Standing Against The Shadows
by Johan Joubert
Eva sits down on the edge of the bed and sighs deeply. She leans forward reaching for the bag by her feet and lifts it up on the bed next to her and starts unpacking. She pulls out her wrinkled clothes, and then all the personal items one would expect a fifteen year old girl to have. Reaching her hand into the bag again she pauses as if startled. Her eyes and face saddens. With great care she pulls out a photo frame and places it on her lap. Her eyes are closed, but she can see the photograph perfectly from all the time she has been staring at it for the last week. Tears drip on the glass in utter silence.
It was a week ago that Eva’s parents were out for a quick evening stroll, but never came back. She can still hear the screeching tires close to their home and the eerie silence that followed. It is the same silence that she is in right now, here in the attic room at her grandma’s house. More than silence actually, loneliness.
Eva gently puts the photo on the bedside table. “Mum and dad, I miss you so much.” She whispers deeply. She leans back on the bed with her arms tucked under her head while staring at the ceiling. Why couldn’t I stay in my old town where all my friends are? She thinks. She tilts her head to the side looking out the small window at the white puffy clouds against the beautiful blue sky. She hops off the bed, grabs her violin, and runs down the creaking old stairs.
“Where are you going young lady?” Her grandma asks from the kitchen.
“I’ll be back soon!”
“Wait, lunch is almost ready!” Her grandma tries to stop her, but Eva is already out the front door.
She slowly wanders down the cobblestone street. Everything around her proudly carries their old age. The houses are tightly packed with one leaning against the next like old friends resting against each other’s shoulders. The bumpy roads meander through the little village like dried up river beds.
Three large steps lead up to the front door of a house ahead. Eva grips the violin tighter in her hand and runs towards it. She leaps unto the top step and waves her hands in acknowledgment to the crowds of people she can see in her mind. She slides her violin under her chin, lifts her right arm with the string and gently strikes a beautiful pure musical note. She is in a world of her own now, a world of freedom and joy. She jumps off the stage and her audience disappears. Now it is only her and her art in peaceful solitude – nothing else matters. She dances along the windy road to the rhythm of the music til she reaches the end. From here on the hillside she has a good view of the plaza in the centre of town.
“The Sunday markets!” Eva yells as her eyes light up. She remembers when her parents brought her here as a little girl. It was always the most exciting part of visiting grandma. She would walk in-between her parents holding their hands and be mesmerised by the vibrant colours of the tents, the beautifully handcrafted toys, and captivating street performers. This is where her love for music started and where she got this violin, her very first. She was barely able to hold it properly back then. Eva hurries down the steep incline with excitement.
She wanders through the market with grey tents scattered all over. There are some people standing by vegetable stalls while others wander aimlessly from one to another. It is nothing like the buzz she remembers. Where has all the excitement gone?
She recognises an old wooden sign that reads Village Clocks – handcrafted locally. She walks closer remembering the friendly old man who used to make the most exquisitely crafted clocks. He would sometimes have little kids wind up the clocks until a little character jumped out of a small window. There would always be a flurry of laughter all round. Now there is just a large table cluttered with bland wrist watches that a person can buy at any shop.
“Are you going to buy anything?” A grumpy old man asks reclined on his chair.
“No, thank you.” Eva steps away from the table.
She can hardly believe the contrast between what she remembers and what she is seeing. Her disappointment has left her standing puzzled not really sure where to go next.
A little boy stands on his tippy toes trying to reach a nice red apple a bit higher up the pile on one of the tables. He loses his balance and knocks half the pile off the table. They bounce and roll across the uneven stones.
“Oh no! I am so sorry.” The boy apologizes while trying to pick them up. A big man who works at the fruit stall steps around the table and grabs the boy by his collar and yanks him upright.
“You little pest, look what you’ve done!” He shakes the kid and then shoves him away violently causing the boy to stumble onto his knees. Eva is frozen in shock at the scene in front of her. She notices that the lady at the stall closest to her is also looking at the man disapprovingly, but then quickly looks down when Eva makes eye contact.
“Should we do something?” Eva asks her.
“Keep me out of this. I want nothing to do with it.” The lady responds sharply.
