Long Shadows

Rachel Aliana
10 min readFeb 25, 2022

Sadie’s parents had told her that they had moved out of New York City, not two blocks away from where the portal opened, right after she was born.

After the portal had opened the Upper West Side had gotten overrun with kobolds that liked to pull Sadie out of her stroller and into the small dimensions kobolds could conjure up inside of puddles. One of her earliest memories was looking up at the sidewalk as if through a curtain, to a world that shimmered and moved like a mirage.

Her mother had retrieved her from the puddle as it dried out in the midday sun. By then the kobolds had scampered back into their hideaway holes during the noon time light. That night her mother had demanded the family move farther away from the portal. They had moved all the way out to Ridgewood, several miles from the portal. The government assured residents that the portal to the Other Worlds would not exapand at all, and Fay creatures were not able to leave the confines of the portal. Later the government revised their estimations to an expansion of 20–50 feet per year. Both state and federal officials remained silent as to how far Fay creatures could move away from the portal.

It was here in the sleepy suburbs that her family had a respite from the dark magic that had crept into the Earth. Sadie remembered long summer days, her head pressed to the ground to watch caterpillars by the dozen meander by on their way to see the world. There was the dark green forest, its tall trunks whose arms reached above her head like a living, shifting ceiling, its leaves that moved and danced and whispered in the wind. She had made fairy houses out of sticks and moss, with rocks for chairs. Those little caps on the tops of acorns, they had made the perfect cups.

Throughout the years, though the government swore that magic would never leave the island of Manhattan, more and more reports came out as the years passed of Wights that stole people in the night, Beren that tunneled underground and threw off electric wires and pipes for months, and witches that would weave spells for perilous prices. Even a Faeran woman had been spotted as far South as Delaware. The sighting was reported by the Magic Watch, an online forum of journalists who specialized in specifically magical news.

The suburbs of New Jersey had still seemed a safe enough place to grow up. It struck a balance between distance from the portal and close enough to the city for her parents to commute into the city. Even with such things as magic and other worlds, still humans had needs and wants and so work went on only slightly different from before.

There were rumors that the woman down the street was a witch, with her long white hair and harsh black gowns that went up to her neck and her cane with a frozen hawk on it. Her father told her witches were impossible this far from the portal; they needed the magic they drew from their other world. Her mother told her it was only fear of the weird and misunderstood that made the neighbors fearful.

In sixth grade her father stopped talking about how magic could not exist so far from the portal. There was an infestation of Kobolds roosted in the forest’s trees, and the whole family had seen them at one time or another. Little, misshapen things that appeared like small, spindly people but with jet black eyes and faces that looked like a rodent. These ones had taken a liking to stealing car parts. Her father had begun to keep spare tires in the basement because so frequently he would go outside and see a wheel missing. He was lucky; their neighbor Mrs. Kellan had thrown a rock at a Kobold and the next day her breaks were cut. She crashed only going twenty miles an hour, but the whiplash was enough to hurt her back so badly that she was in the hospital for three days and needed back surgery. Now she was only forty but needed a walker.

After Mrs. Kellan was injured, the neighborhood association had an emergency meeting and came to the conclusion that the forest where the Kobolds lived needed to be cut down; if the forest was gone the Kobolds would move away.

For two weeks there was the constant sound of chainsaws outside her house. Their buzz accompanied every meal and their reverberations were felt in her bones. Their cry followed into her dreams, and she would wake in a sweat with the feeling of silver teeth lancing into her skin. When the chainsaws were gone, what was left was the jagged stumps that stretched past the horizon. Gone was the grass, covered so thickly in the twigs and leaves of the broken trees.

Instead in their place was a bright small plastic playground, complete with slides and a swing set. She was too young to put words to it, but there was this feeling of complete emptiness that filled her bones. They had made the wrong decision.

For months the community was quiet — not a Kobold was left to rattle the shingles in the night, or steal windshield wipers, or pick the flowers from the lawn. In town gatherings the residents boasted that their community was magic-free. Property rates ticked up in a moment when many residents needed it; so many people were moving to the Midwest and West Coasts. Up, down, it really did not matter. The further from the portal, the better.

Slowly a grey fog began to seep into the pocket of grass where the trees were cut down. It stuck to the little valley that lay at the center of the neighborhood even in the midday sun.

At first her mother said it was fine, she should go out and play. The homeowners association said it was a normal part of the ecosystem when her mother brought it up at a meeting, nothing magical to it. Her next door neighbors who wanted to sell their homes paid for a mural in front of the playground to draw attention away from the fog.

Over the course of a month the whole family developed a deep, lingering cough. It rattled her lungs and burnt her throat raw. Her eyes itched incessantly, so much that she got a headache from rubbing her eyes.

The fog darkened, first from white to ash grey. At night there came a deafening silence. Neighborhood meetings were set earlier and earlier, for no one would leave their houses after dark, but also no one would say why. Play dates were cancelled. Her father pushed off his weekly game nights. Her mother snuck out of work to make sure she did grocery shopping before the sun set. Her baby brother, who usually howled all night, was the kind of calm and silent that made her parents scared to leave the child’s bassinet.

Suddenly out of the quiet came the high wail of a child.

“Mommy! Mommy!” came the cry.

