Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Shadow Prancer

This is a short story that delves rather more forcibly into the conceptual designs of the human mind then any of my usual stories, at least as Z Baner. and it concerns how far some people would go to claim power, and just how much pain you would suffer for just that ability. Only a few have read this short story, and I am posting it here to see the reactions of the Blogosphere to my experimental mentality concerning the journey to reclaim sanity.


London, 1820:

The horse’s hooves hit the uneven cobbles in a rhythm of sharp clops. It was an old horse, who’d seen one too many empty feeding bags, and too few full ones for that matter. Its skin was an unhealthy grayish tinge, and its mane was patchy; with entire clumps of hair missing. The carriage it was attached to was not in any better shape. Its wheels clanked and squeaked in protest at every pot hole. Its sheen had apparently once been shiny black but now, the paint had been so chipped and chafed away, and so much dirt, mud, and all around spit had covered it, it now sported colors reminiscent of an owl pellet, and a smell that reminded passersby of the worst days of their life.

          The carriage trundled down several grubby avenues, passing few people because of the lateness of the hour, turned onto an even filthier street, then came to a halt that sounded like the demise of a sick parrot beside several dark shops, which were closed all except two. The first one was open for the simple reason that its merchant had been too drunk to draw the curtains and turn out the light, and the second one was actually open, with a dim lamp on the sill illuminating a sign that looked like it might disintegrate at the slightest breeze, proclaiming in introverted script:
The Evil Eye
A. R. Poe Prop.
The carriage door swung open, and a man jumped out. Closing the door, he flung a coin up at the driver and headed towards the Evil Eye, hardly noticing the driver’s grumbled thanks.
          The man was tall, and obviously well off by his suit and tails, spats, and a shiny ebony top hat. But the man’s face itself was at complete odds with his prosperous clothes. Judging from the stubble covering his chin, he had not shaven in a spell, and his hair was unkempt and grubby where it stuck out under his hat. His eyes were blood shot, and he had large bags under his eyes. Head down, he sidled up to the grimy shop door, and went inside. To say the least, he did not stagger back in admiration at the admiral cleanliness of the room within, though he did nearly expire at the smell that wafted up his nostrils.
          Gagging slightly, he stumbled in. the smell that had hit him pervaded the entire shop, a mix of bad eggs, and rare incense. The shop was a large, single room, with a high ceiling and what appeared to be a moth eaten scarlet curtain obscuring half of the space. The part of the room that the man could see was, in a word, untidy. The floor was strewn with tidbits of food, broken utensils and other culinary castoffs, along with what looked like half a ragged carpet.
          But the man realized that, some time long ago this room had been quite remarkable. Drooping scarlet silks hung from the walls, obscuring the peeling brown wall paper. A chandelier of uncommon size dangled precariously from the ceiling, with half of its holders over flowing with dripping candles.
          All this, the man saw in an instant and; mere seconds later, a strong, deep voice called from behind the curtain.
          “Who comes? Who calls on the services of the Arcane?”
          The voice sounded as if it had said this many times previously, but it still managed to unnerve the man.
          “I-I am a client, one that will pay well for your services?” his voice petered off into a feeble mutter. But this seemed to do the trick.
          The curtain was suddenly wrenched aside, and a very strange man stepped out.
          He was tall, very tall; and had a demeanor about him that warned of his potential. His face was as tall as his body, with fiery yellow eyes burning from deep pitted eye sockets. His mouth was a straight line, and the wrinkles of age and decay had been partially obscured by three tattoos festooning his face.
          One was a playing card (the ace of spades) stamped across his right eye. The next was a small yet formidable looking falcon with blades for talons on his left cheek bone. And finally, a gray eyed skull crouching in the recesses of his forehead.
          His hair was in shocking abundance and luster, a great plat of ebony hairs, which nearly obscured his skull brand.
          His clothes were also a strange affair. Fingerless black wool gloves partially covering long bony claw-like hands. A black suit jacket compiled over a stained white shirt, strange pointed shoes; black britches, and a slightly decaying top hat. 
          “You have come seeking my services? If so, enter, if not, be gone” he said shortly, his voice a low rumble. He really should have gone into acting; he’d have been the star.
          “My name is Dr. Adrius Regulus Poe, what name do you go by?” He asked, bowing his head slightly as he introduced himself.
          The client straightened, seemingly finding his nerve.
          “I wish to remain covert for the moment. You need not know my name, all you need to know is that I am here, with money, and need your, ah, abilities in a great encumbrance I have come upon.”
          Dr. Poe inclined his head again, and slid back into the recesses of his curtain, beckoning the client in.
          “Sit” he commanded, pointing to a moth eaten high backed chair. The man did as commanded, and scrutinized the half of the room that was obscured as he made himself comfortable.
          Unlike the first part of the Evil Eye, this section was literally packed with cabinets, cupboards, tables strewn with fortune telling propaganda, several incense pots suspended from wall rackets, their sickly sweet odors merging in a cloud of multicolored smoke, boxes full of frayed decks of cards, crates filled to bursting with crystal balls, bones, amulets and countless other pieces of tat.
          Dr. Poe sat himself in a second armchair, this one slightly less dusty. Lacing his fingers together, he looked directly at the client, his eyes boring into him. He seemed to be waiting for the client to begin the conversation. He did so.
          “Dr. Poe, I have come here on a matter of great importance, and from what I’ve heard you may be just the one to do it for me. Are you not a delver in the darkest arts? Are you not a witch doctor of exceptional abbility? And, are you not able to invoke those dark arts for well paying clients such as myself?”
          Dr. Poe was silent for a moment, and then said; “I do not know whether you are praising me or condemning me sir, but I shall take it as the former. Yes, I am a witch doctor of more than reasonable power. I have done many deeds of unnatural evil, and indeed I think I can help you on your way to whatever darkness you intend.
          ‘But, I must warn you, all dark art comes at a price and’—he chuckled at this—‘and usually at the expense of the client.”
          The man was obviously shaken, but he said firmly. “I shall pay whatever sum you—”
          “I do not mean payment in that sense!” Poe roared. “Coin payment is easily replenished, but the payment I am discussing, is much more sinister. Thus saying that, I shall ask you again, do you wish to carry on with this?”
