By Stephen Thom
Klep melted through thick coils of smoke wafting from the charred remains. Flimsy streaks of early morning light sifted between the blackened clouds and his gaunt frame dipped to inspect a melded trio of bodies, mangled faces pressed together on impact, seeping limbs interlinked. Slipped rays leaked around the smouldering mass and a great, bumpy shadow fanned away from the corpses.
Slumping to his knees, Klep fetched a spatula from his satchel and began scraping the large shadow from the concrete. Initially tough and gluey on its underside, it pulled away from the ground as Klep wedged the spatula underneath - snapping, taut sticky slivers rejecting the removal, peeling away in slick sections like a blanket of black skin. Klep was grateful that the individual segments split apart of their own accord; three sticky, separate sheets. Flumping them out as he would a duvet cover, Klep folded each one up neatly, piling them one on top of the other and sliding them into the satchel.
Flapping his hand back and forth to disperse the ashy smog, he ventured deeper into the explosion site - pausing intermittently, prodding and examining, ignoring moans to focus on the completely, definitively deceased, his thin face full of dark depressions. Chipping away with the spatula, he worked swiftly in the swirling smoke, following flecks of light to scrape up at least ten shadows. Ten was a good, round number. As the first siren peals screeched in the distance, he shouldered his swollen satchel and padded away through the phosphorous haze, his lanky frame fading to a twiggy flicker in the frosty fields beyond the accident site.
The pan rattled to boiling point and Klep slid the first of the shadows in. As soon as it touched the bubbling water its starchy substance began dribbling and melting into a muddy black gloop that Klep stirred frantically, churning it into a soft, velvety liquid. His deeply-sunk eyes flitted to the tall windows as his wrist swirled, taking in the cliffs and the sea beyond them outside. Thick tussocks of unruly grass swayed in the vicious wind and rain rattled and smacked the glass, plinking down gutters and drumming frenetically on the roof. Further out past the jutting, sheer purple-black cliff walls, the sea mimicked the black soup in the pan whose handle he clutched with his veiny right hand; albeit with a metallic, shifting sheen.
Over the course of half an hour the nine remaining shadows were unfurled, bled and boiled into the oilish liquid. Swishing the thick substance into a smooth sauce, Klep allowed it to cool before pouring it into several canisters, transferred thereafter back into the satchel. Donning a protective jacket and scarf, he flung the door open and strode out into the insistent rain. The grassy hills beyond his tall house rose in soft clefts and he pulled the heavy, clinking bag through spiky tufts and patches of boggy soil. The sky above was thatched with driving needles and further beyond, oppressive pillows of layered degrees of black oozed over the dull amber glow of the horizon.
Several yards away from the cliff's edge, Klep stopped in a small fissure containing a collection of stones and shells, barely visible amongst the grass swithering in the angry wind. A halo of rocky fragments spread out to accommodate the outline of a chest, arms, legs...
Falling to his knees again, Klep felt them sink into the wet terrain as he fished out several of his metal containers. The wind shrieked deafeningly and the sea beyond rolled in folds as if it were a great organism; thick black panels sifting and segueing and melding up into the chasm of sky. Carefully, Klep drizzled his shadow mixture into the shell and stone outline, delighted with the amount and texture, relishing the soupy spatter as it hit the dirt and grass and spread, spilling to fill the body shape.
The potential of ten human beings stretched and vivid in their thoughts and hopes, stripped and beautiful and disgusting at the point of sudden, unexpected death. Klep hovered perennially at these points, waiting, observing the change; the panicked mental outpourings of love and defeat, escaping and manifesting within the strange black puddles that followed them.
Now the sludgey substance shimmered, undefined within its thin bracket, before beginning to coagulate, harden, and ripen. Licks and folds and layers swirled and laced within themselves, melding and rising as the rain lashed the long grass and Klep's bent body into the soggy ground. Black soup, then muscle, then flesh twitched and jerked and suddenly a hacking, toothy mouth was spitting balls of black oil. Sharp dark nails tore at the wet dirt around them and a great, appalling, bald, black head twisted away from the outline, dripping bubbled slicks of black mucus and growling guttural grunts. Pinpoint marble eyes, glistening with endless hatred from deep-set sockets, slid towards Klep, who sunk a needle into the lumpy expanse of black flesh. With great effort he rolled the huge creature several footsteps' distance to the cliff-edge, kicking and shoving its numbed body into a steel cage attached to the rocky drop.
Allowing himself a moment to breathe, he wiped a thick mixture of rain and black gunge across his brow. Then he padded over to a tufty clump of grass, rummaging amongst the vegetation to locate a rusty lever embedded in the ground. This he swung and twisted round clockwise to drop the cage, in stuttering jerks, a great distance down the cliff side.
The steel basket rocked gently far below, suspended against the enormity of the sea, and Klep fell back into the wet dirt, puffing laboured breaths. He lay there for a while, feeling the rain soak a second layer of filmy skin over his face. He wondered what the shadows of twenty desperate people would produce. Or thirty. Or a hundred. He wondered if all this horror within them was only so visible at the moment of death or if it leaked out slowly over time. The wind burned his cheeks and he huddled into a foetal position, pressing his nose round into the long grass. Either way, his work was his own, and he preferred to keep it that way and endure the physical demands as best he could - in groups of ten shadows.
When he had deemed enough time to have passed, he shuffled back to the cliff edge and peered down in time to see the distant lump of the creature rousing in its cage. It shook awake, flexing and flailing against the steel mesh, spitting and roaring, before disappearing into the only place available for it to go - the hole in the side of the cliff face.
Klep watched the dot of slick bald head, the huge shoulders prowling into the hole, and pulled the empty cage, smeared with black resin, back up to its starting position again. He secured the handle using a length of rope, gathered up his empty canisters, and ambled back towards the house in the rain; finer now as the wind relented. Beneath his feet, his collection filled the interior of the cliff face, hundreds of slippery shadow beasts packed into the huge caves within the rock walls.
Klep glanced back at the sea as he headed home - the rolling, metallic beauty; the beauty the earth produced, the beauty and art and love and wretchedness of its people, and he smiled a thin smile. He thought of his growing work, bustling about the caves under his feet, ready for when the time came. His gangly figure cast a long, skinny shadow over the gentle hills, leaking hate, desire and horror down the cliff face and into the sea beyond.