Awake (A Very Short Story by Anna Stewart)
The shadows stirred with the morning, their limbs unfurling from the night's enfolding weight. They slipped beneath tables and chairs, leapt to explore the underside of the drawn blinds as, outside, the great dark shattered to fingerling fragments in the shade of the old Sycamore.
The children eyed the shadows, wary fingers tucked into pockets and armpits and the odd sucking mouth. They stepped where the shadows were not, toes curling into the worn carpet as they edged closer and closer to the old loveseat where Aunt Aggie was sleeping.
Against the reddish-brown burr of the upholstery, Aunt Aggie's pallid flesh seemed to mushroom against its surface, the conical upward thrust of an elbow against the varnished wood trim, the rounded edge of a heel protruding from the arm-rest, the spotted pink flush of chin and cheeks around the dulled brown nub of her nose.
"Is she awake?" Liza asked, pulling a handful of fingers out of her mouth to do so. She kept them curled against her chin as she leaned over the back of the loveseat for a better look. Her forked tongue flicked idly in and out of her mouth, around her fingers and back again.
Caleb looked up at Liza from where he stood directly in front of Aunt Aggie, then he looked down at Thomas who was crouched on the floor, peering under the loveseat and into the shadows that waited. He flicked at the younger boy's ear, impatient. "Stop that!"
Thomas glared but pulled away from the shadows, turning to rest his shoulder against the curved wooden leg of the loveseat, his lip thrust out in petulant dissatisfaction. Caleb pretended not to notice when one of the shadows slipped out from under the loveseat and into Thomas's pocket. The younger boy slipped it bits of carpet fuzz and his own dried skin whenever he thought Caleb wasn't looking.
Caleb didn't dare sigh. Everyone was waiting for him, Liza and Thomas and the as yet unnamed others. They were remnants, all of them, leftovers of a night's sleep and an old woman's dreams. He leaned forward on his toes, hovering his hand over but not quite daring to touch Aunt's Aggie's shoulder. "Aunt Aggie?"
Aunt Aggie groaned and stirred, rolling over to press her face more fully into the decorative pillow. She caught an edge of brown lace in her mouth and started to chew, lips smacking and teeth grinding just a little.
The room darkened and Liza gave a muffled shriek. Thomas flinched, hand curled protectively around the shadow in his pocket. Around them, the other children shuffled and cried. They didn't have names yet. Most of them didn't have faces.
Caleb pulled at a child's hand, an elbow, a girl standing too close to the shadow cast from a scuffed plastic book-case, another too near the leafed impression of a houseplant. "Away from the shadows," he reminded them. "There you are dreamt and forgotten."
He turned back to the rounded lump on the loveseat, Aunt Aggie's thick legs tangled up in her nightgown, arm hanging limp toward the floor. A tiny shadow sniffed at the woman's hand.
Caleb gathered his breath, all too aware of the lungs she'd allowed him, the voice. "Aunt Aggie!" He yelled, clapping his hands and stamping his feet. "Wake up! Wake up!"
"'M awake! I'm awake!" she gasped, startling up and out of her pillow. She blinked at the children, at Caleb. "I'm...awake?"
Liza crawled over the back of the loveseat, plopping herself firmly into Aunt Aggie's side. She pulled her fingers from her mouth again and smiled, tongue flicking after. "I like my tongue, Aunt Aggie," she whispered and snuggled down till her head rested at the woman's hip. The girl's eyes closed. "I can find things super-fast!"
Thomas stayed where he was, hand still flexed over his pocket, but he smiled when Aunt Aggie looked at him. "And you, Thomas?"
Thomas kept smiling at her, relaxing his hand and letting the tiny shadow in his pocket tumble out. He snatched it up in one hand and held it up. It rumbled and purred in his palm. Thomas didn't say a word.
Aunt Aggie sighed. "That's right. Your voice."
Caleb looked around at the others, the as yet unclear faces, some of them nearly shadows themselves. He stepped forward, flinching when Aunt Aggie made as if to touch his cheek. He shook his head and nodded to her notebook, nearly invisible beneath the pillow that Aunt Aggie had been chewing on just a few minutes earlier. "We're not finished yet, Aunt Aggie."
"No," she sighed. "No one ever is."
And she picked up her pen.
Author's Note: WOK A-Z challenge. What to do? What to do? Whatever the heck I want to! Seriously, every time I try to get theme-y, I have problems. So...I thought I'd go with the moment this time. And so you get something of a story. I've had Aunt Aggie in the back of my mind for a while...decided to put her on paper. Not sure if it works. It's too new for me to judge. So feel free to. I appreciate honest feedback and criticism.
Going forward, we'll see where the alphabet takes me. :-)
Now to check out what the other WOK people are up to...