The black shadows are after us
The Emeldahm Inn [4/5]
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I hadn’t really understood the implications of the terrible shadows that Jacob had described, but now I did.
The back of Aron’s shirt bulged as the shadowy matter poured out, a strange substance somewhere between black slime and smoke. It wrapped around his chest and spread out into a dozen spindly black tendrils. They bent down toward the stairs like the legs of some horribly mutated spider and slowly lifted Aron’s tiny body into the air.
The little boy smiled sweetly as two of the legs poised to strike.
We scattered, not a moment too soon. The shadowy black tendrils shot toward us and pulverized the red brick floor where we had just been standing. I lost my grip on Minerva’s leash and she bounded down the stairs, barking at Aron.
The lights went out. Minerva squealed.
The lights came back on. Aron’s monstrous silhouette spread out before us. One of the legs was wrapped around Minerva’s squirming body.
Aron smiled at us sweetly. His tongue flicked across his lips.
“I hate dogs,” he said. “Why do they always look at me like that?”
The shadows wrapped around Minerva began to squeeze, slowly. She howled in pain.
On the other side of the stairs, Jacob staggered forward and pressed his pistol to his temple.
Aron’s shadows spasmed all at once. The leg holding Minerva unraveled, flinging her into the air. She hit the wall of the stairwell with her side and tumbled down the stairs.
“Get to the platform,” Jacob gasped, covering his bleeding eye. “Now!”
We sprinted down the stairs on either side of Aron, giving him as wide a berth as we could in the cramped quarters. As I passed him, one of his shadows brushed my face. It was cold and slimy, an unearthly texture that made my skin crawl. I shuddered.
We reached the bottom of the stairs and I scooped up Minerva just as the lights blinked out again, plunging the platform into darkness.
“He’s coming,” Jacob warned.
Aron didn’t stay down nearly as long as Percy did. When the lights came back on and his monstrous form materialized before us, the bullet hole through his head had already knit closed. Jacob raised his pistol and shot two bullets into the shadows. The slimy black matter rippled and swallowed them up. Then it coalesced into a spindly black tendril and shot out toward me.
Faster than I could react, Minerva wriggled her way up my arms and snapped her jaws around the shadow. Aron roared, an inhuman sound that trembled through my bones.
“Run!” I cried.
Minerva jumped down from my arms, and we took off down the length of the subway station platform. Emeldahm Station was small, and we had just sealed off the only stairway upstairs, but the dusty breeze that flowed through the tunnel with the tracks carried a scent of the fresh outside air.
I glanced behind us. A mass of black shadows tumbled in waves along the floor before Aron stood back up on his spindly spider-legs, ready to give pursuit.
“Jacob,” I gasped. “How do we beat him?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“Then how did you see him and live to tell the tale, idiot?”
“I pushed him onto the tracks,” he cried. “The train ran him over and I escaped.”
His words were like a punch to the gut. The image of Aron jumping down onto the tracks to save Gracie flashed through my head. My heart sank, though I wasn’t entirely sure why.
“That’s my brother,” I whimpered.
“I… I’m sorry.”
The lights blinked out. I slammed into Jacob as he skidded to a stop. Minerva barked.
We waited for the lights to come back on, but the station stayed dark.
Slithering noises filled the air. They were coming from all around us. I heard Jacob cock his gun, but there was nothing to shoot. Even his powers were useless when he couldn’t see.
“Silly, silly Jacob,” a voice whispered from behind us. We whipped around to face its source and it giggled in the dark.
“Using the train is cheating. It’s much more fun when you run. How about we try playing tag in the dark?”
The darkness was suffocating. My heart sank quickly. Aron could decide to tear us apart at any moment and we wouldn’t know.
I took a deep breath to try to calm my nerves.
“Aron,” I said. “It’s me, Abbey. Your little sister. Don’t you recognize me?”
He was silent for a second. Then the lights flickered on.
I stumbled back as the little boy, standing on the giant spindly legs sprouting from his back, loomed over me and peered at my face. Minerva snarled. Jacob fumbled with his gun.
Aron studied me up and down with his huge brown eyes. My throat closed up at the sight of him, the painful familiarity of his features and the glistening black shadows arching around him.
“No,” he finally said. “I don’t have a little sister. And besides, you’re way too old.”
He stepped back, and his shadows rose up like vipers poised to strike.
“Jacob,” I said. “Your gun!”
I drew a can of paint as we scrambled back. Jacob thrust his pistol into my hands. I clenched my teeth and forced myself to look into the eyes that were smiling sweetly down at me.
I threw the can of paint straight at his face. As it struck his forehead and spun into the air, I raised the pistol and shot.
An ear-splitting bang echoed through the station. A cloud of off-white paint exploded out of the can, covering Aron. His shadows hissed and recoiled, then sprang back out and started skittering toward us. We turned and ran back the way we came.
The breeze flowing through the station grew stronger. A distant rumbling sound came from the train tunnel.
“Train’s coming,” I told Jacob. “Think you can do it?”
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The lights went out, predictably. Aron didn’t want Jacob to know where he was, especially when the train was about to pass through the station. Desperately hoping the brief exposure to the fluorescent lights had been enough, I glanced behind us.