          The client showed blatant fear now, and something else also, something like panic.
          “Yes!” he almost yelled. “I must have what I want! I must!” He ended it in a feeble sob.
          Poe slapped the arm of his chair. “Good! Now desist whaling and tell me of your problem, it is obviously a great one, due to your state.” As he said this he gestured vaguely at the clients overall person.
          The man nodded, shook himself inwardly, and began.
          “I am a very prosperous business man in London, I’ll let you know, mostly through investing in several large shipments of goods, and also due to a healthy inheritance. I have all that I want, I am not a church goer, and I feel no remorse for that. My wealth is my life. But I want more” Here he gripped the arms of his chair tight enough for them to creak, and his jaw clenched inadvertently.
          “I have seen men with more power than I, but that is not what I mean. I have all too much wealth. But what I want is something more, something supernatural, something I know you can grant, whatever the consequences. I want power!” His voice was rising now, his eyes bulging as if his greed was trying to force its way out of him into the world.
          “I wish to be a strong as I wish, as great as I wish, as resilient as I wish, I wish to be able to warp my form into unearthly shapes, and I wish to be able to destroy with a glance. I seek it, I yearn for it, and I must have it!” His voice now rose to a crescendo, and Dr. Poe now saw the madness bubbling inside his client. Pure and simple, he was raving. And that was just how Poe liked it.
          “I think I can help you there, sir” the doctor said quietly, trying to hide his glee.
          “Can you? I shall pay you handsomely for it. I have tried so many other places, and they have all shunned me. If you will help me I shall do anything for you. You shall be a great man, you shall have what—”
          Poe raised his hands to silence the babble.
          “Good sir, I only seek a small payment, for I see your worth. But I shall warn you once again, if I go through with this, it may have consequences.” Dr. Poe smiled to himself, he knew what the consequences would be, and he would gladly carry them out.
          “I do not care of the consequences, if you can make me that, it shall be enough”
Dr. Poe nodded solemnly. “Very well sir, I shall do as you wish. Prepare yourself.”
He turned and quickly snatched several things from a box, all of which were obscured from the now silent man in the chair. When Poe turned back, he held a foul smelling pouch, a knife, and an open box full of strange bottles. Behind his back, was another object, though this one would not be shown to his client, the doll would be imperative in the coming crisis.
“Swallow this” Dr. Poe said firmly, thrusting the pouch at the man. His face was so contorted with greed, he was barely recognizable. Without a word, he flung the evil smelling stuff into his mouth and swallowed immediately.
Dr. Poe nodded. “The cycle has begun; your desire is being carried out.” The man almost whooped with joy at this, but stopped himself.
“What else is required?” he asked, eying the box suspiciously. Dr. Poe nodded again. “I shall need a prick of your blood from this dagger” he said, now giving the knife to the man.
The client looked at the knife for a second, and then gashed his arm and thrust it back at the doctor before he cradled his arm and began staunching the flow of blood with his shirt. Dr. Poe almost shouted with glee, everything was going perfectly. He quickly turned the knife until a large droplet of blood hung at the end. Then slung it behind his back and tapped the hidden thing on its head. A large blob of blood dribbled onto the voodoo doll’s head, and it came to life in his hands.
“What’s that?” asked the client, looking up to see the voodoo doll clutched in the witch doctor’s hand.
“Your undoing” Poe said, and then wrenched the arms of the voodoo doll. Immediately the man’s arms snapped back against his chair, and after a few more twists of the doll, he was thoroughly tangled in the chair.
“What have you done?” he grunted, sweat popping from his brow.
“Foolish man” Poe hissed, circling the chair. “Do you really think your avaricious wish could be fulfilled without dire consequences? I am merely carrying out the consequences at an earlier time. But, if it’s any consolation, all your wishes shall be carried out; up to an extent.”
“Traitorous wretch!” whimpered the unnamed victim.
          “Let me explain the process” Poe said, most likely only telling him on account of elongating the process of betrayal. “What you have asked for is not, strictly speaking, impossible. Though as I said, the consequences can be enormous’
          ‘You wanted resilience? The form you will take shall undertake that obstacle with ease. You yearned for strength? Child's play! You wish to become great and small at will? This form allows you to do it purposefully and inadvertently. To kill on sight? It is one of the side effects.”
          The victim now looked slightly more sane, if all this was possible in his new form, what was the bad end?
          “Now, about the consequences. Asking for something that great cannot go unpunished. Hoping for godlike powers is quite unhealthy, and the form you shall morph into, shall, I hope, grant you humility and remorse for your greed. The concoction you consumed shortly before I imprisoned you--
          The man snarled at the doctor. He ignored him.
          “Was, in fact, a rare potion that allows all the abilities mentioned, but with a horrible side effect. You shall be transformed into a literal shadow of yourself. And you shall live a cursed life, a half life. But as I said, you shall possess all the powers you asked for. Your size shall strengthen and weaken, wax and wane as the sun does, you shall have great strength and size, but also great weakness and smallness. You shall be able to destroy other shadows if you defeat them. And last, your worst enemy will in fact be yourself. You will be too weak without a host to cast your own shadow and will not survive in the sun for over a few minutes. And so you must rely on other shadows to shield you, you must always have part of your essence imbedded in a shadow, or you shall disperse and be erased. Thought at may be a better way to go then the life of loneliness you will lead, forever after this hour, your greed shall brand you as, the Shadow Prancer. I shall leave you to undergo your transformation. Try not to scream to loud.”
          And with a cackle of demonic laughter, Adrius Regulus Poe, the witch doctor, sauntered out of the shop, leaving the lights on, and also leaving the voodoo doll nailed to the wall, to ensure the man’s captivity. Poe’s footsteps had long disappeared into memory when the transformation began.
          The pain began the cycle, and it seemed like he was on fire, his skin melting away from his bones. He tried to yell, but his voice petered out in seconds as his lungs shrank and disappeared. He writhed in the chair as he began to morph and shrink, bones melted and melded together as his head shrank and flattened, his skin all over turning from gray, to black, to ebony. His clothes went along with it, shrinking and flattening, the vast turmoil strangely silent. Then the pain was too much, and he lost consciousness.

