Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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If We Shadows

by Rob Wynne





The old stone corridor was dark and grimy, like most of the areas down in the catacombs.  Outside, the sky was clear and the moon was bright, but not down here.  Down here, even the light was somehow dirty and unpleasant, and the shadows...

Well, the shadows were everywhere.

Daina nervously checked the time, then looked around.  She started to call out, then stopped, as if her own voice might somehow echo throughout the entire structure and give her away.  Even a whisper felt dangerously loud.  She checked the time again.

"What's the matter, Miss Stasevich?  Cat got your tongue?"  The soft whisper seemed to be coming from right behind her, no matter how she turned her head.  She caught sight of two eyes glittering in the shadows, perched high in the corner somehow.

"I am sorry, sir.  I came as quickly as I was able."

The glittering eyes narrowed, but the lilting voice sounded amused.  "There's really no need to be alarmed.  I am not displeased with your service."

"I am happy to know this.  I did the thing you asked of me.  I was told that would be the end of it."

"Did I say that?  How peculiar.  Certainly not how I recall the story."  Daina still was unsure who precisely this stranger was, or why he had taken an interest in her.  In fact, now that she thought back on it, she couldn't really explain why she'd spent the last 12 hours doing what she did.

She had woken that morning to find a note on her kitchen table, which instructed her in meticulous handwriting to meet with someone at a particular time near the abandoned train depot on the edge of her small village in Lithuania.  She had gone there, curiously, and found a small crate, with another note instructing her to transport it to a dockside in Klaipėda.  It warned her to avoid major roads, as the contents of the crate would get her into much trouble with the police if it were discovered in her possession, but under no circumstances was she to delay.  Included with the note was a small enamel pin that she was to wear, but not until she reached her destination.

Deciding this must be some sort of delightful game one of her friends had decided to play, she loaded the crate into the back of her small car and drove four hours to the meeting point.  As she made her way through the countryside, she tried to imagine who might be behind this puzzle, with thoughts of late lunches in seaside cafés the likely endgame.

When she arrived at the dockside, she affixed the pin to her blouse and sat nervously on a railing to see who would meet her.  It was less than 10 minutes before a large, swarthy man walked over, and leaned against the railing.  He did not look at her.

"You must be courier.  I am Raoul.  You have some things for me, yes?"

"I have a box," she said, noncommittally. She did not recognize the man at all, nor did he look like anyone her friends would know.  His face was strong, though not handsome.  His dark hair and beard were bushy, and he wore workman's clothes, but they were clean and not ragged.

"Yes, yes.  I hope you have had no trouble."

A million questions flashed through Daina's mind.  She was desperately curious to find out what was going on; her drab little world didn't have this sort of mystery in it on a day to day basis.
"What is this all about, then?" she asked, quietly. "Is it game of some sort?"

"Oh, no.  I should not think so.  Mr. Voras does not play games.  This is straightforward business transaction."
"Who is Mr. Voras?"

"Ah, ah, kitten.  That is question you do not ever ask.  Not to me.  Not to him.  Not to anyone."  He did not sound angry, or alarmed.  He was just stating a fact as plainly as he might discuss the possibility of rain in the afternoon, or needing to pick up a bottle of milk from the market on his way home.  Through this entire conversation, he had not once looked at her, though she had been staring at him the whole time.  
"Why should we never ask?" she demanded.

"Because," a ghost of a smile flicked at his lips, "if we ask question, he may answer.  And then where would you be?  Story is over."
"I do not understand."

"I know, kitten.  And believe me, is better that way.  Do the things you are asked, and that will be end of it."

Still keeping his eyes fixed on the horizon, he gently placed an arm over her shoulders.  She realized that he was pressing an object wrapped in a handkerchief to her breast.  Without thinking, she reached up to but her hand over his.  They stood quietly for a moment, staring out to sea, and then he pulled his arm away, leaving the object in her small hand.

"It was delightful to meet you, Miss Daina," Raoul turned to walk away.

"Wait...how did you know my name?" she called after him, but he merely picked up the crate and carried it over to a nearby truck, loaded it into the back, and drove away.

"This is the weirdest day of my life," Daina thought as she watched him drive away.  She looked again at the cloth-wrapped object she was holding.  Slowly, she unfolded it to find a strange golden amulet.  There was also, predictably, a note which instructed her, in now familiar script, to return quickly home and proceed to an old cemetery, where she would find a hidden entrance to a catacombs beneath.


And that is how she found herself in this strange shadowy crypt talking to a disembodied, whispering voice that spoke to her from all directions in a foreign accent she couldn't quite place.

"I appreciate all your efforts on my behalf, Miss Stasevich," the voice purred. "You have fulfilled your role as protagonist with tremendous flair.   I could not have asked for more.”   He paused, allowing her to look pleased, and then coughed lightly.  "I believe you have something for me, now?"

"What?  Oh, yes, sorry," she stammered, suddenly uncertain of herself.  She unwrapped the strange golden amulet and held it up to the light, so he could see it.
"Excellent.  You have done well, and I am most pleased with you.  Now, be a good girl, and put it on the ledge over there, and then go and get into your car, count to one hundred, and then drive away.  Do not look back, or seek to find me.  Your service to me is concluded, for the moment."

"Wait, but...what about…?  I have done all these things, and I followed rules, and now it is just over and I get nothing for my effort?"

"Oh, but you did get something for your trouble! You got an adventure. You have a story to tell. And you will live your life knowing this story is a part of you."

"That...that is not much."

"Quite the contrary, my dear.  It is everything.  But hour is late, and you have traveled far.  Fare thee well, Lithuanian maiden.  Time to sleep--and dream."

The next thing she knew, she was waking up in her car.  The morning sun was just starting to creep over the horizon.

"What a weird dream," she thought, stretching.  She angled the mirror to check her face, and noticed she was still wearing the pin on her blouse.  She removed it and examined it carefully for the first time.  The broach was an intricate pattern of crossed lines, radiating out from a central hub.  Etched on the back, in tiny letters, was the inscription, "Le passé est un prologue. Votre histoire n'est pas terminée."

She stared at it for a moment, then shrugged and slipped it into her pocket, started the car, and drove off into the morning.
                                                    * * * * *
Deep in the stone labyrinth underneath the city, Anansi the spider god smiled as he turned the amulet over and over, delighting in the various ways it caught the light.

  "Everything tells a story," he thought.  "And all stories, in the end, belong to me."


THE END


© 2014 Rob Wynne

Bio: Rob Wynne is the Web Guru for our Webzine

E-mail: Rob Wynne

 

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