It was like a shadow. It crept along beside her every day. Unlike a shadow though, it was not lost in darkness. Instead, when the darkness came, it grew until this shadow of hers was the darkness. Hella did not know what to do about it. The shadow hung there, like a real shadow, attached to her, part of her and not part of her.
She knew this shadow; she could think of no better name for it, hung there and had tied itself to her. She could find no way of breaking free, or escaping it.
Hella just knew that this shadow was her and she was the shadow.
She also knew that shadow fed on the darkness, not just the darkness of the night and the places where no light fell. It also fed on the darkness of the human world. She was also increasingly aware that her shadow fed on something else as well. This other thing was something she could only describe as the inhuman world. This was another world that – like her shadow – clutched with sharp, dirty claws to the edges of what was human.
Out in the countryside, around the village where she was born, Hella had sensed something out there. Something there out beyond the human habitation, something without a name. Something that called out in the night to her shadow. She could feel this nameless something reaching out its claws to clutch at her shadow and pull it towards itself, drag her shadow and her away from the human.
Many times growing up, Hella found herself at the window or in the doorway, looking out towards where the darkness consumed the world into itself. Occasionally, she thought she could just sense, almost hear, a low voice calling out to her, entreating her, beckoning her, to step on through into the darkness and into its sharp embrace.
Once, the weird woman of the village saw Hella staring out into the darkness.
‘Don’t listen, my lovely,’ Berna said, pulling Hella away from the darkness and slamming the door shut on it. ‘It wants more than you can give and it will take everything you have. It will take all of you.’
Hella asked, begged and pleaded, but Berna said no more beyond, ‘don’t you make the same mistake I did, girl,’ as she stared into the fire.
The next morning, Berna was still sitting there, next to the ashes of the fire. Both she and the fire as dead and cold as each other.
Now she was older, grown and living in the city. Hella had felt her shadow pulling her towards the city. The closer she came to the city the voice had grown stronger and her shadow had grown darker.
Then, here in the city, for the first time Hella had tasted human flesh. Then she knew what her shadow was and she knew what the voice was whispering to her.
Now, though, the night had come and Hella was hungry again.