Title: Apantomancy
Author: Shalott
Rating: PG

Once, when she was a little girl, she had brushed against the darkness. She had been in elementary school, although she couldn't remember which grade, now (funny how some things blurred like that), and the friend who she was intended to go home with did not show up for school. The school should have called her parents, but Mrs. Tyson was going through a divorce and her mind was full and somehow she was overlooked. So, she ended up sitting at the bus stop until late, watching the sky turn colors. She remembered being scared but not that scared because as a child she had expected certain things to be true and one of those things was that her parents would always come for her. She waited, and she expected but she never expected the darkness to come first.

She remembered that the sky was a very interesting shade of rose when the darkness stepped out of the growing shadows and smiled at her with teeth that seemed very, very white.

"Hello." It said, in conversational tones.

As a child she expected certain things to be true and one of those things was that bad people tried to lure little girls into vans with candy. Bad people didn't live in shadows and smile with white, white teeth, although any sane adult would have run screaming in the other direction if they had gotten the chance. So, she replied, but she didn't smile back.

"Hullo." Her voice was high, childish; no match for the gravelly baritone of the darkness.

It began to congeal, take form, until the darkness stood before her wearing the shape of a pleasant-faced young man possibly three times her age. He wasn't startlingly handsome, or shockingly ugly, although maybe he was and she just didn't remember. He still smiled, although it seemed like his teeth looked more normal, now, in his normal face.

"It's strange to meet a girl like you here, at this time of the day." He continued on.

She watched him, watching for signs of candy or vans. "I am waiting for my mom and dad."

"Oh? Are they late?"


The young man, perhaps, wasn't used to dealing with childish frankness. Certainly, he never dealt in it himself. He wasn't visibly taken aback, but somewhere inside, he was a bit surprised at her bluntness.

"Then why are you waiting here, alone, as the sky grows darker?"

"Mom and dad don't know I am here. They'll come soon enough, though." Even as a child she was beginning to understand that there were some things that weren't the way they appeared and she had begun to realize this young man was one of them. Somewhere deep inside she understood she should be afraid, but somewhere even deeper, somewhere primordial, was telling her that fear would do her no good. That if he was here to take her away there was nothing that could be done, so she should try to be a pleasant as possible.

"Did you ever think that it might be dangerous for a little girl to wait alone at night? That a bad person might come along and try to take you away?" His question wasn't malicious. He was, quite honestly, curious to the dealings of this girl's mind.

"Of course. But everyone knows that if a bad person comes and tries to give you candy you run away shouting 'this is not my daddy' or 'this is not my mommy'. Duh."

Duh? One eyebrow arched up, an eyebrow that unlike the rest of him, was startlingly, shockingly exquisite. He looked at her closer, seeing something in her that made her either a most delicious prey or painfully, unbearably forbidden to hunt. Suddenly overcome with the desperate urge to know, he asked her one more question.

"Little girl, do you know that your mommy and daddy are dead?"

She was already looking at him, but if she hadn't been he was sure her head would have whipped around so fast it would have come of her neck. As it was, there was a faint stirring of her hair, a tribute to that whipping, that followed in the wake of his question. When she didn't say anything for a long time, he began to wonder if she had understood his question, but to explain it further would have made the question irrelevant. So the silence stretched on.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, she broke it.

"Last Christmas, no wait, the day before Christmas, Molly, my German shepherd died. Mom said it was because Molly was really old. She was even older than me! But we were all really sad, and I cried a lot. It made Christmas no fun."

"I cried all on Christmas, and all the next day. My mom was really sad, too, and so was my dad. They told me that being sad was okay, but I should stop crying because Molly had been hurting a lot and now she was in a better place and that someday I would see her again. So I stopped crying, and for New Year's we got Jessie who looks a lot like Molly, 'cept she's still a puppy."

She stopped her story and looked at him. She knew him now, and knew the darkness had come and that she should run and be scared. But as a child, she expected certain things to be true and one of those things was that monsters didn't eat good little girls. She was, for the most part, a good little girl. So she wasn't afraid. The darkness, for its' part, waited patiently for the answer to its' question.

"Am I allowed to cry, now?"

The darkness looked at her, looked at her wide, innocent, delicious eyes, and sat next to her on the curb. Sat next to her, and mirrored her position; elbows on knees, chin cupped in one hand. It thought about her answer and thought about the hunt and thought about how delicious she would be.

"No crying, yet." He said finally. "Your parents will be here soon, and you don't want them to worry."

She nodded. "Have you ever had a dog?" She asked him.

"Once. A long time ago. It died, too, but I don't think I ever cried."

"Oh. I'm sorry." Looking back, now, she wasn't sure if she apologized for the passing of his pet, or his lack of tears. She supposed it didn't matter, the apology was the thing.

Coming up she could see headlights in the evening dark, and she somehow knew it was her parents. She knew they'd be frantic and relieved, and she prepared herself for that. The young man stood up, and brushed his seat off with both hands.

