For the prompt ‘rebellion’ in Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge.
Once, there was a girl with two shadows.
Her name was Taz and they were both there when she woke up. One shadow was herself, just over four feet tall with short hair with mussed in every direction. The other shadow was slightly bigger, with bushy hair that curled. That shadow followed her steps, but not her movements.
Taz jumped up and down, waved her arms around, and danced until her feet were sore.
The shadow would tilt it’s head as if to say, what on earth are you doing? Other times it would shake, it’s shoulders bunched up and shadow hands melting away where they clasped over the face in silent laughter.
One day Taz held out her hand as the sun was setting in the west. The other shadow took her shadow’s hand, and they stayed that way until night seeped through and made them one.
“What happened to her?” Taz’s mother asked the town Alders. Her mother shook with righteous fury under the bruises and the indenture collar they forced on her.
“We don’t know,” they said. They actually said quite a bit, but none of it was helpful. They tried to find out, though. They performed spells of removal and spells of unbinding. They made Taz drink mixtures of herbs steeped in brine. They took knives and tried to cut the shadow away.
The other shadow flipped them off and stuck out its tongue, and stayed very much attached.
“You have to belong to someone else,” Taz told the other shadow one night. “Why are you here with me?”
The other shadow brought its hands together to made a shadow bird flapping its wings, and then wavered to become a storm cloud and a black lightning strike.
In the dark and silence of her room, Taz heard a faint caw and smelled ozone.
Taz asked her mother about it, but her mother turned away, shoulders tight and angry as she went to work. Taz asked the Alder’s when they tried their next experiment with fire and holy oil. They said she was infected with a nasty spirit, don’t ask again, we’ll fix it.
Taz got the distinct impression everyone was keeping something from her.
That night, when her mother took the whiskey bottle to bed, Taz stole the matches and climbed out the window. She snuck past the houses and the edge of town to a ravine that cut its way through the dusty landscape. She walked until she came to the deepest part, where the walls rose twenty feet high on either side above a dry, sandy bed.
Taz gathered dry roots and driftwood and piled them with tight bunches of dried grass. With the matches she lit the tinder and fed it until the fire crackled and popped in the dark.
Taz turned her back to the fire and greeted her shadows that stretched out on the ravine walls.
“I think they made me forget who you are,” Taz told her other shadow. “No one wants me to remember except me. I need your help to do that.”
As if only waiting for permission, the other shadow turned to Taz’s and placed its thumb on her forehead.
Taz gasped as her forearm spasmed in pain. She clutched at it and cried as a black mark bubbled to the surface of her skin. Three long slashes made a triangle that held a circle inside.
Then both shadows reached out from the wall, across the sand, and gestured to the fire.
Taz understood. She bit her lip, closed her eyes, and thrust her arm into the blaze.
There was a scream, but it did not come from Taz, for the mark on her skin writhed like a living thing, wrenching to and fro, unable to escape the flames that did not hurt Taz. The mark seeped out of her skin and ran off like water, sizzling itself out on the coals.
Taz pulled her arm back. It tingled and felt over warm, but not burnt. She gazed up at the other shadow in awe.
She remembered her sister. Taz remembered running side by side with her, crows overhead, watching lightning arc down from the sky and strike the two of them. It fused them, their spirits, together.
Taz remembered her heart tearing in two as the Alder’s separated them. Taz remembered reaching for her sister as her she was loaded into a wagon with others, forced to go to war. The Alders held Taz down and marked her arm, and the memories seeped away like water into dry land.
“Your name is Fred.”
The shadow could not grin, but Taz felt the pride and love radiate as Fred’s shadow embraced Taz’s.
The next morning the Alders took her again and put her in the room with all the tools, herbs, and books of magic. They tried more things they thought would sever her extra shadow.
“We will fix you, darling,” one said, as if that were a comfort. “The dark cannot hold against the light.”
“You don’t understand anything at all,” said Taz.
With Taz’s memories came the lessons Fred taught her. Lessons about balance and nature, magic and willpower, and, above all, the chaos of love.
“I’m sure it seems that way to you now,” one Alder started, and then stopped.
For Taz’s two shadows were growing and melted into each other. They became one and filled the wall, and then the corners, then the ceiling.
They swallowed the Alders’ own shadows and smothered them. The Alders fought each other to run for the door, but one by one they fell to the ground. Triangle marks burst onto their skins. Their eyes clouded with confusion, and they slept.
The girl with two shadows walked home with the key to her mother’s collar.
“It’s time to find Fred,” Taz told her mother.
Later the Alder’s woke on the floor of that terrible little room. None of them remembered why they were there.