Most people are just going on with their business as if they didn’t even notice. The man has now returned to the stall. Eva runs to the boy and stoops down to help him up.
“Are you okay?”
He looks up at her soft light blue eyes. He is a bit startled; it has been a while since someone has looked at him with true compassion. He reaches out his hand and she helps him up from his scraped knees.
“I am Eva. What is your –“ Before she could finish her sentence the boy turns around and runs off. He pauses momentarily to look back at her with a small smile before disappearing behind a tent. Eva turns to the fruit stall angrily. How can someone treat a little boy like this? The man hands a customer her change before repacking the apple stand. Eva gently taps her on the shoulder.
“Excuse me. Why doesn’t anyone do anything? Isn’t it wrong what that man is doing?” She asks the lady who is intently staring at the coins in her hand.
“Yes, you are right! What he is doing is wrong. He totally cheated me with a dollar change and thinks he can get away with it.” She turns around and confronts him aggressively, “Hey! Do you cheat all your customers or just me because I am a sweet lady?”
Eva’s walk back to her grandma’s home is slow. Her mind is spinning with different thoughts like a washing machine with different coloured clothes all mixed and staining each other. Everything and everyone is so different, or has her childhood memories just been sparkled up with her imagination? She opens the door and steps into the house.
“Your lunch is in the kitchen. Cold by now I am sure.” says her grandma who is sitting on the living room couch reading a book.
“Sorry I am late grandma. I went to the markets and got distracted.”
“See anything nice?”
“No, not really. It was weird though. There was a little boy who knocked some apples over by accident and a man almost beat him up for it. Worst of all, no one else seemed to care about it. I tried to help, but couldn’t do much.”
Her grandma lowers the book to her lap, “It is good that you didn’t get involved in any fights or arguments. You need to make a good impression, especially at your new school tomorrow. So you better make sure you have all your things ready.”
Early the next morning Eva starts walking to school. The rays of gold balance on the tips of the hills before the ticking clock pull them over into the valley. The birds have only just started singing their first morning songs. The nights are long and lonely, so Eva welcomes the early mornings. School doesn’t start for another two hours which gives her plenty of time to explore the detours through the village. This is the only time when she can play her violin, since her grandma doesn’t like her playing. Song after song she dances through the streets. Where she is going doesn’t matter, it is all about where she is at this moment. In her mind even her shadow is dancing freely, detached from her body.
The beautiful melody pulls a homeless man from under a pile of cardboard boxes and newspapers. A big grin reveals a few missing teeth, but he doesn’t care. Nothing has made him feel like smiling for a very long time. Life has been cruel and merciless, but hearing her play blissfully remembers him of something that has been lost deep inside of him for a long time. He jumps up and hugs Eva with joy. She is a bit surprised, but kindly hugs the scruffy man back.
From the shadows of a nearby alley eyes are locked on her. She has caught someone‘s attention. Eva walks on thinking how nice it is to meet a kind person in this village.
Someone grabs Eva from behind, covers her mouth, and pulls her into the narrow crevasse between the buildings. She gets a good foot hold and pulls herself loose. She twists around ready to confront her attacker. She freezes. In front of her is a boy and girl only a little younger than her, they’ve stepped back and show no aggression towards her.
“What are you doing?” she asks confused.
“You are Eva, right? My name is Taylor, and this is Ivan.” says the girl.
“How do you know my name?”
Ivan turns and looks behind him, “Jimmy, come here.” he says. A shy young boy with scruffy blonde hair and a cute smile peeks out from behind a garbage bin.
“You are the boy from the market yesterday.” says Eva.
“Sorry if we scared you. We had to grab you without being spotted.” says Taylor. ”Jimmy told us about you and how nice you were to him, but we had to see for ourselves. So we followed you as you were playing and walking, but unfortunately we aren’t the only ones. They are following you as well.”
“Who are they?” asks Eva.
“We will explain later, but for now you have to come with us and we have to be careful.”
They zigzag from alley to alley and bush to bush. Ivan is up front, Taylor is keeping an eye on the rear, while Eva and Jimmy are in the middle. They peek around corners and crouch down like little mice trying to avoid the keen gaze of a hungry alley cat.