"Well." He leaned over, and kissed her on the cheek with lips that were very cold. There was an infinite sadness in those cold lips and suddenly the little girl wanted to cling to him and never let go. She remained still, however, with her chin still in her hand. He smiled at her again with those white, white teeth.

"I am glad we met," he said her name, which surprised her, for she was certain she had never told him. His form dissolved and the darkness grew, becoming one with the near invisible shadows that surrounded it. She stared into the shadows for a moment, until her parents pulled up and then the darkness was forgotten.

But not entirely. Because she did remember, sometimes, and she passed through life touched by it. That little corner of coldness that had seeped in from his lips, and darkened everything she did. She existed, she lived, but just slightly off of center. Slightly colder than everything around her.

Now she was twelve years older than she had been, but found herself in an eerily similar situation. She waited for her parents, outside of a building that had only hours earlier teemed with life but strangely after the closing of the day became abandoned. She waited for her parents because she hadn't been able to drive herself. They should have come at 9 o'clock sharp but sometimes traffic was bad on the interstate, especially on a weekend. So she waited after being kicked out of the closed complex, and thought about the time when she had brushed against the darkness.

Out of the deepening shadows beneath the streetlamp it flowed, smooth and dark and inviting. She felt a terribly overwhelming sense of déjà vu except she know it couldn't possible be. Déjà vu was a mis-firing in the brain, causing new information to be experienced as old memories. That was most certainly almost exactly like her old memory, right down to the very, very white smile now shining at her from the shadows. The darkness separated itself and took place in front of her.

"Hello." It said, in conversational tones.

She remembered the truth of the darkness, remembered that she should fear. But it hadn't taken her then, and so she didn't feel afraid.

"Hello." Her voice was rich now, feminine, and it contrasted appealingly to the gravelly baritone.

It began to congeal, take form, until the darkness stood before her wearing the shape of a young man still the same age as he had been before, but now only one or two years older than her. He was beautifully, seductively handsome and she wondered how she had ever thought him normal. (Funny how some things blurred like that.)

"It's strange to meet a girl like you here, at this time of the day." He continued on.

She watched him, watching for signs that she should begin to fear. "I am waiting for my mom and dad."

"Oh? Are they late?"


He sat next to her on the curb, mirroring her position; elbows on knees, chin cupped in one hand. He looked out at the night sky and asked her,

"Do you know that your mom and dad are dead?"

And she knew, instantly, that it was true, that there had been an accident on the interstate, that paramedics were there now and her dad had held on a little longer than her mom, but in the end there was nothing that could be done for either one of them. That the driver of the other car was injured but not fatally, and perhaps that person had been a little drunk, but perhaps they had only been touched for a moment by the darkness.

The silence stretched on and once again he was loathe to break it. Once again, he didn't have to.

"A long time ago, when I was still innocent, I waited into the night for my parents to pick me up. And I happened to meet, and I happened to talk with a young man was more than and exactly like he seemed. He asked me the same question you ask now and I was terrified to answer him because I thought that might make it true. So I told him a story and I replied with a question of my own."

"And it was ok, then, because he told me not to cry, that my parents would come soon, and they did. But they aren't coming this time, are they?"

She stopped, and looked at him. He was still staring into the night and she traced his profile with his eyes until he realized she was staring and turned to look at her. His eyes were twin pools of darkness and all of a sudden she was terrified. She sat, petrified by her overwhelming fear until she remembered something she had heard, once upon a time.

"Darkness is, at once, both terrifying and comforting. Terrifying, because we cannot see around us, or know what may be coming. Comforting, because we no longer have to hide."

And she was released, and she took his icy cold hand in hers. He answered his own question.

"Am I allowed to cry, now?"

His voice was still gravelly and she understood that it was unshed tears. She nodded, and she was the one who began to cry, for him because of course he couldn't. So she cried for him, and for her, and for everyone who was in the world hiding in the darkness instead of reaching out and accepting the comfort that it contained.

He stood up. This time, she stood up with him because she still held onto his hand. He looked at her and he looked at their hands and he looked at her tears which were still flowing unhindered. For the first time in his existence, he wanted to offer words but could not find the right ones. So, he gripped her hand tighter and led her into the darkness, smiling where she couldn't see.

"Don't smile when I am crying for you." her voice was choked a little by her tears.

If he was the type to be taken by surprise he knew his head would have whipped around so fast it would have come of his neck. As it was, there was a faint stirring of his hair, a tribute to that whipping, that followed in the wake of her statement. He stopped, and drew her close, letting her warmth seep into his coldness.

"I'm sorry." And he apologized for the smile, and for not being able to cry. For the first time in his existence, he was sincere.

She smiled, accepting the apology, and her tears ended. He began to walk again, with her by his side, and together they entered the darkness.

Not very far away, a person looked at the wreckage of someone else's car, wreckage that the person in question had caused, and trembled in the darkness. But that is another story.

~ FIN ~