Evan James Sheldon
The Opposite of an Echo
The girl was out of breath. She was out of breath because she was running, and she was running because she had stolen something. This particular thing that she had taken was very important to a very important person, and she feared that they would discover her theft and punish her, bringing down the weight of their power, crushing her small, straight shoulders.
So she hid what she had stolen beneath a beech tree. She dug down deep using only her hands and her desire, until the dark, dry earth gave way and made room for the thing she had stolen. She placed it there, covered it back up, and went on her way, thinking only to return after whatever tumult she had caused by stealing the thing had died off.
As she left the shade of the beech tree, she caught sight of a strange shadow, something that shouldn't exist, at least not with the way the wind blew and tossed the branches of the beech tree all about. But she couldn't stay and inspect the strange shadow. Not with the people sure to come searching for the thing that the girl had stolen.
Once, when the girl was much younger she had yelled her own name in a cave, just to hear a different voice, though it was very much her own, say her name back to her over and over again, diminishing every moment until she had to strain to hear it. She had liked to imagine that in that cave, her voice still bounced around carrying her own name only it was simply too soft to hear, and that if she'd walked into that cave now, she would perceive her own voice somehow, feel it on her skin like a draft.
A few days after burying the thing she had stolen, and after all the ranting and threatening of violent recompense on the part of the very important person had slowed down to dribble, the girl returned to the beech tree. She didn't dare dig it up yet, it was too soon. The very important person still had lackeys out searching, though they were beginning to change their story. If the girl knew the very important person well, they would soon shift their rants, quickly claiming that they had never cared about that which was stolen, and then they would ask who even knew what it was that was stolen, and then they would direct their angry glare upon some other unfortunate soul.
As the girl smiled and slowly circled the beech tree, she noticed the shadow again. This time it was darker, with more definition, and she thought that she recognized what the shadow represented, but she couldn't see what could be causing it. She almost gave in then and dug up the thing she had stolen. Surely everyone else could see the shadow that she saw. Surely she would be found out.
But she didn't dig it up. She waited. She waited because the thing that she had stolen had never belonged to the very important person anyway. It belonged to her and she didn't want to give it up now that she had it back.
Once, when the girl was much younger she had stood in the same spot all day like the tip of a sundial. She watched her shadow diminish and shrink, and she thought it odd that when the sun was at its zenith, when it was directly above her, bearing down with all of its intensity that her shadow disappeared entirely. But then, the sun shifted slightly and her shadow began to grow and elongate until it was night and her shadow had expanded into everything, covering the land in all directions.
All day the girl wanted to return to the beech tree, but she made herself wait and that night she went to dig up that which was hers and had been taken. The shadow was there and it dark, and getting darker, but she knew no one would notice, because people, particularly the people who were searching for the thing, don't notice shadows at night. They couldn't see things as they were, only as they wished them to be.
She dug down with her hands and her desire, and she pulled the thing that she had stolen from the very important person but was really her own from the dirt. It was sharp, not in its nature, but because it was in her hands. And the girl knew that she would use it now, not hide it. And the shadow of it, now that it was free, grew stronger and more defined like a shout, vibrant and only growing more so.
Evan James Sheldon
's work has appeared most recently in Barren, Foliate Oak, Fictive Dream
. He is an Assistant Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Coordinator for Brink Literary Project. Including his website, you can find him online at Twitter at @EvanJamesSheld1