The Shadow Monarchs by J.C. Hill


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SUMMARY: Entry for October 2009 Flash Fiction Contest. Theme: Darkness

"By Jove, Watkins, do you realize what you have here?"

"Yes, I do, sir," the butler replied.

Major Townsworth went on as though he hadn't heard his manservant's reply. "This is the expedition log of one Gerald P. Throcklily III, Esquire. Why, the poor chap has been missing for five years now! Where did you get this?"

"From a Tanzir trader down in the bazaar. Sorry, I didn't get his name."

"Have you read the thing already?"

"Yes, sir. It's in rough shape and most of what I could make out is fairly routine. Gathering supplies, boating down the river, meeting up with various guides and such. But the last three entries... well, you really should read those, sir."

"Hmmm.... Oh, yes, of course. The last three, you say? Well, let's just have a look, then."

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Expedition Log, Day 72:

We >text faded< overland for several days now and are entering a region that, unless I miss my guess, is virgin rainforest. I'm certain it has never been seen by a white man before. I'm very excited! >smudge< several new species! I'm confident that our quest for the elusive Shadow Monarch will succeed. I can feel it in my old bones.

Expedition Log, Day 74:

The natives attacked us out of nowhere as we were about to go through the Great Rift (that's what Mugamba called it). We managed to kill several of the savages before they broke off the attack. That will >water damage< armed men with their bare hands. I've never seen anything like the designs painted on their bodies. They are highly abstract, but I believe they are intended to resemble butterflies intermingled with skulls. Could it be that these natives actually wor>text faded<archs? Perhaps they see them as omens of death or the spirits of their ancestors. Such superstitions are common in this Godforsaken country. Before one of them died he kept going on (again, according to Mugamba) about "The Valley of the Shadows" being a sacred place and how the spirits would >water damage<. My assistant, Williams, actually suggested that we go back. Well, I'm not going to be scared off by some ignorant painted savages. The entomological discovery of a lifetime is >rest of page missing<

Expedition Log, Day ???:

Shadows! Soft, soft velvet clouds, rising, swirling. So beautiful. So hungry. They took Williams. Naked, bloody bones rattling. Dancing bones, dancing with >illegible scrawl< Everyone... just pale white skulls, eyes filled with demons. What >hole in page<? Running, running >illegible scrawl<. The crystal doorway, must get through. Clear, clean. No bloody fingers reaching out from a shroud of death. >water damage< jagged mouths gaping in the wall! NO! NO! The shadows will ge>reddish-brown stain<

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Major Townsworth closed the journal with a shaking hand and stared at it thoughtfully for a long moment.

"What do you think, sir?" Watkins asked. "Should we organize an expedition to--"

"No! Er, I mean, sometimes it is best if Nature's secrets remain undiscovered," the Major said, as he handed the logbook back to Watkins. "I must say, old Throcklily found that out the hard way."

"I understand, sir. And the journal?"

"Throw it in the river."