“It doesn’t matter, just keep driving,” I said to myself as I plunged into the next turn, just missing the ice on the road.
And then my mind went blank. It wasn’t going to be that sort of experience, that sort of day after all. The pull of The Shift was coming on hard and I had to resist or I wouldn’t make it.
“I need to stop,” I said aloud as I wiped at the windshield and cursed the snow. I spotted an inn ahead and revved up as I slid and skidded into the lot.
Inside, it was dark. Brown wood and the smell of old buildings. The light over the counter was flickering behind the musty yellow of years of tobacco stains. He looked up from his paper, eyeing me over his paper.
“Ain’t got no rooms,” he said and went back to his paper, snorting a laugh at something he was reading, licked his thumb and flipped the page.
Noticing that I wasn’t leaving, he cut his eye at me, sighed, carefully folded up the newspaper, and stood up.
“NO. ROOMS.” I didn’t think he was going to be happy with me sticking around, but the feeling was growing inside me and I was struggling to keep it back.
“I can’t go any further – the snow is coming down too hard. Just a few hours to ride out the weather, that’s all.” I pleaded and tried to be non-confrontational. I needed to be calm. I couldn’t risk The Shift. Not here, not now. I had to get there and couldn’t delay more than a few hours.
It was too late; The Shift had me and I was suddenly watching from the Shadow Realm, watching myself fall as the ink-swirls-in-water forms of the Shadow Realm advanced on the innkeeper.
I dropped to my knees and covered my ears, but that only muffled the screams. He was Of The Realm now. I stayed still and lamented the curse for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few minutes. I could only stare at the shadows as they played around me.
The Shift pulled and thrashed and the world came back into color and focus, out of the Shadow Realm. The innkeeper had dead eyes, and only I would know. He would never be the same; I puked on the floor and cursed what I’d become.
I sat in my room and rocked myself back and forth, mumbling and dreading and looking out the window. The storm had died down and the plow had been through; time to do what must be done.
Hours down the road, I arrived at the rest stop. Only a few tire tracks in the snow to let me know I wasn’t alone – the cars had long been covered by the storm.
“You’re late,” he said as I rushed out of the car.
“I’m sorry, I got caught in-”
“Enough! Where is it?” His monotone was soothing. As he spoke, he reached up and removed his sunglasses.
I thought I was the only one! Panic filled me and I glanced around. They were everywhere. The Shadow Realm creatures were pushing through and I couldn’t resist.
“No, no, I can’t.. I won’t… it must. Not. Happen.” I felt the roar of The Shift come on and I was back in the Shadow Realm, only this time, he was there with me, and neither of us were Shadowform.
“Yes, it WILL happen. This time, I win,” he managed a grin through the monotone and reached into his pocket, raising a brow as he looked back at me. “I’ve been onto your game for quite a while now. I thought that *I* was the only one. What a shock to stumble upon you.”
“How did you – what did you – ” I couldn’t form a coherent sentence. I’m not the only one? I’m not the only one! Wait… there are more, then? And how?
He was fingering something in his pocket and in my fervor I hardly noticed. “What’s that you’ve got,” I was getting my gumption back.
He produced a cube, ornate, gold and black, with a small hole in one side, which I saw as he was manipulating it in his hands.
“This object,” he began, taking a dramatic pause, “This object was found by police in the woods 38 years ago, after they found a man with vacant eyes, rambling about shadow creatures.”
He glanced up at me and back at the cube. I was transfixed.
“This object contains the secret of the Shadow Realm. Will you give me the key?” This first inflection of his voice threw me off and I narrowed my eyes and tilted my head.
“The package. Open it. Bring it to me.”
I shook my head in disbelief and grabbed the package out of the car, tore it open, and found in it a small, rod-like object mounted to the center of the inside of a box. I brought it to him. He took his cube, inverted the side with the hole over the protuberance in my package, widened his eyes, grinned a wide smile, took a deep breath, lifted his arm, and slammed the cube down.