To read the first two parts of “In the Dark,” check out Volume 2, Issues 5 and 6 in the Inkwell Literary Magazine’s online archive.
Four people huddled together, rushing to City Hall. Marty pushed in the lead, and Gemma, Ellis, and Wade tagged along behind. The others had headed straight for the dark blocks in order to get as many people out of them as possible. Time was not on their side; it was a little after four in winter, so the sun would be setting in under an hour. They had to make it to City Hall and get the mayor to call off the attack.
Wade hung towards the back of the pack. Ever since seeing Marty’s son in that room, he hadn’t been able to shake the image of the light surging back into his previously darkened eyes. He thought of Uncle Greg’s face, a mask of blankness that day. Thank goodness Gemma wasn’t home that day, he thought. It was enough that those images haunted him; they didn’t need to taint her memories as well.
They were only eight blocks away from City Hall, but Marty stopped short.
“Which blocks did you say were out?” he asked Ellis without looking back. Ellis dug her phone out of her pocket and tapped quickly.
“12, 36, 37, 38, 42, and 70,” she said. “Why?”
Marty nodded ahead of them. “Because that’s Block 22, and it’s out.”
Wade strained his eyes to see ahead, and sure enough, the ever-present streetlights were not shining.
“We’ll have to go around,” Wade said. “It’ll cost us time, but it’ll cost more if we stand here lollygagging.”
Marty’s mouth was tight again, but he just nodded and took the next corner. People poured out of buildings and on to the sidewalks, pushing through to get away from their homes. The next block was out as well. Wade strained his eyes ahead as they clipped along; the next three were also dark. They had to keep walking east when City Hall was north. Sirens sounded in the distance, and dread weighed heavily on Wade’s shoulders. The sun hung very low on the horizon now.
“We’re going to have go through,” Marty said when they came upon yet another dark block. They couldn’t avoid it anymore. Wade swallowed and looked at the sky. It was much darker now. If he hadn’t suggested they go around, if they had just pushed through that first dark block they’d come to, they would have already been on the other side. But now it was getting darker with every passing second. Soon, the sun would dip below the buildings, and the shadows would be so much stronger.
“Let’s go,” Marty barked, crossing the street. They had to push against the current of people trying to leave when they stepped into the shadow. Had his block gone out only the night before? It seemed like so long ago. How could his life have been so turned upside down in the space of one day?
A cloud passed over the sun, and instantly Wade felt the icy tendrils of the shadows pulling at his wrist and heard the sound of rustling silk in the air. He jerked his arm away and scanned around him, but the cloud had passed, and the shadow was gone. By the time they had made it to the next block and found that it was also out, it seemed like a ghost town. All the people had already evacuated the area, and the sidewalks were empty. An eerie feeling of being watched slowly built up in Wade, but he just took Gemma’s hand and kept on walking.
When it happened, it happened all at once.
The sun vanished, hidden below the buildings on the horizon. The cold shadows surged up out of nowhere, swirling around the small group and reaching for them. Marty picked up his pace, and Ellis broke into a run.
“Come on, Gem,” Wade said, trying to swallow his fear for her sake. The shadows curled their fingers around his wrists and ankles, and with each step he took, they grew in strength, becoming like icy vices pulling him back. With a jerk, the shadows sent him sprawling to the ground and clamped over his chest, pinning him to the ground.
“Gemma, run!” he called, fighting against the coldness that gripped him. She looked at him, fear filling her eyes as he struggled against the darkness pinning him back.
“Come on, Wade, fight!” she yelled, a sob bubbling up in her throat. Wade could feel the darkness coming closer to his eyes and nose. He held his breath and kicked and writhed on the ground until he had to suck in a heaving breath. He felt the darkness starting to turn solid as he pushed and fought. The shadows turned from gauzy gray to a solid, inky black and hard as steel on top of him. His lungs burned and his muscles ached, but he didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop; he had to protect Gemma. He had to keep her safe.
With a jerk, he shoved the solid shadow off him enough that he could clamber to his feet. He sucked in a huge breath and shot his eyes around wildly, looking for the others. Ellis and Marty were already almost a block away, sprinting farther every second.
“Gemma?” Wade yelled, panic building inside him. This was so much worse than the darkness of their apartment building. “Where are you?” A flash of light caught his eye, and he saw her, pinned against a brick wall, her mouth open in a silent scream as the darkness surged into her. In her hand, she held her phone, the flashlight shining into the night.
