Only A Shadow

November 24, 2011
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I pull on my cloak and step into my shoes before slipping out into the cold, wet darkness
I push my umbrella up and take my first step, and I am only a Shadow.
A Shadow which prowls the streets when the moon is at it’s highest and the stars their brightest.
I step past two men in deep conversation, they seek shelter under an old bus stop. The bus arrives, it’s lights illuminating a pathway on the dark, etchy road. I crawl across the slippery street, counting each paved brick I step on. I turn right at the ancient, paint chipped lamppost and then left at Tom’s new bookstore . I face a small alley. There’s a rustle and a group of rats scatter into view, I watch them jump into the huge black bins which are filled with tasty human morsels. I walk gingerly and scrunch my cloak tighter. “Tighter to what?” I think as I come to the end of the alley. I have entered the central park which is unoccupied and asleep except for the pitter patter of raindrops falling into the fountain and dripping onto the green oak trees. I walk past the old swing set and ride once on the broken roundabout. I wonder through the deserted park, looking for something I cannot name. A clue? A sign? I sit down on a bench in which two lovers have engraved their initials. As a shadow, I cannot love. I cannot feel or show any emotions. When I fall or hurt myself I don’t shed a tear. I cannot feel the affection towards my peers like everyone else. I gave all that up when I took the role of the Shadow to protect the people. I slip and crawl around in the dark, people never notice me. So quiet am I that not a single leaf rustles when I rush past trees. Yet, I am not happy with the life I have, and search for a way to possess another. I hope that I shall awake one day and instead of a shadow, I shall have the body of a bumblebee. A bumblebee who goes and collects the golden jewels in which are made into the sweet syrup we call honey. Maybe I will just be a thought, a wish, dream, a hope. Maybe I will become a tree, tall and swaying in the breeze, home to squirrels and other woodland creatures, losing all my leaving in autumn and being reborn in the spring. But for now, I remain a shadow, and I crawl back into the life I once had, lonely and only a Shadow.
When the people of Zara were in the time of Great Fear they called upon people who would sacrifice their life and take that of a Shadow. A magik that hadn’t been used in years. The people were dieing of hunger because everyone was too afraid to step outside to harvest the crops. They were scared of The Great Wolf. He prowled around at night, taking woman and children to his den to eat or as slaves. People say he takes the form of a human when its summer, but people will believe anything. So when these people took the form of the Shadow, no one would see them, including The Great Wolf. They would guard the villages and convince the people that there was nothing to worry about. Soon ,however, the Shadows started to mysteriously disappear. They would head out in the night to guard a village but would never come back in the morning. The heads of Zara tried to keep this from their people but words spread like wildfire and soon everyone knew the dangers of being a Shadow. No one volunteered anymore and soon there were only 9 shadows left, and they were disappearing fast. The heads of Zara then had to resort to force. Once every year, a group of children were taken form each village and lined up in the county square. The head of Zara would overlook their personalities and personal lives, they would inspect each one closely and pick out 2 from each group, these were the next generations of Shadows. The children were taken away from their parents, loved ones and families. It didn’t matter how young or old they were, as long as they could still learn and had the mind of a child.
The Shadow form can only work in the mind of a child. As soon as they learn too much or become too old they were discarded like trash. The children were taken to a big institute where they experimented on different types of the Shadow, trying to make it more flexible, stronger, faster. They didn’t know that you couldn’t change the Shadow to something you wanted. Only something you need. The Chosen children ,as they were called, were highly respected by the people of Zara. They were told that their parents got sent a bag full of rice and vegetables each month as a reward for their hard work. Soon this became unsustainable so the packages stopped coming. The children never got told. They never got letters, phone calls, never heard any news. They were completely brainwashed by the system. Even when they became old enough to go out on trips alone, they never looked around to see what a state the villages have become. I knew that while I ate my meal of rice piled with vegetables and soup, that many children, my age, were scouring the dirt just to find a grain. I didn’t do anything though, just played with the thought in my mind.
I was only 5 when I was taken from my family. I still remember the day well, I find that if you ask any of the Chosen children what day they were picked, they will be able to remember instantly. I had a brother and two sisters, rare in Zara as boys were favored by girls as they took the form of the Shadow more easily and learnt to keep their mouth shut. The head of Zara recently made a rule that that no more than 4 children were to be had in each family. They knew that if everyone had 4 children, most of them would be boys which meant more Shadows. The children came from girls we call Birthmothers. They provided the babies for the families, the babies were given to families who could sustain them, feed them, school them and teach them the rules of the Zara people. Once a year, a group of families would be chosen and a big giving ceremony would be held and the families would be given their new children. The children were never told about any of this, they found out for themselves when they were older from friends, on the radio or books.