Sadie was seated on the couch reading. She looked out the window, but did not see anyone. It was barely four in the afternoon but it looked almost like night outside.

Her mother lifted her head. She was feeding her baby brother Sam.

“Did someone leave their child outside?” her mother frowned. She stood and donned her robe.

Her father David came out of the kitchen, holding a plate and a rag.

“I thought I heard something.”

Her mother Naomi said “I think I heard a child outside.”

David looked outside to the gathering gloom. It was just past twilight, but the sky was covered with thick clouds that sat low on the horizon. The fog today had poured far outside of the valley. It covered the parking lot outside, and seemed to try to press its fingers through the cracks of the windows.

“Mommy! Where are you?” the call came again.

The hairs stood up on her arms and a shiver passed through her entire body.

Naomi put on slippers, “I need to go out and find her.”

David frowned. He put down the plate he was drying on the table.

“Let me go. It’s cold out.”

Her father put on his jacket and stepped out into the fog.

“Fall has certainly arrived!” he said with forced casualness.

Sadie felt her fingernails dig into the palm of her hand. She wanted to pull her father back, but as she looked out the window she saw the mists had already curled its fingers around him.

She watched as her father’s form become a shadow. She pressed her hand to the window and willed him to come back. She saw him bend down to reach towards something.

As he turned back she saw he carried with him another. A small girl, her head tucked into his shoulder. She had long black hair that fell across her face. The girl looked right around her own age.

“Where does your mom live?” she could hear David ask the girl as he came up the steps to their house.

The girl was silent.

Sadie felt as if she could not speak. She opened her mouth but no sound came out. Her father crossed the threshold to the house and she could feel the child change. It felt like with one part of her vision she still saw the child tucked into her father’s arms, but with another she saw the child’s hair bubble out, alive, its dark ribbons attaching to the ceiling and floors like webbing. The child stretched and twisted, her shoulder joints moving inhumanely. Her eyes as she raised her head were only dark holes.

She could see one of the entity’s arms stretch out to choke her father, another that reached towards her brother.

No! The thought raced through her very core. Adrenaline flowed through her body, and coursed out through her fingers. She suddenly saw the house with these sort of thin magnetic lines that vibrated and she pulled at them to move around the creature and push it outside of the house.

She saw the thin magnetic lines wrap around the creatures arms. She saw its eyes move towards her. It had no pupils but she could feel in its gaze a single minded hunger. But behind it, she felt a multitude of intelligences.

It reached out towards her, and opened its mouth. There were no teeth, but a void, and a huge sucking pressure. She could feel her whole body pulled towards it. Its mouth had grown so large that it encompassed her entire view. It’s breathe was so hot, and she could see in its mouth other eyes peering out of it. All of them looked ravenous.

She pulled at the thin magnetic lines, pulled with a part of her that she had never known existed but perhaps had always felt. She saw the face contort and the arms twitch in pain.

She pushed harder, so hard it felt like her forehead would split. Sweat sprung out of her. Her arms felt as if she had done a hundred push-ups and her bones felt as if they would rip from her sockets. She could not breathe, but the entity was pushed back out of the house threshold, but its arms still clambered at the door frame.

She was crying now and her heart throbbed at the exertion but she kept gathering these thin magnetic ropes and tied them together, until they formed a net across her whole house. She did not know why, but it worked. She could see as she pulled together the ropes tighter, the entity’s arms were stuck in them and burned.

As the last of the entity’s arms were thrown out of the house, she pushed harder and now the net was not simply surrounding the house, but there were ropes that pulled across the creature, caught it so it could not move. But she could still see it on the porch, it’s many legs twisted and it’s shoulders hunkered down. It wailed.

She could hear her mother crying in the background and her brother crying too. She felt so distant from them. There was only her and the entity. She made a step outside the house, and her fingers pulled together. Tightened. The ropes around the creature pulled tighter, pulled into its flesh. It screamed. Sadie could feel she sat on the brink of a decision. She could let herself loosen the ties that bound it and perhaps it would skulk off to another house, another neighborhood.

But the thought of another parent, another brother that could be harmed by this creature was too much. She who had insisted her parents carry out spiders into the garden instead of kill them now moved with surety to tighten the bonds that coiled around this thing.

The creature gave a final wail of pure fear. She felt its pain now, the same as hers seconds before. It was a sound that would haunt her dreams for years.

She watched as it split open into dozens of pieces that dissolved into black sludge. As the black sludge melted into the ground, the fog lifted. For the first time in weeks the golden sun poured down into their neighborhood. She looked out to the peaceful houses and the deep dark green of the spring grass and she began to cry.

Sadie had never killed anything before. But she had done so decisively, and she had been good at it.

She felt her mother’s arms around her.

“What happened? What happened?” her mother kept asking her.

“…how did you do that? What did you do?” her father asked.

They had seen her do something, but she could not even say what she had done. Somehow in the moment the world had split in two, and there close to the world they knew was another on top of it, alive with layers of pulsing energy that she did not understand but she felt.

As she cried her father lifted her and carried her up the stairs. She was really too old to be carried but she could not protest. All of her energy was spent. She felt her mother lay beside her, and that night her whole family slept in the same bed, wrapped safely in each other’s arms.