The glow-in-the-dark paint splattered all over Aron had lit up in a dim green hue. I could see his body twisting grotesquely as his shadows pulled him through the darkness like a fish swimming through water.
He was gaining on us quickly. I tugged on Jacob’s sleeve and shouted over the rumbling of the train that was growing louder and louder.
“You can see him, right?”
“Abbey,” he gasped. “You’re a genius.”
“Keep running, okay?”
I nodded, though he couldn’t see me. I let go of his sleeve, and the sound of his footsteps veered off toward the edge of the train station platform.
A gust of wind hit me as the train blasted into the station. I could see lights in the train car windows, but in Aron’s choking darkness they looked like the vague outlines of gray squares. The headlights were flickering brown circles, only just bright enough to illuminate Jacob as he ran to the edge of the platform, turned his head, and leaped out in front of the train. One eye closed and the other locked on Aron.
I squeezed my eyes shut because I couldn’t bear to look.
There was a dull thud, and then an inhuman scream tore through the underground. The nauseating screech of metal grinding against metal hissed in my ears. The floor shook under my feet, knocking me off balance. Minerva howled.
I fell onto the tiled floor and rolled.
When I opened my eyes, the lights were back on. The subway rumbled and groaned on its tracks. The empty cars flashed by the platform, one by one. I stumbled to my feet and scrambled over to the edge of the platform just as the last car rolled past and the train disappeared into the tunnel out of the station.
I peered down at the tracks, my heart hammering in my chest.
A body was lying facedown on the tracks. Black smoke rose around his dirty dress shirt. I gasped.
For a terrifying heartbeat, he didn’t move. Then he raised his hand, rested his palm on the rusted tracks, and sat up. Sticky black blood dripped from his chin. Half his face was covered in it, and his right eye had been completely destroyed.
He smiled weakly.
“Did I do it?”
I looked back to the platform. The white tiles lining the floor were covered in black slime that bubbled and burst into wisps of smoke. Lying in the midst of it, at the tail end of a giant black smear like he had been dragged through the slimy puddles, was Aron.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, you did it. How long do you think he’ll be out?”
“Long enough for us to get out of here. Aron can’t follow us out of the station, so let’s follow the train tracks until we’re outside. It shouldn’t be far.”
I nodded. Then I turned and jogged toward Aron. Minerva followed.
“Hey, where are you going?”
The shadows spread out on the floor were sticky and viscous like tar. The smoke rising off of them was cold. Doing my best to avoid stepping in the puddles, I walked up to Aron. His limbs were twisted at odd angles, and his chest and abdomen had been crushed to leathery bits, spilling out blood that was indistinguishable from the shadows.
I gently slid my hands underneath his shredded back. His skin was cold. As I picked him up in my arms, I could feel the bones clicking and mending inside him.
“Abbey,” Jacob cried from the tracks. “Come on, we’ve got to go!”
I carried Aron to the edge of the platform. Jacob’s eyes widened.
“I want to bring him,” I said. “He can’t leave the station voluntarily, but what if I carry him out?”
Jacob bit his lip. I could tell he didn’t like my idea. I could also tell he didn’t know what would happen if I carried Aron out of the station.
Maybe, just maybe, he would come back.
I crouched down at the edge of the platform. Jacob reluctantly came forward. His eye was healing quickly, and so were Aron’s bones. Minerva padded up to the edge of the platform and jumped into Jacob’s arms.
Just as I was about to lower myself to the tracks, Jacob and Minerva disappeared in a burst of gray static.
I blinked and stared at the spot where they had just been standing.
I blinked again. The train tracks were gone. Beneath the platform was a bare concrete floor.
Then I blinked again, and even that was gone.
I looked around and found myself standing in a gray static world.
There was no floor and no ceiling. The entire station had disappeared from around me. The tinny echoes of the fire alarm faded into nothingness, and the roar of blood in my ears took its place.
I kept blinking, waiting for the world to come back. The static twisted and swirled with every blink. I began to grow nauseous.
My own voice sounded distant.
As I stood there, looking around at the indistinct gray shapes draping around me, a small boy stepped out of the void.
He was around the same age as Aron and Percy, with a pale face and dark eyes that stared at me like little black holes. He wore a white shirt and shorts with suspenders, just like Percy.
His mouth never opened, but I heard his voice in my head, soft and clear.
Hello, he said. You must be Abigail.
“Who… who are you?”
His thin lips spread into a smile.
Without warning, my vision went white, and my head exploded in indescribable pain. I screamed and collapsed to the gray static floor. Aron’s body rolled out of my arms and landed with a wet sound.
I looked up at the pale boy. He smiled down at me.
Please give Aron back to us, he said. Percy worked very hard to get him.
I struggled to breathe.
The pale boy held his hands out to me. I quickly picked Aron back up into my arms.
“No,” I said. “You can’t take him from me. He’s my brother.”
Your brother is gone, Abigail. I erased him, long ago.
The sound of static was nauseating. My head spun slowly, along with my insides.
The station is his home, the pale boy said.
And if you wish to take him away from here, I will erase you too.
He stepped forward and placed his hand on my head. My body grew cold, and I felt his fingertips sink into my brain.
The final episode comes out 12/23/2020
Written by magpie_quill