The Silence of the Night
Shadows danced across the ground, the city sleeping as a hundred-thousand souls rested, unaware, of the subtle, preternatural shift that was occurring. Streetlights flickered, the bulbs flashing rapidly. Rain fell in waves, leaving the asphalt as black as the abyss spoken of in the Old Books. A lone dog howled in the distance, its call fading into nothingness. Iris listened, knees tucked against her chest as she rested upon the window-seat overlooking the half-dead yard stretching out behind her father's house.
Dark, looming shadows swayed along the edge of the fence on the edge of the property. Iris could see them, watching her house, always silent, as their too-long arms emerged from the dark, inky mass that was their bodies. Their hands disintegrated the moment they touched the boundary, the black, inky substance vanishing into the darkness around them.
This was the third night they had appeared on the edge of her father's property, their sudden interest in her home boding ill for her family. Iris tightened her hands around her knees, drew her thick, soft blanket tighter around her shoulders. Her father, he was likely still asleep. On the floor. Drunk stupid, a part of her snarled as she watched another of the Shades reach for the fence.
Like the one before it, its arm deteriorated and vanished. It lurched back, swaying, bending at unnatural angles before it slinked away towards the forest it had crawled out of. Several took its place, reaching with grasping, formless hands for a fence that would, time and time again, break apart their bodies.
Iris dropped her forehead to her knees. She watched them, the Shades, as she tried to listen for a sound or noise through the gentle whisper of rain on a metal roof. The gentle patter of rain against the glass of her window was a sound that was calming despite the creatures on the edge of her father's property.
She watched them throughout the night, her gaze on them until she drifted asleep.
A City Oppressed
With the arrival of morning, the light of dawn chased the Shades into shadow.
Iris made her way down the stairs, slipping a hoodie over her head as went. She could hear the soft whisper of the television, smell the scent of eggs and bacon cooking on the stove. When she made her way into the kitchen, her father was slumped over the table, several cans of beer next to him, his face mashed into the old wood of the table. Unconscious. Again. Her gaze shifted to her little brother as he shoveled breakfast onto chipped china plates.
"Morning, Iris," her brother greeted her.
Iris offered a soft smile. "Morning, Aspen. Did he wake up?"
Her brother set the plates on the table, kicking their father awake as he said, "He did, yeah. Dragged me out of bed with complaints of an upset stomach."
"Then he shouldn't drink himself stupid," Iris grabbed the milk off the counter as her father groaned, opting to ignore him for the time being as she asked, "Did you sleep alright, Aspen?"
She poured their glasses, setting one down for her brother as he said, "I slept well enough. Had to close my curtains, though. Hard to relax with the Shades pawing the fences outside at night."
A quick glance at their father showed he was still sleeping. Iris scowled, looking away, and then turned to her brother. "We'll need to check the property line. See what we have to do before heading off for school this morning."
Aspen groaned in response, shaking his head. "I thought as much."
With how much it rained, Iris would be surprised if any of the Boundary was still active. Much of it was likely washed away during the storm and they were fortunate it had remained until morning. They ate quietly as Iris pondered how to improve the defenses around the house so rain wouldn't wash it away with every storm.
Once finished, the two went their seperate ways to get ready for the day. Once Iris had her bookbag ready, her boots on, she was surprised to see the spot her father had been at was empty. The plates and glasses were gone from the table. If she listened closely, she could hear the shower running.
Once catching her brother's eye, he was in the front room, she jerked her chin towards the back door and made her way outside. The lawn was a field of green, bright emerald that gleamed as the morning light reflected off dew-laden grass. Iris had always been fond of storms, back before the Shades showed up. There was something enchanting about a garden filled with small beads of water, something almost magical that reminded her of her mother.
Iris made her way to the fence, Aspen trailing after. The ground around the fence's edge was damp, the soil dead and eaten away. She turned to Aspen, voice low as she said, "Grab the iron shavings and the salt. They need to be replaced before we head off to school. There won't be enough time to do it all after school."
He nodded and took off across the lawn, heading towards the little shack resting beneath the tree on the edge of the property. All the limbs that would hang over the boundary had been cut away, leaving it with the appearance of being lopsided. She turned and went after her brother, helping him load a wagon with the iron and salt.
Between the two of them, they were able to lay down the sand-like, iron shavings on both sides of the fence, careful to fill in any gaps. Iris was sure to make the iron foundation wider than a hand's width, knowing the metal would prevent the Shades from getting too close. Then her brother started pouring the salt, a trail of white cutting through the black like a holy bridge suspended over a demonic abyss.