“Where are we going?” Eva queries.
“We are almost there.” says Ivan.
They stop in an alley next to an abandoned shop. The three strange kids look around, scouring all directions for any sign of someone watching. Then Ivan pulls a big wooden crate away from the wall revealing a large hole. One by one the little mice quickly slip into the safety of their den. On the inside they climb down a large metal shelf to the floor of the basement and tug on a rope to pull the entrance to the hole shut again. A dozen or so children aged between seven and fourteen stand around in the room. There is a sense of excitement and expectation in the way they all stare at Eva.
“Everyone, this is Eva.” says Ivan.
“What is this place?” Eva asks.
“Welcome to the official hideout of the Standlings.” Ivan says with pride.
“Standlings? So you are a gang, and you are the leader, right?” She looks at Ivan.
Eva notices some old mattresses and blankets lying on the floor, “Do you all live here?”
“Not all of us, some of the kids live with their parents, but for some of us that luxury was stolen,” says Ivan, “This was the local grocery store which belonged to my parents, but after they died people forgot about this place, and me, so I had nowhere else to go. This has been my home and anybody else who needed one for the last two years.”
“I’m so sorry.” Eva’s eyes show the same compassion as yesterday when she looked at Jimmy. Ivan can tell that Eva knows the pain and loneliness he has gone through.
Taylor pulls a big black board closer with its little plastic wheels clattering on the floor. It is the type you would see in many classrooms. A number of photos, notes, and paper articles are splattered across it. Arrows dart from one thing to another, nothing that makes sense to Eva at first glance.
“These are all our members, and some people we believe are allies.” Ivan points to the photos.
“Allies?” Eva raises her brows.
“Everyone in this town is cold, grumpy, and only looks after their own interests. People don’t care about each other here, except for these few people we know of.” says Taylor.
“Yeah, I guess I did notice that. Except for the kind homeless man this morning.”
“He is one of the worst. Angry at the world for the position he is in. He is suppose to be one of the people who understands us the best, but he would always talks to us like the garbage he is sifting through.” he pauses, “But this morning there was a change. Eva, you did something that changed his heart.” says Ivan.
“Me? I didn’t do anything.” Then Eva paused for a bit. “Is this why you brought me here, because you think I have the ability to make people friendly again?”
“You are different from the other people in this town. Another person has noticed that as well and that’s why he has people following you.” says Ivan.
“What person?” asks Eva.
“An evil man, called Shadow Voice.” says little Jimmy.
“That’s what we call him at least. He is always in the shadows and no one ever sees his face, they just hear his voice.” explains Taylor. Eva stares at them with a blank expression on her face. Their stories are getting weirder and she’s not sure what to think anymore.
“He kidnaps and brainwashes people with lies and steals their voices and even their beliefs. No one ever speaks up against the bad things in town after he got a hold of them.” says Ivan.
“Wouldn’t people remember events like that and rise up against this shadow creep?” she challenges their logic.
“They don’t remember, and no one thinks that he is real.” responds Ivan.
“So you’re saying you haven’t seen him in person?” she asks.
“No, but my old music teacher Mrs. Holloway told me about him and I believe her. She is one of our only allies left.” He replies.
“I like you kids, but thinking that an evil shadow man is going around stealing people voices and beliefs is just silly.” says Eva.
“People are blind, and we have to get them to believe and stand up against the evil in our town. We don’t have much time left!” Ivan starts getting fired up.
“Time?” Eva quickly looks down at her watch. “Oh no, I’m late for school!” Eva climbs up the slanted shelf and pushes the crate away.
“You need to help us make the other people believe.” Ivan tries to convince her, but Eva crawls out of the hole and runs like a fierce gale.
She steps into her designated classroom. She is panting heavily, her dress is dirty from hugging the homeless man, and her hair is a mess with the hair tie pulled out halfway. It is not the first impression she was hoping for. The teacher gazes her up and down, while there is a low drone of whispering and giggling from the students.
“You must be Eva.” says the teacher in a crude tone of voice. “Your seat is here.”
