Few Dare Cross Its Shadow
The tower stood for centuries, a dark and forbidding figure against the horizon. Bremin toiled in its shadow his entire life, just like his father and grandfather. It did not appear the tower or Bremins’s life would ever change…
Until the day a tight-lipped stranger offered Bremin an enormous sum of money to guide him to the tower so that he may discover its mysteries.
Only, Bremin knows the tower’s power, and he fears what might befall them should they cross through the tower’s shadow.
A tower of black granite rose from the plain like a giant middle finger to the world. An ancient hand had carved its parapets into the figures of creatures so that the top looked like it was ringed with every sort of watchful eye. Its base had no door that the eye could see, and its walls were empty of windows.
Bremin toiled within sight of it nearly every day of his life, farming the arid land for whatever he could cause it to grow. Wheat. Corn. Beans. He worked that land because it was the land he had been given to work by his father, who had been given it by his father, but he did whatever he could to stay out of the tower’s shadow.
Death came to those who found themselves in its shadow.
The shadow only touched his lands in the late afternoon and evening, with the sun setting to the west, and only a part, at that. He worked that plot first, in the morning, before the shadow could even begin to make its slow progression toward his crop.
The shadow did not hurt his crop. In fact, the land the shadow crossed seemed more fertile than any of the other land he owned. That was not saying much.
The sound of horse hooves on the wind caused Bremin to look up from the beans he was planting. He looked instinctively behind him to the road that passed by the small house he shared with his wife.
A lone rider on a monstrous black charger moved slowly along the road.
Bremin could see the rider’s head, turned to stare at the tower. Everyone stared.
Bremin went back to planting his beans. This was his last row, and he wanted it done before the sun set.
“Excuse me,” a voice called out.
Bremin looked up. The rider had stopped at his fence.
“Excuse me, may I have a word?”
“In a moment, sir,” said Bremin. “Please let me finish my planting.”
Only another yard of shoving the seeds into the ground he had tilled earlier that morning.
The rider did not acknowledge his request, so Bremin planted his seeds quickly without looking up. He hoped the rider would leave in the time it took him to finish. He did not want to answer questions about the tower. He never had any answers.
When he finished, he found the rider standing idly by the fence.
Bremin pushed himself up from the ground and went to see what the rider wanted.
“What can I help you with?” Bremin asked.
The rider stood tall, a head taller than Bremin. Bremin had to look up, and that did not happen often. Bremin stood taller than everyone within ten miles. The rider wore a black mustache, the tips of which were waxed into points, and a black coat that had to be cooking him alive as he rode in the early summer sun.
“The tower,” the man said. “Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“That no man has ever stood in its shadow and lived,” he said.
Bremin thought about leaving, turning around and entering his house to eat the meal that Mathilda had prepared. He knew it was ready. He could smell the spices and he had seen the smoke from the chimney. He was tired.
But the man had waited.
“I have never seen a man enter the tower’s shadow and live,” he said. It was the truth. He had never seen a man enter the tower’s shadow in his life.
“Have you been to the tower? Have you touched it?”
“No,” Bremin said. It was the safest answer.
“I should have guessed not. How long have you worked this land?”
“It belonged to my father,” Bremin said.
The man tore his gaze from the tower to look at Bremin, perhaps for the first time.
“You have lived here your whole life?”
“And your father?”
In the setting sun, the light reflected off the man’s eyes, making them glow a dark orange color.
“Tell me, please. Did he inherit from his father?” The man sounded almost eager to hear the answer.
“Yes,” Bremin said.
“Are you afraid of the tower?”
“Not particularly, no.”
The man clapped. “Good,” he said. “I should like to hire you.”
“Hire me?” Bremin asked.
“Quite right. I would like you to act as a guide, of sorts.”
Bremin did not like that proposal.
“No thanks,” he said. “I have a lot of work to do tomorrow, and I really must go eat dinner, now. It has been good speaking with you.”
He started to turn away. He was done with this stranger.
“A hundred dols,” he said. “A hundred dols to take me to the tower.”
A hundred dols would feed him for a year. His whole crop could go under three seasons in a row and he would not have to face a winter of starvation.
But something was not right about the offer. Why so much? The man could see the tower. He had a horse. He could ride right up to it. There was little between here and there but the fence that separated them.
“What’s the trick?” Bremin asked.
“Why would you need to pay me a hundred dols to guide you to a place you can so clearly see from here. You could go around my fence and ride straight to it without anyone or anything in your way.”
The man leaned his head back and looked toward the rapidly darkening sky.
“I do not need a guide to get there, true. I do need a guide to the history of the tower. Someone who has seen it, lived near it, knows the stories of the place.”
“Who are you?” Bremin asked. “A hundred dols for stories is certainly too much, as well. Do not misunderstand me. I will gladly take your money to tell you stories, but I am curious as to your purpose.”
“I am a scholar, Mister…”
“Mister Bremin. I search for things that are unique. I write their stories down so future generations may learn of them with the hope that we may one day aspire to the greatness of the Ancients.”
Now Bremin understood.
“You think the tower was built by the Ancients.”
“It has always been here, has it not?”
Bremin allowed that it had.
“The dols are not just for the stories, but for the risk you take in accompanying me to the tower. For if the tower was built by the Ancients, and the shadow does kill, there may be other unsatisfactory outcomes awaiting us that we do not yet know about.”
A hundred dols. Maybe that much would allow them to move to a better plot of land somewhere far away from the looming tower.
And he had been to the tower before.
