Shadows

I’ve begun the arduous process of editing my 2003 NaNoWriMo project, Illusions of Motion. Here’s a very raw excerpt.

The problem with having an over-active imagination is that things stay in the back of your mind, lurking over your shoulder and waiting for the worst possible moment to make themselves known. The fall after my seventh birthday, one of the murky figures that took up residence in my brain was the Headless Horseman.

I don’t remember how it began that Tia and I would visit Aunt Goody on weekend afternoons. Possibly it had to do with the fact that we both missed distant grandparents. Equally possible was the fact that we both saw the spark of mischief and good humor beneath the old teacher’s crusty exterior.

In any case, it was on a Saturday shortly before Halloween that we both ended up in front of the old Goody house. It was a cozy little place, at the end of a road and surrounded by aspen and pine trees. I always thought of it as being a bit backwards, because the front door opened into the street level living room dining room and kitchen, and the bedrooms were below, nestled against the hillside. And truly, it probably wasn’t actually an old house, as much as it was decorated with old things, an eclectic collection of ornate wooden furniture.

Aunt Goody always had some kind of a project planned for Saturdays, though it’s only now that I’ve begun to wonder whether she expected us, or was just such a creative thinker that whipping up something for two small girls to do was nothing to her. On this Saturday, before the year’s first snow, with the bite of fall and the rustling of leaves filling the air, her plan was to make caramel apples and watch a movie.

And so we did. As the afternoon sunlight thinned into twilight, we sat on the floor with our backs against the sofa, munching candy-coated apples, and watching The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – I don’t remember which version, only that the horses were pretty, and, at seven, I couldn’t figure out how they made a man look headless.

We were having so much fun, that I never noticed how dark it was outside. Twilight had fully descended, and the moon was visible. Aunt Goody called my parents, and let them know I was on my way home, on my bike. Tia only lived two houses away, so I walked my bike that far, with her, then hopped on and began to ride.

Half a mile never seemed so long. Clouds kept moving in front of the moon, changing the light and making the shadows move around me, and the trees, which I’d always thought were pretty, suddenly seemed to close in. And…what was that sound? Was that the swish of a cape brushing against a tree branch?

My small hands gripped the handle-bars of my trusty red bike tight enough to turn my knuckles red, then white, and my feet slipped off the pedals more than once, as I tried to get out of the woods and onto the lit streets near our building before …. I didn’t know what.

I did know, however, that Rule Number One is never look back, and so I didn’t. I forced myself to hear music in my head (Shaun Cassidy’s “Teen Dream” is great biking music, by the way), and pedalled as fast as I could, not coasting down the hill, the way I had every other Saturday, and not stopping til I got to the brightly lit front door of Lyon’s Ice Cream, where I paused to catch my breath in the protectiive amber glow of the lion head sconces.

I sat there for about five minutes, still not daring to look behind me, just breathing. Ahead, I could see light in the corner of the front window of our apartment above the store. Across the street, I could see Russ the Librarian, locking up the library. He saw me, and waved, and I waved back. Then I continued down the block and around the corner, and home.

The edited, more interesting version will be posted in a day or two.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Shadows by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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