“NO!” Wade crashed forward toward his sister and tackled her to the ground. They slammed to the pavement in a heap, with him taking the brunt of the impact in his shoulder. He grimaced through the pain and searched Gemma’s face; her eyes were closed, revealing nothing.
“Gemma, wake up!” he begged, shaking her by the shoulder. His own helplessness seemed to taunt him. All this talk of protecting his sister, of keeping her away from Uncle Greg, but he was useless.
She stirred, and Wade shook her again. “Gemma? Are you okay?”
Gemma blinked and opened her eyes, and where they had once been warm brown, they were now a cold black. No, he thought, feeling the weight of his failure crushing down on him. Gemma shoved him off her with a strength that was not her own. She stood up and towered over him as he lay on the ground. She grinned that same wicked grin he had seen on Marty’s son’s face, and it felt like his chest would cave in because of the searing, crushing pain he felt at seeing her like this. He had failed her. When it had mattered the most, he failed her.
“Tsk, tsk,” the shadow said through Gemma’s voice. “Not much of a fighter are you, brother dear?” He didn’t say anything, just waited for her to strike him or kill him, or whatever it was she wanted to do to him. He closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see Gemma’s face contorted by the darkness inside her. Not like he’d seen his father’s face that night seven years ago. That night they’d lost power and didn’t understand the strength of the shadows yet. That night his father had stood over him, his face twisted in an expression Wade had never seen before. That night, when his father had put his hands around Wade’s throat and squeezed while Wade had scrabbled for his pocketknife to do the unthinkable, the worst thing he could imagine doing, but the only thing he could do. But that night, Uncle Greg had burst through the door and stopped Wade from having to do it when he shot his brother. He picked up Wade and carried him away even though Wade was fourteen, telling him he was safe now, when Wade had never felt any less safe in his life. It was the reason he had never spoken to Uncle Greg again. It was the reason his heart ached at the thought that his father had still been in there somewhere, being pinned down by the darkness like Marty’s son. Like Gemma was now.
But as he lay there waiting for the blow, nothing happened. After a moment, he opened his eyes and saw only Gemma’s back, still clad in her soft pink jacket, running away from him. He sat up. Her phone lay on the ground, screen cracked, flashlight still on, two feet away from him. He picked it up and climbed to his feet with a heavy heart. He had to get to City Hall. He didn’t know if it would work, but he had to try.
Wade sprinted the four blocks to City Hall without stopping, regardless of the stitch in his side and pain in his shoulder. He couldn’t think about what would happen if the sheriff or police found her first; he had to reach the mayor.
When he saw the red brick of City Hall, he forced his legs to move faster through the night air. He was stronger than the shadows now, fueled by desperation and anger and hope, and he pushed through all the darkness that tried to hold him back.
He took the front steps three at a time and crashed through the doors. Inside, he slowed down, panting loudly as he tried to quiet his pounding heart and heavy breathing. It was quiet in here. The marble floors emblazoned with the city’s motto—Peace and Friendship—were spotless, shining in the light from the ceiling.
The sound of a scuffle wafted down the hall, and Wade’s ears perked up. He followed the sound into a longer hall with wildflowers painted along the wall. Marty was there, sitting on top of a man in a security uniform on the floor while Ellis darted in and out of the various doors. Marty had the man’s arms pinned above his head on the ground.
“I can’t find any zip ties, but there’s some yarn in here,” Ellis said, coming out of one of the rooms. When she saw Wade, she smiled. “You made it.”
“D’you honestly think that yarn is going to hold this man down?” Marty barked through gritted teeth. The security guard was putting up a good fight.
Wade stepped forward. “Is he taken?”
Marty looked at him with a hard expression, but when he saw Wade’s face, his expression softened. He knows, Wade thought, though he didn’t know why.
“Yeah, he’s taken.”
Wade reached into his pocket. “If you’ll hold him down, I have an idea.”
Marty grunted, and Wade kneeled beside the guard. The security guard bared his teeth at Wade and snarled, kicking and writhing. It’s a good thing Marty’s so strong, Wade thought.
“Ellis, come hold his eyes open.”
Ellis reluctantly squatted at the man’s head. “Is this really necessary?” she asked before putting her hands on his face.
“You got a better idea?” Marty asked. Then he looked at Wade and nodded. “Go ahead.”
Wade pulled his sister’s phone from his pocket and switched on the flashlight. He looked in the security guard’s eyes—completely dark—and thought of what Gemma had suggested back in the meeting. He raised the flashlight to shine directly in the man’s eyes.
