Fiction: Shade

Night clings to the forest like a shroud. The darkness is nearly absolute, the silhouettes of the trees only just a hair’s-breadth deeper black.

The sounds of life are everywhere, however. The chirps of insects and the calls of nocturnal predators. The sounds of movement originating from creatures perfectly adapted to life in the black.

Distantly, a light blooms, but grows slowly larger, nearer. It floats above the ground, weaving among the trees, despite its obvious ethereal form. It is a shade, the spectral afterimage of a sentient lifeform not-so-recently departed. The shade is oblivious to its surroundings, of course. Its meanderings are more reflex than the result of any conscious action.

As the shade drifts by one particularly large oak, its glow momentarily illuminates a small, bulbous husk. There’s just time to see a seam in the husk pucker before the shade glides by, returning the husk to darkness.

But then, a low, sustained intake of breath arrests the shade’s forward movement for just a second — and then it begins to drift backward. The husk comes into the light once more as the shade is pulled closer. The husk’s steady inhalation intensifies, halting the shade’s movement altogether. Streamers of ethereal matter pull away from the shade, spiraling downward to the husk, where the seam has parted just enough to engulf the streamers, trapping them inside.

The shade’s form begins to stretch and distend as the husk draws it in. Bit by bit the shade is pulled into the husk, until finally, nothing remains. The forest is plunged into full night once more.

Then, the sounds of the forest grow quiet and still. They are replaced by the sound of the husk, slowly chewing.

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