Read These Shadows Remain Online

Authors: B W Powe

Tags: #Literature

These Shadows Remain

BOOK: These Shadows Remain
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B.W. POWE

THESE SHADOWS REMAIN

 A FABLE

 

PROSE SERIES 86

 

GUERNICA

Toronto – Buffalo – Lancaster (U.K.)

 

2011  

 

 

 

FOR MY MOTHER ALYS MAUDE
AND MY FATHER BRUCE ALLEN

 

 

 

The fire threw up figures . . .

. . . the phantom rulers of humanity

That without being are yet more real than what they 

are born of, and without shape, shape that which 

makes them:

The nerves and the flesh go by shadowlike, the 

limbs and

the lives shadowlike, these shadows remain, these 

shadows

To whom temples, to whom churches, to whom 

labors

And wars, visions and dreams are dedicate.

Robinson Jeffers, Roan Stallion

 

 

Dr. Eldon Tyrell: What seems to be the problem?. . .

Roy Batty: I want more life, f*****.

Human to replicant

in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner

 

 

 

THESE SHADOWS REMAIN

A FABLE

 

 

 

“Where is this?” he murmured.

He thought he sat under an antenna. It was a tree. He thought he was staring at a TV screen. It was the sky. He thought he was in a seat in a theatre. It was the earth. He thought his ears buzzed with static. It was the air.

“Who's there?” he said, thinking someone or something was close.

He closed his eyes. Images, strange and shadowy, began to appear to him, like projections on the backdrop of his eyelids. Suddenly the shadows were part of him. He felt that he belonged in their dark straying. Then there was nothing.

*

The knight woke up alone in the woods.

He scrambled for his sword and shield, but they were nowhere to be found. He looked for a road, a path, a break in the trees, an overgrown trail, anything that could be a sign. There were no animals lurking near, no sounds of birds or insects, nothing that might have guided his senses about wind currents or ancient trails. The woods were darkened, and there were no sounds or scents coming from the trees or the thin grass that might have told him he was close to a place he could call home. He was utterly lost, and he didn't know how this had come to be.

*

He looked at one tree then at another. He remembered that he knew how to read trees. He looked hard, thinking that if one rustled or lifted its branches or allowed its leaves to turn and turn, his memory would stir and he could say now I know the trees will guide me again. But they didn't move. There was no wind. And he felt a sudden tearing isolation, deepening his feeling of being lost.

He realized that he couldn't recall his name. The world was mute and still. And he had no name. He looked down at what he wore, silver chain mail, and a tunic covering with a bold drawing of a ship's mast, its sails tightly furled, emblazoned in red. On his hands there was a set of black chain mail gloves. He saw clearly that he was – or once had been – a knight. But he had no sword, no shield, no belt, and no scabbard.

It was as if he had been scrubbed clean of his past. What had done this, and why?

He looked around for clues. There was the mast of the ship on his tunic, the intricately woven chain mail. Surely these were clues, but to help him or hinder him? The world wouldn't speak. Somehow he expected it to, or had once believed that it would always rise to him with speech. He stood slowly looking first to the left and to the right, then slowly to the front and back, and he felt unsteady and exposed.

A memory came. He had been a help to others. But who was going to help him now? The feelings of confusion were like a wound. He suspected that the feelings were raw because they were new.

*

Children wearing rags wandered into the glade.

They came picking their way through the brush and fallen trees, over the stumps and the twisted branches, and their wandering was slow and careful, like people learning to walk, and hesitant about their unmapped path.

The children were covered in dust. Each child gripped the hand or shoulder of the next child for balance and for direction, and their heads were down, and they stared at the ground and their feet, and they moved with the deliberate steps of ones who knew they must go on, across the branches and stumps which reared up like obstacles meant to stop their trek.

They walked silent and intent. The dust covered each face like a mask but rimmed the eyes in a way that left them strangely bright.

He could see that in their downcast eyes there was this odd but beautiful brightness. They hadn't seen him yet. But he watched them wander silently towards the place where he stood.

Then the two tallest children, a boy and a girl, at the front, saw him. They stopped, and the others shuffled close and huddled and came to a halt, and glanced up, and saw him too.

The ragged children said nothing. They just gazed, and gazed.

He felt their terror under the rags and dust. It was what had driven them into the woods that refused to speak or reveal a path.

*

The girl spoke first.

“Are you human or image?”

The knight didn't understand, though the words were on the verge of conjuring memories for him.

“Are you dream or nightmare?” She looked deeply into him.

“I don't know,” he answered. “What's your name?” the boy asked. “I don't know that either.”

“Then we'll have to name you. I'm Gabrielle. He's Santiago, my brother. You're

Tomas.”

“That will do.”

“A good name, if you're human,” she said. The knight, now Tomas, didn't understand the importance of what Gabrielle said. 

He looked closely at the other silent children. They stood shivering in a long scraggly line. The air in the forest was warm and close, so Tomas guessed the shivers were from the terror he had sensed. It was in them, and it was everywhere.

“There's a war going on, isn't there?”

“Of course, didn't you know?” Gabrielle said.

The war came back to him. He had fought in it.

Was he lost because of this?

*

He remembered battles and a broken sword. Shadows seethed on a field. He heard howls, cries of shock.

“Who's at war?”

