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Author's note: I hope that people who read this can understand that sometimes, you can feel this utterly alien, strange connection to the natural world around you. When I wrote this piece, I wasn't really thinking. I just wanted to put into words the way I feel on special nights, when everything under the moonlight seems to glow with power.
THE DARKNESS WAS complete. It pinched at something deep inside me, lurching with uncertainty, as I felt my eyes grasping for a shred of light. The moon was hidden in dark clusters of clouds, the stars drowned in a milky black fog. The uneasiness building up in my chest grew, expanding, filling me up with a screeching urgency to find something light, somewhere.
There was nothing but the black, empty space around me, a limbo of hollow space, and I, standing inside of it, was engulfed in the fiery solitude of blindness. I felt my hands begin to shake nervously. I could not think of anything, nor could I breathe, the blackness was filling my lungs and my throat and I was choking upon it, my whole body fighting in a battle against it. The blackness filled my ears, and my eyes, and my nose, and I saw it and heard its screams and smelled its thick, overly rich odor that made my knees collapse. I was a rag, mercilessly beaten back and forth, emptiness filling me and taking me over from the inside out. It was melting into my skin, covering my eyes, soaking into my heart, and I was becoming part of the nothingness I saw, being devoured by it, my struggles sending me deeper into its harsh clutches. It was covering me, creeping over me, and suddenly the only things uncovered by that terrifying coldness were my eyes, gasping for light, and then everything was gone.
I awoke from the nightmare, eyes burning from the blackness. My chest heaved in shallow lurches as I gulped in air. My bed suddenly felt like a prison, my legs entangled in my blankets, and I hurriedly and frantically yanked myself from it, staggering out of it and standing on my floor instead.
Every part of my body was painfully stiff. Turning my head to either side made my neck scream out in pain. I took a breath, deep and clean, glad to feel the freshness of air fill my lungs instead of the black goo I’d seen in my terrible dream.
From my bedroom window, beams of moonlight whispered against the glass. Come, come here to us, the called for me. They were so bright and lovely, their silvery light caressing my skin and sending warmth through me.
Barefoot, and still in my thin, flowing nightgown, I opened my bedroom window. A blast of cool air collided with my face and blew my dark hair back. The feeling was so amazing that I knew I had no choice but to go outside, to feel the wind wrap around my body and encase me in a breezy embrace. Suddenly, I felt like a snake. My body was smooth and flexible. It was gracefully flowing, fluid, like a liquid. It would do whatever I commanded it to.
I lifted my foot and began to climb out my window. I could feel my pale skin tingle with anticipation. Ducking my head out of the gap, I was all the way through, my body completely surrounded by the night.
The roof was cold and gray against my skin, its rough shingles under my knees as I crawled over it surface. The fresh, clean night air whirled over me, swirling around my face, touching me with a gentleness no one ever had before. And there was the moon, hanging lazily in the sky like a fat berry, just waiting for me to pluck it from its place among the stars and bite into it, its juicy, silver fragrance coating my tongue.
As I sat there, staring up at the endless sky, knees clutched against my chest, I wondered about what my father had used to say about the night sky.
“Stars,” he would breathe in that clear, calm voice, “Are like sheets of clear glass. You can see through the glass and see what is beyond, or you can see the glass’s reflection and see what is behind. But when you look and try to see the glass itself, your own reflection blocks your view.” Her father’s spectacles concealed his eyes, which glistened a little every time he said such things.
But I did not believe him; I never had. The clusters of glittering whites, like the colors around the iris of an eye, were not hidden. They were not shielded by a sheet of glass, nor did my thoughts distract me from them when I stared up at their grandeur. No, I knew. Stars do not exist. Instead, simply, the sky is a black wool blanket with holes in it, and behind the blanket is a glittering masterpiece. The stars are glimpses through the spaces between the threads.
