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Remember Here When You Are There · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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They Stand Through All the Hours
I stood and looked out of my apartment’s rear door for the last time. The sun shone weakly through the clouds as they wove through the plumes of darkness in the sky. I couldn’t see the treeline, there was too much Shade in the way. Too much to untangle here, too much life had happened.

I walked over to the Shade anyway, treading the dead ground underneath the twisting shapes. Some were just prone and would be so forever, but some had died upright, facing their doom squarely, or stricken suddenly by some failure of heart or brain; these seemed to be posing, casting forth their arms in silent appeal, perhaps clutching their heads or chests, blurred with time but still persisting. They didn’t necessarily die here; somewhere below the land, the old graveyard contained enough of their remains in this one place for Shade to manifest. I recalled playing in similar locations as a child, walking through the dark ambiguous forms that loomed like storm wracked trees, limbs twisted and frozen in a snapshot as life was halted and left its image in the air.

The little girl next door had assured me you could hear their thoughts if you sat inside them, perhaps even converse if you placed your head just where theirs had been. I had tried it many times, imagining voices upon the winds, or the little thoughts in your head that arise when they feel that conversation is wanted, so that you end up chattering with yourself. Almost as if your head is so empty of decent thought that things have started to echo in there. People have written so much yearning, heartbroken and desperate nonsense about conversing with Shade to have put me off the subject forever. How can you talk with something that barely has a face anymore?

I let my fingers run through it and felt not even the tingle that others have claimed. Then I turned and walked back inside, the back door shutting behind me with a jingle of the little brass bell on a hook. The house was empty now, fridge disconnected and door hanging open, keys handed over to realtor, papers signed. Nothing to hold me back now, I could flow out the doors or windows as easily as the gentle breeze. I could finally go to her.

I slung my jacket over my shoulder and walked slowly to my car, boxes jammed into the trunk and back seat. The slamming of the door was like a pair of shears severing everything I’d cared about in my life, leaving it to spill out behind me in waves as I backed out of the driveway and headed off cross country, towards the house where I grew up, what once was home. I had never thought I would go back, but it seemed my fate had overtaken me.

On the interstate, the concrete pavement hissed by under the tires as familiar patterns in the sky receded behind me, the permanent Shade trails left by air travelers who had met their doom, as I thumbed up another audiobook. The black streaks pierced the clouds like stuttering vines as I wove my way through the lanes. Even in daylight, spotlights powered by diesel generators at the side of the road lanced out to illuminate the Shade sections that remained from countless road accidents. The traffic flow was dense as I made my way through; some preferred to dodge around Shade; I had not only given up but made a sort of game of it, weaving through the lanes so that I passed through each darkened area, letting the indistinct forms of half-seated figures flash over my windshield as the spotlight shimmered in my mirrors.

I took my time, having only one person to meet at my destination. My old car tended to overheat if I kept it on the road too long, so I pulled over frequently to browse through parks, strolling amid the shady trees and listening to the birdsong. I took lunch at a diner that had been built ground up to resemble an old railway car, and noted a booth in the corner that had been curtained off. I surmised that there was a Shade at that spot. Fortunately, the food seemed to be, while only just palatable, somewhere short of lethal.

It is often a challenge to find a buildable spot of ground where no human has ever died, but many constructions get around the problem by building the Shade into the walls. They lurk inside stone fences, within streams, at the bottom of aquifers, in showers, in subway tunnels, caves and forest, sealed in walls of thick concrete, relegated to basements and attics, worked into dead spaces. There are the legends of the ancient Emperor who deliberately slew his subjects on gridded ground so that they would form permanent records of chess problems he had designed. The more barbarous states have formed roadways of woe, chambers of terror lined with darkness. The smooth facing removed over from the Great Pyramid at Giza reveals how much care was taken to hide the human suffering that went to create it, how the builders managed to conceal Shade in crevices and overlay it with stones set down, doubtless by a class of builders much better cared for until they had completed the work. Now the rough stones in the naked sun are shown to be dotted like ants with black figures caught in the instant of their agony.

There are counterexamples, of course. At least one museum was designed so that the chandelier in the foyer contained a circle of Shade on open display, taking advantage of the site of an ancient ceremony. Several mausoleums have been designed as art galleries, the Shade taking the places of headstones. There are cases of Shade registering eternal protest against revolting policies, darkening the chambers where unjust laws were passed, those who took the belly cut in submission and protest.

The dead are perhaps over-honored.

