Flashfiction: The Shadow
I was walking Little Black Dog in the fields behind our house when I met the Shadow. It was dusk, no, dark, really, a half-light with a half-moon bright enough to pretend to see by. I had forgotten that the nights were getting earlier, again, and so, again, I was walking the dog in the dark. We had stumbled and cursed (me) and trotted gracefully (Little Black Dog) through the long tunnel made by tall hedges on each side of the footpath towards our usual field. The mud sucked at my boots, my arms flung out to help myself balance.
The steel of the gateway was cold, and I held it for the the Little Black Dog to pass. I dawdled into the field as the Little Black Dog became the Little Black Smudge as she streaked past me. I smiled at her, marveling that something so small could hold so much joy. Sometimes I am grateful that she holds enough for both of us. I made a rough circle round the field, away from the brooding hedges.
I nearly fell once or twice on a piece of rough ground, it all looked the same in the liminal light. Every now and then I called and my shadow dog streaked past me. I could not see her when she gets too far away, or too close to the hedge, but I could an hear her feet and saw her dark shape. Someone once asked me if I was afraid, alone on my night walks. I was baffled. My Little Black Dog is there, and her bravery makes mine superfluous.
I do not know when one smudge became two. Round and round they chased and played. At first, I could not make out its shape at all, sometimes it seemed tall and monstrous, sometimes tiny and cute. After a while it seemed to take on a similar shape to its playmate, and I assumed that I had become confused in the velvet dusk. It must be lost or a stray. I called to both of them, hoping that I could lure it closer to see if there was a collar. Although my girl circled close to me, the strange dog kept its distance.
When I again reached the gateway from the field, I held the gate open for longer. Little Black Dog trotted through, mind focused on her dinner. The shadow dog hung back in the field.
“Come on, Little one.” I invited.
The shadow slipped by me, and although it was very close I felt nothing against my leg. Little Black Dog led us all home, tail waving like a flag.
When we reached the doorway to my cottage, again the shadow dog hesitated, just outside the circle of light.
“Please come in with us, Little one.” I again invited, hoping that with warmth and food I could get close enough to find out if the little dog had an owner.
The shadow seemed to wait a second to make up its mind. For a moment it grew tall and broad as an oak at full strength, and wavered delicate as the breath of a child. But again, it became dog shaped, and trotted in mimicking the Little Black Dog.
I felt that I should scream. In the light, the shadow dog was not a dog at all, but a dog shaped void. It sniffed my hand and curled up by the fire on the rug. I froze, waiting for the fear. But as Little Black Dog snuggled alongside the shadow, it did not come. The creature looked at me without eyes, and I could not turn it out again in the cold and dark. I shut the door, slowly, and filled two bowls with dogfood that night.
The shadow has been living with us for some time now. It settled in well, and I have never been afraid of it, not even when it ate the postman. I said a big firm NO, as when Little Black Dog tried to eat a chicken, and it seemed contrite. Certainly the replacement postman is still with us. Ah, it’s beginning to get dark, I had better go for a walk…