The day was a cloud-free, beautiful, sunny with some breeze . My best friend, Jakob, and I were playing in the wheat fields while our parents were harvesting the wheat to make bread. My family had a strong mind and believed that if the Great Wolf so happened to pounce upon us, we would be able to defeat him. Jakob and I were only small so most of these myths and information was hidden from us. We didn’t have a care in the world. Our fun was interrupted with a loud hoot from a big black van. Cars were scare in Zara, not many people could afford them and even if they could, the roads were abandoned ages ago. Mother looked up and almost fainted, this caught the attention of Father who then also saw the black van, we all thought it was funny, father almost never had anything but a straight face. In the next moment, three men come out of this strange vehicle and strode Jakob's and my makeshift sandpit in the garden. The next thing I remember were these big, strangers taking hold of us and dragging us towards their black van. Mother and father could not do anything to help us, they knew this day was going to come .Jakob and I knew nothing, we didn’t know that we would never see our parents again, or our home, or our sandpit. We were being taken away to our nightmare.
We were thrown in the back of the black van. Jake and I squashed into a corner, surrounded by rice and odd smelling, rotten cabbages. I had never felt so lonely and scared, in my life. I lent against my only friend and care in the world, Jakob, and cried until I fell asleep.
The next few moments of life was a blur, we were taken to the institute and the men in black tried to separate Jakob and I. I wasn’t ready to let go of him, my only friend in this strange place and he obviously felt the same because we wouldn’t let go of each other. So we were thrown, once again, into a dark room with a single wooden bed and a lopsy bedside table. The walls crawled with bugs and spiders and the bed was full of lice. We slept on the floor and moaned together of the wonderful childhood we had just lost.
Over the next few years, Jakob and I went into Shadow training, we were told the rules of becoming a Shadow, what a great honor it was and why we were chosen. It was just a bunch of lies and you had to have a great ear to see when they were telling the truth. Once we turned 13, the separation really began. Girls were trained to teach and only some special girls were chosen to become Shadows. Jakob and I rarely saw each other except in the hallways and when we made a secret mission to meet in the trees at evening. We never though we were anything but best friends but peers would tease and soon we only spoke by code and when we met in the forest.
The Chosen children take the form of the shadow when they turn 14 for boys and 15 for girls. You were never told when it was your time, you were taken by the men in black and never would you see any of your peers again. No-one has any memory of being turned into a Shadow, people say they erase your memory of it while you are going through the process. Some kids take it better than others, some don’t even make it. No-one is told when this happens, they are too scared that they may frighten the younger ones. Some Chosen children spend days in recovery, they don’t remember anything, they can’t move or speak, they just lie there. Word spreads though, and soon Chosen children were trying to escape from the institute. More and more children were refusing to take the form of the Shadow. The Heads then had to choose younger children to take the form of the Shadow, these children were faster, more agile, stronger, the Heads saw this as a breakthrough but what they didn’t know was that the Shadow was eating the inside of the children. They were tired quicker, became sluggish, then they vanished.
I always kept my mind open and looked out for things that didn’t seem right, the Shadow takes shape differently in some people , according to their personality. I didn’t cause fights or get into trouble, I formed bonds with the teachers and bribed some of the older Shadows. I found that with a little patience, they would open up and tell you things they weren’t even supposed to know, they wouldn’t remember they said it but I would file it in my brain and go over it carefully, separating opinions from the facts. When I took the form of the Shadow at night, I would give myself time to think, nobody spied on you to make sure you were doing your duties so I crept around, trying to uncover Zara’s secrets.
I am now 18, almost an adult, these are my last few years of being a Shadow, then I shall be released. Not into our world, the Head is too scared that we shall tell everyone of our experiences. No, I shall be put to sleep, well before my time but that is the ritual for those of the Shadow. Everyone will morn for those lost, bury them in the already overflowing grave yard. Then they would never be spoken of again, forgotten, like they were just a dream. I never understood the ways of the Zara, why they were so scared of something that they had created themselves. I never saw my mother or father again, they would never hear of my leaving. I never saw my childhood friend, Jakob, again but I heard that he was put down early because he put up a resistance. I left my life as a child to protect people, people who destroy the earth out of selfishness, people who can’t see out of their own eyes, they don’t look around and take things into their mind and savor them for later. They were too scared to open their eyes because they didn’t want to see the truth, even though it was staring at them in the face. The Zara continue to live their lives in a continues cycle that does not include love, they do not question themselves, try to put things in perspective, try to show a little compassion. No. We live in a world of heartless shadows.

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