By the time they finished, the sun was rising high into the sky. Aspen checked his watch, then he looked at her. "If we take the bike, we can get to the school in time."
"You driving it this time?"
"Course I am," Aspen leveled what Iris thought was supposed to be a stern look, but he looked mildly amused. She smiled as he said, "Last time you took the pedals, you dumped us into a river."
That was true. Iris let Aspen grab the back, and she stepped up onto the bar sticking out at the back and set her hands on her brother's shoulders. They made their way away from their home, knowing their dad was likely getting ready to head off to work, and the trip into town was a slow, uneventful event.
The Death of a Star
Iris parted ways with Aspen once they reached the school, hurrying inside where the rest of the kids lingered. Girls and boys talked in small clusters around the lockers, teachers wondered the hallways, and the janitor kept his head low as he mopped one corner of a dimly-lit hallway.
She hardly had time to gather herself when someone threw their arms around her shoulders, and Iris laughed as she was spun about. She found herself face-to-face with Kyle, a childhood friend, and his grin was contagious. He took her books, dunking away when she attempted to get them back.
"Morning, Iris. You're late. Have to renew the Boundary?"
"Yeah," Iris eyed her books, then lunged forward. "Rain washed it away!"
The two of them laughed, the darkness of the night before falling away as they made their way for their first class. Iris's voice dropped as she asked, "Was there any accidents, during the night? Aspen and I, we can't hear the bell from our place."
Kyrle shook his head. "No, not this time around. Thank God for miracles."
Iris nodded. It didn't take long for the class to start, for the day to begin, and Iris lost herself in the sludge of school-based activities. She gazed out the window, most of the classes. Her gaze kept rising to the sky, the heavens a clear, glowing blue that betrayed the nightmare their city faced every night.
How long would they face the Shades before someone figured out how to get rid of them? How long would families cower in fear in their own homes each night, wondering if the defensive, salt-laden lines around their homes would withstand the monsters that came when the sun full? Iris closed her eyes, sighing as the thought twisted and turned in her mind.
How long would they have to endure before someone saved them?
Once classes were over, Aspen stopped by to tell her he was heading home ahead of them. Iris bid him farewell, warning him to check the lines. Kyle greeted him, a sharp smile on his face that had the younger boy shifting from foot-to-foot. Iris blinked at the interaction, watching, silent, as her brother fled.
"Were you hitting on him?"
"I didn't say anything," Kyle was grinning when Iris turned to him, her hands settling on her hips as he added, "He's a cute kid. He makes it easy for me to tease him."
"He's fourteen," Iris reminded him.
Kyle raised a dark eyebrow. "And I'm seventeen."
She sighed. "You realize that's still illegal, right?"
Kyle laughed, shaking his head. "I'm not gonna do anything to your brother. I don't fancy myself getting murdered by you or your dad. Not in my gameplan."
They stayed into the evening, the two of them taking Kyle's bike and made their way through the rolling hills of the neighborhood. Iris watched their surroundings, her gaze shifting to the horizon, to the sun that was starting to make its descent.
"We don't have much time," Iris knew Kyle heard her even if he didn't respond.
She wasn't sure how long they coasted along before they crossed the bridge leading into the woods. The path was bumpy, the roads covered in shredded rocks and iron and salt. Iris hopped off, watching as Kyle set his bike against a tree.
Together, they made their way along the path until they came upon the cemetery that rested in a meadow-like clearing. Iris weaved her way between the stones, following the same path she had for years. When she came across the headstone she was looking for, she knelt and ghosted her fingertips over the face of the large, gleaming marble stone.
She smiled. "Sorry I'm late, ma."
Iris sat by the stone, leaning against it, the side of her temple pressed to the stone as Kyle sat and talked to a stone a fair distance away from her. He had a few toys made of wood in his hand, laying them on the ground before the monument with too-bright eyes. She carded her fingers through the grass.
"It's been a few weeks since Dennie died, ma," Iris turned and pressed her cheek to the rock, voice low as she whispered, "What sort of monsters would kill a child, ma? What sort of world do we live in?"
She wasn't sure how long she rested there, only that, when her eyes opened, the sun was sinking below the horizon and Kyle was lying on the grass with his arms behind his head. Sleeping, too. Iris sat up, gaze sweeping over the area, then towards the treeline when she heard something snap in the darkness.
"Kyle!" She was by his side, shaking his shoulder frantically as a tall, inky mass oozed out of a tree across the field from them. It reached forward, body stretching, as Iris grabbed Kyle's shoulders and jostled him. "Wake up, Kyle! Wake up!"
