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     The sky has never been so clear or so untroubled. Since the first incredible moment when the Night rose immaculate with darkness to join the majestic Sun in an indefatigable sojourn across the heavens, it has never been this way. The tufts of cloud that oft form inchoate pale foliage against a verdant horizon have never been so thoroughly uprooted by the rays of the incoming Overhead as she plowed the new daytime with light. Trees, vines and the other life of the overgrown earth have never bowed so deeply in adoration, peeling back to grant even more an amazing vantage of the great blue beyond. Never have the quotidian tasks of dawn and day been carried out with such a charisma, with such untamed and uncontestable… artistry.

     Or so thought Ombre as he lounged from the tips of a tanning woman’s toes, the relaxed undulations as she wiggled them sending tingles up his base.

     Of course, Ombre knew nothing of what ‘tasks’ the approaching dawn might have or how they manifested themselves, whether it arrived drawn as a chariot is or bleeped in with the abruptness of a censored curse word. All he had was an overactive imagination, one which he employed in visualizing Longrays luxuriating beneath an impressive neon explosion of blue, silver, white and gold; a picture he felt in his heart reflected an accurate sunrise.

     “Wow…” he almost said aloud, barely regaining himself in time to preserve the silence of the scene and, more importantly, the anonymity with which he dutifully affixed himself to the gnoman whose shape he approximated currently.

     “What a flub that would be,” he mused, “I just graduated to a new grade and here I am about to make a mistake that would get my status rescinded… again!” The first time had been disappointment enough; a second would be unbearable in a way the Midlight dared not attempt comprehending. “No sense getting the glooms, go back to your Sun-gazing,” he reassured himself mentally. However, the damage was done, the peace pierced by stinging recollections.

     He could still feel the elation that followed the first time he was raised from the Zone B lottery to the Zone C track. And the devastation of having it taken away.

     Zone B climes were always so drab, choked by objects, unfrequented by people, billowing masses of inconsequential space. He had cast in every alleyway from one end of the Dialand to another. Days tottered by, boringly, his greatest thrill coinciding with the arrival of a pack of stray dogs chased by a dog catcher or someone throwing out garbage or someone collecting it. How pathetic he felt, he and every other unfortunate Midlight not yet raised to Zone C clearance, ravenously swooping down as fast as possible to cling to any being, happy for a chance to escape the almost-shadows of the abysmal dumpsters. Such crumby posts… and the odors always seemed to follow you back into Umbra, as if they found it necessary to mock your ability to adhere.

     But at his elevation to the new lottery, he had become so excited— it would be the first time he could see the Sun without impediment! Having been resigned to the sparse spaces made by interweaving buildings, all Ombre had viewed of the Sun was its light as a bright seam made between the creases of walls and rooftops, an illumined eye that never quite opened its lids. When he was told his first post would be in one of the most highly esteemed urban territories available in the Zone C lottery, a place the gnomans called Saint Peter’s Square in the curiously named Vatican City, his entire being fluttered with exultant expectation. So much was he prepared to see the Sun in all its glory that he did the stupidest thing imaginable of a shadow.

     The moment he exited the monochrome into Dialand and saw the Sun for the first time, her unflinching glory lancing the sky and quite possibly his very soul, he fell to his dark diaphanous knees with a cry, peals of pure delight falling unbidden from his murky lips. In and of itself, the reaction was not unnatural and might have even been thought a laughable spectacle by other Midlights from which the newcomer could be roused, collected and put to work with little more than a well-spirited chiding. Ombre, however, had made a grave error in his timing— shadows were not the only ones who found Saint Peter’s Square to be a marvel.

     As if the Sun had blinded him to existence itself, Ombre performed his passionate ceremony in the middle of a giant crowd, oblivious to the droves of gnomans congregated around him. The Dialanders looked on as a shadow of its own volition genuflected, its hands reaching out for the sun, small squeaks and ululations emanating from it as it did so. They reacted exactly as gnomans always do; with incredible terror or passionate interest. Even as dusky agents of his own ilk swept in and drug him gibbering into the almost-shadows of an obelisk, police ran onto the scene trying to squelch the hysteria he had kindled. Ultimately the incident was dismissed and ended up as nothing more than an article in a tabloid, but before a publisher hardly had time to chuckle and print the story Ombre was already reprimanded and remanded to service in a back alley once again. Longrays, Noondays and Gloams alike had heard of Ombre’s display and the Midlights were forced into a position that made a gentle remonstration absolutely impossible. Certainly implausible.