I wondered what was beyond the loose threads. If I could tear away the sky, what glittering, starlit beauty would I unveil? Some nights, I fancied a wall of diamonds, tall as mountains. But others, I knew that it was something that was worth more than diamonds. Perhaps it was something that I would never be able to touch, or to see completely, but simply glancing at a small bit of it would be enough.
Suddenly, the night air felt cold-too cold- on my bare arms. I rubbed my hands against each other, but the friction brought me no warmth. The spell of the outdoors had been broken. Once again, I could see, the mingling, glistening dots in the sky were fading, replaced by an eerily peaceful gray dawn. Dew was beginning to set upon the grass.
I knew that there was no more for me to see, and suddenly sitting on my roof seemed like a bad idea. I fumbled around on my roof, losing the graceful elegance I had seemed to obtain when the moon was shining bright. I clambered back into my bedroom window. I did not bother to look out of it again. I slammed it shut, ignoring the pale sky, and went back to my bed.
This time, when I shut my eyes, I slept without dreams.
THE NEXT MORNING was treacherously gray. A thin, foggy cloud seemed to linger like a dusty film in the air, coating the sky and blocking the sun’s warmth. Although it was not raining, the air felt thick and wet as it came in through my bedroom window. That was odd. I thought that I had closed it.
I remembered my little escapade from the night before. As I got out of bed for the second time in a few hours, and went to the bathroom in the hallway to take my shower, I realized that the bottoms of my feet were black with dust and dirt. I rinsed them in the bathtub, watching the muck swirl down the drain in a spattering of brown color. When I did shower, though, the water felt sweet and hot against my skin. It was a nice break from the weary sleepiness outside.
I dried off, squeezing out my long curtain of dark hair, which still managed to drip after a thorough blow-drying, and dressed in jeans and a loose, light shirt that felt like the night breeze had on my skin. I was glad that it was still summer, because my eyes still drooped and my body craved the warmth and softness of my bed.
I trudged down the stairs slowly, wishing for the fluid motion I’d had the night before. Just as I thought about this, I tripped, sliding down the last stair and banging my ankle painfully against the wall. I heard my mother’s soft, airy laughter from the kitchen and realized that I was blushing.
“Well, good morning, then, Leila,” she said, her voice smiling. As I walked into the kitchen and saw her, I felt my blood speed a little faster through my veins.
“Mom,” I sighed, relived for some reason to see her. I loved her pretty face, and the way her hair, still messy from sleep, framed her head like a halo. Her ratty blue bathrobe brought out the gentle calmness in her eyes, and it seemed to calm me, too.
“Do you want eggs? Or toast?” She asked me, holding a spatula in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other. I sighed. I’d never been a breakfast person. It had always been a sort of game between us for my mother to ask what I wanted and for me to decline.
“No, Mom. I’m fine. Besides, I have to go meet Hannah today.” I saw a smile creep into my mother’s eyes before her mouth moved.
“All right, honey, I guess you did tell me about that yesterday.” She set the spatula and her coffee mug down on the counter. “Do you need money for lunch or anything?” She asked. I smiled and patted my jeans pocket, where I’d stuffed a few tens.
“Nah, Mom.” I replied. “We’ll just go out to the diner again. It’s nothing special.” I promised. She came closer to me, and put her arms around me in a hug. I hugged back. It was probably unusual for a lot of teenagers to like being hugged by their moms, but I loved the fresh, lavender scent around her and the way she made me relax. I loved my mother so much, and I knew that since it was just us two, facing the world by ourselves, we had to be strong for each other. It was what Dad would have wanted.
“Have fun, sweetheart!” She called as I left the house. I smiled and, as I closed the door behind me, yelled back,
“I love you, Mom!” I hoped she knew how much that was true.
I walked to Hannah’s house in the dusky, gray air. The sidewalk was just as cold and gray as the sky. When I finally reached her front stoop, I saw her, sitting on the bench on her porch, nose buried in one of her books.