The guard screamed and writhed and kicked and fought and cursed. Ellis had to hold his head in place with her knee and keep digging her fingers into his eyelids to keep them from shutting, but Wade didn’t pay any heed to the screams. He just held the light over the man’s eyes and forced him to see.
And then he stopped. The guard’s whole body went limp, and Ellis released his head. Marty didn’t get off the man’s chest but raised his hand and slapped the guard across the face. The guard’s eyes shot open, and he darted his head around this way and that before Wade put his hands on the sides of the man’s face and looked into his eyes. They were a clear, bright, terrified blue.
Wade fell backwards in shock. It worked. It had actually worked. A dazed laugh tumbled out of him, and he raked a hand through his hair in amazement. There was hope for Gemma.
“How is this possible?” Ellis asked, incredulous. “They can walk around in the day when they have a host with no problem! How can this possibly be all it takes?”
“They don’t have continuous, blinding light shined directly in their retinas when they walk outside,” Marty said. “We’re all in the dark until someone brings us into the light.” He turned to Wade. “You did it, kid.” His face was unreadable, but Wade thought he could detect a touch of hope in his voice.
“No,” Wade said, “Gemma did. But now we had to find the mayor and call off the attacks.”
They started down the hall, leaving the dazed security guard sitting on the floor.
The mayor was holed up in his office. The door was locked, but it was half glass, so they could see him there, his face pinched in worry. When they knocked on the door, he jumped, but when he saw who it was, he yelled through the door, “Get out, it’s too late.”
Wade couldn’t just stand there. His sister could be out there right now, getting shot at by police who didn’t know what they were doing.
“Back up,” he muttered to the others, and they did as they were told. He backed up to the wall, then sprinted forward and slammed his foot into the glass window. It shattered, sending a spray of glass through the office. The mayor sputtered as he stood up, shouting something, but Wade reached in and unlocked the door from the inside.
“Listen,” Wade started, but Marty put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. Wade wanted to protest, but he knew that Marty had a right to speak first.
“Mayor Gunterson,” he started, “despite our unseemly entrance into your office,”—he shot a look at Wade—“we’ve come to talk to you rationally.”
No, we haven’t, Wade wanted to demand. We’ve come to force you to call off the slaughter in the streets.
“We’ve found a way to kill the shadows inside a person without killing the person.”
The mayor’s mouth fell open. “You mean—they’re not—Becky wasn’t—her eyes, I saw it in her eyes.” He looked up at them with an imploring gaze. “How can you be sure that they aren’t—”
“Already dead? No, they’re not. My son is not. So all those people out there,” Marty gestured out the window, “are still people. We just have to bring them back.”
Wade was glad now that Marty had spoken up first. Clearly, he knew what would most quickly appeal to the mayor.
Mayor Gunterson collapsed back in his chair and put his elbows on his desk, covering his face with his hands. Marty stepped forward, glass crunching underfoot.
“You have to call off the sheriff,” Marty said gently. “Quickly.”
The mayor nodded with his head still in his hands. When he looked up, it was as if he had aged a decade. “I didn’t think they—” he started, but he cut himself off by pressing a button on his desk. “Alan,” he said, “get in here.”
Wade bounced on the balls of his feet while they waited. He had too much pent-up adrenaline flooding his veins. He needed to do something; he needed to be combing the streets for his little sister. Standing here was agony.
The door on the other side of the mayor’s office opened, and Sheriff Alan Warner stepped inside.
“You want a report?” he asked before seeing the trio standing there and the spray of glass that littered the room. His hand instantly went for his gun.
“No, no, they’re fine,” Gunterson said quickly. He nodded at Marty. “Tell the sheriff what you told me, sir.”
“We’ve found a way to kill the shadows without killing the hosts,” Marty said again.
Wade saw a flash of blonde from the hallway a split second before he noticed the sheriff’s eyes.
“Marty, get down!” Wade screamed as the sheriff whipped out his weapon and fired it at them. Marty dodged out of the way just in time, and the mayor was shouting. Just then, the blonde from the hall came in, and it was Gemma, only it wasn’t—it was the shadow version of her, and Wade’s failure crashed over him again. The sheriff fired again, but Marty had tackled him to the ground and wrestled with him for the gun. Wade watched, paralyzed, as Gemma stepped behind the mayor and pressed a pocketknife to his throat—it was the knife he had given her for her thirteenth birthday for emergencies.
