Shadows Approaching

Evelyn was not one to whine. Alright, that was a flat-out lie. She was not one to like the fact that she whined. There, that was more accurate. She found whining to be weak, and Evelyn James the Second was not a weak woman. But on occasion, she did allow herself a whine or two.

As of now, she was currently involved in quite a lot of whining. Even Charlie was getting exasperated.

"...hate the sun, it's sweltering, and this mud is ridiculous! And why is this taking so long? We've been walking all day!"

"Ma'am, we're almost there." he said patiently as they trudged along down the road, but she could see clearly the irritation layering those brown eyes of his.

"Finally," she sighed minutes later when they entered the large city of Tortuia. She felt a bubble of excitement as she looked around at the many people ambling past; no one knew of her here. They were far enough from her home that no one could know of her.

She was free, temporarily at least, of the reputation she'd had thrust upon her.

"Hello," she said cheerily as a small, delicate woman with a long braid of gold-plaited hair walked by. The woman, though apparantly somewhat startled by the polite gesture, nodded her head in greeting.

Evelyn said hello to a few more people, though ceasing when after acknowledging a tall, handsome man with a curling gotee who leered at her in reply, Charlie begged her to stop. She assumed it was out of sheer mortification. The poor boy was probably used to lurking under the radar, she thought.

Evelyn had never wanted that. In fact, her greatest dream for herself had been to be known. To be preened upon, adored, loved. To have her fist wrapped around pure, exhilerating fame.

Well, Evelyn thought wryly. She was getting that adventure now. And Lord did she wish she'd never received it.

"Miss James?" Charlie said, tugging on her dress sleeve.

Jolting to attention, she looked down at him. "Yes?"

"It's almost dark." He shifted his eyes to the sky, indicating the setting sun.

Evelyn's heart lurched to her throat. "Oh. Oh. Quickly, Charlie. Get your bag. We have to find an inn to stay at for the night. Quickly!"

Obviously bewildered at Evelyn's sudden panic, Charlie glanced around, his gaze traveling over the people who were walking serenely past them. "But don't you think we ought to find dinner first?"

"No!" Evelyn seized his knapsack from the ground herself, took his hand. Proceeded to drag him down the street.

She spotted the Braddox Inn and made a beeline for it. She breathed a sigh of relief when she and Charlie entered. It was warm and cozy inside. Quaint.

"Miss James," Charlie began, gripping her sleeve once more.

"Evelyn," she corrected him. After all, with what they would be going through, they should be on a first-name basis. Guilt fisted her heart. She couldn't bring this poor child into the dark with her. She could not endanger him. If he got hurt because of her, she would never forgive herself.

"Okay, Miss Evelyn." Charlie said impatiently. "I'm hungry. I want-"

"Listen to me Charlie," she interrupted, lowering down onto her knees to look him in the eyes. She framed his face in her hands. He was a beautiful child, she thought. She'd never wanted children of her own before. But if she had, she would've wanted one like Charlie. He was so handsome. His round, pink cheeks, his big, bright brown eyes, his dark hair that brushed his forehead in curls. She cursed herself for allowing him to travel with her. "You shouldn't stay with me."

His lower lip jutted out. "But you said-"

"I know what I said, and I'm not making you leave. But you must understand. I'm dangerous, Charlie. Bad things follow me."

His brow knit as he struggled to understand what she was saying. "You mean mean like you hurt people and now the law's after you? Like what my mam did?"

Her heart fissured. Oh, her poor heart. Nothing but jagged pieces of glorious sorrow. "Your mother?"

He nodded. "She did some bad when she was younger and that's why she died. I think she hurt someone, Miss Evelyn." His brow knit once more, this time with concern, and Evelyn realized that even three years later, he still agonized over what his mother could possibly have done to be killed over. Evelyn was wondering too. Had she killed? Robbed? Committed adultery?

"I never hurt anyone." Intentionally, she thought with a wince.

"Then why-"

"It's hard to explain, sweetheart." Impossible to explain. "I'm just warning you. If you want to leave, you can."

He shook his head stubbornly. "I shan't leave you, Miss Evelyn. Now can we please get something to eat?"

She let out a breath, amused. She stood. "Alright. Let's check in first."

"We need a room, please. Just for the night." she told the manager at the front desk.

The manager-an overweight fellow with a thick, handle-bar mustache, nodded as he reached for the paperwork. "Yes ma'am. But first, I require a form of identification."

Evelyn blinked. "Identification?"

The manager nodded once more, solemnly this time. He shuffled the papers as he said, "New rules state that one must now have identification before renting out a room. No identification, no lodging."

Air whooshed out of her chest. Panic rose in its place. "What? But I have no identification. I'm only nineteen. I don't yet drive, and I-"

The man shook his head, replacing the papers from where he had received them. "Then I'm sorry, madam, but you will not be allowed a room."

Anger rose along with the panic. "I asked for a room, you give me a room. Surely you don't expect me to wander around the streets tonight? I need to stay here!" When the man only shook his head, she slapped her hands on the desk. "Give me a room! I demand it!"

