A Beginning of Sorts
My name is Humphrey Willis. Yep, that's right, not very inspiring for the quote unquote "hero" of any great story, right? But there it is. That's my name. That's the card my folks dealt me. They played Russian Roulette with the baby name book and guess who won? That's right. The Russians......Anyway
This story is about me versus the shadow people. You know who the shadow people are. Everybody does at one point or another. It's hard to escape them. But maybe it's possible. You'll have to read on and find out – I'm not telling you now that would spoil the suspense. If there is any.
People used to describe me as being not entirely miserable and not entirely miserable was the best I could do. I'm happy for the most part but scared because the world I live in is strange and scary and it always rains. It got less scary when I met The Crazy Girl With The Paper Flower Tongue though. Now, my world seems to slot into place along with the rest of life and what I heard living was supposed to feel like. But the thing is, I've grown up on the run from the Shadow People. I had a deal with them that kept me out of The World Of The Dark Places. For a while this was OK. I lived somewhere called Never-Not Rain. Not as bad as The Dark Places but bad enough. Somewhere that the Shadow People could keep an eye on me, letting me smile every so often but not often enough. But one day I left and refused to go back. Which takes me to now. They've taken the love of my life, The Crazy Girl With The Paper Flower Tongue. And that's something I won't stand for. Humphrey Willis is going to become a hero today. And there's nothing that The Shadow People or their Shaker Crew can do about it.
Buckle up. But not for too long. This'll be a quick story. I can't spend too long in The Dark Places, so you might need to fill in some gaps.
Ready? Good. Let's go.
Raindrops Keep Falling From My Head
I don't know why I cry.
Most of the time that is. Most of the time I don't know why I cry. I know why I'm crying now and so does the tear splotted bit of paper in my left hand. But most of the time I don't. Maybe it's because I'm a pussy like the Old Lady Jane called me that time she caught me drowning her gnomes in piss her front garden and I started pissing tears. Or maybe it's because of the time I met the guy down the park who sits on the bench next to his heart and reads the instructions on how to get it back in and cries a whole lot too because he can't understand them. Or maybe it's just because I'm still the little boy inside not grown up a whole lot. Or maybe it's because someone once told me that your demons die in the rain and I liked the sound of it so I figured I'd like to cry good, cry hard and cry often. But one day, you're going to cry because some days you just wake up and realize that some of those demons that you cried out in the rain survived. Heck, some of them even learned to swim and when that happens you're going to cry all over again until you dry up dead.
Today is one of those days. Today is one of those days that I know why I cry. Today I cry because the Shadow People came and took away my happiness. Today I cry because those Shadow People finally caught up with me like my mother promised they would and because they couldn't take me they took my Crazy Girl instead. Today I cry because I realize I'm going to have to fight like hell but not a hell of a lot because I know what the note the Shadow People left me mean. I know what I have to do if I want to see my Crazy Girl. And it makes me sad because it's not a happy ending. And I'm not an adventurer sort. And the fight has to take place outside on away turf which sucks cos I just like my bed most of the time.
My mother, she used to tell me that the Shadow People won't take us alive. They won't take me, they won't take you and they won't take love. They'll try but in the end they won't. They never do. I always thought it was a crummy bedtime story and all I really wanted was to be read about cats who dream of milk-filled fountains or penguins who ride polar bears. But no. It wasn't a bedtime story at all and maybe I should have listened more.
I didn't know the Shadow People were chasing us then, mainly to get to her. In the end, the Shadow People did take her alive. But that's a different story. Or maybe it's the same one. Who knows?
The Crazy Girl With The Paper Flower Tongue
Humphrey Willis, you've outrun us for so long but you won't outrun us much longer. We've taken the thing you love most into our world as punishment for taking yourself from ours. If you want to see her again, you'll find her where you belong. The World of the Dark Places awaits.
The Shadow Men & The Shaker Crew.
This was the note I found on our bed the day I came home from my job at the weather-making factory. It had been a long shift; the boss wanted the clouds darker and filled with rain that could go on for 30 days and 30 nights. I took the job because it was all I could get really. Like the note said, I'm not from this world so there isn't much I could do. But they were always looking for people to make the clouds darker and because I came from the Never-Not Rain World, and my history with The World of the Dark Places I was perfect for it. I was soaked to the bone by the time I got home and wanted to warm up next to CG but all I found was the note.
