Beyond A Shadow of A Doubt

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Looking out my window, I watch as the lights of the city flicker out one by one. I have a pretty good view of what’s going on from my apartment on the twentieth floor, but that only makes the scene more terrifying. All the lights in the city are off and the only thing illuminating it is the faint glow of the moon above. My legs begin to shake and my palms are sweaty; I feel like I’m in a waking nightmare. 

It takes me a moment to pull my gaze away from the window, but I eventually turn away slowly and face towards the mess that is my studio apartment. As the anxiety grows, I begin a desperate search for a flashlight; I have one around here somewhere. Blindly looking for my flashlight in the darkness makes me really wish I had a flashlight right about now.

I knew something like this would happen. Before all the power went out, I was watching the news. They just announced that another hero was taken down by this so-called “Shadow King” who I had no idea existed before tonight.

“It was almost as if…” I mumbled to myself, “he just came out of the shadows.”

 

My name is Calvin Carter, and typically, my nights are spent relaxing and leaving the “late shift” hero work to the real heroes. I say real because they are the ones who are recognized by the city. Shaking hands, kissing babies, the whole shebang. They’re the ones those newspapers go crazy about to get action shots of for their front page. All the ballsy villains tend to come out at night so I leave it up to the big, bad, charismatic guys. It’s hard to be noticed here because our city has the highest citizen to hero ratio in the country, meaning that some dude in spandex is always around the corner to stop people like the “Shadow King.” Or so I thought until the heroes started dropping like flies.

Back to my messy apartment. I can’t see anything in here. After tripping over a few more things in the dark, I finally reach my desk. I pull open the drawer where I keep my hero tools and rummage around until I feel the cold yet comforting flashlight. I scramble to turn it on. The circle of light that appears on the wall in front of me helps me relax a bit, but it’s still too dark.

I need to get dressed. Even though it’s so dark and nobody would really see me, I can’t risk my identity being revealed. I shine my flashlight around the room until I find my worn leather couch, and on it, my uniform. I hold my hand out to my costume, beckoning it to me, imagining that it defies physics and moves to my hand, then I drop my arm and laugh at myself, feeling jealous of heroes with telekinetic powers.

I put on my spandex suit as quickly as I can, which isn’t very quick considering it’s skin tight. It is mostly black with little specks of silver so it reflects a bit of light making it look like stars. I pull on my heavy duty combat boots and confidently buckle my utility belt around my waist. The last part of my uniform is just a simple domino mask, pretty much what you’d expect for any stereotypical superhero costume. With this, my disguise is complete. I go by the name “Stellar” and I’m able to absorb light and turn it into different usable forms of energy. See why a dark city would leave me at a disadvantage?

The flashlight will help for small attacks, but won’t do much for me. I strap extra flashlights to my utility belt and climb out the fire escape of my apartment. I spent all this time getting ready that I almost forgot I have nineteen flights of stairs to get down in the pitch black city. Great.

Luckily, I’m not afraid of heights and the light coming from a few flashlights should be enough to allow me to use my powers. Fingers crossed.

I turn on three more flashlights in addition to the one I had on in my apartment and peer over the railing. I close my eyes and feel the heat coming off of the flashlight bulbs. When the heat disappears and is replaced by the soft wind of the night, I know my powers are working. 

I hoist myself over the railing and begin to fall. I aim my palms at the ground and release a strong pulse of light energy that begins to slow my fall until I land on the ground. I’m filled with adrenaline as I look up towards my apartment building, but there’s no time to waste. I check to see if I have any of the built up light energy left by trying to charge back up one of the flashlights, but it only flickers briefly then dies again. Leaving the four used up flashlights behind, I pull another from my utility belt and begin to head towards the middle of the city. 

The streets are empty other than a few abandoned cars. I survey the area around me as I walk. I see the bridge up above the road that helps pedestrians safely traverse from one side of the normally busy road to the other. That was built about four years ago. The bridge usually has decorative lighting across both sides which makes it look like stars. It’s hard to see real stars in the city and so we take what we can get. I’ve always loved looking at that bridge, hence why my hero name is Stellar. I’ve always been fascinated with stars, even the illusion of stars created by the bridge lights. This is my hometown and I’d hate to never see those stars again.

CRASH

A noise to my right makes me jump and I release my grip on the flashlight I’m holding. It clatters to the ground and the light fizzles out. I grab it in time to absorb what remains of the energy, but it isn’t much. Rest in peace, flashlight number five.

The dull light coming from my left palm barely helps at all. I hear my heartbeat in my ears as my anxiety grows. I moved my arm slowly to try and pinpoint where the noise came from to no avail.

I continue down the street more carefully than before in an attempt to anticipate any other surprises. As I’m focusing on trying to focus, I trip over something on the ground which causes me to lose focus.