The bell rings ending Eva’s first day at her new school. Everyone packs up and rushes out of the classrooms. Eva walks behind one of the buildings when she sees three senior girls cornering a young girl against a wall. The girl with long curly hair takes a big whiff from her roll of weed and bends down to the little one’s level and blows a puff of smoke in her face.
“You like that?” she pauses, “You are a little junky already I see!” The little girl quivers and her eyes are wide with fear.
“What are you doing?” Eva interrupts.
“Get lost!” says one of the other girls. The young girl uses Eva’s distraction to slip past them and run away.
“How can you say that to her? What if she believes you?” questions Eva. “She’s a vulnerable little girl! The little ones look up you and you are setting such a horrible example!” Eva becomes irritated.
They walk closer to Eva. “Listen here missy. We are the most popular girls in the school, and it’s just fitting for them to look up to us and dream to be in our shoes.”
“What you are doing is nothing to aspire to.” Eva says.
“So now you think you are better than us right?”
“No I don’t, and I didn’t say that!” Eva defends herself. “All I said is that what you are doing is wrong!”
“Who gave you the right to judge us? You look like a stray dog that got run over on the way to school.” The girls laugh. “Did your mum wash your dress in a mud puddle, or maybe she is too busy making new male friends in town? I know you morally righteous types. Trying to tell us how to live, but you are the biggest hypocrites.”
The more they noticed their words upset Eva, the more insulting they became. Eva turns around and sprints to the ladies’ bathroom, slams the cubical door shut, and collapses on the floor with her arms on the toilet lid.
“Mum I know you are watching over me wherever you are, but I really need you with me right now. I hate this place! How could you and dad leave me and make me come here?” She cannot keep her pain and grief in any longer. The tears run down her face like rain drops on a window pane.
Her tears eventually run dry, but the sorrow and loneliness is still gripping her heart. She sits silently for hours. The janitor’s knock on the cubical door startles Eva from her trance. “I’m going to lock up now.”
Eva grabs her backpack, slings the violin over her shoulder, and heads back home. She has been in the bathroom so long that it is dusk already. She walks straight through the centre of town. The plaza is beautiful, calm, and open now that the market tents are gone. Lamp posts line it on all sides and she has a clear view of the houses all around on the hillside. Wonder if I can see grandma’s house from here.
Two dark figures in the distance catch her attention. They are moving closer until the light from the lamp posts reveal the men’s large physiques aggressively aimed straight at her. She takes a few steps backwards readying herself to run, but then another two men appear from the darkness behind her on the other side of the plaza. There is no time to think or plan. She dashes to the right. The men set off after her. She can’t gain enough speed with everything she is carrying, but there is no time to unhook the clip to drop the backpack. The men close in quickly from both sides and behind.
One man gets a grip on her backpack. Her loud shriek echoes across the cold pavement as he tugs her backwards. He tries to pull her to the ground, but she manages to loosen the clip and slips her arms out just in time. He loses his balance under the backpack’s momentum and stumbles on the hard stones. Another man grabs her by the arm, she flings her other arm around and wacks him on the ear. He staggers to the side holding his ringing ear. The other two men grab her arms. She pulls as hard as she can, but their grip is far too tight.
“Help! Somebody please help me!” She screams and kicks as they drag her into the shadows of the closest alleyway. Suddenly all the shadows pull away from the ground and walls, and come together to form a long flowing dark cloak.
“You put up quite a fight.” says a deep manly voice. She cannot see his face, only the shadows blowing in the breeze like black fabric. “You are just like your mother, young Eva. Yes, that is right, I know who you are. In fact I know everything about you.”
“What do you want from me?” Eva asks nervously.
“Let’s just say I have great use for you.”
“You are Shadow Voice. The Standlings were right. You are real.”
“Is that what they call me? How descriptive! But you can call me Cethin.”
“You won’t get away with what you are doing to this town.” says Eva.
“This town?” He bursts out laughing.” This pathetic place is just the start. Eventually I will silence everyone, everywhere!”
“How will you do that? Your henchmen could hardly catch a fifteen year old girl.”
“Don’t be so naive. Everyone who is not against me, is for me! The ones standing by doing nothing are just as helpful to me as these pawns. People’s blindness and denial just gives me free reign. They are like marionette puppets denying the hand that moves them.”