“Hannah!” I raced up the steps to greet her. She looked up from the book she was reading, which seemed about three inches thick, and grinned at me.
“Hi! She put the book on the bench next to her and stood up. “You ready?” She asked. I nodded, and got a glimpse of the book’s cover. I chuckled inwardly as I saw its title, emblazoned in bright green letters on the cover. A Scientist’s Guide to Understanding Astronomy. I turned to look at Hannah. She’d seen me reading the cover, and she was blushing.
“I am such a nerd.” She exclaimed, the smile on her face warm. “But I like learning about the planets and solar systems. It’s so interesting. I think you should read that book when I’m done.” I knew she was joking. I had barely gotten past Romeo and Juliet when we read Shakespeare in class last year.
“There is no way I’m ever touching that book.” I kidded. She rolled her eyes at me.
“Oh, it’s you popular types. You’re so opposed to knowledge!” She giggled. We both knew that I wasn’t exactly on the top of the popular list. In school, it felt like I was completely invisible. Nobody really knew me, besides Hannah, and I had always managed to skate under the radar and be unnoticed by most people. At least I wasn’t bullied or messed with all the time. I was just…not there.
I was a lot unlike Hannah, who fully embraced the fact that she was a nerd. In fact, she kind of liked it when someone called her that. It meant that other people thought she was smart. But she didn’t care what other people thought of her. I was always jealous of that, mostly because people didn’t think about me at all in the first place.
“Where are we headed?” I asked her. She grinned at me.
“Did you look at a clock when you woke up? It’s almost noon. You slept super late.” She headed down the driveway, and I followed her, wondering where she was heading to. “Let’s get some lunch.” I raced up next to her. Maybe it the fact that it’d taken a little longer than usual to walk to her house, or maybe it was just nature getting back at me for waking up in the middle of the night, but I did feel a little hungry.
“Okay, let’s go. I do feel in the mood for some French fries.” Hannah threw me a cheerful smile and we started walking. Lunch was just around the corner.
WHEN WE FINALLY reached the Greasy Fork Diner, it was packed. People were everywhere, crowding the jukebox and sitting at the counter, taking orders. We split up immediately, like we always did at the Greasy Fork. Hannah went to find the table after giving me a few dollars, and I headed to the counter to order for us both and pay. Since we’d been four years old, this was our way of getting food fast at the overcrowded but amazingly delicious diner.
Luckily for me, the line wasn’t too long. I quickly stepped up to the register, money in hand, ready to order.
“Can I take your order please?” The guy working the register asked in a bored tone. He looked annoyed, and kept messing with the plastic hat on his head that had the Greasy Fork’s logo on it, which, unsurprisingly enough was a fork dripping with grease.
“I’ll take two cheeseburgers, one with everything, and one with just tomatoes and onions. Oh, and I also need two sides of fries and two medium Pepsis.” I quickly paid, and after our food was out, headed for the table that Hannah had chosen. It was right next to a big window, and gray light shone over the table and black and white checked floor.
“Here’s the food!” I set down the tray on the table, and before I could even put my plastic straw into my soda cup, Hannah had already stolen one of my fries. “Hey!” I laughed, kicking her playfully under the table. “Get your own!” The Greasy Fork had the best fries in town, and Hannah couldn’t ever get enough of them.
As we settled down and started making dents in our burgers, the conversation turned to last night.
“Are you still having those nightmares?”Hannah asked me, mustard dripping down her chin, a concerned look on her face. I nodded and stared at my burger. The onion’s sharp taste made me feel more awake than ever. I took a huge bite, and, mouth still a little full, said,
“It was really bad last night.” Hannah nodded and took a slurp of her Pepsi.