     “Not this time…” Ombre thought to himself, “Not this time.”

     His pensive ruminations continued buzzing about his mind and didn’t begin to quiet until after the sun-bather had turned over twice, collected her towel, her lotion and the large bag she’d brought everything into the park with and disappeared. He sidled back to the tree-line after another Midlight took possession of her as their paths intersected under the secreting shade of an altree between his zone and the next.  Rejoining the other shadows waiting for newcomers, Ombre kept look out for the next sentient Dialander to appear.

     The shadows that surrounded him did not speak. This was not unusual, one of the first adages learned when going through the caste Mysteries is “Shadows are to be seen and not heard.” Ombre couldn’t help but wonder if he might be the reason chatter was especially light. Everyone present knew of his prior indiscretions and realized he had only just now been reinstated to the zone. Perhaps their tacit visages, thick and black as they hid amongst the almost-shadows of the park, were more than just the typical silence. Perhaps they were doing their best to make sure Ombre was given no stimuli that might incite a relapse. Or maybe, as the distance they kept from him could be intimated to imply, they just didn’t want to take the fall with him should he decide to go the way of the cacophonous and have another sonic seizure in the middle of the manicured grass. It never crossed his mind that he was new and this might just be the way it was when you worked in a place that was not wretched to the gnomans with Midlights who had barely met you before.

     “I’ll show them!” he exclaimed mentally, with less pep or spite than would normally be attributed to a remark of the type. In truth he just hoped that he could show them.

     Gradually, his suspicions of the other shadows and his attention to the comings and goings of new arrivals in the park waned. At first he was hypnotized by the tedium of watching shadows flit from one person to another and back to the altrees or from the altrees to a squirrel leaping from branch to branch against the sunlight or to a bird as it passed beneath an albough in flight. In the end it was the old passion that broke his concentration. The sun shown one long beautiful beam upon a fountain in the midst of the park and the coruscating aura made by reflected water dappling the gouts that shot up from the structure’s basin entranced him. Thankfully, though his resolve to keep good sentry was lost, he did not lose his composure and make a spectacle of himself. Ombre watched for two hours as the towers of water slid up and down, up and down, flecks of spray catching light as they mistily rode the barest of breezes away to nowhere.

     As the sun began reaching a point in the sky that signaled the last vestiges of his shift, he suddenly was aware that all the senior shadows were glaring at him. His inattention had not gone unnoticed. The disapproving voids that were their eyes gazed scathingly at him with obvious disgust. Conscious of their irritation with him, he looked out at the edges of his zone in an effort to avoid their derisive scowls.

     “I didn’t…” he sighed inside of himself, “I didn’t do anything practically the whole time I was out here… I’m useless, from tufts to tendrils, I am useless.” His own reproof hurt him more deeply than any of the staring shadows could ever accomplish. Once again, the cold tang of guilt derived from letting the other shadows down oozed around the bottom of his belly and made him sick. Sick of himself. When he looked into the distance, he no longer sought to escape their frustrated faces but his own invincible chastisement.

     Looking out as he was, he suddenly found himself separating from self-pity to recognize a matter of extreme importance. Ombre could see along one of the paths leading to the clearing a man in blue shorts walking his dog on a blue leash approaching his zone at the opposite end of the field. Steadily gazing at him, the temporal proximity of their shift’s culmination having combined with irritation and indolence, the other shadows did not see the gnoman coming. The gnoman was on the verge of entering their zone with no one prepared to shadow for him. All of them, from newest to oldest, were about to make a combined, terrible mistake!

     There was no time to give indicating gestures, no time to pass susurrus warnings down their ranks.

     Bolting from a standstill he leapt from almost-shadow to almost-shadow, bracing against the alneedles of branches as if they were hundreds of slender ledges placed side-by-side. He ran across their slats with as much celerity as his incorporeal form could muster, the other Midlights watching only now coming to the realization of what was happening. Whatever shadows were with the pair would stay with them for as long as it took another shadow to take their post. But not being prepared to readily make a transition when passing a Dailander from zone to zone could transform a shiver of shadows into laughingstocks. It was an indignity no one wished to suffer.

