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Shadows Cannot be Seen in the Pitch-Black

Shadows Cannot be Seen in the Pitch-Black

by L. N. Holmes

Tessa stares out toward the woods, alert to the sounds of yipping and barking coyotes, flinching at the scream of a rabbit. It unsettles her every time: that eerie cry, the tone and timbre. A dying rabbit that sounds like a terrified child. In the flat Ohio countryside, nearly every noise carries on the wind.

Out here the night embraces its full darkness. Tessa’s wrinkled hands hold the handles of a garbage can. She nearly forgot tomorrow is trash day, is starting to forget many things these days. It’s spring, the air chilled from the recent rain. At the end of the gravel driveway, across the road, the unplowed field separates her from the woods. The trees are nearly indiscernible against the horizon, their presence more felt than observed. The dim glow thrown from the lights on her porch does little to brighten the near surroundings. Even the cascade of stars, the radiant shine of Venus and Jupiter, cannot obliterate what her late father would call the “pitch-black” of this night.

In the distance the screaming halts. Tessa gently places the garbage can down at the end of the driveway. Trepidation eclipses her initial discomfort. The silence sounds too loud. She tries not to think of teeth ripping flesh from bone. Thinks of it anyway. Turns and speed walks back up the driveway to her front door. Rushes back inside to the safety of enclosed spaces, of man-made shelter.

It is silent in the house too. She walks to the couch and sinks onto it. When her husband died unexpectedly last year, he created a kind of vacuum, sucking all the noises that filled this place down into the quiet of the grave. It was like a laugh cut off, startling in its sudden absence. No more football games turned up too loud. No more sizzle and pop of eggs frying in the morning. No more whir of model helicopters, flying through her kitchen window, dipping as if to bow to her. No more soft giggling in bed, when they talked about the good old days, about when their children were young and not living on far-flung coasts. No more whispered reassurances that he would be there as she slipped farther into the spiral of disease, which would eventually make her forget she had a husband at all.

None of her children know yet. Her reluctance to make them worry, to wreck their lives, stops her from making the phone calls. Her youngest, her son, is a father yet again, surprised by his wife’s pregnancy in their early forties. Her daughters teach biology and finance at universities on opposite coasts. How can she burden them now? How can she ask them to put aside their own needs to take care of her? To help her sell the farm their father worked until his last days?

But she lives alone out here: her, and the coyotes, and their prey.

Tomorrow she’ll call her son and they’ll make a plan. Maybe she can help with the baby. Or maybe they’ll put her in a home.

The silence is too much. She decides to turn on the television. The remote lies on her husband’s recliner, which is across from the couch and next to the window. She’s gotten into the habit of placing the remote on the arm of the chair because he lost it so often. When she rises up to retrieve it, she notices something like a shadow move outside. She presses her nose to the glass and squints against the dark. The porch lights are still on. Yellow eyes shine momentarily then disappear like burned-out bulbs. There seems to be a shadow in her yard, inching closer to her window. She holds her breath. The shadow halts a few yards from the house. Something in her understands its fear, its hesitation to move forward.

Before long her eyes are straining, blurring, from the effort to see the animal. She’s sure it is a coyote: maybe a young male, chased away from its pack. She blinks and it seems the shadow disappears. She wonders if it actually existed, or if her brain and eyes deceived her, a trick of the lack of light. Another answer eluding her.

She moves away from the glass, snatches the remote, retreats to the couch. In the glow of the television, she draws in a long breath, reminds herself there aren’t answers to everything. Besides, what shadows can truly be seen in the pitch-black?


L. N. Holmes is the author of the micro-chapbook, Space, Collisions (Ghost City Press). Her flash fiction has appeared in Fathom, Newfound, Vestal Review, Obra/Artifact, Crack the Spine, and other magazines and journals. Her story, “Pheonix Fire Fight,” won the Apparition Lit April Flash Fiction Contest. You can learn more about her at