“Did you get some fresh air when it was over? That’s what I always do when I have nightmares. Well…I don’t actually have nightmares anymore, but it’s what I used to do after, you know, Dad died.” The fact that both of our fathers were dead had brought Hannah and me together. I remember the first day we realized that about each other, in first grade when it was Father’s Day. The school had a Daddy Appreciation Day, and both of us had felt terrible. The teachers had tried to make us feel better by telling us we could share a friend’s dad, but it hadn’t helped at all. Instead, we’d bonded over cookies in the classroom corner while the rest of the kids talked about how amazing their fathers were.
“I did get some fresh air,” I remembered aloud, “In fact, I did better than that. I climbed out of my window and hung out on my roof for a while.” Hannah looked so surprised at my statement that she practically spit out her bite of burger.
“You did what?” She asked. I laughed a little at her.
“Don’t worry; I didn’t break the roof or anything. It felt kind of special, actually, like I had a connection with the night.” I remembered the feeling of the moon’s light, silver on my face.
“Are you crazy?” Hannah asked. “What if your mom caught you sitting on the roof at three in the morning?”
She dunked a fry in ketchup and ate it before I responded. I shrugged my shoulders.
“I doubt she’d mind.” I said. “If I just told her what it felt like.” But even then, as I spoke to Hannah, I realized I couldn’t really relay what that emotion had been like. I’d felt…powerful in the moonlight. I’d felt like I was a star in the nighttime, absorbing the glow of the moon.
“I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” I told her, leaving my food on the table. “Be right back. And don’t eat my fries.” I scurried through the swarms of people to the restroom.
It was colder in the bathroom than it had been in the main part of the restaurant. I shivered a little bit as I washed my hands, the grease coming off like slick oil.
I left the bathroom empty, door swinging shut behind me, and headed back to my table. When I did, Hannah wasn’t there. Her burger, fries, and soda sat there, half-eaten. I sat down, wondering where she’d gone. If she’d headed to the bathroom, I’d have seen her on the way. Maybe she’d just seen a friend and gone to speak with her. I looked around the Greasy Fork, hoping to see Hannah leaning against the counter, talking with a geek from school or something. But she wasn’t there. I took a bite of my burger, reassuring myself that she would be right back, but it tasted sour in my mouth. I sighed and took my lunch, throwing it into a nearby trash can. My stomach gurgled, full and happy, but the rest of me wasn’t. It had been nearly ten minutes since I’d seen her. Where was Hannah?
As I stood to see if she’d left the restaurant, I noticed that her chair had fallen over. It lay on the ground, her purse and cell phone next to it. What? Hannah would never leave her purse to go somewhere. She was paranoid about her phone, too, which she kept on her at all times, even during the school day. Something was very wrong.
Gingerly, hand shaking a little, I bent over to pick up Hannah’s phone. The screen was flashing, text bright in the dim lights of the diner.
NEW MESSAGE RECEIVED, the scrolling text informed me. It was probably Hannah’s mom, or one of her friends from chess club, asking her what she was doing. But as I clicked the RECEIVE button, I knew that I’d been kidding myself. The message was spelled across the screen in all capital letters, and what it said made my heart lurch.
WANT TO SEE YOUR FRIEND AGAIN? MEET ME AT MIDNIGHT TONIGHT AT THE JAZZ FESTIVAL. YOU WILL KNOW WHERE TO FIND ME.
My heart screamed. Hannah was gone, kidnapped by some crazy lunatic! What was I going to do? Should I call the police? No, I knew that the only way to save Hannah was to follow the text message’s instructions. I picked up her phone, which felt heavy as a brick in my hand. When I tried to check who had sent the message, the phone just said Unknown. I sighed, and headed for the Greasy Fork door. I had no choice. I had to save Hannah.
THE JAZZ FESTIVAL had been going on for years in our little town, and it was always a ton of fun. Hannah and I had always gone together, our moms talking and laughing, enjoying the live jazz music played by local bands, mostly of high schoolers. Nobody really knew why it was called the Jazz Festival anymore, though, because nobody really played jazz. I felt my gut lurch as I realized that if I couldn’t rescue Hannah tonight, I might never see her again.
