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The Shadow Weaver
“’Morning, Leona.” Willow let the heavy wooden door swing closed behind her, and waved to the old woman in the corner.
Leona’s thin lips crinkled up into a smile, adding a few extra creases to her already wrinkled face. The whir of her sewing machine slowed, and she beckoned the girl over.
“Come, child. You’ve got a long day ahead of you.”
Willow skipped across the small room, her leather messenger bag thumping against her hip. She reached out to touch the glittering black fabric, held fast under the needle of the machine. It draped across the table and flowed over the edge, reaching all the way down to the floor to rest among the loose bobby pins and scraps of thread.
“This is a tall one, huh?”
Leona nodded. “There’s a young man on the south side of town who’s growing like a weed. At this rate he’ll outgrow his shadow by next week!” She chuckled. “Lord knows he’ll be needing a few extras woven in the years to come.”
Willow patted her bag. “Do you have a lot of shadows for me today?”
“I’ll reckon.” Leona gestured to the large, reed basket at her feet. The black bundle inside was pulsating slightly, as if it had a heartbeat. Shadows, once woven, were restless to find their owners.
Willow collected the bundle in her arms and stuffed it into her bag. The day’s delivery was almost too large to fit, and she could barley get the buckles to click securely.
Leona reached out and took one of the girl’s hands, her calloused, leathery fingers pressing against Willow’s soft, smooth skin. “Do your work quickly, now. I’ve got a special task for you when you return.”
Willow held her head high. It was not often Leona bestowed other duties on her, besides delivering shadows. “Yes, ma’am.”
She turned and scampered across the room, past the large loom in the corner, from which an unfinished shadow hung half-woven, and yanked open the oak door. She took the steps two at a time, bursting out into the warm May sunlight and dashing down the street like a jackrabbit. Peddlers waved to her as she passed, their straw hats and tapestries displayed on their wooden carts. She greeted them with a smile, but didn’t linger to talk. She had a job to complete.
The day’s first recipient was an old man out at the outskirts of town. He was seated on his front porch in an old rocker when she found him, his wispy white hair combed neatly over his speckled head. Willow, with her well-trained eye, could see that his shadow was frayed slightly at the edges, and just a tad misshapen.
“Well, hello there, Missy,” he greeted her. “Have you got a little something for me?”
“Sure do!” She whipped a fresh shadow from the bag and held it up proudly, as if she had woven it herself.
“Would you look at that,” the man mused, rising from his chair with the help of a thick cane. Willow knelt down beside him and tugged gently at the edge of his shadow. It gave way with little resistance, and the new one was eager to take its place. Willow folded up the frayed shadow and tucked it in her satchel, then nodded to the man.
“There you go. That should last you a good while.”
She bid him goodbye and went on her way. All through the town, she sought out people in need of new shadows, from the McForren’s newborn baby to the local barber to the gangly boy on the south side of town. By the time she had completed the day’s work, it was well into the afternoon.
She trudged back to Leona’s little cottage, her feet sore in her shoes, and climbed the steps. In her sewing room, Leona was seated at her loom, swiftly weaving a brand new shadow, which Willow had no doubt she’d be delivering to some grateful soul tomorrow. She paused her work when Willow entered, and looked up.
“There you are.” She beckoned the girl over, and patted the squat stool beside her. “Come, sit with me.”
Willow obediently took a seat. She hefted her bag over her shoulder and let it fall to the floor with a thump. “This morning, you said you had a special task for me?”
“Yes, indeed I do.” The old woman sighed, the bags beneath her eyes seeming to sag even farther than usual. She rested her palms on her knees and flexed her knobby fingers. “These hands are growing stubborn in my old age. I am not as swift a weaver as I was in my younger days, and each day it gets harder and harder for me to keep up with the townspeople’s demands for shadows. I can’t go on much longer.”
Willow’s eyebrows shot up in worry. “But you have to! Who else is going to weave if you can’t?”
Leona’s blue eyes glistened. “Ah, I think I might be looking at her right now.”
“Me?” she gasped. “You mean I’m going to become a Shadow Weaver?” Willow sucked in her breath. “But I’m just a delivery girl.”
“You have potential. I’m sure of it. I won’t be around forever, and there is no one I trust more for this job than you.” Leona lifted a finger to stroke the hardy wooden frame of the loom. Then she slowly stood up from her seat and stepped aside, gesturing to the empty chair.
“Sit down, child. You have much to learn.”