He came around with a start, sitting up and looking around. When his gaze landed on hers, she saw the panic she felt mirrored in his expression. Kyle was rising to his feet, his attention shifting to the Shade as it came from the forest. Then Iris saw past his shoulder, saw the black shapes of creatures rising out of the earth.
It was sunset. It was sunset, and they were in a poorly-warded area due to a storm.
Iris backed up, turning, gaze scanning the area. The Shades were coming, gliding through gaps in the Boundary, some of them stuck on the iron shaving that hadn't been washed away. She watched as one slowly worked its way through, the mass of its lower body splitting and forming leg-like extensions that lifted and pulled on the bits of iron holding it in place.
"What do we do!" Iris turned in a circle, arms coming up around her torso as she watched the creatures slink forward. One was coming off the side, next to the path that led to the trail leading back to where Kyle had parked his bike. "What do we do, Kyle? We can't just stand here!"
Iris knew they couldn't remain where they were. The Shades, while dangerous, were slow. Maybe they could outrun them. She turned, grabbed Kyle's hand, and pulled him away from the gravestone he was by. They rounded one Shade, dunking under its reaching arms, fleeing through the graveyard they had stupidly fallen asleep in. Fear itched at her heart, at the possibility of what could happen if they were caught by those creatures.
She didn't want to think about what Aspen would have to do, if something happened to her. Iris knew her brother was young, that there was a lot he didn't understand. He was eleven when the Shades appeared the first time. The horror that they were, that wasn't lost on him. What they could do to a person, that was.
Iris skidded to a stop when she noticed the Shades had moved to block their path, their inky, vaporous bodies swaying as they stood in front of the salt-line. She backed up into Kyle, face paling as she turned to see other Shades advancing. The Shades, while slow, were far from stupid. They could think, they could hunt.
Then the darkness exploded, the sky seemingly rupturing in a thousand colors.
Falling stars cut through the darkness, curving under the force of the Earth's pull, and Iris watched, arms limp at her sides, body cold and heavy, as one star light up the black, silent heavens directly above her and Kyle's head. Her friend turned his face away, one arm coming up to shield his eyes as the Shades screamed, an unearthly screech similar to that of claws across a chalkboard.
Yet different, somehow, as it was harsher, more inhuman, and guttural.
The Shades that had closed in on them, their arms reaching, reared away as the star came careening towards the earth. Iris couldn't turn her eyes away, her lips parted in awe as the star itself shifted and changed colors - violent red, a soft and beautiful purple, lavenders and pinks and blues that glowed and glimmered. The sight of it filled her with a sort of enraptured attention, pupils shrinking as Kyle screamed her name.
Then he was slamming into her side and the star was slamming into the earth where she had stood seconds ago. Iris turned her face away, the impact throwing wave after wave of power over their bodies. Her hair whipped around her and Kyle, her skirt riding up and her hoodie shoved forward. She curled her legs inward, one arm wrapping around Kyle as they laid there, hearts pounding, in fear.
When one of the Shades lunged for the star, the face-like protrusion that was its head splitting around the middle, creating a gaping maw, Iris could only watch in horror. Then the light behind them shifted, twisting away. As it moved, fluid and graceful, she watched, startled, as she spied the similarity between the Shades and the Stars. The same, fluid-like mass for a body - limbless unless willed otherwise, swaying, unearthly in appearance.
When the Shade came for it, the Star shot an arm-like limb from its own mass and caught the Shade around the neck. Iris watched as the Star hefted the creature off the ground, its light bleeding into the inky mass until it was thrashing, screaming, in its grasp. Then, as the Star had done in the sky, the Shade exploded.
Kyle was gapping at her side, eyes wide.
The Star turned. The Shades backed away, hissing.
Iris sat up, staring, eyes widening as it paused at her shoulder. It seemed to be looking at her, despite the fact it did not have a humanoid form. It was tall and bulky, its form shifting and changing like something inside it was trying to free itself. Then the Star seemed to still, the air humming as parts of its sides broke and the upper portion of its head shifted and rose. Iris watched, Kyle's hand in hers, as the Start began to change, as it began to take a shape like that of a human.
Long, silver-white hair fell around its shoulders. Eyes the color of the Star's descent, a kaleidoscope of brilliance, gleamed. The smile was sharp, inhuman, but Iris knew, at that moment, that this creature was similar to the Shades. It was dangerous. It was as beautiful as it was horrifying.
It was alien.
And, like the death of some celestial being, the Star had fallen from the sky.