New Short Story: Dark Delights

Dark Delights
by Milo James Fowler
Copyright © 2022 Milo James Fowler

They stand at the water’s edge, three forms as still as statues, as small as elves from another world, another time. Their eyes glow like pinholes in the darkness, twitching this way and that as they track their quarry across ripples and slick mud.

Grandmother watches from a distance, smiling to herself, praying they remember her teaching. Hopeful they will.

Emery reaches out as the golden beams of dawn’s first glow cut across the earth. She grasps her tin sieve with tiny hands and bends at the waist to catch the dark delights that slink her way. They stretch from the silhouettes of trees and large rocks, growing in size as they slither.

Jacen moves with practiced familiarity, twice Emery's age, his fingers pressed together as he scoops one-handed with his sieve and whisks his free hand through the air as if beckoning to imaginary friends. His movements are quick but smooth, unlike his sister who bobs like a chicken pecking the ground in search of a tasty morsel.

Armon is younger than Jacen but older than Emery. Like his two siblings, he has heeded Grandmother’s words. He remains silent as he catches his prey, sifting rays of light from darkness. He is a serious boy, seldom given to bouts of frivolity. Grandmother calls him an old soul and hugs him when his frowns last too long.

Grandmother closes her eyes, basking in the warmth of a new day. In her memories, she can hear Emery’s voice on her inaugural hunt, more than a year ago:

“What we do with 'em, Gramma?”

“We keep them,” Grandmother said with a nod. “We guard them.”

Emery frowned, looking more like Armon than herself in that moment. “Guard 'em from who?” She clutched her squirming rucksack to her heart. “The sun?”

“No, dear one. The sun is their creator. They could not exist without its light.” Grandmother leaned her head to one side. “But when the sun is at its strongest, around noontime, these inklings are at their weakest. And when the sun goes down…”

“That's when they get strong again!” A bright smile burst forth, clouded by another stormy frown right on its heels. "But if not the sun, then who? Why we guard 'em?”

“Gramma’s teasing you.” Jacen stood behind Emery with his own bag full, writhing as if it contained a few agitated varmints. “Somebody should protect them from us!” He threw back his head and laughed, patting the bag slung over his shoulder.

“That so?” Emery bit her lip. Worried now. Wondering if perhaps she was not the hero of this story but rather its villain.

“Listen now, dear one," Grandmother said with a very patient sigh, as was her way. Long years on the earth had taught her there's never a good reason to be otherwise. "The Lord has given us this earth to subdue it, and our dominion extends over the darkness. Mr. Edison invented the light bulb, now didn’t he? God gave him the intellect and ability to do such a mighty thing, and because of his work, now we don't have to use candles anymore. We've got artificial lights burning bright in our own homes come every nightfall. We flick the switch, and those lamps spring to life, chasing shadows into the corners.”

“What’s artfishul?” Emery said.

“Means fake,” said Armon in that serious tone he was known for. He hefted his bag. A mighty fine haul this morning. “Never tastes near as good as the real thing.”

"This is true." Grandmother nodded with a wistful smile. “And so we get up bright and early, every morning, and we catch us the good stuff, right here by the stream. Before anybody else can snatch them away. We keep them. We guard them. Right in here.” She placed her hand on her chest.

“And when we sleep at night,” Jacen said, kneeling down beside his sister so he could look her in the eye. “The darkness comes pouring out of our mouths while we snore!”

Emery scrunched up her face. “Is that so, Gramma?”

“I’m afraid it is,” she said with a chuckle. “Then the shadows crawl off, back into the corners of the house. And they’re ever so thankful to us for the safekeeping, because if the cats had gotten to them first…”

“They’d never be free to slink around ever again,” Armon finished with a solemn look at each of his siblings. Then he made a claw with one hand and mimed rending the air between them.

Emery jumped back a step, wide-eyed.

Grandmother smiles now at the memory.

The children’s bags are full, and it’s time to take them back to the house. The shadowcatching is always over too soon, but there will be more tomorrow, Lord-willing.

In the meantime, there are a few original recipes she'd like to try. Special varieties of pies and cakes and cookies, baked with fresh darkness from the morning's catch. Never torn, crumpled, chopped, or minced. Whole shadows folded in space and time, rolled up with love, served sweet and hot.

The children look up at her, the white pinpoints of their eyes focusing on her expectantly, their dark silhouettes backlit by the morning light. She nods to herself.

"Let's go."

Without another word, they climb the dew-drenched hillside toward the clapboard farmhouse, where half a dozen black cats prowl about the perimeter thinking they own the place. Their yellow eyes watch as Grandmother and the little ones approach. Emery shoos them away, and they scatter, hissing petulantly over their shoulders. She's learning to be brave, and they don't like it.

As the children's confidence grows, these ancient guardians of the underworld will diminish, until they find themselves nothing but shadows lurking underneath the front porch. Grandmother knows her own days are numbered as well.

But for now, she ushers the little ones inside, straight to the kitchen. She flicks on the lamps, and savoring their warm glow, she prepares to turn today's darkness into delight.
All Content © 2009 - 2023 Milo James Fowler