The Shadow ran a finger round his T shirt (black, naturally). The dot in the distance began to change into the shape of a woman labouring up the slope. A woman pulling what appeared to be a large suitcase. The Shadow groaned as he slipped into the shadows cast by the ancient stones. No day tripped in their right mind dragged such a large bag up a rough stony path to a set of isolated standing stones unless they knew what awaited them. Why the case, though? He would have a word with the Scribes, get them to make it clear no luggage was needed, or, frankly welcomed.
He rubbed his back and sighed. If he had a pound for every traveller he’d helped up the last section…. All he’d got for his pains were the occasional thanks and a regular spasm. He stepped forward into the light as the woman reached the bottom of the plinth.
‘Hello.’ The Shadow was pleased with the voice. It wasn’t natural and if forced to a full sentence it would crack but the deep baritone-greeting added a certain gravitas for all new arrivals.
The woman jumped, squealed and turned into man, a small gerbil and, bizarrely, an Ikea kitchen table with only one hinge before reverting to her female form. Back as the twenty something blonde, pouring sweat and looking less than impressed,she sucked in air. ‘Geez, did you have to do that?’
‘Oh well done. And you?’ She paused. ‘Invisibility?’
‘Sort of. I merge into shadows.’ He tried to make it sound like he was proud of this skill but the look he received made his heart sink. ‘You here for the Aperture?’
The woman clearly hadn’t recovered her composure. She glared at him, ‘No, I’m trying my hand at archaeology-while-u-wait. Of course I’m here…’
‘Look, miss, we get all sorts. So don’t get smug or I’ll…’
But she wasn’t listening. She had begun to run her hands over the ancient stone. ‘This is amazing. It feels… Alive. Yet it’s a standing stone, right?’
The Shadow smiled. He wanted to say something sarky like ‘no it’s a spaceship’ but of course he didn’t. After all it was. Kind of. Instead he turned on the gracious host charm. ‘Yes, it’s good isn’t it? It’s barely noticeable, is it. No one has realised, not since it first appeared.’
She glanced round at him. ‘Appeared?’
The grin widened. ‘You don’t know? And I thought you knew it all?’
The glare returned briefly and then faded. She nodded. ‘Sorry. I was a bit short back there. It’s been… well hard. You know?’
‘Yes. Of course.’
‘When can I get in?’
The Shadow glanced at the sun; it was about an hour hours from its zenith. ‘Soon. Can I just check how you found us?’
‘It was amazing. Luck really. I’ve been having all these weird sensations, since I, well…’
‘Exactly. Mum told me about periods and stuff but she didn’t even hint at this.’ She waved her free hand which briefly took the form of a rather manky looking flamingo. ‘Talk about embarrassing. I don’t think Jim will ever recover.’
‘It’s often the way. First heightened emotional state as you mature and, wallop, out pops a special power. Was yours that? That bird thingy?’
‘I wish. Jim was nibbling my ear and, well, it nibbled him back. The gerbil, I think.’
‘In a way that’s quick lucky. Some of the stories one hears. Geesh. Anyway, you found you had super powers and…?’
‘Super powers? You think? More like a bloody curse. It’s taken me nearly ten years to venture outside, in case someone makes me jump and I become something that might eat them.’
‘And you found us where?’
‘It… I’m still not sure it makes sense. There’s this comic…’ She looked at him, hoepfully.
‘Yes. that’s good.’
‘Is it? I worried it was a hoax, but I was desperate. I can pass over, can’t I?’
‘Yes. Yes, you can. Sorry, if I seemed a bit cagey. It’s been my job to ensure only the chosen can pass and those who make it this far don’t turn back because the Aperture isn’t open when they arrive. I’ve heard all sorts, believe me…’
‘You’re here all the time?’ She glanced around the empty hillside. ‘It’s a bit exposed.’
‘I do shifts. Colin… sorry Invisiblo, does the dawn to mid morning shift, I’m your daylight guy, on account of my thing with shadows and Dynamo – if he can be bothered, does nights. Sort of plays to our strengths.’