When I got home, I didn’t tell my mother what had happened. I did tell her that I’d head to the Jazz Festival early to meet Hannah. She just smiled and nodded, and I felt even worse for deceiving my mother.
Fingers trembling, I searched through my closet for something to wear. Usually, people at the Jazz Festival dressed up in their nicest clothes. It was the only time we could show off our looks in the town. If I didn’t wear something nice, I wouldn’t blend in with the other people at the festival, and that would make people wonder what was going on. I searched for something beautiful, but wouldn’t get in my way if I had to run.
I settled, finally, on a black dress. It was beautiful and flowing, and the fabric was silkily soft and smooth, it felt like the night air had on my skin. It had only one strap, sewn in a criss-cross pattern that went up my shoulder and down my back in a fluid arc. The bodice of the dress was sewn randomly with black and silver beads, and when the light hit them, the shone like tiny stars.
I tied my black hair up so that it would stay out of my face, braiding it with hard, shiny beads that resembled the ones on my dress. That way, if someone were to grab my braid, the sharp beads would cut into their skin, and hopefully they’d let go.
For shoes, I threw on my regular, beat up sneakers. I wasn’t going to risk high heels when I knew that I’d probably have to be running. Finally, for makeup, I rubbed my skin and face with glitter and used glistening silver eye shadow. I wanted minimal makeup, so it couldn’t smudge all over or get into my eyes.
I didn’t bother looking in a mirror as I left the house. I didn’t want to see what I looked like. Tonight wasn’t about me. It was about saving Hannah. My mother didn’t see me leave, either, because she was in her room, dressing herself. I just shouted my goodbye out the door as I headed out.
The sky was beginning to darken as I walked to the town square, where the festival would be held. Bright colored streamers decorated park benches and the gazebo in the center of the park where the bands had started to practice their songs. As I arrived, Hannah’s phone vibrated. I’d brought it with me just in case. I quickly received the message. It was, again, sent from an unknown phone.
I WILL BE HERE AT TEN AT NIGHT. ENJOY THE SHOW WHILE YOU CAN.
The threat was cold and made my heart feel hollow. I had just two hours left to wait, and by then it would be dark. I bit my lip as a feeling of dread washed over me. How was I supposed to ‘enjoy the show’ when my best friend had been captured by a raving madman?
Tears welled in my eyes, but I knew I would not allow myself to cry. Just as I leaned my head back to get rid of the tears, I felt a hand gently touch my shoulder.
“Ah!” I whipped around, turning to see who had touched me. I calmed and quickly apologized when I saw that it was just an elderly woman.
“I’m sorry, miss, I’m just feeling a bit jumpy today.” I said, and when I looked into the woman’s calm eyes, which were full of sympathy, I felt myself calm down a little bit.
“I know you are, Leila.” She said, and her voice was like silk. For a second, I wanted to lose myself in its gentle waves, but then I jolted.
“You know my name.” I started. My voice sounded harsh and mean, even to myself. The woman nodded.
“Come with me,” she said, reaching out her hand for mine. “I will help you find your friend.” For a second, I hesitated, but then put my hand in hers. It was cool and firm and I knew that this woman was going to help me.
We walked towards a bench, where a streetlamp overhead lit the sky. We both sat down, and the wood felt hard on my legs. I smoothed my black, sequined dress down.
“Please,” I said, surprised at how pained my voice sounded, “Help me find my friend.” The woman nodded.
“I will. But first, you must listen to me.” I could say nothing, and I did not nod, but I silently agreed. She seemed to know that I felt this way, and she began to speak.
“Listen, child. Long ago, when humans did not walk the earth yet, the moon and the stars and the night ruled. They were even more beautiful than they are now. They spoke to each other in the sky, through whispers, and they were happy. They were beautiful. They were strong.” She took a deep, thorough breath.
