In March 2020 I cut my hours at work and committed to writing the young adult series, The Trials of Walter Hall. I joined a local writer’s group in the rural, Western Australia town of Mt. Barker, and shook up the ink in my cheap biro pen.
The first assignment with the group was to write a short story inspired by the word ‘Shadows’. The story has a Twilight Zone feel to it and lets the reader bear witness to a terrible and beautiful transformation.
Here it is.
The last walk I, Henry Miller, had with my shadow was today, the first Sunday of summer, 1931. I scribble this account and cast it to the ground in the vain hope someone may find it and know what became of me.
My shadow was long, stretching twice my length as the morning sun peeked over the row of buildings behind. Soft sounds feathered the quiet; Honey’s paws on the pavement, my shoes, the light rustle of the trees as we approached the park. The grass was damp with dew and a thinning ribbon of mist hung several feet above the ground. Soon to disperse with the warmth of the day.
The days had been hotter than usual. Swimming pools filled with children as their parents lay under parasols. Curtains closed, fans on and lethargy and groans and ice lollies and iced drinks. The park with cool fountains to dip your feet and the grass under shade of trees. Under this tree.
The English Oak, entrenched and imposing, in the centre of the parklands. Heavy branches twisting and hanging, supporting a vast suspended canopy. A tree that made you stop and look and wonder at its history. Like when you sit with your grandfather and cannot imagine he was ever a child. This ancient trunk could never have been a sapling.
Today my dog barked at the tree when we approached. Then I walked into its shade and when I re-emerged into the light, my shadow had disappeared.
I confess it unlikely I would notice the sudden disappearance of my shadow. You walk about unaware of it or pay it a passing glance. Sometimes you play with its shape as if seeing your image in a House of Mirrors. On this occasion I had a special reason to notice its vanishment-it’s transformation to another shadow. That of an English Oak tree.
It began as if a quirk of light and at first I felt there was something hovering above me, casting a rising darkness. As it grew and mushroomed outward my dog, may she be safe, yelped, and escaped my limp grip. As I turned to chase her I tripped, and fell forward and saw the shadow of the Oak, my shadow, twist in unison with my body. Confused, I got back to my feet and, in the corner of my eye, caught a chilling sight. The sun was bleaching the grass, without shade from the canopy, leaving only a sliver of shadow of human form.
Panic has subsided, and time allows for this brief record. Peculiar, so slow and so quick. Change is creeping with a dreadful serenity. I feel I am becoming something greater. Tiny roots prick from the soles of my feet, pierce through my shoes and dig into the earth. Down, down they worm, and I feel the sand and mud and clay. My legs fuse and stiffen in the most tremendous choke as the soles of my feet crack and spread. A branch bursts from my hip, this terrible beauty, and I wonder at its emerging leaves as further branches shoot from me.
Through the pain and the ecstasy, through the ripping wonderment, I turn to see the English Oak, to catch my shadow and hope that this is all psychosis. It is not there, and you stand before me. Watching. You just stand as your roots retract.
I must toss my pen. Toss my journal. I have all but ceased.
I can offer little explanation of what happened to Henry. Though I watched him metamorphose I know, perhaps, only what he felt in those moments. Why? I have asked myself this question for a thousand years. In perfect stillness I have wondered. I know less now than I did then.
I sit under his shade and he looks the same ancient English Oak as I had been. The same English Oak as William Wood before me. Our fates have switched just as two switched a thousand years ago. A thousand years before and before that.
As the sun moves across the sky, my shadow is cast.
It goes on, this English Oak, long after I am buried beneath it.
By W.J. Kite