I got back in the car, taking the usual slow pace, watching the roadsigns fall away to either side. There were many hours to go, but she would wait for me, she had no choice at this point.

The miles ticked away, and in several hours I was driving past an old battlefield. It was too chaotic to interpret in passing, and without a guidebook that displayed the battleplan, but I could see the sweep of it, the surge of desperate forces striving to carry over barren fields and overwhelm the embankment, and the dark line that held them back. They looked so very few, those brave defenders, and the onrushing enemy so great, but I knew that only the soldiers who died on the battlefield had left Shade here, and so it was only a sign that the defenders lost relatively few and the attackers had been decimated. I could see some Shade floating in air like floral bursts, these were men who had been hurled upward by a bursting shell. Others were seated in the air, riding mounts that had thrown no Shade. Some were in the act of coming to pieces. I was glad to leave it swiftly behind, I was never much of a historian.

I drove until nightfall, and in a small border town I secured a hotel. Not being squeamish, I got a much cheaper rate for taking a Shaded room. The death had happened in the shower, and so I simply declined to bathe that evening. I had an uninspired meal and went back to bed. I was well on the way now, and that was good enough.

The next day passed swiftly, bringing me closer to the purple mountains in the distance. I could foresee the cheerful welcome as I stepped through the front door, the wild and tearful embrace, but ours was just one story. How many of them had there been, to cover so much of the world!

Suddenly, there was a rumbling and shuddering in the car; I’d gotten a flat. I pulled to the side of the road as traffic hissed and flew past me, and I whistled gently as I got out the spare. I yearned for the peace of a trip well finished, and yet, these incidents were what filled our time with random motives, side quests, my life touching those of the garage mechanics when I drove slowly into their lot. Did they also reach that point, where everything needed to focus down, where the minutiae of their trade reached, not exactly a crescendo, but a downshift to some fittingly harmonious resolution, however quiet it might be? If so, they showed no desire to confide in me, and in another hour I was back upon the road, letting the miles strip away from the car’s life even as the clock peeled minutes from mine in regular and predictable procession.

By late afternoon, the end of my journey was in sight. I could recognize the intersections in the streets but almost none of the buildings, and somehow on the street there was less Shade than I remembered; perhaps they had gotten better at building around it, disregarding it, so successfully making it a part of life as to almost efface it. I drove down the quiet streets to what had once been home, and now was again.

I pulled up slowly, went to the back of the car and pulled out a box. I walked to the front door, stared at the doorbell for a minute, then tried the knob. It opened and I walked in. The house had that faint hospital supply smell. All was quiet.

I went to the room that had once been set aside for me. I opened the box and dug about in it, pulling out books, my old teddy bear, the blanket she’d once knitted for me. Every one set a point of the past, fixed it more solidly than a stone mountain, though this room had never known them before. They were enough to fix things, to put a point on my arrival.

I walked back to the living room. I saw the old chair that she loved, one in which she used to sit and rock me, one of the few bits of furniture she’s brought with her when moving out of state. I imagined her sitting and reading, listening to radio, chatting on the phone, and every once in a while getting up to step to the picture window in the front of the house. Looking out into the distance at the interstate road that came down between the distant hills.

And at one point, she must have known it was too late, that the moment she waited for was never to be… the hope of seeing me pull up my car, walk up the sidewalk, throw open the door and rush to her for the welcoming hug. Another promise that had just never happened.

I walked to the picture window and looked at her Shade. I could make out one hand clasped to her chest and the other to her head. Was she stepping back? I tried to make out some feature in her face, but Shade blur was too much for me. There was nothing for me to touch. Just the sign of the one moment, the birthright of us all to leave behind, A privilege denied to the lower animals; the shadow that lasts longer than any stone or inscription.

I settled back in the chair and looked at her against the window, standing in a place that love had brought her to, and called to me as well. Everything I had done had gotten me to this one point. Everything she had done had brought her to her own. All the little moments that ticked away had sent their ripples to corral her, arrange her, pin her precisely like a bug on a card.

What I did would not, could never surpass her, my steps would always follow steadily within hers. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.
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#1 ·
Hmm. There is a bit of a plot here about a guy moving back to his childhood home where his mother died, but other than that, it seems to be entirely about world building and creating atmosphere. I liked it on both points, but when I got to the end, I wondered, for all that the story is mostly journeys, where this journey was taking me. The protagonist doesn't seem to have undergone any change in his attitude toward this place, his mother, or dead people in general. So it's just more a "day in the life" thing than anything else.