“I can cut those strings. My music can set people free from your curse and lies.” She says boldly.
“No you can’t. You’ve been playing your music all morning, but their hearts remain tied up. Did anyone respond to your screams for help? You know they heard you, there are houses all around.”
Eva’s face saddens and her eyes water up. There is nothing she can do and no one would even risk themselves for her.
“I can see your deep pain and sorrow, but where is the anger?” Cethin says as he drifts closer and leans in towards her. Her skin chills as his cloak grazes against her.
“Your despicable parents were the last incorruptible ones who opposed me. They would come here every few weeks, spreading their words of hope and life. I’ve tried for years to rid this town of their voices, and I finally succeeded. And now I will have my revenge on them twice over, by having their precious legacy serve me.” He chuckles.
“You murderer! How could you do this, they were good people. I loved them!”
“That’s exactly why.” He grabs her violin and snaps its neck so it dangles by the strings. “Your music is gone and your voice is now mine!”
“I hate you! It is because of you that I am stuck in the world alone with my heart ripped out. I will never forgive you!” The tears are dried up by the flames of rage and hatred glowing in her eyes.
“There it is.” He smiles and then puts his finger on her forehead. Her pupils dilate and she slips into a trance.
“The anger that you’re feeling now is good. You have the right to be angry. This world has dealt you only pain and misery, and therefore it owes you. Your parents who were always supposed to love and protect you have failed you, and even now people ignore your call for help. They owe you. I didn’t cause you this sorrow, they did. I am just a shadow. I am just a part of people’s imagination. You will follow my voice, but never remember it.” Her filter-less mind is freely absorbing everything he says. Her body remains passive, but her emotions are storming inside.
“Eva, my dear puppet, take me to the Standlings’ hideout!”
Eva rubs her eyes trying to regain clear focus. The warm midmorning sun is softly streaming into her bedroom through the window. She sits upright. Her muscles are aching and her head is spinning.
Grandma knocks on the door. “Are you awake dear?”
“Yeah, just woke up grandma.”
Grandma walks in with a breakfast tray of bacon, eggs, toast, and orange juice. “Hope you are hungry.”
“What happened to me last night? I feel terrible.” Eva asks.
“You came in long after dark and complained about a severe headache. So I gave you some pain pills and you went straight to bed. You didn’t even change into your pyjamas.” says grandma placing the tray on Eva’s lap.
Eva stares at the ceiling trying to remember, but everything is fuzzy with only snippets of memory. “I do remember having a terrible headache, and having my violin with me.”
“It is unfortunate how your violin is so badly broken.” says her grandma.
“What? My violin is broken?”
“You don’t remember dear? You mentioned something about tripping and crushing it with your knee.”
“There is no way I would have been so careless.” Eva responds.
“I tried for hours to fix it, but I couldn’t.” says her grandma.
“Don’t lie to me! I know you did this. You didn’t want me playing my violin so you broke it.”
Eva looks down at the food on her lap. “Did you make this just so I would think you care about me?”
“Of course I care about you, my love.” Her grandma says softly.
“Well, I don’t care and I hate this place!” Anger bubbles up from deep within Eva.
Grandma looks at Eva as if looking at a stranger. “He got to you, didn’t he? I was scared this would happen. This is why I didn’t want you to play your violin or draw any attention.”
“Who got to me?” asks Eva.
“The voice stealer who lurks in the shadows.”
“What are you talking about, I still have my voice.”
“Not your physical voice. The inner voice you use to speak up against wrong in this world.” Her grandma’s eyes fill up with tears. ”I lost your mom and dad. I can’t lose you too.” she picks up the photo from Eva’s bedside.
“Give that back! It’s mine!” Eva grabs at it, but knocks it out of her grandma’s hands unto the floor. Glass shards shatter all over as it breaks in pieces. Eva climbs out of the bed and kneels on the floor. She carefully lifts the photo up. “Mum and dad, I’m so sorry.” She stares deeply into her mum’s loving eyes. A vivid memory flashes through her mind.
