The connection between the new mother and her baby was so strong that she spent all her free time sitting by the cot, admiring her perfection. That anything so beautiful could have come from their love made her mute with gratitude. Looking at the sleeping baby she either felt such love her heart would surely burst or she fell to the pits of deepest despair, missing him so much that it hurt her, fearing what might have happened to him.
"I will protect her, I promise you," she whispered to the empty room one night when she could not sleep and was sitting guarding their baby. She gently stroked the unbelievably soft skin on her daughter's cheek. The baby did not wake up but a tiny hand wrapped around her finger. She could not take her finger away and sat there with hot tears running down her cheek, mumbling words of protection and love.
And then she began to see the shadows. At first she thought it was some problem with her vision. They seemed to follow her, slipping just out of sight when she turned to look at a movement she thought she had seen from the corner of her eye. Then, one day, the sudden noise of something clattering to the ground behind her in the street made her jump, and when she turned around quickly, she was certain she could see a shadowy figure behind the fallen dustbin, just for a few seconds.
Now she was certain they were real creatures. What her lost love had told her about the ones that were after him made her very scared, but why exactly these shadows should be following her, she did not know. Were they trying to find him through her? Why had they not shown up earlier, if that was the case? How had they found her? What were they looking for?
She had her answer the day one of the shadows materialised inside the old lady's house. She returned from the kitchen with a tea tray for the old lady, and saw her sitting in her armchair, tenderly holding the baby. She was crooning an old nursery rhyme to the child.
"Bye Baby Bunting, Daddy's gone a hunting, to get a little rabbit skin to keep a Baby Bunting in..." The absurd words rang in her brain and would not go away.
It's a trick of the light, she told herself. A trick of the eyes. A trick of - the brain. But that - she did not want to think about that, the possibility that it was only in her mind. It was standing right next to the old lady, who had no idea of the presence of the nightmarish creature, and kept on cooing at the child. The mist - entity - reached out human-like arms towards her baby.
Her rage flared in an instant, and her body responded. She slashed the shadow down and killed it with the fury of a lioness protecting her young. Quickly, without hesitation.
The shadow silently crumbled into a heap of dust. The landlady seemed not to hear the sounds the killing made, and thankfully could not see how the shadow had been destroyed, or her deepest secret would have been out. But that also meant there were no witnesses to the existence of the shadows. Only she had seen them.
She was now horrified. He had told her that there were things in this world people had no idea about, and she had nurtured the thought that he was talking in metaphors. She had not quite believed all he had to say about her heritage, because it had been too strange for her rational mind. Now, after what had just happened, there was no way of denying that he had meant it literally.
She served the old lady her tea with unsteady hands, avoiding the heap of dust on the carpet, and then cleaned the floor. The dust looked just like ordinary dust, and there was much less of it than she had expected.
"It's time for her bottle. I'll take her for her feed." With her hands still shaking she reached for her baby, careful to avoid the spot where she had killed the darkness. She fed her daughter in her room, rocking her body back and forth, mumbling prayers under her breath, calling on heavenly forces to protect her and her child. Looking down at her daughter, she came to a sudden decision.
"I need to go out and try to find something to eat. I heard of a place that has some meat and we've still got coupons." She tried to sound calm. "I'll take the baby with me."
"Be careful she doesn't catch a cold. That can be a serious thing for a baby! Wrap up warm." The old lady seemed to be reluctant to let them go.
She had no clear plan of what to do next, but she couldn't get the hideous image out of her head. If one of her nightmares could make it into the house, surely more of its kind would follow later. For now, she did the only thing that came into her mind - she ran away.
Then the air raid siren started its wailing scream, and she took shelter with the baby until the bombing was over. When she returned, in the place where the old lady's house stood there was nothing but a blackened, smoking ruin. The stench of burning filled her nostrils as she watched the hopeless task of the wardens and the fire services as they picked their way carefully over the debris. She knew that they would find no survivors. She turned away, with a catch in her throat, holding her baby even closer to her, kissing her head. But mingled amongst her sadness for the grumpy old woman who had turned out to be so kind, there was relief. Surely the shadows now thought she and the baby were dead too?
She sought shelter in an old church with her child, but did not dare to sleep for fear of the shadows returning. She sat there, with dark rings around her eyes, holding her baby, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible in the midst of others who had lost their homes. They were avoiding her - or was that her imagination? In the corners of the room, she seemed to see shadows, but they were real shadows - the shadows of people who had lost their homes, and sometimes their loved ones. Only, her eyes darted from one figure to the next, seeking reassurance that they were normal people, and not shades.
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