Standing up quickly, I turn and attempt to prepare for whatever I might find. I shine the little bit of light I have at my feet. I hear a slight whimper and see the body of the speed hero “Running Man”, the last hero to be reported by the news before everything went dark. 

I kneel down beside him and tap his shoulders, “Running Man, can you hear me?”

He coughs, then his eyes open slowly, “I can hear ya. Where am I?”

I look around to get my bearings, but I have a hard time pinpointing exactly where we are in the city, “Don’t worry about that. You’re alright now. Do you remember what happened?”

“Help me sit up, will ya?” Running Man says before coughing again. I slowly help prop him up against a storefront, “All I know is I was fightin’ this dark fella, could barely see him. He kept poppin’ up outta nowhere and shuttin’ lights off which seemed to make him stronger.”

“How did he catch you? Isn’t your power super speed?”

“This fella was able to track my movements off and on, seems like he could see better when it was gettin’ darker. All I remember was him sayin’ somethin’ about it bein’ too bright here and it hurtin’ his eyes. Next thing I know, I was runnin’ around tryin’ to get the jump on him and he pops up and then WHAM,” Running Man claps his hands together suddenly and it makes me jump, “he hits me hard in the gut then on the back of the head and I’m gone, out like a light. Couldn’t see nothin’.”

“Did he say why he was here?” I ask.

Running Man shakes his head and slowly stands up, “Sorry, kid, I told you all I remember. Anyway, thanks for wakin’ me up. I gotta get back to stoppin’ this guy. I’m noticin’ the city’s lookin’ a little dark at the moment so our friend’s gotta be around here somewhere.”

He shakes my hand firmly. I immediately feel relief wash over me. Maybe Running Man can take care of this guy and I can just go back home and forget about this whole night.

I turn and begin to walk away, but feel a tap on my shoulder. I jump and turn quickly and come face to face with Running Man once again.

“I just got to noticin’ yer getup, kid. Are you a hero, too?” he asks me with a very serious and expectant look on his face.

I feel my face flush with something, not sure if it’s fear or embarrassment, but I nod at him, “The name’s Stellar.”

“Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Stellar. How’s about you and I go stop this Shadow King together, sound like a plan? They always say two heroes are better than one.” he says.

“Isn’t the phrase, ‘two heads are better than one?’” I ask.

Running Man’s laugh is thunderous. He grabs me in a headlock and gives me a slight noogie, “Well ain’t you a smarty pants, Mister Stellar! Let’s get goin’ before the Shadow King gets into more trouble.”

 

Running Man and I walk through the city for a while. A few times, he takes the lead and runs a few laps around a few blocks to keep an eye out for anything strange, but always stops back by me to make sure I’m not lost or captured.

“Hey, Stellar,” Running Man says, “I’m gonna check a few more blocks, wouldja mind checkin’ a few of these alleyways for our friend?”

I stop in my tracks and stare at one of the dark alleys. Who knows what’s in there? I don’t know if I could go in there even if I wanted to.

“What are you… scared?” Running Man says mockingly with a huge grin. Then he  pauses like he’s figured something out, “Wait a minute, are you scared of the dark?”

“No!” I yell, but my gaze hasn’t moved away from the alley, “I mean, I’m not afraid of the dark, but what could be in the dark.”

Running Man holds his face as straight as he can for as long as he can before he finally breaks and erupts into that thunderous laughter from before, “For real, kid? You’re a superhero! What is there to be afraid of? Just go in there and do a quick check for the Shadow King, then come back out. Easy peasy.”

I take a deep breath and close my eyes, then look straight at him, “Fine, I’ll do it.”

He claps me on the back a bit too hard, “There ya go, kid! You’re a tough, fearless hero! Nothin’ can stop you now! Go in there and face yer fears!”

I slowly walk to the edge of the alley. I try to use my power to see if any remaining power from the flashlights is left, but nothing happens.

I take a few steps into the pitch black alley. Everything is silent around me and I start to shake. I hear a rustling sound and suddenly a dark figure scurries across my field of view. I almost fall backwards, but I’m able to catch my footing. The fear starts to take over again. I’m not used to being a hero at night. I tell myself it was just a rat and move on.

Continuing on, my eyes begin to adjust to my surroundings, but many things are still difficult to see. 

Something touches my shoulder and I laugh, “Cut it out, Running Man.”

No response.

I turn around and no one is there. I feel another tap on my shoulder, “Okay seriously dude, cut that out.”

Still nothing.

Why do I feel like I found who we’ve been looking for?

“Show yourself, Shadow King!” I say firmly into the darkness. It would have sounded heroic if my voice didn’t crack a bit. I clear my throat.