A minute later, she and Charlie were both standing outside of the inn, having been escorted by security. Fury had Evelyn clenching her fists and snarling out a word that Charlie should under no circumstances ever repeat.

"Come on. We need to go find another inn." she told Charlie through gritted teeth, taking him by the arm and tugging him along down the street.

"But that's the only inn in Tortuia."

She halted, spun around to face him. Charlie looked baffled. "What do you mean, the only inn? There must be another inn. This is a large city."

"Uh uh." Charlie shook his head, his curls flopping. "There used to be the old Wales Inn, but it burntf down."

Fear, utter fear, gripped her. What could they do? They could not under any circumstances remain outside after nightfall. They would have to break into someone's home. She'd rather risk the county jail than face the darkness. In fact, maybe she should do something outrageous so that they would get thrown in jail. Something bad enough to keep them there overnight. Then when they were released they could move on to the next town, and-

"I know a place we can stay."

Her eyes widened as her increasingly insane thoughts were cut off. "You do? Where?"

"At me cousin. He lives just on the other side of town. If we hurry, we might make it before suppertime. My aunt Joyce always cooks roast on fridays. We-hey!" he added in outrage when she seized him by the ear and proceeded to drag him down the street.

"Where is it? Which way do I go?" She spun around as another thought suddenly occurred to her. "Are you sure he'll permit us to stay?"

"Yes," Charlie said as sullenly as he looked. "He won't mind. He likes me. I'm his favorite cousin even though he's old."

Old, Evelyn thought bracingly. Good. She could use elder advice. "Alright, then lead the way. We have to move quickly," she added as Charlie took her hand and started down the street. She glanced at the steadily darkening sky. The sun would be gone soon. Too soon. Please give us enough time, she prayed.

They flew down the streets, drawing stares from the people they rushed past.

She felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. Looking back over her shoulder, she could see shadows-seemingly harmless, mundane shadows of ordinary things such as carriages, building corners, benches-that were frothing, bubbling, stirring to life when she passed. A shiver ran up her spine along with the terror that seized her heart. She tightened her grip on Charlie's hand as a sense of resolute, almost maternal determination steadied her. She would not allow Charlie to be harmed. Somehow, some way, she would keep him safe.

They turned a corner into a narrow street that was already lined with shadows because of its position behind the sun. Dread had Evelyn breaking into a cold sweat. Her gaze darted around, wary as she studied for any sign of movement within the shadows. She had taken them by surprise, apparantly. They weren't yet awake, unlike the ones hounding her.

"Are we nearly there, Charlie?" she whispered. She nearly ran him over when he came to an abrupt stop. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"What is...Miss Evelyn, what is that?" he breathed, pointing somewhere to the right. Evelyn followed the direction his finger was aimed at. Her breath caught.

The shadow in the corner of the street, dark and thick and ominous, was sifting. Rolling. Crashing their way at an alarming speed.

"Run!" she ordered, shoving Charlie in the back. He stumbled, and then they were both making a mad dash down the street. "Where's the house?" she shouted as they ran. She could barely hear her own voice over the pounding of her heart.

"What's happening?" Charlie sobbed out as small wisps of darkness shot out from the advancing shadow. They cut across Charlie's arms, ripping cloth, leaving behind holly-bright beams of blood.

"Just keep going," she choked, stumbling over the bottom of her dress. She felt a cold tendril wrap around her elbow as fast as a striking snake. Crying out, she wrenched free and struggled to catch up to Charlie.

They rounded a corner that poured them into the open street. The sun was nearly down. Only a thin slice shone above the horizon. People made scattered sounds of shock that turned into strangled screams of agony when the shadows overtook them. My fault, Evelyn thought with a mental sob as she and Charlie streaked down the street, leading the darkness along with them. She could see it out of the corners of her eyes, could watch as it swallowed those they passed. All my fault.

We found you, the voices whispered, their tone tantalizing and infuriating at the same time.

"Let me go!" She writhed on the ground, pain bursting from her knee. The darkness creeped up from her ankle, slithering over her thigh.

We found you, the voices repeated. Finally, the key belongs to us. To ussss...

Drenched, she struggled up again, shaking her sopping hair out of her face. The darkness was binding, wrapping around the lower portion of her body. Constricting even as it traveled upward. It didn't take a fool to guess it was heading right for her neck.

Die, The voices shook in her ears. Die and belong to us.


The fire was moving. Tiny dots, insubstantial as flecks of burning dust, rushing toward her palm. It burned her flesh, drew a scream from her throat as the flecks of light solidified, molding together to form a shape that looked, vaguelly, like the bird depicted in the story book Josie liked to read, used to like to read, at home...

The phoenix was small, hardly larger than Evelyn's head, but held an air of regality as it arched its long neck, rose onto two shimmering fire legs.

The darkness halted its progression. The phoenix reared back its head, opened its blindingly bright beak and-

Nothing. Evelyn heard nothing. Yet the darkness immediately receded as though scalded.

Hurts, hurts, hurts, the voices screeched. Burns, hurts, scalds!

She closed her eyes and felt herself fade away.

The End

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