“And then humans came to the earth. At first, the moon and stars wished to whisper to the people, too. But when they did, they told the humans many secrets. They were good, at first, and the people loved the moon and stars and were kind to them. But as the days passed, they began to use the secrets against the night. At night, they used its power for their own strength, to kill and harm others. And the night stopped her whispering. But it was too late. There was evil in the world, and there were people set out to use the whispers of the moon for evil.” As the woman spoke, I realized that her eyes were filled with silvery, metallic tears.
“Eventually, the night was so lonely that the stars dimmed, and she knew she had to speak to someone. So she chose a girl, a young girl, and whispered to her. The girl, feeling terrible for the night, vowed to help the moon fight against the evil that came from the night’s first whispers. The girl listened to the whispers, and she fought against the evil ones, who we call the Shadows, for they take the light out of the night sky. But the girl, as all humans do, grew weak and eventually died. And this saddened the night so badly that the stars dimmed again, and she quieted for many, many years. But she chose again, and this time, the girl was different. She, too, used the night’s whispers to fight the Shadows. But she died as well. For years, the night’s chosen girls lived and died.”
What was this woman trying to tell me? What was happening?
“My darling Leila, I was once a young girl. The night chose me to hear her whispers. And now I am getting old, too old, and I, too, will have to die. So she chose new girl to listen to her whispers and fight the Shadows. Leila, it was you that she chose. You hold the power of the night.”
I was speechless at first. I didn’t know what to say. But suddenly, I was filled with skepticism.
“That sounds like a fairy tale.” I convicted. “How can that be true? And even if it is, can you prove that she chose me?” This just made the woman smile.
“Ah, Leila, don’t tell me you’ve never felt that special, deep connection with the night before. Don’t tell me that you have never felt powerful when the night air touches your skin, when the moon looks down upon you.”
I remembered last night, shining like a beacon in my mind. The way my motions had been fluid, elegant, and strong. How I’d felt a deep connection to the stars and moon, and how I’d felt like the moon had been shining down just on my face, my skin absorbing the silvery light. The way I had yearned to feel the moon, and the way I’d suddenly lost that feeling as the stars and moon dimmed and dawn rose.
“Yes, I’ve felt it.” I could say nothing more. Every molecule in my body was rejoicing as I remembered my emotions that night.
“Good. And it shows that you are the next girl who holds the night’s power. Your friend, Hannah, was captured by a Shadow. He does not know you can feel the moon’s whispers yet, and he hopes to destroy you when you try and free your friend. You must not let him. It is your duty.” Her voice grew solemn and grim.
“You must be very wary, Leila. You are a night child, and you must listen to the night’s whispers, not with your ears, but with your heart.” She reached out a hand. A gleaming band was around her middle finger, the pale color of a moonbeam. She gently pulled it off her own hand and took mine, sliding the ring over my own middle finger. It seemed to connect with my skin, to become part of me as soon as it touched me. “This will help give you power. It makes your bond with the night even stronger.”
I looked up, and the woman stood.
“Wait!” I jolted. “You have to help me save Hannah! I can’t do it on my own!” The woman smiled at me, warmly, and shook out her long, silver hair.
“You will not be alone, Leila. You will be with the night.” And, not turning back again, she walked away from me, down the path, and vanished behind the bright lights the streetlamps gave off.
I felt shaken, but looked down at my ring. It seemed to glow with power, the beautiful power of the night that I’d felt before.
I stood, too. I would not be on my own, the woman was right.
THE HUGE CLOCK in the square rang ten times. The Jazz Festival had begun, and a band was playing frantically in the gazebo. People swarmed everywhere, my mother among them somewhere, listening to the music, unaware that her daughter would be facing death to save her best friend.
To me, it sounded dramatic, like something out of one of Hannah’s fantasy books. I could feel my body shaking with fear as her phone vibrated for what I knew it would tell me where to go.
