Laughing, Mary and I make our way across the parking lot. The sun is shining brightly in the blue summer sky, causing the temperature in the parking lot to be downright tropical. Mary is eating some ice cream which is quickly melting in the heat, causing her to chase one river of molten ice cream after another down the cone she's holding. It's amusing to watch her do this, and she can see the fun of it as well, hence our mirth.
Just having finished our shopping at the local mall, we are now on our way home. I for one can't wait to enjoy the luxuries of an air-conditioned house. I also can't wait to see the look on Mary's face when she sees some of the things I bought for her while she was at another store. Grinning, I watch how Mary tries to finish her ice cream as quickly as possible.
By the time we reach the car she is down to the last sections of the cone, which she makes disappear with a few more bites, then she walks towards the passenger's side of the car while I open the boot to put the bags inside.
I cry out in pain as surges of pain contort my body, causing me to drop the bags and sink to my knees, not noticing it when I bump into the car with my arms. Supporting myself with my hands on the asphalt of the parking lot I look around me and notice that everything looks... distorted. I shake my head but when I open my eyes again it hasn't changed at all. If anything it is getting worse.
“Mary...” I manage to say before another surge of pain wrecks my body. Once it has passed I weakly get up on my feet again and look around the boot lid. Then it feels like my heart has stopped. Mary is lying there, meters away from the car like a toy carelessly thrown away by a bored child. I can't see her face, and she isn't moving. Why isn't she moving? Is she... I dare not to finish that thought.
As quickly as my legs can support me I make my way towards Mary, but before I even manage to round the car I hear a hissing sound behind me. I freeze on the spot, before slowly turning towards the location of the sound. When I see it I'm not sure I know what it is I'm seeing exactly.
“Don't worry about the girl, you can't help her.” The greyish, shadowy thing says, laughing in its hissing manner. I'm not even sure how large the thing is, as it keeps changing its form, flowing around with no distinct features aside from some darker splotches which could be a mouth, or eyes. With fear losing its grip on me I look around the parking lot for help, only to discover that the parking lot is gone. All that's left is the car, me and Mary inside pure whiteness. Underneath my feet there's still the same asphalt as before, but after a few meters it is swallowed up by this dense mist. A part of my mind wonders why it still feels as hot as before if even most of the sun light shouldn't be able to penetrate a mist this dense.
I consider running into the mist, to see whether salvation lies beyond, but thinking of Mary's crumpled body I don't think I can leave her behind. Then I hear the hissing noise again, this time from below me. I look down to see a creature like the one before seemingly seeping out of the asphalt. Or maybe from my shadow, another part of my mind contests.
“There's no point in running, you know?” The shapeless thing mocks me. It occurs to me that the first shadow creature may have come from Mary's shadow, and that it attacked her, like this one is going to attack me now. Moving away from the thing, I notice that it seems to be swirling around itself, continually growing in size. It hisses as though it's feeling amused.
“What are you things? Why are you doing this?” I say, doubtful they can be reasoned with. All I'm rewarded with is more hissing laughter. The first shadow creature languishes idly on the top of the car while the second one makes its away towards me.
“Don't you know?” The second one says. Both laugh again.
“Shall we tell him?” The first one asks.
The shadow creature on the car seems to focus on me, then it says in its hissing voice: “You committed treason. We are here to take care of the balance.”
“Treason?!” I respond in disbelief. Now I'm even more sure that this has to be some kind of bad dream.
“You are having an affair with that person over there.” The first creature says.
“You betrayed your wife.” The second adds.
“You committed treason against humanity.”
“You are an affront to morality.”
“People like you are the downfall of society.”
Both creatures hiss together, as though sharing some kind of inside joke. I feel thrown into turmoil. Maybe this all is real... no, I can't think like that. It's just my guilt about having an affair outside my marriage, that's why I'm having this dream.
“Guilt?” The first creature asks. “You never felt guilt. And neither did any of these people.”
For a moment the mist around me vanishes and I can see an endless, abandoned parking lot everywhere I look. Littering its surface are the bodies of countless individuals, primarily couples but also some single men and women. They look like they have been here for a while.
Stumbling forward, I approach the remains of one couple. They're holding hands while lying face-down on the asphalt. Their skin has nearly mummified and is stretched taut over the bones.
“Wh-what have these done? They look like they loved each other...”
“Treason. They betrayed the people they pretended to love with an affair. The balance has to be maintained.”
“Balance?! What balance!” I yell.
“We are the balance.” Both creatures respond in unison.
“Neutrality.” Says the first.
“Balance.” Says the second.
“We don't normally care about... people like you. Only when there's an excess of them.”
I feel like the world, or whatever this place is, is spinning around me. As the mist reasserts itself, covering the gruesome scene, I feel like I really want this nightmare to end, if it is one. I run over to where Mary's crumpled body lies. Falling to my knees, I turn her body over so that I can look at her face. The next moment I find myself recoiling in horror, as I'm greeted by the same taut, desiccated skin and empty, black eye sockets as the other corpses lying around this place.
Getting up onto my feet again, whilst furiously brushing the hand I used to touch Mary's corpse with on my jeans, I turn towards the creatures.
“You can't do this.” I say, outwardly calm.
Both creatures hiss in obvious amusement.
“It wasn't our choice.”
“The balance has to be maintained, you know?”
This time it appears like they're both chuckling, while they resume moving towards me. Once again I consider running away, into the mist. Defeated, I sink to my knees and cover my face with my hands. One last sigh is all that remains for me.
* * * * *
A gentle breeze starts picking up, cooling down the hot air shimmering above the parking lot. The lone car on it makes pinging noises while it too cools down. The passenger's door is open. The plastic of the discarded bags in the open boot and behind the car move in the wind. One topples over, spilling its contents onto the asphalt. One of the items is a gift-wrapped package.
It looks like it's going to rain soon.
Author: Maya Posch Mist's Shadows Date: 2010/11/16