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It’s 5:17 pm. Thirty eight minutes to go.

My game has been turned off. Clothes have been put on: Black t-shirt with a little v-neck action for the ladies, darker jeans that don’t smell horrible, and black converse all-star low-tops. And the piece de resistance–One black Pea coat. Most people don’t leave home without their wallet or their cellphone. For me it’s my coat, my protector.

Twenty six minutes to go.

I start focusing more on the task ahead of me and not that of Gizmo’s empty food bowl.

Twenty four minutes to go.

With the puppy face overwhelming my emotions the dog has been fed, perhaps with too much food. I think he’s spoiled and out of shape. He snorted the other day. I thought for a moment I had a pig instead of a Boston Terrier. It wasn’t an adorable kind of snort either. It was deep, like his nose cavities were two cavernous trenches creating sounds unknown to mankind. I was startled to say the least.

Seventeen minutes to go.

I fed myself as well. A quick grilled cheese and an apple. Because an apple a day…yadda, yadda, yadda.  A quick glance in the mirror…..

Three minutes to go.

My heart always starts to beat just a little bit faster when the minutes are in the single digits. There’s so much unknown. There’s too many variables.  But I can’t help that. It’s the nature of the beast.

The time is now 5:55 pm.

Goodbye Gizmo. Don’t wait up for me. It’s sunset and it means it’s time Daddy gets to go to work.

And how I do love my work.

 

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My new associate wasn’t any help. He was out of it. He looked like his head was in the clouds. Sadly though, it was on the ground, detached from the body. The same body it had been stuck to for many years. All the changes they went through together meant nothing now, the growth, the pain, and the familiarity gone in an instant. In a very violent manner.

“You wouldn’t happen to know where that thing is do you?” I asked the head, but only to hear my own voice. I’m not an animator. I’ll leave that job for the talented ladies.

I was ready to give up. I couldn’t search the valley forever. It would’ve been useless. But before I could throw in that proverbial towel, just like the head, the monster found me. What can I say, I’m a freak-occurrence magnet.

From below, black goo engulfed my feet. I couldn’t move my legs. They were trapped. I was trapped. The goo rose higher and higher, reaching the bottom of my pants and climbing steadily. My feet might have been stuck, but my mighty, Thor-like hammer of an arm was ready to pounce. I gathered my strength and cocked back my money-maker and sent it straight down to the beast below. Apparently this wasn’t a battle of strength. My hand sunk into the blackness and not a splash of tar escaped. I was in danger of my having my hand stuck as well. With every ounce of muscle I could muster, I pulled my hand free. Okay, time for a new plan.

It’s always been harder for me to draw upon elements other than fire. Fire is raw and powerful. It’s in my DNA. But water, a calm force, takes much more skill to master and for me way too much skill to master. I only dabbled in the water world. But from the ashes of desperation, men will rise.

As I calmed my breath the thick tar rose up my leg like the green ivy on the walls of my fortress. I steadied myself. I focused on the air around me. As dry as this place had become it still held H2O, and that was all I needed.

The moisture from the surrounding area came to me as I beckoned it to. As I had done before, I gathered my energy and waited for the right time to strike. With speed and force I struck again at the darkness that had ensnared me, but this time, as soon as I made contact with the beast I used the moisture and froze it. From my entry point through the whole of the being it became frozen, hardened by my magic and my basic understanding that when water gets to a certain temperature it freezes. I’m pretty smart.

It couldn’t struggle. It never had a chance. The deep freeze had spread, in moments I could’ve ice skated on the foul time capsule.  For good measure, I stomped the frozen tar until the pieces were small enough to float away in the breeze. I had only one problem left—what the hell was I going to do with the head?

 

 

…and it continued…

A soul is a terrible thing to waste–having it ripped from your body, bit by bit is far worse. Every movement the figure took brought it further out into the light, slowing it but not stopping it. With each second that it stayed in the dim light, the more transparent it became. The Dark and the Light have been enemies long before the existence of mankind, before the dinosaurs first roamed the earth, before there was anything else to fight over. I’ve always remained more in the grey area. I dabble in the light and have been known to partake in the dark. It’s a fine line to tread, but I am ever so graceful.

Gizmo found a beaten down newspaper stand to hide behind. They stopped delivering to this area long ago, long before I had come back. They stopped after the city started to turn.

The creature crept slower towards me and I held my ground. There was only one way to end the existence of a shadow man and that required it to get really close to me. Not something I was terribly excited about.