“Our dreams turned on us,” the girl said. “The toons. We thought they were our friends. Our company. The ones who made us laugh. They gave us stories and helped us to sleep at night. The ones who showed us that everything, all animals, creatures, flowers, things, could speak. They became nightmares.”

“And they've captured our parents. They've turned on the world. They're hunting for humans. They hate anything made of flesh and blood,” Santiago said.

The children moaned and looked down at the earth. They shuffled their feet. Dust motes shook off from their rags, floating down to the ground. The motes looked like tiny creatures trying to escape from beings more massive than they. The trees swayed for the first time, though no one could have detected a wind.

*

Tomas flinched. He gazed down at his gloves. They were remnants of his fighter's livery. But he knew that they were hiding something too. He suddenly knew that he had been told – by whom? – not to remove his gloves. The boy and girl often stared at them. Their stares were wary. Was he friend or foe?

He flinched again, because for an awful instant he wasn't sure himself.

Whom did he serve? 

He felt lost again.

But he saw that the children, especially Gabrielle and Santiago, were more curious about him than terrified. They stared at his gloves, and they were cautious, and yet they remained, and didn't show any sign of preparing to run. The children, with slow shuffles, came closer to him.

He sensed that their need was more important than their terror.

When Tomas thought this, and the words “the terror” ran through his mind, he shuddered. Then he thought this isn't right: a knight shouldn't shudder. A knight mustered courage, and stood bravely in the storm. But he felt fear in the children. And his body carried invisible scars that edged into his feelings whenever the terror came to him.

“Tell me about this terror,” he said. 

The children came closer.

“How did you know,” Gabrielle whispered, “this is what the toons have become? How did you know that's what we call them?”

“Tell me about the toons.” Already Tomas sensed that he knew more than his mind allowed him to see. A flash came. Across the plain the shadows chased the children. The shadows had set out to absorb humanity. He saw in pieces.

*

Gabrielle and Santiago turned telling the others to circle around the knight.

“They were real only in our imaginations,” Gabrielle began. “Then they wanted more reality. First they were jealous of us. Then they came to hate us.”

“They were changed,” Santiago said. “A great magic changed them.”

“Wait,” Tomas said. “You're jumping ahead. I must know the whole story. Tell me.” 

The children sighed and shivered. This time Tomas thought they were feeling a cold blast from some place.

Instinctively he stepped closer to them. He put his arms out in a wide embrace then gently rested one arm on the shoulders of Gabrielle who stood close to one side, then the other arm on the shoulders of Santiago, who stood close on the opposite side.

“Tell me,” he said softly.

His glance was kind on the children, and they found that they trusted him.

*

“The toons,” Gabrielle said. “That's where it began. All the creatures we'd dreamed. We'd watched them on screens since we were babies, we'd heard the stories. We'd seen them in pictures. They were the pictures our families made for us.”

A little boy in the circle whimpered. The knight lifted a solacing hand from Gabriele's shoulder and patted him on his cheek. Tomas was deeply surprised to feel protective tenderness, but he accepted the feeling. It seemed important to do so.

“Go on.”

The images had become real. They had penetrated into this realm of things. The images were no longer elsewhere, on a structure which conveyed them, screen or page. They were here. They had obliterated human history. Their time was now.

Tomas realized that he would know things about the story before Gabrielle said anything more. This was another surprise.

“Let me,” Santiago said. “I'll tell you.”

*

“Batman, Spiderman, Superman, the Fantastic Four, the dinosaurs in
Fantasia,
the animals, the singing cups, the lions, Aladdin, the talking cats and dogs, the angels who'd once helped, the ghosts who had been everyone's friends in the world, spiders and tin soldiers, ballerinas and beasts, the talking horses and singing birds, the ones that made you laugh, and the ones that scared you but turned out to be alright in the end. They came into the world suddenly. So suddenly they took our parents. We don't know where the grownups have gone. All we saw was their fading out like a trail into darkness. You know what I mean. When the screen loses its colour and images and movements and voices and just goes black. Then they came for us. And they came for the grownups they hadn't captured. We called them the toons. That's what we'd always called them. They overran the world, full of anger and hate. And they were scary spreading like that. They seemed . . . hungry.”

*

Gabrielle said, “Let me continue: so we ran. And when we ran others joined us. Our friends, our neighbours. Other children. Running into the woods and from there we looked back and we saw a great battle in the night. Only sil o sil o sil o sil o.”

“Silhouettes,” Tomas said with precision. He knew what she meant.

“Like shadows,” a girl in the circle offered. “All shadows now. Even most of our parents.”

“There was a battle in the dark,” Gabrielle said, “between the grownups that hadn't been turned and the toons. The noise was terrible. It went on and on. And we hid. We covered ourselves in branches and earth. But the toons won and they sent the grownups running. All we could hear were the toons calling us in the night. They said, ‘Come here little ones, come here. Don't try to run. Come here, come here.' Their voices were so sweet, and that made it worse.”

“That's why you call it the terror.” 

Tomas felt the children's eyes on him. Gabrielle nodded.

“You know,” she said.

“Yes.” He gazed away from the circle for the first time, into the distance beyond the trees.

*

The boy said, “We think the grownups who survived went north. There's a castle in the hills. It belonged to the toons. But they don't live in castles anymore. They don't live in our dreams. They live with us. The castle is set over a valley, not far. We're orphans. But we need a place to go.”

“It's the last castle. The castle of the human beings,” Tomas said.

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