They had been in the shadows for as long as I could remember, only ever at the edge of my sight, in the cracks between buildings, the dark corners of rooms, in the gaps between the trees. The moment I tried to focus on them, they were nothing more than nondescript shapes in the darkness.
I only knew their whispers, sibilant stories inches from my ears. I wish I couldn’t understand them. I heard of their heartbreak, of jealousy, of burning rage, of terror, of the power they stole.
“Don’t you want to be powerful, to never be afraid again?”
I learned to ignore them, convinced myself it was nothing more than my imagination working overtime, creating figures from shadows, voices from the wind.
They never stopped. The whispering grew louder and louder.
“Join us and we will show you how to be free.”
“No,” I whispered, guarded by the thin sliver of moonlight coming from my window. Acknowledging them was my first mistake.
They came to me, staying at the edges of my vision, skittering awkwardly out of sight as I tried to look. They looked like dogs, like deer, like crows and coyotes. They hadn’t been dogs or deer or crows or coyotes for a long time, if ever. At first, they only came at night, lurking in the places the curtains didn’t quite hide, where the moonlight did not touch. They didn’t sound like the animals they were supposed to be. I could hear the voices that haunted me in their growls and yips and caws.
I tried staying inside as they became bolder, in my line of sight for longer, but I had to go out eventually. I wrapped my hand around the steel buried in my pocket, praying it would be enough when they came closer. I commissioned necklaces, earrings, and rings, branches of silver and iron twisting around my neck and hands. I didn’t know if they could even touch me, but iron and silver protected in the old stories.
The whispers continued.
The night came when I was so tired of being afraid, of hiding. I missed the stars and moon, missed being able to go outside without constantly looking over my shoulder. I threw open the door, golden light spilling onto the snow.
They crowded around the light, their eyes nothing more than bloodstained pits. Inky shadows dripped from their coats. They sat as if they were tame, watching, waiting.
“You have told me your stories, offered me fearlessness, offered freedom. I don’t want to be like you, sad, lonely, trapped by old wounds. Leave.”
A deer stumbled forward, its mouth falling into a grin. “Little one,” it rasped, “don’t you see? We have already given you fearlessness. Why else would you stand against us, beings beyond your imagination, and shout us down so confidently? Come, child, we still have much to teach you.” Their bodies turned to shadow and smoke, surrounding me before I could even think to fight. I learned another lesson that night. Iron and silver only protect in stories.