Selfish Sky (Short Story)

“It’s not fair, Mama!” Jana crumpled to the stable floor, the fight draining out of her. “They—they don’t—!”

“That’s the key right there,” her mother said, sternly. “They don’t. They don’t do anything. They never have, because they don’t actually care. Listen, I’m not trying to make this into something it doesn’t need to be, but the truth of the matter is, if they were going to be there for you—then they would be. End of story. There isn’t a middle ground for this sort of thing.”

Jana’s form flickered, twitching oddly as her shadow self-attempted to override her physical existence.

“Stop that,” her mother flicked sweaty handkerchief at her. “Don’t dance along the shadow’s edge, unless you intend to stay.”

A hiccuped breath was Jana’s answer.

Her mother rolled her eyes. “If you’re going to be that overdramatic about it, here—have a bit more.” She twirled gracefully to sit on the dirt floor of the stable entrance beside Jana. In her outstretched hand, a glittering ball of blackness danced at her fingertips.

Liquid shadow in shimmering form.

Jana gulped.

“You can’t hold it against them, loveling.” Her mother held out her free hand, waiting until Jana took it. “Remember that you are so much more than what you feel like in the moment. Feelings are fleeting. But what you are—what you actually are—that’s forever. Because it’s inside. Not out.”

“I’m not like you,” Jana’s voice wobbled, even as her cold hand thumped into her mother’s warm one. “I can’t even keep Pumpernickel from running through dream dust and-“

“He’s a Nightmare of good stock,” her mother said, fondly. “His sire was a champion, pureblooded and filled to the brim with spite and spark. You don’t tame these creatures. They tame you.”

Jana held her breath as the liquid shadow was gently spilled into her hand. It fluttered, warm and alive.

“See, they don’t have to understand you—your spark, your fire—your life.” Her mother curled Jana’s fingers over the quivering bubble of blackness. “You just have to realize that they will crave you anyway. Your light, your heart, and your very soul. That doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Not everyone is worthy of who you are, your truest, deepest self.”

“But they-!”

“They don’t care.” Her mother repeated, firmly. “Caring is taking an interest. It is being understanding. It is not what these wretched beings have done to you for the past five years.”

Jana wheezed. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. Her free hand worked itself free of her jacket pocket, to hold the shadow cupped in her palms. “I-I didn’t—it didn’t feel so bad, at first.”

“At first, perhaps not.” Her mother allowed. “But later, when you knew better—“

“I-I couldn’t!”

“A heart is a heavy burden. Even more so when you add to its burdens what need not be carried.”

“Mama!”

“Shhh!” Her mother leaned in, arms outstretched.

Jana sagged into the hug, soaking up the warmth and steadiness that seemed to spill into her empty self.

“You never have to share yourself with anyone you don’t want to. Ever.”

“B-but-!” Jana trembled. “They-!”

Her mother kissed her temple, pressing her cheek against Jana’s messy braid. “Never. You are only ever obligated to share yourself, with yourself. Always be true to you. Telling lies to a mirror only wounds in the end.”

The tears began to stream, trickling down her cheeks in fiery trails of regret and fury. Jana sniffled. She nearly squeezed the shadowy ball in her hand. It hummed in her grasp, growing steadily warmer.

“They will always crave you. Always. That’s what living like this does. Knowing when and where to walk. Understanding where light meets the dark. It touches you in a way that you can never undo,” her mother whispered. “It draws people in before they even begin to understand why. Just because it calls them, doesn’t mean we have to acknowledge them. There is nothing wrong with being yourself, exactly as you are.”

“I-I feel so empty.”

“Empty is a feeling. Are you empty?”

Jana was silent.

Her mother squeezed her, gently. “Not quite that empty, eh?”

“…No.”

“That’s my girl.”

The shadow ball dissolved, as Jana sucked in a breath. It was loud and gasping. Her physical form fluxing once, twice and then finally shifting fully into a solid, shimmering figure of glimmering blackness.

Her mother smiled. “Fly high. Stay dark. I’ll be up, after a bit.”

Shadow-Jana shrugged, playfully dodging around her mother, before streaking upward and out into the twinkling night sky.

A/N: Still experimenting with some themes here and the idea of a night-sky-fantasy-dreamworld cast. Nanowrimo brainstorming, anyone? 😛 

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