I still remember the moment we met. I was on holiday from Never-Not Rain and had come to visit some friends in The Land of the Yellow Star when I saw her. There was a slight amber haze on the memory as that day I had too many Sunshine Shots at the Yellow Star Bar but I remember it all the same. She was doing a trick where she made ate a vase of flowers then made paper flowers from her tongue. She worked at the paper-tasting plant, and was one of the few people who could turn anything into paper. I'd heard about people like this but never thought I'd met one. After that, I missed my commute back to Never-Not Rain and I guess here we are.
My choice was simple though after I found the note. All I needed to do was save her once, yet she saved me every day. I knew it would take me through places I'd rather not go. That was what I feared the most about The World of the Dark Places. But it was either that, or lose her forever and join the Lightening Bottle Broken Heart Club, which I wasn't prepared to do. I wasn't going to join a club where they sat and cried because they had broken hearts and lost loves, not when I had the chance to change it. If it meant I had to give up my freedom and join the Shadow People & The Shaker Crew then so be it.
The Place Where Time Doesn't Move
Life isn't perfect. I know that. It wasn't made to be perfect and most of the time it feels like it falls short of not being very good at all.
My mother used to say this but she also taught me about moments and the place where time doesn't move. She used to say, "Humphrey, if there's one thing I've learned in this world is that moments are what we live for. Moments were born to be perfect. That's what they're designed for. To be perfect and too make life perfect. Gather up all the moments you can. Eventually, you might have enough to reach the place where time doesn't move."
"What's that Mum?" I used to ask.
"The place where time doesn't move is the happiest place you can ever be. All it takes is one other person and all the moments in the world at the same time."
She used to get sad after she spoke about the place that time doesn't move. I think that's why I lost her to the World of the Dark Places in the end. I think she had that one other person in my Dad and I think they used to live in the place that time doesn't move like I now did. But after my Dad died, that's when the Shadow People started hunting us. And the rest is history.
Now, I look up at the clouds I built while I ride the bus to where they want me to go and I think about moments. On the days where everything is going south and it feels like nothing is going well and you think life sucks, and you can't steer clear of the fog, just look out for moments. Life is rubbish. But it's fine. Because maybe it's supposed to be. And that's OK. Why? Well, because there's always another moment coming just around the corner.
I got off the bus a few stops early. I needed a plan. I thought I already knew how I could save her but I wasn't entirely happy with the scenario as it really didn't favour me or a happy ending.
When I looked down and saw the Cracked Pavements I knew exactly where I was. I was firmly in The World of The Dark Places territory now. I remembered the Cracked Pavements well. The last time they looked very different though. I'll tell you about that in a minute.
It's like the old nursery rhyme they sing in your world. You know the one. About not stepping on the crack because you'll break your mother's back. In this world it wasn't a nursery rhyme. Stepping on the cracks wouldn't break your mothers back, but every time you did, you're brain would rewind back and you'd lose a memory of her. I had no new memories to make so I treaded carefully, avoiding each and every crack. It had been a long time since I'd done this, and by the time I navigated through I couldn't remember what she used to do to get me to sleep, or the time we baked a thousand cakes in one night just because we could. Those were good memories, gone forever. Once the Cracked Pavements were done, I could move on to The Beach of Many Names & Faces, which made me smile, because there was no problem here at all.
The Beach Of Many Names & Faces
This was probably one of the reason I had incurred such wrath from The Shadow People & The Shaker Crew and why they came after me so hard. When they have you, you're chained to them for life really. There's no escape and they have different ways to keep your debt tied to them. The Cracked Pavements are one. Another is The Beach of Many Names & Faces. These are pretty much all your bad memories and the people in your life you'd much rather forget.
The Crazy Girl and I came here one day. It was her idea, not mine. She was Crazy after all. I told her all about the Shadow People, and the different tricks they had. So she got us on the bus and took us here with a twinkle and a wrinkle of her nose. She filled in the Cracked Pavements with marshmallow glue and bounced onto the Beach of Many Names & Faces. It was filled with people and I just couldn't look. I couldn't speak. She just laughed, kissed me on the cheek and pulled me on to a wall that overlooked the beach. I watched her as she took out a catapult, placed a Cherry Stone in the centre and fired it, striking one of the people on the Beach square between the eyes. They fell down and promptly disappeared. I laughed then, looking at her with wide eyes. She wrinkled her nose and winked pulling out more cherry stones, some frozen marshmallows and things I didn't recognise. She handed me the catapult and smiled. "Your turn."
