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The Watchtower

And yet more flash fiction: It was going to be a cold day.

The view from the watchtower was a fog-bound sea of roofs and chimneys, virtually identical under their white blankets of snow. In the distance Jim could just make out the outline of the next watchtower. Its light was out. Its light had been out for a while now, he didn’t know why – not like he could go over there to find out what had happened, or like there was anyone to send. He turned and stoked his own fire, checked his own lamps, then went down to check the doors again. Still locked, still intact. The towers didn’t have windows on their lower two floors, for safety’s sake, and the doors themselves were iron-bound oak. When the towers had been built, people had thought iron would repel the creeping shadows as it was said to do for other creatures of darkness. Which was a fairy story, of course, just as those other creatures had been, but iron was strong so the doors had held regardless. The ones made of iron and oak, anyway. Some had believed the tales and made screens of iron instead, thinking to protect their windows and doors while still being able to look out. And one by one, the shadows had found them.

He went back upstairs. Dawn was still an hour off, and by the light of one visible streetlight he saw a shadow rise, saw a tentacle of black horror creep up the pole as though holding on for balance, as a man might on an icy street. Jim thought it was almost funny, sometimes, that the shadows had physical form in the hours between sunset and sunrise but melted away like ghosts in the sun’s light. The tentacle slipped back down, and in his mind’s eye he pictured the humped form of the shadow gliding unsteadily along the cobbled old streets, searching for food, for warmth, for anything it could devour. His eyes were drawn back to the darkened watchtower. Had one of the shadows made it inside the tower, was that why the lights were out? Or had Abe just fallen asleep, allowing the untended light to sputter and die?

Or worse, had Abe fled the tower and abandoned his duty? Was he even now in the snowy, silent streets below, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the shadows?

As if on cue, someone banged on the iron-banded door below. Jim leaned into the opening in the floor, listening. He could hear what sounded like a voice, pleading to be allowed in. Was it Abe? Had Abe escaped when his tower was violated, fleeing through the streets to reach the only place in which he might be safe. Were the shadows even now closing in on him as he banged and pleaded?

Jim pulled up the folding rope stairs and closed the trap door – which was also constructed of oak and iron – fastening it down tight with two iron latches and a solid oaken beam for good measure. He checked his fire, checked the lamps. Outside, the fog was rising to meet lowering clouds of as-yet-unfallen snow. He shivered. It was going to be a cold day.

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