Penumbra

by Jason Sturner


An eclipse brought dusk to the morning. As sunlight waned from the busy farmstead, shadows drifted across the windmill, trees, and barns like ghostly slugs. A series of intensifying tremors shook the foundation of the settlement, sending workers fleeing in all directions. Moments later, the tremors subsided, and a thin body fell from the subfuscous sky, landing in the shadow of a silo.

A young slave, having watched the body fall, sensed something familiar in its aspect and ran towards the silo to investigate. She wasn’t the only witness. Three soldiers had also observed the figure, had even been close enough to see it hit the ground... and moments later spring to its feet.

Shaken, the figure made brief eye contact with each of the soldiers before escaping down a nearby hole, the excavation of an underground storage chamber. What concerned the soldiers most, however, was not that the body had survived the long fall, but that it was significantly larger than they, bore a pair of white wings and, most troublesome of all, possessed the abhorred skin tone and odor of a slave. As it was their duty to guard and protect the settlement, the three soldiers quickly entered the hole to track down and eliminate the threat.

Meanwhile, the distillation of sunlight remained constant. The farmhands, by nature anxious, chose to remain in hiding until signaled back to work. The three soldiers, on the other hand, continued their pursuit of the winged creature along a subterranean tunnel, unaware that the curious slave was not far behind them.

The soldiers soon reached the dimly lit storage chamber and peered inside: the creature was at the far end, clawing at the dirt walls in an effort to extend the tunnel. They entered discreetly, but the thing sensed them and turned around, popping open its wings and enlarging itself. The soldiers, in a quick, coordinated move, closed in on their target like a pack of wolves.

In response to the soldiers’ actions, the eclipse produced a long stream of vibrations that burst through the darkened sky and impregnated the farmstead. Moments later, a soldier came stumbling out of the chamber and limped toward the slave, collapsing just a few steps away. The body went still, and the slave, not sensing any danger, stepped around the body and went into the chamber.

A reddish figure was pressed firmly against the far wall, its large wings contorted and severely damaged, its limbs twitching silently, its mouth agape, oozing fluid and stench. It was evident that the thing had defended itself vigorously, as two of the soldiers had succumbed to bodily gashes while the third, as she had seen, died out in the tunnel. The slave approached the winged creature and looked it over. It was dead. It was also female.

The slave stared at the corpse for a long time. Although the creature was quite different than her, and although it lay lifeless before her eyes, she could not help but register a kinship with it. For one thing, its skin was pale red, just like hers. There were other physical similarities as well, and this affected the young slave greatly; so much so, in fact, that she sensed an influx of strange knowledge and a shift within her instincts, the combination of which made her realize that she did not belong at the settlement.

The slave left the chamber and returned to the surface. The eclipse had passed, and many workers had gone back to their assigned labors. Others rushed by on their way to the underground storage chamber to retrieve the crumpled corpses. It wasn’t long before they were dragged to the surface and quickly dismembered, the black parts and the red parts carried into the system of tunnels beneath the colony.

Another eclipse occurred a short time later, again preceded by intensifying tremors that gave the impression of amplified footfalls. The young slave had since revolted against her captors and was now on the roof of a barn, a dying worker in her murderous grasp.

In an attempt to analyze its essence, the slave gazed up at the object in the sky. What she saw bore a gruesome pink head topped by an entwined mass of thin antennae. A slowly swirling appendage lingered just inside a rounded opening beneath a set of what might have been eyes, though she couldn’t be sure. The head itself was connected to a wide, rounded body from which dangled two long limbs that sank beneath the horizon. It swayed back and forth ever so slightly, allowing random beams of sunlight to shoot out from behind its immense form.

This, she realized, was the entity that had dropped her within the tall transparent walls of the farmstead, had taken her away from her home, from her own kind.

The hole in the creature’s face began to expand and contort, releasing a high-pitched stream of vibrations that the slave could not decipher. Then it raised one of its long appendages, inverted a glass container, and dumped a countless number of red bodies into the narrow landscape of the farmstead.

The slave, watching this, tossed aside the black corpse and ran down the side of the barn to reunite with her brothers and sisters.


Copyright © 2012 by Jason Sturner

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