Suddenly, I feel a force hit my chest and I fall backwards to the ground. I take my last flashlight from my utility belt and shine it in front of me; nothing is there. I turn the flashlight off and see a figure standing over me. He seems to appear instantly when the light disappears which feels like a terrible jump scare.

The Shadow King is tall and seems to be strangely transparent as if he doesn’t have any actual physical form. He seems to flicker in and out with detail so it’s hard to say what he actually looks like. Due to the lack of light around us, I can barely make out any features of his face, but something definitely seems off about him. The Shadow King isn’t actually a shadow, but I can see why he refers to himself as one. He doesn’t have a solid, physical figure, but instead, he is just a messy outline of a person made up of what looks like a dark aura. I can see things through him, but I still know he’s there due to his presence.

I stand to face my foe, brushing off the debris on my uniform. I click the flashlight on quickly and shine it directly on the face of the Shadow King. I catch a quick glimpse of the villain in front of me as if his power is to just disappear in light. I understand now why I wasn’t able to make out any facial features. Either he’s wearing a mask, or this guy literally only has a mouth and teeth to define his face.

As I said, it was a quick glimpse. The Shadow King quickly dodges the beam of light by sinking into the ground below, only to appear again a few feet away. He keeps doing this again and again, appearing in different spots each time. He seems to be taunting me due to the fact I am clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to speed and visibility.

“What do you want from our city?” I ask, trying not to sound nervous or defeated or anything else that is probably blatantly obvious by the slight shake of my voice. I intently watch the Shadow King appear, disappear, and reappear. My eyes have adjusted a bit to the darkness so it’s easier to track him. I just have to get him talking and distract him while I think of a plan.

“You poor thing. You think I’m just after your city?” the Shadow King says as an ominous grin spreads across his face, “You’re new, aren’t you?”

I freeze. He clearly senses how nervous I am. I clear my throat again and then somewhat heroically say, “What does being new matter if I stop you in the end?”

“I don’t even know who you are,” the Shadow King says, which would hurt if I was a hero for a longer amount of time, “What do I call you?”

“My name is Stellar, and I won’t let you take over my city.”

“Stellar?” he laughs and looks around us, “Nevermind that, your name has no meaning to me. I plan on covering the world with darkness. It’s how I will harness my true powers. You see, it was relatively simple to kill the lights here. I could easily disappear and reappear in the next town over. Copy and paste what I’ve done here. I’d do this again and again until finally shadows would be the new norm. Until I finally hold enough power to destroy the one force that has full control over me on this planet: the sun.”

I stare at him blankly for a moment before I can’t hold back anymore and I let out a loud, but nervous laugh, “So your archenemy is the sun? A giant star in the sky draining your powers during the day is what’s driving you to screw everybody over?”

“You wouldn’t understand my true intentions, boy. This is something I must do in order to become the most powerful being on Earth. That damn ball of fire is the only thing standing between me and world domination!” The Shadow King yells triumphantly.

This time I really can’t hold back. An uncontrollable bout of laughter erupts from me and I can’t do anything at all to stop it.

“Shut up!” He yells and wraps a fist around my neck, his hand is ice cold and clenches firmly, cutting off my air supply.

I try with all of my energy to pull his arm from my neck, but he has me held up in the air about two feet off the ground and all I am able to do is kick my legs around. I start to feel light headed as I gasp for air.

The Shadow King reaches his other hand up and places it over my face and suddenly things go dark. I fall to the ground in a heap and take in a deep breath of air before coughing.

“Oh, my apologies,” he says with a snicker, “I may have forgotten to mention the full extent of my powers. Have you ever heard the phrase “eyes light up?” Well, I can take that light, too. Don’t worry though, it’s only temporary. It definitely slows people down though. Very nice to meet you, Starboy.”

I can’t stop coughing and I can’t see anything. I feel helpless and alone. I begin to rub my eyes over and over, hoping more than anything that my sight returns. What good are my powers if I can’t see light?

 

Time passes and I sit in the alley with my legs held tightly to my chest. I hear strange noises that I can’t identify, but I start to get used to them after a while. Suddenly, I hear a voice calling in the distance.

“Stellar!” It’s Running Man!

“I’m here!” I yell back.

I hear his quick footsteps and feel a gust of wind hit my face, “Finally found you! That Shadow King came and found me and knocked me out again. This guy’s really gettin’ on my nerves, you know that?”

I feel myself wanting to cry, but I don’t want to break down in front of Running Man who seems so confident even after being knocked out twice by the same villain, “Mine, too. I still can’t see yet.”

“It’s all good. It’ll come back, I promise. I’m sorry I sent you in here alone. That’s my bad, I shouldn’t’ve done that to you,” he says.

