Lake of Shadows

Previously…

They say that tomorrow is not promised. But this particular day came at least. What a night it had been for him. Such a wonderful little creature had trusted him. Gobbled up every little bit of food he placed before it. With a belly as round as a beach ball it rolled up beside him and fell asleep with an earth-shaking purr.

The sound calmed his nerves and weighed down his eyes. The frequency traveled through him with ease releasing every ounce of tension. So much so that he only now realized how tense he had been. The adventures had always been nice to him and this one was no exception. There is serenity in solitude, but he would be lying if he didn’t occasionally wish to share his travels with someone else.

He looked around his tent for the little Calico creature. It was nowhere to be seen. A small yellow flower sat out of place in the center of the tent. Lying at the base of a bowl in the blankets. The spot where that little creature had slept.

“A parting gift?” He wondered aloud. He picked up the flower and looked at it more closely. Along the stem he could see small cuts and a jagged end. Little teeth had chomped through it and gingerly carried it into the tent. He laughed and pulled out his notebook. The flower’s stem fit neatly into the gap between the spine of the book and the pages. All he had to do was open it slightly. With the flower now snuggly held in place by the closed notebook he stepped out of the tent.

A thick fog fluttered atop the surface of the lake. The fog was so thick that he couldn’t see to the other side of the lake. If he were a little less wise, he’d be sure that he could walk atop it.

He hummed to himself and slipped on his light brown leather jacket. Well-loved and equally well worn. A half dozen patches sewn to keep it around. Like his notebook it had been with him since the beginning. As had…

“My hat!” He snapped his fingers and picked up his wide brimmed hat from atop the driftwood that had been his bench the night prior. The edges frayed, the top not quite the right color, but it fit him better than any other.

He made a quick adjustment to his belt and tapped his boots. There was never a better time.

Better time for what? That was the question, wasn’t it? He walked up and stopped before the edge of the lake. What a thing, this lake. So mesmerizing that it could make a man not realize he’s being watched.

Not a clue of the deep black spheres gazing at him from afar. That inquisitive gaze held since the night prior. Not even breaking when his Calico friend had left. Focused, fascinated, fearless. Well, perhaps not one of these things.

The first step to being fearless is taking that first step.

And so, he did. With a deep inhale and holding his breath. Stepping out onto the fog. And then through it.

But only for a bit.

He paused and exhaled. Good. He didn’t bring a second change of clothes. Probably unwise, but he trusted his clothes. Neither would be where they are without the other and that was enough for him.

He took another step and then another. Walking up the stairs of fog. He walked out further and further towards the center of the lake. The fog let out a soft whisper with each step. Cheering him on, he hoped. At the very least it didn’t sound upset with him which put it a fair bit beyond most things he stepped on.

“Now what?” He said, scratching his chin. He leaned down and ran his hand across the fog. It gave, but only just. Not quite solid, but to his great delight it was certainly not as shy as the fog he generally met. Little did it try to shift away when he approached, and it seemed more than happy to stick around. Even as the first rays of direct sunlight crept over the horizon.

The ever-shifting grays and blues of the fog mesmerized him. Occasionally they would part just enough to see the vast blackness of the lake below. He could just barely see his own face in its reflection.

He sat down and took off his hat. Holding it up against his chest. It would likely be a great many years before he would be standing on clouds again. And it would be truly a missed opportunity to not lay on them. If only for a minute.

He laid back and let go of his hat. Resting his hands just above across his heart. With a smile from ear to ear he closed his eyes. In the sweet serenity of silence occasionally he heard the soft beating of the wind and the cooing of the clouds. The cool caress of the fog crept through his leather jacket and jeans.

A minute became minutes, and beyond that not many know. Except, at least, for the one staring down at him. Tilting its curious Calico face, it let out a meow.

Though startled he didn’t jump. Opening his eyes slowly to see the blurred visage of his friend from the night prior.

“Oh! I didn’t think I’d see you again so soon.” He moved his hat aside and opened his jacket slightly to reveal his notebook. The flower sticking out the top. “I loved your gift.”

Behind the Calico’s left ear, he could see a similar flower perched.

The Calico meowed again and gently headbutt him. Its antlers bumped his nose, and he could feel the velvety surface.

“Alright, I suppose I have rest long enough.” He smiled and sat up.

“What have you been up to since last I saw you?”