He awoke to agonizing pain. At first he thought it was the transformation but then he looked up. The once feeble candlelight was now glaring down at him, burning into his skin. The words of the evil doctor came back to him. ‘Too weak without a host to cast your own shadow and will not survive in the sun for over a few minutes’
          Panic bubbled inside him as he realized the extent of his predicament. The morning had come, and he had no shelter. Head down, he ran from his chair, which was bathed in both sun and candlelight and headed for the door. His head spun as he hit the wall and his head bent to accommodate his body. Shaking himself he ran on, feeling temporary relief every time he passed through a shadow, like bathing in a waterfall.
          He experienced a most peculiar sensation when he hit the door. One that even blotted out the growing agony of the light. He felt light as air, and then a faint rending sensation as he crawled into the glass. And then, he was out, and scampering down the lit cobbles of London. From a passerby’s view, all it was, was the flitting shadow of a bird. Though none were in the sky. But their minds would have been changed if they could hear his silent wails of horrifying pain. The curse of the Shadow Prancer was upon him.

The next day, no one boarding the steam boat to the Americas noticed a long, flitting shadow leaping lithely from shade to shade, sometimes immersing itself completely in someone’s shadow, and sometimes latching on to objects for a short time.
          As the boat pulled away from the dock, the Shadow Prancer crept from shadow to shadow until he encountered the hold. He wrestled his way into the blissful darkness, and then lay there, completely covered in darkness. Tomorrow, his quest for humility would begin; never would he stop until the curse had been banished. The curse of the Shadow Prancer was upon him.

The End


  1. That was rather creepy. And also rather sad. It kind of reminds me of G.P. Taylor's books. Have you ever read them?

    1. I've read the first Dopple Ganger story, but nothing else. But Z has not, I don't think. I could be wrong, of course.