I reach out and pat Running Man on the shoulder, “You had no idea he’d be in this exact alley. I don’t blame you.”

He looks down at my hand on his shoulder, then back at my face, then a big cheesy smile spreads across his face, “You can see me can’tcha? That’s just great! We gotta get goin’ and teach that piece of ‘you know what’ a lesson!”

He holds out his hand for me and I grab it. He helps me up, brushes the dirt off of me, and we run out of the alley.

 

We reach the center of town after searching more alleys and side streets. There doesn’t seem to be anything strange going on around us yet, but it makes me worry that the Shadow King already took a trip out of town.

“Hey!” Running Man yells into the darkness, “Shadow dude, get yer ass out here and face us!”

I whisper to him, “It’s the Shadow King.”

Running Man smiles, he totally knows.

The Shadow King pops up about six feet in front of us and he looks furious, “How dare you disrespect me, I am the King of the Shadows, not just some ‘dude.’”

“Do you even remember who we are?” I ask.

The Shadow King ignores my question as he walks closer to Running Man, “You are truly persistent. I would say it’s admirable, but in all honesty, it’s rather annoying. I demand a formal apology for you interrupting my work and forgetting my name. If I determine it is sincere enough, I shall spare you a third time.”

Running Man sighs, “Okay, okay. I’m truly very sincerely sorry for what I’m about to do.”

The Shadow King takes a quick step back, but Running Man takes an inhumanly quick step forward and grabs his arm. The Shadow King tries to sink away from Running Man’s grasp but Running Man just quickly lets go then grabs again immediately afterwards.

“I’m gonna need some help, Stellar!” Running Man yells to me. I am frozen in place. I can’t believe what I’m seeing, “Seriously, kid, this guy’s slippery.”

I break out of the fear and take the last flashlight off of my belt before making my way to Running Man and the Shadow King, but still keeping some distance. I click the flashlight on and aim it at the Shadow King but he raises a hand up and drains the light from it. Darkness surrounds us again as the flashlight dies.

The Shadow King laughs as he continues to struggle with Running Man, “Nice try, Starboy. What are you going to do now?”

I suddenly get an idea. I walk closer to the two of them slowly, “I have a few tricks up my sleeve now, thanks to you. And it’s Stellar, by the way. Remember that.”

I place my left hand over my left eye and my right hand over the Shadow King’s face. Earlier, when I felt the Shadow King drain the light from my eyes, I wondered if the same thing could be done to enhance my own powers. I feel the “light” drain from my eye and see my right hand begin to glow. I shine all the light at once into one concentrated beam over the Shadow Kings eyes and he yells out in pain.

The Shadow King suddenly becomes a fully physical form as he holds his hands over his eyes as he tries to use his powers to pull my new light out of his eyes, but it’s no use.

“What did you do?” The Shadow King yells, “I’m ruined, I can’t see! All I see is white light! Make it stop!”

He collapses onto the ground and writhes in pain. Running Man pins his arms behind his back and stands him up. I finally get a full look at him. He still looks the same as before, except this time, his eyes are two glowing sockets of white light. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think that looks temporary.

I feel my hands shaking, but I start to relax as one by one, all of the lights around me come back to life. Street lights are the first to turn on, then storefronts, then traffic lights follow suit. I sigh with relief. Somehow, that worked. I just hope nobody saw how absolutely terrified I was.

I hear police sirens getting closer and see their flashing lights in the distance. That’s my queue to leave. I can’t make people think I want to work the night shift!

I start to leave, but Running Man grabs my arm. Just as a police car pulls up to apprehend the Shadow King.

“Do you think yer gonna be able to see again?” he asks, pointing to my eye, “That looks… let’s just say not great.”

I shrug, “Maybe a lame eyepatch is just what I needed to make my costume more unique.”

We both laugh.

“Sure you don’t wanna stick around, kid?” he says with a smile, “You deserve credit for everythin’ you’ve done here tonight.”

I smile and shake my head, “That’s okay. I think I’ve had enough excitement for one night. I’ll see you around though. It was nice working with you.”

He nods and we firmly shake hands, “Stellar job, kid.”

 

Returning back to my apartment, I finally feel at peace. Every light is how I left it before the power outage: on and very bright. I check all of the nightlights in my outlets to be sure they are on as well. The lamps on my tables are bright and comforting, along with the light strips on the floor. Even my trusty stove light is on. I can’t risk there being shadows anywhere.

Come on. Every hero has a weakness. My power makes it so I can always be in the light, which has negative side effects. I guess it doesn’t always have to be this way. If I want to be a real hero, I can’t let something like the dark beat me.

I turn the stove light off and a chill runs down my spine. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.


Submitted: December 09, 2020

© Copyright 2021 A. M. Scarlett. All rights reserved.

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