The woman accepted his hand and he pulled her onto the plinth, trying not to wince. While he manhandled her suitcase, she sat on a large rock and moped her brow. Her fingers became small toffee hammers and she drummed an irritating but competent version of Rock Me Amadeus on the nearest stone. ‘I saw Superman, actually. The movie, right? It was while watching I got this feeling there was more to it. A really strong sense it was speaking to me. Mum thought I was mental but she let me buy the comics and I read and read. Marvel comics, mostly. All of them. They explained so much, even if it wasn’t obvious to my friends. It’s taken a while but |I kept seeing references to this place and I realised I had to come here. Why, I still don’t know how I knew.’
Poor thing, thought Shadow. She’d been all alone, trying to make sense of things. Like so many he’d seen down the years.
‘Ok, short version. When you pass through you’ll get all the detail. Wind the clock back to 1932. A scientist called Rutherford – well his students actually – split the atom in a controlled experiment – he’d done it first in 1917 but never controlled it until then. People, clever know-alls actually thought about how that could mean infinite power, massive bombs. What they didn’t know – still don’t – is it’s affected evolution. Two strands of humanity started that day. Us, with these enhanced powers and the rest. Almost immediately it became clear to some that the newly empowered needed a home, understanding…’
The Shadow smiled. ‘I’ll get to that. Part of the impact was these Apertures appeared, across the continents. Because the atom split down the road in Cambridge, this was the first. But another one appears every time someone splits the atom. They’re all over the world. Of course they’re inconspicuous to normals,; it’s only we supers that can see them. Once the change started, we realised we needed to get word out to others, that they weren’t alone, to come and join us, find a sympathetic group that understood them. What was needed was a way to get the word out that wouldn’t scare the general populus. That’s why Marvel, DC comics, Disney all started about then. You ever wondered why superheroes first appeared in the 1930s? That’s why.’
‘Bloody hell. Simple comics and cartoons?’
‘We like to think of them as instruction guides. You need to have the genetic abnormality that gives you your power to read between the lines as it were. They direct you here, if you feel you can’t cope, you question your purpose, why you’re alive, what it all means…’
‘Exactly. Is that because I have this super power?’
‘No, it’s normal teenage angst. But for you there is an answer. Through there.’ The Shadow pointed at the rough-hewn slab of stone. It was beginning to become translucent.
‘What is through there?’
‘Somewhere you will feel at home. Amongst those who understand you. They will help you become what you were meant to be.’
‘That’s up to you. I’ll be honest. Not everyone stays, some go back but you’ll not know if it’s for you until you try. It’s open. Time to pop in.’
‘I’m not sure…’
‘Oh go on. Where’s the harm?’
The young woman shrugged, stood up, gripped the handle of her suitcase and dissolved into the stone. As she did so a red haired man with eyes that glowed brightly stepped the other way. ‘Tea? He held out a flask.’
‘Thanks Dazzle, I’m gasping.’
‘How’s it going?’
‘Couple of local numpties getting nosey. Those twin weather-makers caused a bit of a stir at the pub apparently. Some people can’t keep quiet. You couldn’t warm this could you?’
The Shadow put down the cup while the Dazzle peered at it. Soon enough steam curled from the surface.
‘How is it going down there?’
‘Bit crowded. Rumour has it the next group will be ready to take their places later today. Hope so because the aircon is down and Dynamo has had to go to the dentist to get his molars shaved do we’re short on back up power.’
‘Dynamo is a liability. I wonder we put up with him.’
‘Until we find another source, we’res tuck with him. Anyway, word has it the Animatrix is close to completion. They always said it would take 100 years for enough of us Enhanceds to be ready and in place. That’s only a few years away now.’
The Shadow nodded. ‘I never thought I’d see it in my own lifetime.’
The Dazzle looked away across the rolling hillside. A six foot tall rabbit appeared to be lolloping towards them. ‘I quite like the anonymity, you know. I’ll leave you to it. If Alice follows the March Hare, let me know.’
‘Sure. Oh and any chance you could get me something to rub in my back? It’s killing me.’
‘I’ll send up Elastiman. Apparently his massages are just out of this world.’
Alone The Shadow slid out of sight. If the man-sized bunny was a trick he didn’t want to be seen. After all, if they were going to completely change the way the world was run, they needed to stay vigilant.
This was written for this week’s #writephoto prompt