She remembers how her mum would brush her hair while saying, “Eva, my love. There are many things wrong in this world which no one is willing to stand up against. But you my dear have the ability to change people’s hearts. Always see what is right, and fight for it. Speak up for good and let your voice be heard, even through your music. Be a light for others to follow. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise and discourage you. No one can take your voice away from you as long as you have confidence in yourself that you believe in what is good and right. I love you so much and I am so proud of you.”
Eva starts sobbing. “I am sorry grandma.” Her grandma pulls her up and hugs her. Flashes of memories erupt in Eva’s mind and she regains complete clarity of the events that happened the night before.
“I remember him, the shadows and the voice.” Then Eva pauses. “Oh no, what have I done? The Standlings, they trusted me and I betrayed them the first opportunity I got.”
“Grandma, I have to go see if they are okay.” Eva says.
“Sorry that I didn’t tell you everything from the start. I thought I was protecting you, but I was wrong.”Her grandma looks at her, “Now go!”
Eva runs as fast as she can to the little abandoned shop. She climbs through the hole in the side of the wall. It is quiet inside with no sign of anyone. The place is totally trashed with the photos and articles from the blackboard scattered across the floor.
“They’ve seen the photos.” says a lady stepping from behind a wall.
“Who are you?” asks Eva.
“My name is Mary Holloway, Ivan’s old music teacher. The kids came to my house late last night telling me what had happened.”
“So they are alright?” Eva asks.
“I’m so sorry for leading that creep here. I didn’t mean to.”
“No need to apologize. Shadow Voice’s lies can be very persuasive. So how did you get out of his brainwashing?”
“What he planned for my destruction – the memories of my parents – became my salvation.”
Mary smiles. “The Standlings say that they still believe in you. I do as well, and want to give you this.” She hands Eva a beautiful violin.
“It’s going to be more dangerous now that they’ve seen our photos.” says Mary.
Eva glances into a shadowy area in the room. ”Cethin, you said those who aren’t against you, are for you.” She clenches her new violin.
“I am against you!”
Motivation: I wrote this story in response to all the hurt that is caused and the wrong that is done in the world, but only a few people are willing to stand up against it. There is a popular view these days that everyone has the right to do whatever they want, even if it hurts others – often hiding under the banned of human rights and being tolerable. Many people stand back and excuse themselves from their moral responsibility by saying, “Who am I to judge?” or “Even though I wouldn’t do that, every person has the right to make their own decisions, so I’ll just turn around and walk the opposite way.”
If in the middle of the night you walk past a house that is on fire with the people inside sleeping and unaware. Would it be more loving, acceptable, and caring by saying, “Oh, I dont want to judge. Maybe they like their house on fire. It doesn’t really concern me and I don’t want to offend someone by pointing out a potential issue,” and then to walk on, or would it be true love if you bang on the door and rush in to drag the occupants out?
People the world is in flames! Abortions, bullying, addictions, sexual exploitations, porn, homosexuality, etc. How are we going to respond?! Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” This is such a popular response these days (even by people who don’t believe in the One who inspired the author to write those words). But read on… Matthew 7:2 “For in the same way you judge, you too will be judged, and the measure you use, it will be measued to you.” If I am in a place that has great danger, or doing something that is damaging to myself or others – I would definitely want someone to point it out to me. I would want people to make righteous judgement so they can help me.
By looking at a situation and deciding to do nothing is judging as well!! You judged that the situation does not need help, that it is okay for people to be destroyed if it is their decision. We all make judgements everyday in every area of our lives – judgements between right and wrong – what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t…yet for some reason it has become frowned upon when a person stands up for what is right, just because it could be offensive to someone.
Righteous judgement or judge-mindedness ?! Do you make a judgement of a person’s condition/situation and offer love, support, and help…or do you just offer judgement as if you are better than another? This is the difference between right and wrong judgement! Looking down on a person like you are better/of higher value than them because of their actions or decisions are hypocritical, evil, and unjust judgement (Matt 7:3 – you are self-righteous in your own eyes) – because lets be honest we all fall quite some distance short of perfection!
Are we going to stand up for the people around us? (Sometimes that means standing up against their actions). Are we going to stand between the enemy and the people he is trying to exploit, hurt, and kill?! If you are not against him, then you are for him!