The Calico did not respond.

He put his back on his head and stood once again. Brushing bits of fog off of his pants and jacket. The wisps of white fluttered softly to the blanket of fog below and melted away.

Looking around he simply said “Huh.” Not a whole lot had changed since he napped. His friend had returned certainly. But the fog was still just as intriguing as before. The sun was now high overhead and bearing down with a bit more gusto than he cared for. Usually sleeping on a problem was more than enough.

His little Calico friend had a deep black shadow. It looked like a hole in the ground. Darker than anything he’d ever seen before. It wasn’t even as if it was simply dark, but rather the absence of anything at all.

The Calico seemed oblivious to its greatly dark passenger. Prancing about him and rubbing against him with every opportunity. It weaved through his legs in a figure eight pattern. Its tail magnetizing to him and its antlers routinely bouncing off of him like bumper cars. It was too small to cause him any pain, if anything he was something of an impenetrable titan compared to this little creature.

Every once in a great while he would feel as though the Calico’s shadow forgot its duty. Falling out of synch with its owner. But casting shadows across fog is a difficult thing and he didn’t wish to judge it too harshly.

“Question for you, little friend. How do we get to the bottom of this?” He pointed down through the fog towards the lake. “I’m told something truly precious lies down there.” The Calico stared at his finger, a far cry from the purpose of the gesture. It then nuzzled his hand.

“Alright, fair. I suppose one of us has our priorities in order.” He pets the Calico’s head vigorously. Once again it purred with incredible vigor. The vibrations filtered through him as they had before and through the fog below. It shivered and quaked beneath the reverberations.

So too, did the shadow. Falling out of sync as though its edges had been yanked sharped in opposing directions. Sharp zigzag patterns of darkness formed.

Uncharacteristically, and certainly a first as far as he could recall, the shadow popped upright from the fog. It froze in place almost as if surprised itself. The edges of the void still taking the familiar shape of the Calico. Though he only now realized that it appeared to lack horns. What it did have, however, were a pair of deeply dark eyes. The stared with a passion, a fervor, that he had been sure wasn’t possible for eyes even a moment prior.

It was as if this little shadow could not just see things, but it could see all the things. Whatever that amounted to, he couldn’t say, but it seemed to be quite alarming for the little void.

The Calico turned to the shadow and jumped straight up. As if the ground beneath it had become a spring. It landed atop his shoulder and stared down at the rogue shadow on the fog.

The shadow kept staring at him, unblinking, silent. He knelt down and looked at it a bit closer. It was a futile effort given the great deep darkness that was everything about it. If not for the eyes it would appear as if part of the world had truly ceased to be. And for some peculiar reason that worldly area had vacated in the shape of a catlike creature.

“What are you exactly?” He paused, wondering if he’d get a response. His Calico friend seemed to generally be pretty vocal. Even if he wasn’t quite sure what points it was trying to convey. The darkness too seemed enthusiastic to speak.

It opened its mouth, exposing a series of pearly white teeth and a deep pink tongue. That familiar mandible looked not unlike his little Calico friend’s. What did differ however was the noise it made when it spoke.

Silence.

It went again and again, opening its mouth wide and fluffing up as if being inflated. The dark outline of fur along its body puffing up to twice its normal size. And yet, no matter how hard it tried, he heard nothing.

He reached out and pet the little void’s head. Surprisingly it felt like nothing and yet also soft. His body and brain couldn’t quite make out what it was feeling. A little paradox standing before him.

It was likely a long shot, but what worthwhile endeavor isn’t? He pointed towards the lake below. “How about you? My little spot of darkness? Do you know how to get me to the bottom?”

The little void stared back at him. This time not even attempting to speak. Its face hadn’t changed in the slightest but he still felt a little bit of contempt. Or something like it.

“Ah! My apologies.” He bowed his head slightly. “Do you know how to get us all to the bottom?”

The void paused for a moment. It closed its eyes and now he could make out nothing but the silhouette of the creature. In an instant it snapped back to the ground completely flat. The dark void dripped down through the fog and onto the lake below. Where it had been the fog now was not. And where it now was the lake was not. There was simply nothing.

The Calico meowed and leapt from his shoulder down the hole. Without a splash it vanished into the darkness below.

“I’m going to need a great deal more paper…aren’t I?”

Without another thought he took a step over the precipice and fell in.