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A Friendly Shade

The shadows are alive.

A sentence that Danielle thought was a bit silly — of course the shadows are alive. Everyone in her home town knew that. Everyone who had ever stepped a little too far, or a little too close to that edge where the light could no longer guide them, knew that.

Everyone says they fear the shadows, but they are wrong. They are half-right when they say they fear what lies in the darkness, the dark is home to many predators after all, but that is not what truly terrifies the human psyche. No, what humanity really fears, is the Darkness. That darkness that existed before there was light. That ancient inky void that would swallow all who wandered into it’s path, if it so chose too. For the Darkness is the most dangerous predator, and can still tear through you even without tangible teeth. And it is always hungry, even if it’s victims are rare. The Dark knows how to be patient.

This, Danielle knows for a fact, because she knows the Voice of the Darkness, and the Voice of the Darkness never lies. The Voice is a woman named Citra Arwell. She was friends with Danielle’s mother when they were little, before Citra became friends with the Darkness. Before Citra became one with that ancient presence.

It loves her, Citra tells Danielle, smiling with too many teeth as she smokes under the shade. It keeps her alive and protects her. Citra’s smile is not quite a happy one, the one Citra wears when she tells Danielle this, but neither is it a cruel or angry smile. Devotion drips from Citra’s dark lips when she says those words, says the Darkness loves her, but Danielle cannot figure out if that devotion is Citra’s, or the Darkness’ bleeding through Citra’s mortal soul. 

Citra is warm and kind, despite the predator they all see lurking over Citra’s shoulder. Especially to Danielle’s family. Citra said she used to love Danielle’s mother like her father, but that Citra had to leave that relationship behind when the Darkness claimed her. It saved her from another monster, the one that used to live in the lake just outside of town. That monster was hungry like the Darkness, but it took pleasure in hurting people more than the Darkness does. It fed on more souls than it was supposed to.

Citra tells Danielle that one of the worst ways to go is by drowning. Danielle does not argue with her. Even though she knows it is unlikely for her to drown in the lake, now that the monster that once lurked under the murky water is gone. Gone within that vast maw of Citra’s friend.

“Why did the Darkness chose you for a Voice?” Danielle asks. Citra chuckles, warm and comforting, and ruffles Danielle’s short locks. Danielle giggles, unbothered by the gentle ghosts of Citra’s claws against her scalp. She knows Citra would never hurt her.

“Because I have never been afraid of the dark.” Citra tells Danielle. “Even when I was a little girl, I knew the dark would never hurt me. It was just the same world I knew, but without light. I had thought there was little to be afraid of. The dark would not hurt me, not unless I gave it a very good reason too.” Citra says, green eyes bright like a predator’s in the too dark shadow of the roof. “And I never gave it a reason too.” Citra grins, with the proper amount of human teeth this time.

Danielle nods, watching as the flickering shadows twitch and curl about Citra’s feet like a pet. Citra’s own shadow was darker than the rest, black as the midnight sky without stars or moon. Citra’s shadow was always darker than any other shadow, Danielle was pretty sure that was because that shadow was really a sliver of the Darkness. A loyal hand at Citra’s side, in case she ever needed it.

How nice, Danielle thinks. To always have someone to help and protect you. To have something so vast and powerful who will love you unconditionally forever. To have an eternal companion that will never leave you.

“Are there other like you?” Danielle asks. “Others who live with the Darkness? Who are taken in and made one with the Darkness like you?” Citra looks down at Danielle, green eyes seeming to stare straight down into Danielle’s soul. Danielle shivers and drops her gaze. As much as she knows Citra would never hurt her, staring into those predatory eyes felt too much like a challenge, and even Danielle knew better than to challenge a predator. Especially when she can’t see it’s teeth or claws.

“Of a sort.” Citra says, blowing smoke from her lips. Danielle furrows her brow, glancing back up the question Citra further, but she stops when she sees Citra’s face. Those green eyes are dim, seeing things Danielle will never understand, a sad resignation. But Citra is still smiling. Grinning madly with those sharp teeth that do not belong in a human mouth. That do not really belong to Citra.

The shadows around Citra grow darker. They wiggle like tentacles, but Danielle knows they will not be soft and squishy like an octopuses tentacles.

Danielle does not question Citra further, and spends the rest of her time with Citra asking about her travels, about things that do not matter. Danielle knows the Voice of the Darkness, knows Citra is kind and loves Danielle’s family. Danielle also knows there are things Citra does not tell her, that Danielle does not really know the Darkness, even with all her questions and Citra’s stories.

Danielle is not afraid of the dark, but it would be stupid not to fear The Darkness.

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