Friday, February 24, 2017

Beyond Shadows

Beyond Shadows
Bobby Derie

Coins clinked in the tin cup. The eager young woman knelt in the dirt of the alley. Rain had worn at the works of man like mountains. The floor of the alley was a muddy channel, bearing away pieces of crumbling brick and concrete, a miniature dream of a river, and her dress soaked up the foul water.

"Father, what lesson for today?"

The dirt-stained hobo lifted veiled eyes at his pupil. He raised one broken hand, covered with scabs and long filthy nails, and made a gesture; the light in the alley dimmed, the noise of the city was far off, and though she felt the vibration of traffic through her knees, it seemed for that moment that there were only the two of them there.

"Daughter, you see this, and wonder. Yet I tell you that this is the smallest of things, and that beyond shadows there is mastery."

He drew himself up, bones visible beneath the tanned and spotted skin, one hand clutching at his beard.

"Aye, beyond shadows. For a shadow is cast by that which comes between us and the light, and we all dwell in the shadow of things that hide us from the light of truth. Well and carefully did the old ones build those edifices, so that we may dwell in the comfortable darkness! Many labor still to shore them up, with the bricks and mortar of politics, and religion, and philosophy. Yet even they have not glimpsed the truth, they merely know they fear it. They are creatures of the night, fearful of a sun they have never seen."

With both hands before him, he cupped his palms as though to accept an offering. Pale liquid seeped from his palms, a spreading pool in his cupped fingers, filmed with a rainbow sheen in which specks of black dirt floated listlessly.

"Oh daughter, if you would see beyond shadows, then take this sacrament and enter communion with me."

Eagerness warred with hesitation, and she bent forward to sup from his fingers, gagging the burning liquor down. She began to choke. He opened his hands, letting the pale fluid to burn and bubble on the pavement as he clasped his smoking hands to either side of her head, those black thumbnails digging in to the skin of her forehead above each eyebrow. With convulsive motions she vomited, grasping his wrists with her own hands, struggling to free herself of his grip, but he was as immobile as a statue.

She vomited for a long time - first liquid and bile, and then blood. She shuddered and stretched her whole body, seeking to use every ounce of weight and strength and leverage against him, but he sat as a rock and cooed as he looked into her eyes.

Then the blackness came. Steaming, foul sludge dripped from her slack lips, left its coating on her teeth, formed a pile of filth before him like a profane offering. It came convulsively, in spasmodic shudders, and each time there was more but it was...thinner. More and more the blackness became less solid, more liquid. It flowed around his feet and trickled down the path the water had worn in the alleyway, tainting the dream of the river, poisoning the tiny green mosses that grew along it.

Finally, it ceased. He released her, and she stumbled back, shoes scrabbling against the bricks to the other side of the alley, as far from him as could be. The old man smiled, a hint of both kindness and nastiness.

"Oh daughter, look at the filth of the world you have poisoned yourself with, which stains the world with your passing. Think of what shadows you may yet cast, if you only have the courage to step out the trappings and face the light; and who may yet dwell in those shadows. Thus ends the lesson."


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