If the fool wanted to offer the money for stories and company, so be it.
“I accept,” he said, “if you will leave the dols with my wife before we go. I would not want her to suffer should we not come back.”
“Of course,” said the man who looked little like the kinds of people Bremin imagined would be scholars.
“Your name, sir? I am afraid I do not know it yet.”
“Attison,” the man said. “Grant Attison.”
“Well, Grant, I will set up a pallet in the barn for you, and we shall leave in the morning at sun’s first rise. I wish I could offer more.”
“No,” said Grant. “That will be fine. Far better than sleeping on a horse.”
The morning dawned bright and blue. Bremin took the hundred dols from Mister Attison and gave them to Mathilda.
“Take care with that money, dear,” he said. “If I do not return, it shall have to last you.”
Mathilda had been shocked when he told her the amount while they lay in bed next to each other.
“All this just to take him to the tower and tell him stories?” she had asked.
He pulled her close to him, felt her skin against his, her breast against his own.
“Yes, my love. For a walk and a few stories,” he whispered into her ear.
“You will be careful,” she said. “I do not want you walking in that thing’s shadow.”
“Of course not,” he said.
She slipped her arm down his back.
“Promise me you will keep an eye out for tricks. I can not help but think there is a trap, here.”
“I promise,” he said and licked her ear. His tongue came away with the taste of salt from a hard day’s work. “But you can keep an eye out, too, and if you see him returning without me, take the money and his horse and ride out of here.”
“Do not frighten me, Bremin.”
“I promise I will return,” he said as he slipped himself inside her and they made love for what he hoped would not be the last time.
And when they finished, he had turned over and fallen asleep and dreamed of what he would do with all the money.
But as he and Mister Attison, who emerged from the barn wearing a small pack on his back, took their first steps toward the tower that morning, the money safe in Mathilda’s hands, Bremin could not help but wonder at the purpose of their trip.
“Tell me again why you want me to lead you to the tower?”
“I want to hear the stories of this place. I collect them, and I will add them to a book of stories about strange places such as this.”
“There are other places, other towers?” Bremin asked.
“I have not seen another tower such as this, but there are other places of the Ancients across the land.”
“Tell me of them,” Bremin said.
Mister Attison smiled. “I will tell you of some of them after we return. But for now, I should like you to earn your hundred dols by telling me stories of this place.”
“What kind of stories?”
The two of them stepped over the low stone wall that separated Bremin’s lands from the grassland that surrounded the tower. A low scrub grass was the only foliage that grew wild in the tower’s shadow, as if other plants were afraid to drop their seed within sight of it.
Bremin knew that not to be the case, considering his land that lay closer to the tower grew better than the land farther away. He never had been able to figure out why only scrub would grow beyond his wall.
“First,” said Grant, “tell me of the shadow.”
It is said, as I am sure you have heard, that the shadow of the tower will end the life of any man who allows it to fall upon him.
My father told me of a friend of his named Simon who did not believe what people said. Every time someone told him that the tower killed any who entered its shadow, Simon scoffed at the story. “How can a shadow kill a man?” he would say. “It is just a shadow, created by the sun. Do you not have a shadow when the sun is in the sky? Does it not grow longer as the day grows long? Has anyone died from being caught in your shadow? Of course not. Shadows are harmless.”
But Simon would not enter the shadow himself to prove his words.
Until one day, a man rode into town and sat at the bar with Simon. They talked and they drank and they drank and they talked and eventually they talked of the tower.
“You say the shadow does not kill,” said the man.
“It is but a shadow,” said Simon.
“But your friends here insist that entering the shadow means death.”
“They are wrong,” said Simon under the certainty of drink.
“Well, then, we should go prove them wrong,” said the man.
“It is a long walk, and the sun is not yet up,” said Simon.
“Ah, but if we take a jug of this brandy with us, we shall drink until the sun rises, and we shall show them.”
Simon’s eyes grew big at the idea of free brandy, for he was already thirsty for more, and it was about time someone prove him right.
So the two of them set off with the jug of brandy in hand, in the meandering way of drunkards, and they walked and drank the rest of the night until they arrived at the foot of the tower just before sunrise.
They sat down and waited, and while they waited, they fell asleep.
The sun crept up over the horizon.
The tower’s shadow grew to cover their bodies.
And when the shadow had moved on, there was nothing left of the two men but the empty jug of brandy.
“That is hardly a story,” said Grant. “They could have stood up and walked away.”
Bremin agreed, but it would not do to say so, he thought. He wondered how much truth there was to the tale he had just told. It did not say they died at all. They just disappeared.
“It is a story that my father told me. It is what you asked for,” he said.
“That it is,” said Grant.
They walked for a moment in silence, growing ever closer to the base of the tower. The granite of the tower gleamed in the sun. Whoever built it had polished it such that even after the ages it had stood in the center of its field, it still reflected the sun from its surface.
“Tell me,” said Grant. “Do you know of anyone that has entered the shadow?”
“No,” said Bremin.
“So when you told me you had never seen a man enter the tower’s shadow and live, you were not answering my question.”
“I answered the question you asked,” said Bremin.
More silence broken only by the crunch of feet on dry grass.
“I see you are a particular man,” said Grant.
Bremin did not know what to say to that.
“What other stories of the tower do you know?”
Bremin thought for a moment, and then decided to tell the story of how the animals were trapped atop the tower.
This is the end of the preview. If you’d like to read the rest, you can purchase A Tower Without Doors from any of the fine people below, including me!