Shades and Shadows by @ashlaster #NaNoWriMo


Shades and Shadows

Written by Ashley Laster

NaNo Excerpt

Texas, November 1883.

The wind was cold and numbing, a promise of the coming winter. Samael Lowood sat on the sill of his bedroom window, enjoying the chill. He had always liked the changing of the seasons. A mix of orange and white layered the wet ground, and the air smelled of rain-dampened dirt and needle-sharp ice.

Sam gazed downward. His eyes were drawn to an unfamiliar coach rumbling up the drive. Mud covered its exterior, obscuring any name or emblem, while vapors as grey as the misty fog streamed from the horses' noses.

With a splash of muck and water, the coach rolled to a stop at the front entrance. The driver all but fell from his seat, scrambling to open the door for his passenger. Out stepped a man. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds, making his blond hair appear almost white.

An icy feeling grew in the pit of Sam's stomach. He watched as the stranger brushed past the driver and made his way up the front steps, his coat billowing out behind him like a storm cloud.

Muffled shouts carried up the stairs, pulling Sam's attention away from the window. Were his parents arguing again? He couldn't understand their behavior, considering what had happened earlier in the week: his aunt had inexplicably gone missing.

Sam slid off the windowsill and adjusted his waistcoat and tie. A silver-framed mirror hanging over the hearth reflected his face: dark, windblown hair and features smothered in shadow. The fire in the grate burned low, giving off an ominous red glow. Sam hurriedly smoothed his hair and strode from the room.

In the hallway, he felt at ease again. The scent of roses, his mother's favorite perfume, wafted through the air.

He stopped to allow a servant, Elizabeth, to pass.

"Hello, Lizzy," Sam said, flashing her a wide grin. "My, you look pretty today." He liked teasing her. She blushed so easily.

Elizabeth kept her eyes on the floor, quickening her pace and moving past him without a word. Sam wondered if she'd seen him sleepwalking the night before. He hadn't done it since he was six—over eleven years ago. He'd broken that streak last night, and in his birthday suit no less. He had to admit, sleeping without a nightshirt hadn't been one of his better ideas. The corner of his mouth quirked upward. Poor, saintly Elizabeth.

Sam took the stairs two at a time. At the bottom, he froze.

His parents stood in the entry hall. The stranger strolled toward them, as if he were out for an afternoon walk. Something glinted in his left hand. Sam tried to get a better look, but the stranger hid it from view in the folds of his coat.

Now that he could see the man's face, Sam thought he looked like a bird. His eyes were dark and beady, and his nose was hooked. Even his movements were bird-like—he walked with a sweeping, floating quality.

"Hello, Anna," the stranger said. "I suppose you thought me dead and buried. You were only half right." He smiled, but his eyes remained cold. "I hear your sister has suffered a fall from your graces."

Sam watched his mother's face drain of color. "But you were dead," she said. "I made sure."

The stranger laughed. "Oh, but only the body dies. You know that." He unbuttoned his coat and forced open his shirt, exposing a strange mark carved into the left side of his chest. It looked like an upside-down 'V' with a circle surrounding its point. "The Vetis sigil. It must be etched into the flesh with a silver blade soaked in demon's blood. It's quite painful, but very much worth the trouble." The mark still bled, shining like a bright jewel against the whiteness of his skin.

"You've gone mad," said Sam's mother, her eyes widening.

The stranger laughed again, a grating, throaty sound. "I believe the world could do with a little madness." He tilted his head to the side, his eyes traveling over Sam's father. "Hello, James. Haven't you realized who I am yet? I admit, this body is quite a bit younger—it belonged to a rich businessman's son. Still, it shouldn't be too difficult to remember the man your wife tried to murder."

"Daniel." Sam was surprised to see his father's hands clench into fists at his sides. The man was normally as cool as a cucumber.

"You haven't forgotten me," said Daniel, feigning surprise. "I'm touched."

"You're all making about as much sense as a cheese-induced nightmare," said Sam. Everyone turned to look at him. "I should know. I once ate too much Muenster and dreamt about a tap-dancing Stegosaurus wearing a pink bonnet."

Daniel advanced a few steps, his boots thudding on the hardwood floor. His eyes were as dark as obsidian, and just as hard and unfeeling. "You must be Samael," he said. He was so close now that Sam could see spots of blood seeping through his shirt.

"Most new acquaintances refer to me as That Charming Lowood Boy."

Daniel raised an eyebrow, but made no comment. He turned his attention back to Sam's parents. "Think of what this could mean for him. Think of—"

"Don't," said Sam's mother. Her voice was hard as steel. "He has nothing to do with this."

"I'm afraid I would need to know what 'this' is before I decide whether or not I—" Sam fell silent under his mother's icy stare.

"He has nothing to do with this?" Daniel repeated. "You must know that isn't true. We are all a part of something, be it trivial or grand, and that includes your son. For him, I would be willing to put my money on grand. It's in his blood after all."

"You don't have to do this," said Sam's mother. Her fingers clutched tightly at her skirts, knuckles bone-white. "There must be another way."

Daniel shook his head. "There is no other way."

"You only believe there isn't," she replied. "You know what it does, and it cannot be used for good. Power corrupts, and dark power corrupts tenfold. You will bring shame—"

"Shame?" Daniel's face contorted into something ugly, almost inhuman. "Don't talk to me about shame. I have worn mine long enough, as have you." He touched his shirt, and his fingertips came away red. He gazed at the blood as though mesmerized. "The stars were set against us before we'd even drawn our first breaths."

Sam began to move toward his parents.

"Stay where you are," his mother commanded. "And keep your ridiculous comments to yourself."

Daniel walked toward the polished black piano on the far side of the hall. He sat down and lifted the fall board, carved with swords and outspread wings. A soft, down-tempo tune echoed through the house as he sang: "I am going to leave this sinful world, I’m going far away. Climbing up to glory mighty slow, if it takes till judgement day. " He looked around at them all, as though he expected them to join in. When no one did, he said, "Not in the mood for singing? Well then, I suppose it's time I got down to business."

Sam's mother raised her chin. The corners of her mouth curved upward into a triumphant smile. "You're too late. I have hidden it where it cannot be found, save by the blood of one who does not exist."

Hidden it? Blood of one who does not exist?Sam frowned in confusion. What the hell was she talking about? And furthermore, why did he need to be quiet? He felt silly about his nervousness earlier. This whole situation had turned out to be utter nonsense.

Daniel ran a hand through his hair. It stood up in every direction, pale blond stained with red. "Why won't you understand? After all those years of believing we were doing Heaven's work…"

His eyes fell on Sam. "Grand things," he murmured. He nodded to himself as he drew the glinting object from his coat. Light slid along the metal like water, accentuating the black feather carved just above the grip.

A shot rang out, and the suffocating darkness closed in.

Author Bio

Awkward, but you can call me Ashley. I'm a born and raised Texan living in Kansas City with my adopted canine son, Junkyard Jones. I love making up stories, wishing on dandelions, and drinking coffee. Mostly I love drinking coffee, but making up stories is a close second.