Challenge found at Be Kind Rewrite. This week I chose the prompt “The shadows are alive.”
The fever burned through her, a slick mask of salty sweat covered her face. She kicked at the blankets her mother pulled up to her chin until they waded up into a thick rope at her feet.
The doctor came and took her temperature. He felt her pulse and listened to her heart. He examined her throat and ears and eyes. He left shaking his head.
On the fourth day she opened her eyes and looked about the room. It was night, her mother sat in the chair beside her bed, a ball of yarn and knitting needles untouched in her lap.
“Mother,” the girl drawled. “Mother?”
Her mother made soothing sounds and wiped the wet hair from her forehead. She picked up the glass of water from the night stand beside the oil lamp and tilted it to the girl’s mouth. Most of the water spilled from the corners of her lips but she managed to swallow some.
“Tell the dark men in the corner to stop singing and dancing,” the girl said. “I don’t want to go with them.”
Her mother turned and studied the room. The corner near the closet was the darkest, but no men were there. Mother said as much to the girl.
“They say we should go to a grand ball,” the girl said. “They say there‘s music to dance to and jugglers to watch and mountains of sweets. But I don’t like the way they stare at me mother. Tell them I have to stay here.”
Her mother told her they were alone in the room but chewed her lip when the girl stared at her. She stood up and made to lift the lamp but the girl cried out.
“I was just going to show you,” her mother said. “There are no men dancing in the shadows.”
“Yes there are,” the girl said. “And if you move the lamp away they will come and grab me. Please mother. Make them go away.”
The girl fell back to sleep. She kicked and mumbled. Once she even cried out.
Mother told the doctor what she said when he arrived the next morning.
“Delirium from the fever,” he said. The doctor performed the same tests and once again shook his head. He shrugged his shoulders and told Mother there was nothing he could do. The priest came and kneeled at the side of the bed and prayed, his lips, purple from wine, moving slowly as he recited the words.
Mother felt foolish and afraid, so she didn’t tell the priest about the dancing shadows.
That night the girl awoke again and spoke of the men in the shadows. Mother soothed and calmed her and went to get another lamp from the kitchen. She lit the wick and heard a short scream. She ran back to the girl’s room and found the bed empty. Mother turned and cast her light on the corner and saw a taller shadow, a silhouette in the shape of her daughter.