The Shadow’s Mercy
by Genevieve Smith
It was the most natural thing in the world, ending a life. One moment, breath, thought, feeling. The next, soul slipping from the body like rain from a leaf. Over the years, it had become almost effortless. Sloanan pulled her gloves back on. She looked over at the woman in the bed and then down at the man she’d just killed. He was middle-aged, thin, balding. He’d been snoring gently a moment ago. It was better this way.
Sloanan closed the house door soundlessly behind her and stepped out into the night, pulling her black coat tight around her. Only three more appointments left tonight, her last night. She avoided the pools of light from the street lamps, keeping to the shadows. That’s what they called her, parents who wanted to scare their children into obedience. The Shadow. Be good or the Shadow will find you. The parents didn’t believe their own words. But, there she was nonetheless.
Tonight’s first appointment had been close to the docks. Leith sprawled around her, a few people still on the streets even at this late hour. Salty wind blew in from the North Sea and she breathed it in, relishing the smell and taste she’d known since childhood. Farther down the road, a drinking song wafted from one brightly lit pub. As she passed by it, two men stumbled out and one almost fell into her.
“Sorry, lass,” he slurred, righting himself. “Eh, but you’re a bonnie one. Isn’t she, Brian?”
Sloanan didn’t wait to hear Brian’s reply. She didn’t talk to people much anymore. They wouldn’t recognize her the next night anyway.
She rounded the corner and headed uphill. The second appointment was close by. Leith Links, the biggest green space in the densely populated docks district, lay before her. Sloanan didn’t slow down when she stepped off of the sidewalk and onto the grass. Here, the salt taste was gone from the air. Instead, it smelled fresh and green. The damp grass made little shush-shush sounds as she walked toward a small clump of trees.
This appointment would be more challenging. The boy wasn’t going to sleep before sunrise, so she would have to encounter him while he was awake. Sloanan sighed. The boy was young, only twenty-one. He sat in the dark under the trees, smoking a cigarette. She’d already seen what he would have done tomorrow. The pill he would have slipped into that girl’s drink. The rape back at his apartment. There was no hesitation as she took two last steps toward him, pulling off her gloves.
Sloanan ground the cigarette into the dirt with the toe of her boot. She left the boy’s body in the shadows and made her way back across the green. Shush-shush sounded the grass. The darkness hung around her like a shawl, familiar and close. Darkness ought to be familiar, it had been twenty years since she’d seen the light of day.
The third appointment was on Princes Street. The walk there seemed longer than it usually did. She passed Calton Hill and paused for a moment, looking up. It was up there, twenty years ago tonight, that the Shadow had appeared to her. Sloanan had been sitting against a column of Edinburgh’s Disgrace, looking out over the city lights. She’d clenched her fists and her nails had bit into her palms. Hate had rushed through her veins like fire. A man had appeared in front of her, dressed in all black.
In front of her now stood The Balmoral, a luxurious Victorian-style hotel which acted as a temporary home to the privileged. The Balmoral clock rose high above her, showing half past three on its huge face. Crossing the wide road, she walked into the lobby and headed upstairs. She pulled off her gloves and put them in her coat pocket.
Barely ten minutes later, Sloanan walked back into the lobby, gloves in place once again. The woman had been alone in the large hotel room. Too easy, really. When police reviewed the security tapes the next day, the woman in black could not be identified. None of the cameras had captured her face.
Sloanan’s last appointment was on a quiet residential street near the Royal Botanical Gardens. She walked slowly along the Water of Leith for a short way, listening to the wet sound it made as it flowed steadily toward the North Sea. Going where it was supposed to go. Where would she go when her turn was over?
This house had a turquoise door. She walked up the steps to it. Inside, the house was messy. Clothes, newspapers, alcohol bottles, and take-out boxes were strewn on the floor. It smelled like beer and Chinese food. She walked into a bedroom. A young woman slept there, curled up in ball. Sloanan stood beside the bed. The girl had light colored hair. Her face was youthful and the bruises Sloanan could see on her face and arm made the girl look even younger. She was really no more than a child. A child whose fate had been chosen. Now all Sloanan had to do was carry it out, to be the Shadow one last time.
She reached her gloved hand out to the girl and shook her awake.
The girl woke up with a start, scrambling away from the stranger. “Who are you?” she gasped. She felt around her for something to use as a weapon.
Sloanan spoke quietly, “I am the Shadow. I came because of what you would do tomorrow to Ethan and Kyla.”
The girl clambered to her feet on the other side of the bed, brandishing a hairbrush. “How do you know about me?”
Sloanan continued calmly, pulling off her gloves as she spoke. “Instead of killing you, you will take my place. This is the geas I place upon you.”
“Geas? What are you talking about? Get out!” the girl screamed.
“For twenty years exactly, you will become the Shadow. It is now your responsibility.” Sloanan reached over the bed, quick as lightning. Her cold, bare hand touched the girl’s arm. “Geas,” she said again.
The girl dropped to the ground, unconscious but alive. A first for Sloanan.
Sloanan gave a sigh, relief and release flooding through her. She looked at the gloves in her hand and then dropped them on the bed. The girl would figure it out as she had all those years ago.
Sloanan made her way out of the house, closing the door softly by habit. Outside, she could hear the Water of Leith, still flowing as it was before. The fresh air caressed her face. At the bottom of the front steps, there was a street lamp. And another next to it on either side. And another, a whole line of them continuing in both directions. She stepped into the shine of a street lamp and held her hands in the light, turning them this way and that. It seemed like she saw them for the first time. She let them swing loose as she walked in the line of light, east to the docks. East toward the coming day.