Life is a constant battle of wills. Will you get a good career? Will you find true love? Will you be happy? Will you begin injecting heroin at 17, fall through the cracks of society and end up homeless with no hope in sight?

I answered yes to one of those questions, and here I am. Back pressed taught against the wall of some utility building downtown. Track marks dotting my arm like stars in the galactic canopy. Clothes soaked with sweat and other less than identifiable liquids. Every square inch of my body itches as if unseen insects nibble and sting at my flesh. My stomach aches, and mouth has become dry. The lethargy comes in waves, and my head slumps with the tide. Despite the slight discomfort, I am at peace. All that matters is this feeling, nothing more.

My mind lingers in a daze. A euphoria, sweeter yet more terrible than anything else. The feeling costs just a moment of your time, but you pay for it for the rest of your life. It is the great paradox, like being alive and dead all at once.

I have given my life for pursuit of this substance, trading family, friends and personal possessions all to feed my insatiable appetite. Whatever I must to keep the sickness at bay. My life now revolves around a single objective, to acquire more of the brown powder in order to sustain the dream.

There is no reason for me to be this way. No unresolved childhood trauma or crippling mental illness that pushed me to use. I have walked the path of my own accord, but I have not done so alone.

Around me lie the others who have one way or another succumb to the same fate. Vagrants and fellow addicts. Sometimes they bicker, sometimes they fight. Mostly they just lie there, veins flowing with narcotics and mind drifting high above.

Dozens of people pass by every minute, few of them exchanging so much as a passing glance. I, along with others of my ilk have become phantoms. Invisible to the passing crowds, and blended right into the concrete walls. This is our fate. Our shared punishment for abandoning life and succumbing to our desire.

A family approaches from down the block. A mother with flowing scarlet hair. A father with dark beard and short black hair. And a young daughter of maybe twelve. The three of them stroll merrily, smiles on their faces preoccupied with their activities.

Neither parent acknowledges our presence as they pass, but for a split second their daughter’s gaze wanders. Her cerulean eyes lock with mine. Her pupils dilate, and mouth splits into a nervous look. Then her face shifts, and a smile forms on her face. The three of them are gone in a moment, but the gesture is not forgotten.

It’s nice to be reminded every once in a while, that I do in fact exist. Most of the time I almost forget myself. Children are wonderful that way. Untainted by life or prejudice. Seeing each person as someone of value. It’s beautiful. However, not all children are that way.

She certainly isn’t. The girl that comes around after dark. She has returned once more. She’s barefoot, dressed in an obsidian gown that drinks in all the light that touches it. In her hands she clutches a bouquet of sanguine roses. Perhaps they are an offering, a final parting gift for those she takes. Or perhaps they are just a cruel irony.

The concrete stains black with each step she takes, like crude oil dripping from the palms of her feet. Her face is covered by a porcelain white mask etched with a frown. Beneath it I have no doubt there is nothing. Her appearance is a lie. A game to appear more human. But there is nothing human about her.

She strolls onward, down the alley without so much as a glimpse to the others lining the way. Her jet-black hair sways gently as she passes. I follow her path with my eyes, to see her headed straight towards a man further down. The man has a thick brownish-grey beard and deep wrinkles line his face. His body, covered by a severely worn leather jacket and ripped blue jeans. His head is slouched backwards against the wall, staring up into the night sky. He has not moved for quite a while.

The girl in black approaches him and lays the bouquet at his feet. Her head tilts slowly to the side. Suddenly the man lurches, a cough escaping his lips. He leans to the side and emits a torrent of putrid vomit that splatters against the ground. His eyes weakly wander to meet her gaze. Terror fills them, for he knows all too well why she is here.

“Time to go.” Her voice is one that might be mistaken as normal. But her tone is cold, uncaring with an almost metallic echo. The man’s eyes suddenly become gaping.

“No… please just give me a little…” She lashes out with the speed of a cobra before he can finish groveling. Her hand wraps around the man’s throat. Black serpentine appendages sprout her arms and slither around his head.

The man tries to scream, but the tendrils wiggle into his throat as he does. He gurgles and flails about, before a snapping sound twists his head to the side. The man falls limp, blood spilling from his mouth. His eyes are wide and face frozen in a look of agony.

She releases her grip and her arm returns to her side. She turns and strolls confidently back the way she came. Others barely even react to her presence. They’ve grown accustomed to her being here, but that doesn’t make it any less unnerving.

She passes by, and I avert my gaze. But it’s too late. Her footsteps pause right in front of me. I feel a cold bead of sweat drip down my neck. There is nothing I can do.

Slowly I lift my head. She stares motionless and silent back down at me. Her inky black hair gently rustling in the breeze. Behind the white of her mask, I see nothing. No eyes nor lashes. Not even a faint reflection from the streetlight.

Her head tilts and my body tightens up. The euphoric feeling from only moments ago has gone. Only to be replaced by a fear that anchors me down. There is no escape from her. You can only wait your turn and hope that your name is not next on her list.

“Your time will come.” She lingers a moment, as if letting the words sink deep into my mind. She begins to walk away, and then like smoke in the wind, she’s gone.

She will be back, there is no doubt. There is nothing anyone can do to prevent that. Other have seen her perform her deeds. People of authority and those of great power. No matter how mighty they are, or how much power they wield. They all fear her.

For myself, and the others in this squalid estate, there is no respite. We have watched her claim many. Some have tried to intervene, but they are always met with failure. Most however, pay little attention. They know there is no hope.

The world at large will not so much as blink when the time comes. When she wraps her ice-cold grip around their throats they will be alone, and alone they will stay.

This is her domain. Her killing fields. There are plenty of us here, forsaken souls who have nowhere else to go. She hunts the perfect prey. No matter who we used to be in life, no one will notice when we are gone.

the_girl_in_the_shadows_by_silvem