LET’S PLAY HIDE AND SEEK. CAN YOU FIGURE OUT WHERE A SHADOW MIGHT HIDE? SOMEWHERE IT WOULDN’T BE NOTICED…SOMEWHERE DARK, CHURNING, AND TWISTING…
I knew as soon as I read it where the Shadow would be. He wanted me to be in the hedge maze, in the garden area of the square. My heart screamed inside my chest. I’d always hated the idea of getting lost inside of its dark corners, filled with the shadows of the walls.
But if that was where Hannah was, I had no choice. I was going to find her, and I was going to save her. The Shadows were no match for me.
The moon wasn’t quite out yet, and only a few stars were visible in the sky. I desperately hoped that they’d come out before I faced the Shadow. I really couldn’t do this alone.
I headed for the maze, its green walls a few feet taller than my head. I sighed, and I felt the smallest wisp of night air fill my chest. It surged through my body, mingled with my blood, and finally, flowed through my heart. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I couldn’t be. I was going to save Hannah, and I had nothing but determination and a really awesome ring. And I had the night, surrounding me within its folds.
I took my first step into the maze, and the music from the festival was instantly muffled by the thick walls. I knew that Hannah and the shadow would be hiding in the very middle of the maze, deepest in its confines, so no one would be able to hear or see us.
I closed my eyes, thought of my ring, and listened. Tell me, I pleaded, thinking of the moon; tell me which way to go.
Suddenly, faint as the pale full moon in the sky, my request was answered by a breath of air. It flowed against me, and I heard it whisper to me.
Follow me, it said, and I did.
The wind was fast, but cool, and I could always tell where it led me. My black dress flowed against me like water, and I ran after the wind, hoping I wouldn’t lose it inside the maze. It turned corners and sometimes, it even felt as if I were following it in circles, but I trusted it. It kept whispering to me, quietly, telling me where I should go. Follow, follow, follow me, it sang, like pinging metal in my ears, and then I would follow.
Hush, the wind suddenly said, and I felt it vanish, melting into the air around it. I wondered why it had stopped, but I suddenly realized the freezing, deathly chill in the air. I was close. Very close.
Hannah’s phone vibrated, for what I knew would be the last time that night. This time, it felt menacing and terrifying in my hand as I pulled it out of the dress’s deep pocket. This time, my hands didn’t shake. I felt too afraid to move.
YOU HAVE FOUND ME, NIGHT CHILD. DON’T TURN AROUND- THERE’S A MONSTER BEHIND YOU.
A cold breath touched the back of my neck. I gasped, dropping Hannah’s phone in the dirt, and whirled around.
Nothing was there. I blinked, and this time, looked closer. A shadow hides where he will not be found.
There, in a dark corner of the maze, was a shape. I could barely make it out, but it was there. Shakily, I put one foot forward. The first step was hard, but the second was harder. Walking towards it was like walking towards a death sentence. My heart thundered in my chest, telling me to stop, stop, stop, stop! But I didn’t stop. I took the final step and looked into the darkness.
“I see you.” My voice was dark and threatening. I planted my feet firmly into the ground, waiting for the shadow to strike. But it didn’t. Instead, it moved slowly, as if melting out of the dark corner, turning from shadow to human before my eyes.
“And I see you.” Standing before me was the Shadow. It wasn’t, as I had guessed, a boy, but a girl, a teenage girl about my age. She, like me, was tall, with black hair. Her face was eerily gray, and her smile seemed inhuman-teeth too white, lips too thin, pulled back in more of a hiss than a smile. Her hair flowed loose around her shoulders, and even it seemed deadly. She wore heavy black makeup on her face, and her clothing, like mine, was all black. She wore a simple shirt and a short skirt, both black as the dead of night. Her feet, unlike mine, were bare, her toes digging into the bare earth.
“You’re a Shadow.” I accused. She nodded, and I felt shivers run down my spine. Her movements were fast, so fast that I barely saw them.
