The Tether to My Shade

A short story Hannah Hulbert.

There’s a reason necromancy is forbidden. It’s kind neither to the living nor the dead.

As I watch Millie now, her features grey and drawn, I can only wonder why she pulled me back out of the dark. At what she hopes to achieve by binding me here.

It’s been months since I died. The memory’s hazy. I recall shock; something fast and red and loud; a rush of pain. Then nothing. Nothing, until the terrible brightness of a world assembling itself rushed out of the darkness. And the pale but familiar shape of Millie’s face forming in the mist.

My Millie.

At first, she wept and stretched out her arms, mouthing words I couldn’t understand without ears. I tried to recall what her furrowed, sloping brows and trembling lips meant. Sorrow, they said. I wondered why she would drag me back if it would bring only misery. Why she would hold me here within this circle, corrupting the memories of our shared past with this aberrant present. I knew her, as well as anybody can know someone else. But now she’s a mystery I have no means to solve. Her face is written in a language I cannot read now that I feel nothing. It’s impossible to feel without hormones and synapses.

Millie comes and goes, though never far and never for long. The thread trails behind her as she leaves. I remain confined to this circle, drawn in the centre of this room. When I lived in this house this was our living room. Memories waft over me, of Millie picking out the wallpaper and carpet and drapes. Of beauty unfurling around her. Tending our garden while I watched from the kitchen, washing the dishes. The memory of an emotion I cannot feel: contentment. Now she has bound me to this decaying plane with its crumbling edges. She’s oblivious to the world around her; to the consequences of her actions. Her eyes fix on my shade: all of me that she could pull back. Not enough, yet too much.

She spends her days surrounded by books and herbs and smoking censers, obsessing over maintaining the tether between us. It’s a flimsy, slight thing. One end disappears into the unfathomable labyrinth of my being and the other sits neatly coiled in her lap. How easy it would be to tug it away and release myself, if only I had the skin and sinew and strength to do so. I examine Millie’s face. It’s as empty as mine. The thread holds us both. We are neither of us in our proper realm.

How long will she restrain me? What will it take for her to let go? I cannot ask. I stopped trying to communicate after the first few days. There are no words without a tongue and larynx; no gestures without hands; no expressions without facial features. I move what I believe to be my arm, and it drags and billows like smoke. I can touch nothing. I cannot leave the circle.

I try and fail to conjure the memory of her face with her mouth curled at the edges. That face I used to love. I remember feeling love: the swell in my chest; the overwhelmingness of it. Maybe Millie will hold onto me until she too dissolves into a shade and we will blow away on a gust of wind. Our mingled essences inseparable as they were in life, only bound by habit rather than affection. A memory, not a feeling.

Millie’s cheekbones are high ridges casting darkness into the craters around her vacant eyes. The thread is tight between her fingers. She clings to the small part of me she still has. Surely she knows by now that I’m not the same? I study the room, searching for something I can use to let her know, just in case. To let her know that I remember, but that’s all she can hope for from me. That if she allows herself to fade away, even that love she keeps alive will be gone. Nothing in the room offers any help. The only thing I have any control over at all is my own wavering form.

We moved into this house in the spring. Millie opened the windows and doors to air the rooms, a cold breath sighing out the odours of stagnation. She sang a charm for health and prosperity, a melody brimming with hope. She held my hands and we spun in time to her tune. She made a sound, bright and musical: laughter. We danced.

I point my toe. What would have been a toe, were my shade a body. It flickers and bends, but I make a bow. Millie does not seem to notice, but I try anyway. I spring. The tether yanks in her hand, thrumming taut. I fan out my arms. They waft in the dusty air, but resolve back into columns when I hold them still. And I spin. Round and round, the tether wrapping about me, teasing out of Millie’s hand. When I stop, her face is turned to me. Her eyes are wide and damp. Her lips are parted. What does this mean? Surprise, I think. I have her attention.

I dance as we once danced together; the dance of a life lived in tandem, only now alone. I can dance alone, I say, without a heart to pump blood, to feel. You can dance too. This time, as I spin, the cord entwines me, a spool of thread for a labyrinth that needs no Theseus. The ball on Millie’s lap shrinks as she allows the tether to slip through her fingers. Her face says sorrow, but her eyes whisper love. The end of the thread whips through the air, free. The world fades to black around me as I recede.

Her face shrinks into a pinprick of light, blurred by motion. There is a space in me where regret should be.

And then I am gone.

Hannah Hulbert is a writer from urban Dorset. She is on a permanent sabbatical from reality as she raises two children and devotes her scarce free time to visiting imaginary worlds, some of her own creation. You can find her stories in miscellaneous small-press anthologies and web-zines, including the May 2020 edition of Metaphorosis and Beneath Strange Stars (TL;DR Press, 2020), for which she received a Pushcart nomination. She enjoys being surrounded by trees, doodling and tea. For more information, you can visit her website here:

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