Published on 2012/04/30

Shadow Lights

Danielle Shipley

Bedtime. What an utterly tiresome charade that’s always been. I am not like the rest of my siblings, just as none of us are like the rest of humanity. I am not a diurnal creature which sleeps by night, nor a nocturnal creature which sleeps by day. Rather, as far as I can tell, I am a creature without the need to sleep at all, or at least one which can get by quite well with very little of it. I can sleep, if I apply myself, but the act of sleeping seems to drain more energy than it yields, so I almost never bother. Instead, I often wait until the rest of the household is asleep, and then I hop out of bed and carry on with Adrian’s Day, Part Two. (“This time, it’s even darker!”)

This particular night, then, began as a deceptively typical one. My first item of business was to finish flipping through the picture book I’d been forced to abandon when bedtime was declared. No additional light required; I can see better in the dark than most people can in daylight – myself included.

Following the book’s conclusion, I entered the girls’ room, in search of handmade wonders – made by Kyra’s hands, specifically. One never knew what extraordinary things might be born of the most ordinary objects, once Kyra got her little fingers around them, although one might safely guess that most of the transformations would produce something shiny. Kyra adored pretty, shining things. So did I.

That very night, I discovered chains of gold, trinkets of silver, gems in three kinds of every rainbow hue. I made plans to relocate them all to my private locker sometime before the night was over. Kyra wouldn’t miss them. Kyra didn’t appreciate them. If I waited a cautious number of days before revealing my possession of the less distinctive items, Kyra would not even remember that they had ever been hers. And yet, if I asked her permission for them, Kyra would withhold it, just because she could. It was not difficult to “borrow” from such a sister.

I was trying a ruby ring on for size (effeminate, I questioned, or aristocratic?...) when I took notice of the sippy-cup resting almost upside-down near Kyra’s pillow, dribbling golden liquid onto the sheets. Helpful young man that I’ve always been, I picked up the source of the mess, with the intention of setting it somewhere out of the way on the floor.

But then I paused. Looked contemplatively at the cup. Wondered.

This was some few years before this mystery drink came to be known as the Kyra Cocktail (and still more years before we knew how literally divine a nectar it was). None of us children ever bothered to call the drink by anything at all, really. If Kyra wasn’t drinking it at the moment, we weren’t likely to be thinking about it; if she was, and one of us wanted a serving of our own, asking for it was as simple as saying, “Hey, gimme some!” And I had never even requested that much for, out of the six Shepherd children, I was the only one who had yet to crave a taste of Kyra’s favorite beverage. As I’ve indicated, I don’t bother much with asking Kyra for favors. And I’ve never been much for bandwagons.

But now that I happened to have the drink in my hand – the refreshing chill of it evident through the plastic cup even after who-knew-how-long it had been sitting out, and its maker too deep in slumber to have any say about it – it seemed as good a time as any to finally try a sample swallow. And so I drank, and nearly moaned aloud.

It was. So. Good.

Sweet and spicy, cool and warming, quenching a thirst I hadn’t known I had.

Heavenly.

I turned toward Kyra, tempted to wake her, to beg her to supply me with more than this measly half-a-cup. But the sight of Kyra wiped all thoughts of drinking from my mind.

For she glowed.

They all glowed – Kyra, Cornelia, Venessa! – shone faintly with a gray and ghostly light.

Impossible! I knew my sisters. They had never glowed. Why the sudden change in them? Or... a change in me?...

At random – why Cornelia? – I woke the life-giver they knew as my twin; the one I would soon know as my opposite.

"Cornelia," I whispered, "do I glow?"

Of course I didn’t glow, what kind of question...?

"But you glow," I told her.

Really? She did?

Oh, yes.

What did it look like?

It was like she was lit from within, by a small white candle, or a living star. And the living light cast a shadow, yet not a shadow – a shadow not of darkness, but simply of lesser light. And this shadow light moved with her, inside of her, in her likeness. Two synchronized Cornelias – self and shadow self.