The only thing you can do to kill a shadow is to turn on a light–a very bright light. If this had been a normal town, with normal clouds, this scenario would not be taking place. The sun would have exterminated it before it came anywhere near me, but also it wouldn’t have existed in a normal town. Normalcy, what do I know of it? Maybe this is normal and the whole world has slipped from the grips of sanity…and into the mouth of madness.

By the time the darkness had reached me, it was nearly see through. I could make out a broken fire hydrant and a rusted child’s bike through the hollow chest of what used to be a man. The tassels on the handle bars were flaking off piece by piece with every gust of wind, sending them to a better place.

The shadow extended both of the masses that resembled arms, towards me, and I didn’t move. I half thought that they would have just passed right through me, like a ghost through a wall, but that was not the case. It grabbed me firmly and pulled me closer. I didn’t fight it. My vision went dark and I blinked rapidly to make sure I hadn’t just shut my eyes out of instinct. No, they were open and the deep darkness of the shadow had engulfed me. My skin crawled and tried to break free from my body, trying to filet itself in hopes of leaving the darkness behind. My teeth chattered and clacked together furiously wanting to join my skin in their great escape. My body felt like it was being pulled from all directions, being torn from the very essence of who I was. But I stood my ground. It would have a hard time finding my soul to steal. That was already sold to another.

I’ve had enough fun and this thing was getting crazed with anger over its failed attempt to feed its hunger. I grabbed it tightly around me and it couldn’t break free. All I had to do was flip a switch and bring light into this abyss. The carvings on my arm erupted in a blaze of light, tearing through the dark. My will, my power flowed around us. Again it tried to break free, tried to find its way home, back to the comfort of the dark. My grip was unbreakable. Brighter and brighter the world around us became. The light cut through the thin being and white fire erupted, burning the evil beast as only fire could. It couldn’t scream, but I could feel the pain it was enduring and it comforted me. I represented the good side, or most of it anyway and another beast slain is another win for the home team.

The thing from the shadows, that once was a man, fell to the ground in a heap of ashes. Smoke rose, carrying hundreds of souls with it; hundreds of bodies would be finally at rest, hopefully at peace. The wind picked up and scattered the remains, along with the pieces of tassel from the bike to a better place, but not with my soul.

Gizmo rushed to my side when it was over. I bent down and gave him the affection he was after. We couldn’t even take a walk anymore without running into trouble, but that’s why I was here, to take care of the trouble. After all, it was my destiny to come back. To stop the city from turning. To right the wrong.

This is my town now. This is Heretic Valley

On my usual, mundane, morning walk with my dog, Gizmo a chilling wind picked up, slapping me in my face. I pulled my jacket tighter around me, flipping my collar up around my neck. Gizmo, a beautiful brown and white Boston terrier, didn’t take notice to the hateful wind. His tongue stuck out, daring it to do its worst.

The street was abandoned. It has been that way for a long time. The shadow men of the night have retreated back into their corners, resting and waiting for full dark to come once again. Well, most of them anyway. A dark figure crept alongside the broken down shamble of a house adjacent to us. Out of the corner of my eye I could see his movement with quick glimpses of his body through the silhouettes of the buildings he was hiding behind. He was rubbery and rigid all at once. He could bend his body to stay hidden but could go stiff as a board when need be. He dripped what looked like black tar as he went, or maybe it was my mind giving me that illusion of it as I watched. To look at it, you feel the evil, like a predator looking for prey. But this thing would soon find out that it was looking in the wrong direction this morning.

I told my dog to hide on the other side of the street and he did. We have a bond and communicate better than most. He’s most likely smarter than me, but I’d never tell him that.
I waited in the center of the mostly unused street. There may be a stranger from time to time wander through, lost and looking to get the hell out as fast as they could. For me, I was safe in the street–except for that long shadow sneaking closer. I waited for IT to make a move, gathering my strength and power.

The creature was scared to leave its home and the sweet security of the dark. Reluctantly, it finally emerged, showing me the full, misshapen feature that it was. Standing seven feet tall, slender not unlike a Festivus pole, and its face, its face was the worst part. There were eye sockets, but no eyes, just sockets. The round holes were somehow darker than the rest of its thin body. The mouth had been stitched together with material that looked like fishing line. There were no fingers, no feet; just matter that connected to the rest of its body. I was wrong before when I called this merely a thing. I knew what it was and I didn’t like the answer.

Staying in the shadows for so long will change a person, change who they are, or even what they are. The valley can be cruel like that. It’s a harsh place to live for people so easily deceived. They get promised everything they’ve ever desired and in return they get everything they’ve ever feared. This thing could only live off of one substance now—souls. It eats souls, or more accurately it absorbs them.

To be continued…

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