So, Friday before last Chuck set us his weekly challenge. That week, it was to come up with a title for a short story. This week, he then challenged us to pick one of those titles and come up with a story about it. I choose ‘Of Those in Shadow’ as my title, and this is what I came up with.

The sun was starting to dip in the sky, casting long shadows through the windows. Hailey’s pen scratched against the paper, making the last few notes as the teacher gathered up her things and exited the classroom.

The students around her were already packing up, stretching out, gathering into small groups to chat. Already, to her right, a small group had clustered around her sister’s table, a queen holding court, as she laughed and talked, all from the height of her perch on the desk.

Hailey focused on the paper in front of her, already starting the homework that they had been given. The black in that she dipped her pen in was a stark contrast to the white paper she wrote on.

“Come on, hurry up.”

“Elise! Don’t be mean to my twin,” Harper flicker their hair over her shoulder as she settled her cloak around her shoulders. “We’re ready to go, coming?”

Hailey nodded, and slipped all of her school equipment into her bag, before tucking her own cloak around her neck, and following the group of girls with Harper in the middle.

They exited the school gates in dappled light, long shadows playing over cloaks that flapped in the gusting wind.

“So Oscar was saying that he his parents would be gone to the continent for a fortnight, and during that time he has promised that he will throw a party, for a select number of guests of course…”

Snippets of conversation floating back to Hailey, walking a good five paces behind the group, as she ducked her head and followed. The setting sun had tinted the landscape, the water in the small stream was liquid golden, trickling by as they crossed over the bridge, the wood burnished an even darker colour than usual.

It was an intensely familiar walk over the hill, watching the sun touch the horizon as they crested that marked the edge of the town proper.

The shadows in town were even more heavily pronounced, as buildings started to jostle for position. As soon as they were down the hill, the light faded away to slivers and glimpses, and the grating of the walkways echoed beneath their shoes.

Their parents always wanted them to walk around the town to and from school, but that added an extra half hour to the walk, and Harper wanted to walk with her friends, and all of them agreed that the long way round was worse.

Hailey trailed back a few extra paces. There were people moving in the shadows of the town, half formed figures which moved either at a snail’s pace, or a flickering race. In her head, her imagination sped away, thinking about who or what those shadows might be. Everything from commonplace cutpurses, all the way to monsters that crawled out at evening and night to devour people’s soul. It was easy to imagine both, and everything in between, there was so much potential in the blurred lines of shadows.

The girls had gotten quite far ahead of her, as she flicked her eyes back towards them. Head held low, she rushed a few steps, catching back up so she was trailing on the edges of the group again. Harper’s head turned back, and she just about caught the smile that was thrown her way.

They broke out of the darker part of the town, back into the golden light that was fading fast from the sky. Up the hill, and they opened the door to their home, just as the sun disappeared over the horizon.

All of them made their way up to the large room that the twins shared. Harper’s friends took off cloaks and shoes, scattering them all over the chairs and hooks, before settling on her bed, all the while nattering away.

Hailey carefully hung up her own cloak, tucked her shoes away, and then drew out her books and writing equipment.

“Hailey, we just got home. Come on, sit down for a while,” Harper patted the bed next to her.

Hailey smiled at her twin, but left the room anyway, taking herself and her work through to their father’s study. She appreciated the effort that Harper tried to put in with her, but she could never make an impact in a room with that many people in it. Not that she wanted to, that was Harper’s expertise.

Dinner came, the girls went, their parents asked the standards questions about their days, and the evening was whiled away.

The two girls were back in their bedroom, Harper already in bedclothes.

“You know, you are invited to all the parties I am. You don’t have to spend all your time studying.”

Hailey looked over at her twin, with her furrowed brows and flattened mouth. She leaned over, and took her hand. “Thank you. I’ll consider it.”

Harper squeezed her hand back, and Hailey could see that she was suppressing a sigh.

“I appreciate the invitation, but people always want to spend time with you Harper. You’re just more sociable than I am.”

“If you just talked a little more, I am sure that people would like you as well.”

Her eyes were wide and pleading. “If it will make you happy Harper, I will come to the party.”

Harper squeezed her hand, and then let it go, climbing into bed. Hailey climbed into her own bed, still clothed, with a book and a small reading light.

At two minutes to midnight, Hailey gently shut the pages of the book, got up, tiptoed passed Harper, and looked out the window.

The moon was a thin crescent in the sky, just catching the edges of darkened buildings in silver. Nothing was moving, it was like the world was just holding its breath, waiting for morning to come again.

Harper smiled as a muted clock chimed midnight, and the world around her shivered and slipped away, leaving only monochrome washes of what had been there. She turned around, and could see the ghostly lump that was her sleeping sister. Passing a hand over her head, she couldn’t quite feel her hair, just a sensation that something was there.

Despite the midnight hour, she left her cloak on the hook, and made her way out of the house. Exiting her front door, she stood and waited, until a few minutes later, a shadow came up to her and offered his hand to her.

Taking it, the two of them slipped away from the house, and into the town proper. She always got a thrill when she saw the town like this, nothing but blurry shapes populated by the clear crisp shadows like the one at her side, like she appeared to the others.

It wasn’t for everyone, these shadowlands. Here the denizens were the people that didn’t fit in with the real world, who were slightly out of place, or who never got their own light. Here they had an entire shadowland to play in, all to themselves.

They didn’t need any of the words or sounds of the normal world, their like mindedness was all they needed to relate to each other.

She and her escort walked around, and around, and around, arm in arm as they passed other shadows, just happy to have a partner who needed no words to communicate.

He took her to the top of a structure, unrecognisable in this world, and they looked out over the town from above, the midnight sky above as lights as clouds were during the day.

They walked along the banks of the river, a twisting line of smoke-like substance.

The hills were almost silver in this world, as they sat on top of one and looked back down to the town. Other shadows were walking, running, even jumping over the buildings as they watched. Sides touching, his arms around her back.

A golden beam touched the edge of the horizon, and the town below shimmered out of the shadows and back into the real world.

Hailey sighed, and leaned against the now warm body next to her. “I got invited to your brother’s party next week.”

“He’s throwing a party?”

“Mhm. Apparently your parents are away.”

She didn’t need to look at him to see his eyes roll up to the sky. “Why am I entirely unsurprised.”

“That they haven’t gone and he’s already planning it? Or that he didn’t tell you?”

“Either. Both.” Russell wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her in a bit closer. “Are you going to come?”

“I promised Harper I would.”

“Then I look forward to your company there. Come on, I’ll walk you home.”

The two of them held hands, the morning light breaking out pinks and oranges over the landscape as they walked around the hills, back to the suburbs where Hailey lived. On her doorstep, he turned and took her other hand.

“As always, I enjoy spending the shadowtime with you.”

Hailey smiled, leaned up onto her tiptoes, and kissed him. It lasted a few moments, and when they broke apart, Russell touched her cheek.

“Until next time.”

Hailey slipped into the door, and up to her room, where Harper was still fast asleep. She settled under the covers, to catch an hour of sleep before they had to get up, and she would once again, return to being her twins shadow. Not that she minded. Shadows had fun too.

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