When the Lights Go Down in the City

One by one, the street lamps between the motel and the two of us began to flicker and die.

Tsillah's grip tightened and she pushed me forward, "Run."  she growled, "Now!"

I'm not ashamed to say I did precisely that.

I ran.  We were maybe three hundred meters from a sports arena and a harbor-front casino.  It was all was pretty well lit up and there was a boat-cruise pulling into the dock up ahead.  Lots of light.

But there was a great distance between me and that safe haven.  I made it about half-way before I had to catch my breath.  I'd chosen a dim little light-stand beside the water, that was supposed to give a good view for tourists.  I didn't care about the view.  My breath came out in short bursts and a pain blossomed in my side. 

A low, dim line of streetlights from the street gave me some visibility, but only enough to make everything else a dim shadow-land of obstacles.  It was so far to the glowing glass building.  I glanced back to Tsillah and my breath caught in my throat.

She stood under the street lamp we'd started from.  She'd shed the overcoat and drawn the sword.  Her skin was almost alabaster white under the harsh light.  She drew a circle about four meters around, walking with the blade.  Where it touched the cement, white fire leaped up.  In the harsh silver light, she was all smooth planes and shadows, a goddess of lines and form.  And all around her, the shadows thickened as if lunging against a physical wall.

Tsillah reached around her neck and pulled her necklace off to brandish the pendant high above her head.

"Vieni a me." She shouted, her voice a clarion call of defiance. "Sono 'lOblio.  Vieni a me."

I gaped. 

From the shadows around her, faces appeared.  It was like they were pushing through a membrane of wetness, a scrim upon which the darkened city had been painted in hues of black and grey. Distinct features separated from the background: a meaty arm, the bent shoulder of something human-like, the long low body of a hunting dog. 

Somewhere, a chorus of frantic barking came from nearby apartments, and I swear I could hear the sound of a horn.

Then Tsillah exploded in movement.  She lunged forward and drew back, whirled and slashed with a fury I couldn't believe.  People just didn't move like that.  Her sword was an extension of herself, the tip and edge awash with silver fire.  Where she struck, gouts of red flashed in the darkness.  She twisted and bent to avoid the pawing grasp of the shadows even as she ducked and stepped back, checked herself, then lunged again sending a half-formed naked man flipping back into the morass of shadows from whence it had come. She ran through a sequence of stacatto bursts and counter-moves, each one resulting in little explosions of red and orange and swallowed by the black maw of shadow.

Silhouetted by the poor light in the distance, I saw an enormous figure rise as if waking from a terrible slumber.  It moved with a ponderous slowness and I knew that Tsillah did not see it, so focussed on the smaller, fleeter shadows that buffeted the edge of her silver-circle.

The shadow-giant towered above Tsillah in the shape of a man, but it's shoulders were on level with the street-lamp itself.  I saw it reach back with both arms and I called out to her to warn her even as it brought both fists crashing down on the ground at the edge of of the silver-flames.  

The ground trembled with such force that I was thrown onto my back.  I rolled to my knees and saw that Tsillah's light had dimmed and sputtered to embers in some places.  All around, the shadows loomed higher.  I could no longer see the lights from the Boulevard beyond. 

Tsillah, too, had been knocked down.  She shook her head and I was shocked to see a line of red at her temple.  She looked my way and there was a madness in her eyes.  She wore a feral grin as she regained her feet and reached for the sword.

Tsillah raised her fist high, brandishing the necklace with the weird crucifix and the light all around her intensified.  She assumed a defensive stance and swished the sword back and forth once and again, then raised it to her lips and inclined her head once to the shadow-giant at the edge of the flames.

"Non è per voi."  She called, and I could hear the strain in her voice. 

The shadow-giant roared back in inchoate rage, a wash of inarticulate noise.

But Tsillah was moving again, cutting the shadows beyond the silver flames of her circle.    Soon, a steady patter of orange and red fireworks went off around her, injuries to the shadows.

"Non mangierete stasera!" Tsillah cried, The blood from her forehead seeped into her eyes, even as she danced, screaming again, "Non mangierete stasera!"

Behind me, something chuckled, low and throaty, and entirely too close to my ear.  I whirled around and found myself suddenly engulfed in a cloying embrace. 

I saw nothing but a milky blackness and smelled only the intense scent of fresh loamy earth.  I tried to twist free, but the cords of veiny fiber wrapped around my legs, my stomach, my chest and pulled me down to the ground.  I arched my back, I fought, I croaked out a strangled denial.

Then, with the last of my breath burning in my chest, I heard Tsillah scream the words from half a mile away, ""Non mangierete stasera!"

And the world around me exploded.

It felt like a wet caul had split over my head and I was awash in sounds and fire.  The memory of her scream faded to blurry oblivion to be replaced with an annoying buzzing sound. 

My heart pounded in my chest, my neck, my forehead.   I was back in the hotel room where Tsillah had come to me.  The wall on the far side of the hotel room blinked cherry-red, awash from the hotel sign outside my window.  It illuminated the television-set, the writing desk, the chair beside it and the clock on top of the television.

8:00 in the morning--an hour before I was to review the test results with Dr. Salminiw.

I forced myself to breathe calmly and slowly; I unknotted myself from the sheets.  I wished it were a dream, but sadly--

"Good. you're awake." A woman's voice startled me out of bed with a yelp.

Irrationally, I leaped out of bed and gathered the covers around my naked frame.  "Tsillah?"  I gasped, not certain if I should be grateful or afraid.

"You snore."  she said as she moved from the shadows of the entryway into the garish light of the hotel-sign.  She wore the same black sleeveless top, but there was no sign of any blood.  She also didn't carry a sword.  I looked.

She didn't offer me any sudden movements.  Tsillah simply gazed down at the street and sighed.  "You stopped running."

The End

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