Arabel James

United States


July 6, 2015

All day, you have worked to build up your wall. A safe place, you tell yourself, for your family to live, at least for one night. The wall is tall, built of solid grey stone, mortared together by your own two hands. Refuge and shelter lie behind it. Safe from everything imaginable--except the inevitable.

Tonight, as the moon shifts directly above the city, the Umbra Hora, the Shadow Hour, shall begin. As soon as the Shadow comes, it will simply touch the wall that you labored all day to complete, and it disappears. No trace of evidence that a wall had ever been built remains, no piece of dried mortar, no fragment of broken stone. The Shadow takes every shelter that has been constructed since it left the night before. Should fortune smile upon you, your family will come out unscathed--but no matter how strong your wall is, the Shadow will take it. You wonder, then, how long you will last. New victims are claimed with each passing evening. Would tonight be the last night of safety? What would happen, then, if the Shadow took you?

You can hear it already, even though it is only in your imagination, the high scream of the Shadow, combined with the terrified sobs of your infant daughter and, maybe worst of all, your seven-year-old son shouting, "You told me it wouldn't come tonight! You lied to me!"

You look, shaken out of your terrible reverie, at the city around you. Families huddle behind shelters of their own, comforting their children as the sun begins to set. A collection of ramshackle walls on a flat concrete plateau, Umbra is barren of all but the hardiest plantlife. The air is sharp, cool, and clear, because the city is located closest to the sky, but farthest from the ground--farthest from escape. For a moment, you speculate about the possibility of fleeing with your family. If you can make it down the plateau by sunset, you can do the impossible and leave this prison. But never has anyone succeeded in leaving, for the sheer reason that if the Shadow catches your attempted escape (and as it is drawn to movement, it shall) it touches you. And you will cease to exist. Should you fail, you risk not only your own life, but the lives of your children. No, escape is not a possiblility, not now. Sighing, you walk back behind your wall where your son waits to ask you a question.

"Is it gonna come tonight?"

You make a decision. "No. The Shadow will not come. Tonight we are safe."


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