     “This isn’t nearly fast enough!” Ombre berated himself as he closed the distance, a mass of other shadows struggling to cross the field or signal other lax shadows nearer the probable point of entry that still hadn’t recognized the threat. He was only halfway to the copse of pine trees they would emerge from. As the tendrils of his atramentaceous legs cast for support, his senses cast for something, anything, any purchase that could make the impossible happen.

     “Not the alcolumns of the gazebo, not the alstatue of the famous gnoman, not the al—THAT!” he nearly yelled out loud, taking a gargantuan, impulsive, time-splitting leap into the air that was so quick it defied sight by the gnoman eye.

     He collided with the almost-shadow of a Frisbee passing overhead, its spiraling dance making him shimmer in dark patches against the ground as he latched on and rode along its trajectory. The throw had been a whiff and the disc lofted up under a slight wind and mismanaged inertia, carrying him even farther than he’d expected. It was all he could do to tumble into some albushes he fortunately flew over before the toy started veering away from his destination. He wasted no time counting his blessings, but scrambled onto the almost-shadow of a wafting seed that drifted by just in reach.

     “Almost there! Almost there!”

     With the efficiency of a paratrooper, he launched himself from the alseed towards the arrivals. Another Midlight had only now managed to reach the edge of the woods they would be walking through as well and in three, two, one…

     Ombre nearly kicked the other Midlight back into its zone as he collided with it, taking over as shadow for the yellow-coated dog. The canine panted and Ombre joined in readily, not at all a pantomime but completely needing to take advantage of the opportunity to recover from his exertion. He held onto the threads of the dog’s musky fur, taking in its friendly, outdoorsy aroma with mixed feelings of relish and repugnance.

     “Should of aimed for the human,” he muttered mentally more as a joke than anything. He’d gone for the right target, the other Midlight having switched places with the shadow that had been casting for the gnoman in the milliseconds before he dove.

     Grass scratched his back lightly as the dog moved across the clearing and, looking at the other Midlights, he saw that he had at least to some extent redeemed himself with them. The throng from the almost-shadows nodded favorably towards him and, for the first time since earlier when he’d been attached to the Sun-basking woman, he found his heart settling down enough for him to enjoy his surroundings once again.

     Above him, the Sun reclined in the sky, a sure sign Ombre would soon be summoned back to Umbra. Now, having reclaimed the satisfaction of the day, he did not feel inclined to hearing the tolling that would precede his return. He directed his attention to the bright orb above that he loved so.

     It was beginning to hang lower against the blue, other colors on the verge of appearing, colors Ombre could only guess at having never been present for a sunset. It struck him that the Sun was nodding to him, much like the other Midlights had and he smiled back, incorporating a head nod into his own actions as soon as the dog he adhered to performed a sufficiently similar action which could mask it. He felt this to be a respect called for— out of the beings that made this world, who more likely to have given him the strength necessary, granted him the opportunity so readily, to make himself more than just a negligent or jester in the eyes of his peers. Just as Her corona began to change to a slightly darker hue, it crossed his mind that he wished he could watch the Sun as it set and be there in the morning when she returned that she could see his devotion was genuine.

     The dog stopped and began to lift its leg.

     “Oh, really? Right now?” Ombre thought in protest. He was familiar with this posture and though he couldn’t truly be soiled by one of the Dialander beasts, he realized it heralded one of the many things shadows dread having to deal with while on duty. “You know, you really know how to spoil a good moment.”

     At that exact second, in mid-lift, Ombre heard the gentle bells on the air. It was the music of the vesperian rhythm; a lullaby sang by something ancient and primordial, the sonorous sound of beauty incarnate calling all back to the endlessly ebony shaded world of Umbra. Ombre calmed at the soothing tones and found himself contented by several features of the instant; the gorgeous contralto and bells of the Vespers; the last rays of that beautiful day filtering through him as he turned opaque then transparent; the thought that a Longray was about to start their shift under a rain of gold not belonging to the Sun. Most of all though he was contented as he heard, just before fully exiting the monochrome and manifesting on the omnidian streets of Umbra, the words spoken, “… but thank the Overshadow for Ombre’s good eyes…”