“Gemma, stop!” Wade yelled. “Put the knife down and let the mayor go.”
Not-Gemma smiled evilly and pressed the tip of the knife into the mayor’s throat deep enough for a bead of blood to well up.
“Come on, Gemma, I know you’re in there. You’ve got to fight the darkness, okay? Fight it!”
But she only laughed and pressed the knife in harder. The mayor’s face had gone white, and he tried to pull away her arm, but Wade knew firsthand how much strength the shadow in her had.
“You didn’t think I was just going to leave you alone did you, brother dear?” she said.
Wade saw Marty had managed to throw the gun away from the sheriff, and they were both wrestling for purchase now. He took a step towards his sister, hands burning to grab the phone.
Ellis must have left the room at some point, because now she slipped in again, inching along the wall to get behind Gemma. He knew that they had one shot at this, and if he failed now, that would be it. It would be over for him, for all of them.
“Come on, Gemma, fight with me, not against me,” he pleaded.
Ellis lunged, yanking Gemma’s head back, and Wade sprang forward, flashlight already in hand. He shoved the light into her eyes, and she fought it with everything she had. With no more knife against his throat, the mayor jumped back and helped Ellis pin Gemma against the wall.
“Come on, Gemma, come back to me,” Wade muttered to his sister as he forced light into the shadow’s eyes. He didn’t stop, even when she sunk her teeth into his arm and drew blood. He didn’t stop when she cursed him and told him she hated him and fought him. He didn’t stop.
And then she collapsed. Wade caught her dead weight and lowered her to the ground. He glanced over at Marty, who had the sheriff down on the ground like he’d had the security guard earlier, though he was a bloodied mess this time. Wade passed the phone with its flashlight on to Ellis to take to the sheriff, and he cradled his sister’s head.
After a long moment, her eyes opened, clear, bright, and brown. Joy surged through Wade and he scooped her up into his arms. “We did it,” he sobbed into her hair. “You came back to me.”
It was a long time before either of them moved. When Wade finally pulled himself to his feet and helped his sister up, everyone else in the room was busy. The mayor was shouting on the phone, and Marty was talking to the sheriff in hushed tones. Wade scanned the room to find Ellis sitting on the floor in the corner, looking dazed. Keeping a protective arm around his sister, Wade walked over to Ellis and crouched before her.
“Are you okay?” he asked. It was a stupid question, but right now, with his voice still raw from crying, he couldn’t think of anything better to say. Ellis met his eyes with a small smile.
“This is what I get for taking in a couple of strays, huh?” Her eyes filled with tears, and she covered her face.
“Hey,” Wade said gently, finally releasing Gemma so he could peel Ellis’s fingers away from her face. Her hands were cold, so he held them to bring some warmth back into them. “Look at me.”
Reluctantly, Ellis looked at Wade through tear-soaked lashes. “I’m being dumb,” she said. Wade watched as she sucked in a breath and waited for her go on. She twirled the hem of her shirt in her hands. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of something great, to help enact some big change in the world. But now…” Her voice trailed off.
“But now a lazy morning in and a mug of hot tea sound just right?” Wade finished. Ellis laughed a little through her tears.
“Yeah, something like that.”
Gemma scooched over next to Ellis and put her arm around her. “Yeah, turns out adventures aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”
“You guys all okay?” Marty asked, towering over them. They nodded, and Marty smiled at them, but his smile seemed distracted, his eyes darting to the door. He played with a flashlight in his hands.
“Well, I’m off then,” he said, already turning to leave.
“Where to?” Wade called after him.
Marty shot a grin back at them. “I’m going to see my son.” He vanished around the corner.
Wade looked back at the two reformed revolutionaries before him. He didn’t quite understand how everything could change so radically so quickly, but for once, he was glad of it.
The mayor and sheriff called off the attacks, and everyone was evacuated to the lighted areas for the night. Wade and Ellis and Gemma stayed at City Hall as people flooded into the bright halls and rooms in droves. There had been substantial casualties that night, but countless lives had also been saved.
They rode the bus home just as the sun was rising. Wade looked at the fence blocking the exit to the city, and a smile tugged up the corner of his mouth. They had started something, and he knew that now, finally, they wouldn’t stop until it was done. He could finally imagine a day when that fence would come down. A day when he and Gemma would be reunited with their mom, and they wouldn’t be alone anymore.
Tomorrow would begin the real work of cleaning out the city—and themselves—of all the shadows, but for now, Gemma and Wade were going home.