We sat there until the Beach was as empty as it was now. Walking through it alone, I took the catapult out just in case, but I didn't need it. The sand, which once was dirty brown was now a pale white, and walked toward where I knew they'd have her.
The World Of The Dark Places
There are many tricks that belong to The Shadow People and I'm sure you know of even more, because they have different ones for everyone. If I went through all the tricks they have for me we'd be here all day. And I know that nobody wants that, least of all me. After The Beach of Many Names & Faces, I swam through the Green Lake of Monsters, hacked my way through The Forgetful Forest (getting lost a few times and tangled in a few branches), climbed Mattress Mountain, danced through the Desert of Doubt, warmed my way through The Cold Islands and finally beat the Breath Takers and Body Tinglers. I was almost there now and to remain as brave I had already been I thought about all the things we had done together. All the places we've been, all the moments we've had and all the moments still to come. I thought of our home The Place Where Time Doesn't Move and it kept me warm, breathing and clear.
When I arrived in The Dark Places it was like I had never left. It was a dusty place with little light. Eyes peered at your through the darkness, piercing you like arrows. Whispers stung your ears like bullets. The thing about this world that was so scary was you didn't see the darkness coming even though it was around you permanently. It was everything. It was noise and quiet at once. It was twisted streets where the things that would never happen happened and your worst nightmares that weren't true lived. I had a clear path because nobody walked these streets. Not even the minions that worked for The Shadow People & Shaker Crew. His friends had once said that the angels dance in the street while the devil waits in the wings. Nobody danced in the street here and the only light was the eyes along the side streets.
The Shadow People & The Shaker Crew lived in the Dark Place which was dead version of the places I loved and called home. It was a miniature town of false memories. The purple house I grew up in was on my right with the windows boarded up, the paint flaking and the light out. The Yellow Star Bar was but instead of the sunshine shots, they instead drank their tears and filled up the cup to drink it all over again. People stood on street corners trying to sell little bottles of lightening and hearts sat on benches alone with their owner nowhere to be seen. It went on like this for miles until eventually I saw her in front of me. Her eyes closed, a sign hung round her neck, which said Love Sick: Terminally Ill. I rushed to her, removing the sign and holding her as tightly as I could as the Shadow People & The Shaker Crew approached
You couldn't see them, not straight on. They lived in the Shadows after all. You could only sense them and see them from the corner of your eye. They didn't say anything. They just stood there and waited. I knew I'd escaped them for so long. I'd been defiant. And my time on the run was up. I kissed her on the forehead, hoping that my plan would work and the Shadow People would stop chasing us.
As the Shadow People & The Shaker Crew moved closer I closed my eyes and reached in my pocket.
Remember when I told you about moments? About how my mother told me to collect as many moments as I could and hold on to them? Well I did just that. And I held on to them everywhere I went.
Waiting until the Shadow People & The Shaker Crew moved closer, I took out the little bottles of moments, glowing blue as they danced in against the glass. I couldn't see them, and I didn't know if they felt scared but they started to back away. Kissing The Crazy Girl on the forehead once more I dropped the bottles on the ground and let the moments swirl out. Then I closed my eyes and hoped.
An Ending of Sorts
I opened my eyes and the world I previously saw melted away into memory. I turned, and she lay beside me reading a book like nothing had happened at all. Seeing I was awake, she smiled. "You were a way for a little while there. Sometimes I think you're sleeping with your eyes open." I smiled back and kissed her.
The worst thing when you go to the dark places - you know the place? The one where the Shadow People live and there are only glimpses of the light and sometimes not even that - is that you don't know you're there, not until you're out.
This is the reason, every so often, I turn to her and say "Thank you."
And when I do, she looks at me, raising that perfect little eyebrow (the other was perfect to, but she just raises the one). "For what?" she says.
And, because it's the first time that night I've felt like myself I say, "For still being there when I come out of the darkness." And I kiss her again.
She lowers her eyebrow and smiles, the kind where her eyes dance a different colour and you see a little glimpse of that beautiful soul beneath. "Always. Where else would I be?"
And then I don't tell you the rest of the story, because it doesn't end and it's just for us.
And that's OK. Because the Shadow People won't take us alive.