I reached out toward the star, the candle, the inner flame; not thinking what would happen if I touched it, or if I even could touch it; knowing only that it was beautiful to me, lover of shining things.

And then the light responded, the little flame passing through the shadow light and Cornelia herself; drawn to rest in my hand.

She told me it felt all wrong. Like something vital had been taken from her.

She saw my little hand holding a light – her light, she was sure of it, knowing it for hers without knowing what the heck it even was. And she wanted it – needed it back.

Had she only asked – tried persuasion instead of force, instead of trying to snatch it away...

Well, I hear her say, I guess we can’t all be expert snatchers like you! Light-sucking, life-snatching—

I DIDN’T KNOW, CORNELIA!

I couldn’t know that dropping the light would cause it to go out – that your shadow light would float away like a child’s balloon lost to the sky – that your empty body would tumble to the floor, lifeless!

And don’t you think it hurt me? Scared me? Nearly drove me mad? For all my self-importance, I was only a five-year-old boy! And you were my sister, and I loved you, and all I wanted was to take back what I’d done. To see you glow again. But how could you, when I’d lost your light? When I saw no way of getting it back?

But... if it could not be recovered... could it be, perhaps, replaced?...

I looked at Kyra and Venessa; left the girls’ room and reentered my own, where I looked at Joshua and Adler; crept into my parents’ room to look at Mom and Dad. They all had lights.

With silent speed, I left the house, in search of something small; something that slithered or scurried; something that none would miss. Would these, too, have lights?

Yes. A mouse. No shadow light for him, but he had a living flame. I called it to me, left the mouse where it lay, and returned to Cornelia’s side. I tried to shove the light inside of her, but it would not stay. It would not fit. The mouse’s light was a square peg to Cornelia’s round hole.

I needed a round peg.

As the dead mouse hadn’t gone anywhere, I tried putting his light back where I’d found it. The reanimated mouse took the opportunity to run. I took some comfort in that – offered hope that my sister, too, could revive unharmed, if only I could find a flame that better matched her own.

Square peg, square hole.

Mouse body, mouse flame.

Girl’s body...

My eyes turned back toward my house. ...Then to the next house over.

Our nearest neighbors had a girl. She was seven-, closer to eight-years-old, not much older than Cornelia, roughly her equal in size. Sister to a five-year-old boy...

No.

I would not do that to him. To her. To another little girl with so much life yet to live.

...But.

They also had a grandmother.

Old. Feeble. Doing rather poorly for as long as I could remember. Surely, she couldn’t have very long to live, anyway. Surely, if she knew her death would save a little girl’s life... And she wouldn’t know, would she? No one would. Not ever. And what they didn’t know...

I was crying, now; sobbing quietly for the awful choice before me. Do nothing, and Cornelia stayed dead. Save Cornelia, and another died.

Do nothing. Accidental tragedies happened. Some things couldn’t be recalled.

Except by the lord of death.

Save Cornelia. No matter the hideous cost; the cost to our neighbors; the cost to myself.

The house was locked tight, but this meant less than nothing to me. Had I so chosen, I could have passed through the wall, from shadow to shadow, but I did not even bother to enter. I could see the living lights shining faintly through the solid darkness. I could feel, with some sense outside the standard five, the flame I sought. The flame that separated life from life, and death from death.

And I called it to my hand.


An adolescent obsession with mythology and current passion for young-adult fantasy joined forces in the drafting of the novel from which “Shadow Lights” was born. Danielle’s publication history includes pieces in the anthology "A Cuppa and an Armchair" (a collaborative venture joining writers and the charity Equipe), online literary journal Luna Station Quarterly, and The First Line literary journal. As-yet-unpublished work includes the reverse-urban-fantasy novel, “The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale”, and the multi-fairytale-inspired series, “The Wilderhark Tales”.