Stranger And The Shadow serves as a prologue (of sorts) to the short story Island In The Sands. Similar to Reflections In Paradise, but in this flash vignette we see Caiaphas Dace at first in a far future, then catapulted back through time, and finally recalling another time from his early childhood, as in the flash story Falling. As I said before, this was written when I was first dipping my toe into the writing game and is mostly a self-indulgent affair. I had so many grand ideas for the Forever Stranger, but these snippets remain disconnected and ultimately little more than an early test of writing skill.
STRANGER AND THE SHADOW
When you’ve been around as long as I have, even identity becomes a mere trend. I was born Caiaphas Dace, to a loving mother and father in the Outer Northern Reaches of Europolis, in the year 255 of the Eurasia Global Unification. That was a very long time ago.
Nowadays I just call myself Dace. It’s been that way for a few hundred years now.
So here I am, standing on the edge of a precipice, looking out across a chasm at a ruined Earth. These are the last days of my beloved planet. Sol is expanding. Mercury might already be burned up, I don’t know. I do know I can’t stay here much longer. I didn’t come to witness the end; of course I didn’t. I’ve already seen it.
No, I came because if I can lose the shadow anywhere, this is as likely a place as any.
Even now I sense a presence behind me, somewhere up among the broken mountains or down on the dried-out ocean floors. He was there on the day the baby Caiaphas opened his eyes to the world. I think he was there at the dawn of the universe. I, Dace, am improbable. But the shadow – the eternal companion of the forever stranger – he is impossible. Well, I say impossible, because the ages, the eras and the eons have only given the questions more complexity, but perhaps one day I’ll discover what he is, when I’m tired of the chase.
Yet here we are, on the cusp of the Helio-Thanatozoic Event – the last and greatest extinction, with only the two of us as witnesses. Sol fills the sky. Its heat would sear the flesh from anyone else’s bones. The thin, poisonous atmosphere should have killed me, too. But there’s the rub.
Like it or not, I am alive. And the shadow is once more upon me. I smile wryly over my shoulder. “Hello, old friend. So nice of you to join me. Will we talk? Or will you kill me – perhaps permanently, this time?”
There’s no answer, but I can sense him pausing, lingering. Testing my power.
I feel a brush upon my skin, like a soft breath. I can’t feel the scorching heat surging through my lungs, I can’t taste the poisonous air, but I can feel his withering touch. I’m not strong enough.
The chasm before me screams as gales eddy upon its walls. I step over the edge, into the abyss, buffeted by the strong winds as I plummet. I can feel the anger above me, the rage. The air splits open and envelops me, cushioning my fall, and suddenly I’m lying face down, spluttering sand from my face as I scramble to my feet.
The shadow is gone, but there’s someone behind me speaking in pre-unification British English. “Where the bloody hell did you come from?”
I turn to see a man wearing surf shorts, with a glass bottle held poised at his lips. Beyond him, the beach is dotted with sunbathers. Kids and couples are playing in the water. A hoverboat silently skims the waves beyond the shallows.
Mid-twenty-first century of the Christian calendar. Just my luck. But it could’ve been worse.
It could’ve been much worse.
I begin to jog along the beach, leaving the gaping idiot behind me, and I’m reminded of a time long past, on a whole other stretch of sand. For a dizzying moment I’m back in that millennia-ago place, a silent spectator as the ten year old Caiaphas lies upon that damned metal cylinder, unaware of my presence and unaware of his fate…
Next instalment: Island In The Sands.