“Yes, I am.” Her eyes were pale white, blank and empty, staring back at me with a cunning snake’s evil. “And you are not going to be alive much longer.”
My heart shook inside my chest. I shook my head, as if to defy her. It seemed so difficult to do so.
“No. My friend and I are going to get out of this alive. You, on the other hand, are not.” Just then I noticed something behind the Shadow. I tried to look closer, and as I did, I saw that it was my friend. Hannah was lying on the ground, eyes closed, chest heaving up and down. At least she was alive.
“Don’t worry. Your friend is not dead. But she will be soon, just like you.” Her face was dark, covered in shadows. That was fitting. Her smile grew wider, wider, and her face grew darker. And then the Shadow leapt.
Listen, the night seemed to whisper, and I felt myself transform into what I had been the night before. I was suddenly strong, powerful even, just as deadly as the Shadow was. I felt moonlight shine down on my face. The moon was out, and it was strong.
I cried out as the Shadow landed on me, her strength knocking me to the ground. She smelled like soot and ash as she pushed me down onto the cold earth. Her smile was even more terrifying now, teeth blindingly white.
“You don’t stand a chance, girl.” But I did stand a chance, and I knew it. Help me, moon, I thought, and I was suddenly stronger. I shoved the Shadow off of myself, leaped back to my feet, and launched myself at her with a force I’d never felt before.
She quickly dodged out of the way, but I spun around to face her again.
“You are using the strength of the night.” Her voice was cunning and smooth. “But I am using the strength of the darkness.”
She will hide, the moon whispered to me, the wind in the air circling around me. You must not be deceived.
I looked up, and the Shadow was gone, melted into the shadows around me.
“Where am I?” She asked, her voice taunting, coming from behind me. “Can you find me?” This time, it came from next to me. “I am all around you.” Her voice circled me, like a prison, pushing tighter and tighter towards me. You must not be deceived.
“I know where you are.” I turned, the Shadow’s voice screaming around me, and jumped for her. I landed on her, her body cold and hard, like ice. My knees dug into her stomach, but it was as if she barely felt it.
“Are you going to kill me?” She asked in a snarl, teeth gritted together. I shook my head.
“No. I’m not. I’m going to end this, all of it.” And I closed my eyes, took in a huge breath, and filled myself with moonlight. Beams of beautiful, night air whirled around me in a cyclone, blowing my hair and dress. I willed the air to be stronger, to blow away the evil in the Shadow, to rid it of its darkness and evil. I felt every fiber of my being go into the night air, shoved my breath and life into the whirlwind. The moonlight was filling me, and I was filling the wind, and then, faster than it had even begun, it stopped abruptly.
I opened my eyes. When I looked down at where the Shadow had been there was nothing but a pile of gray ash.
You did well, Leila. The night whispered. I have taken this Shadow and sent it back to where it was before. We do not kill, my daughter, but we do not believe that the Shadows should be free. Go, help your friend. I shall speak to you again another night. For now, rest.
The power the night had given me vanished. I fell, gasping for air, feeling weaker than I ever had before. Panting, I crawled over to where Hannah was. She was murmuring softly, dreaming.
“Hannah! Wake up!” I breathed. Slowly her lashes fluttered, and I saw her blue eyes.
“Leila! What happened to you? You look awful.” She smiled, and just seeing her happy brought tears of pure joy into my eyes. “In fact, what happened to me? Weren’t we in the diner?” She asked, confused. “Why are we…here? And where is here?”
I grinned at Hannah and helped her up.
“Don’t worry,” I smiled. “I’ll fill you in later. It’s a pretty long story.” I took her hand, just like I had taken the old woman’s hand, and we stood and to walk out of the maze.
The night was surrounding me, the air cool on my cheek. Slowly, I looked up at the moon, gratitude filling me.
“Thank you,” I whispered, and turned to face the darkness ahead.