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a veiled shadow zine by tara dunaier

DAWNING of death


Text and Design Copyright Š 2018 by Tara DuNaier All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Printed in the United States of America First Printing January 2018 Old Library Press, 2018 Old Library Press Plattekill Avenue New Paltz, NY 12561


Dawning of Death a veiled shadow zine

by Tara DuNaier


d a w n i n g o f d e at h

T

he first time they meet, it’s the summer of 2005. The heat is thick so she heads to the river with her family, where the wind keeps the current fast and the breeze sweeping. They tell her not to get too close to the edge, but if she gets just close enough, she can see her reflection mingle with the sunlight. She moves to step closer but her foot slips, and the current is rushing her off before she can even scream. She knocks her head on a boulder and ends up at the bottom of the lake the river flows into. They find her three days later, splayed in the grass offshore, and for all intents and purposes she should be dead. But when they find her, she breathes. When they ask her if she remembers what happened, she raves about the Dark Man for a week straight.

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She wakes to a shadow leaning over her, in the darkest room she could ever imagine. It reaches out to her and she screams, darting backwards. The shadow moves away and coalesces into the rough shape of a man, kneeling down to her level. “It’s okay, you’re alright,” a voice sounds from the figure. “I’m not going to hurt you, Lulu.” Two dark hands raise and she can feel it watching her. She looks around the room, short braids slipping around her shoulders, but there’s nothing around them except more foggy shadows. She takes a deep breath and sits up, her heart hammering in her chest. “Who—who are you?” she asks. The shadow’s hands fall to rest on its knee. “I’m a friend,” it says, and its voice is softer than before. “You can trust me.” She swallows loudly and her eyebrows draw together in fear. “Where’s your face?” she asks, her voice trembling. “Oh—right,” it mutters, so quietly she almost misses it. The shadows shift and gather around its head for a moment, and then suddenly they solidify into cloth and then flesh, and a man’s face peeks out from a black cloak. He pulls down his hood and he’s bald, but he has a gentle smile and kind eyes. “How’s that?” he asks, and the lines by his eyes crinkle together. Lulu nods, her heart quieting. Her mother had warned her about strangers, but he knows her name and he feels familiar. “Where are we?” The man looks around at the dark corners, and then settles in to sit across from her. “What’s the last thing you remember?” he probes, folding his hands and leaning forward. She mimics him, her fingers fidgeting in her lap. “I was…we were at the river,” she recalls. “And…I fell in,” she looks up at him, her eyebrows pulling together. “Did I fall


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in? Ow—” a sharp pain starts at the side of her head, and she reaches up to cradle it. The man nods. “You fell in, and you got hurt. You’ll be alright, though—I helped you.” He reaches out to her slowly, and when she leans forward he strokes his thumb across the side of her head. The pain vanishes. “You’re alright now,” the man continues. “So you have to go back. Do you understand?” “I’m okay?” she asks, tentatively poking at her head. Nothing hurts. He smiles, and she decides she likes him. “You’re going to be just fine.”


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hey don’t meet again for about ten years, after her family and all her doctors have convinced her that he was nothing more than a figment of her imagination—a hallucination produced by her mind to comprehend the trauma of drowning. She hasn’t dreamed of him in years, and has all but forgotten she saw anything at all but the bottom of the lake. She meets him again in the dead of winter, forgotten in snow at the back of a frat house off campus. The world spins as the flakes come down, freezing where they touch and burying her beneath. She falls out of consciousness before she can think to get up, and it is just as the sun begins rising that she wakes in the shadows again.


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“You’re not supposed to be here,” the deep voice sounds, and she whirls to find it. A black figure towers over her, his edges almost indistinguishable from the darkness surrounding them. She steps back in surprise, but there’s a tickle at the back of her mind. She turns back to the rest of the room, shrouded in shadowy fog, and the tickle grows to a pull. “You’re not supposed to come back, you’re supposed to still have time—“ he continues, but she’s not listening. She knows this place, she knows his voice. “…I’ve been here before,” she murmurs, looking back at him and raising a finger. “I know you,” she says. He huffs, crossing his arms. “Yes.” She nods, chasing the familiar feeling drifting through her. “Where are we? Who are you? And where’s your face?” He drops his arms and sighs loudly, and reaching up to pull his hood down. “Are we really going to have this conversation again? What is it with you and my face?” his eyebrows scrunch in annoyance, but she’s too busy staring to reply. She recognizes his eyes and the set of his mouth in an instant, and the realization of where she knows him and this room from sends her reeling back a step. A river flashes through her eyes, followed by a hard crack and the Dark Man she saw as a child. She has no doubt he is that man, but he looks different now. He looks younger—the slight wrinkles are gone and his nose seems smaller. He’s still bald, but he looks almost her age. He acts different too—his wise firmness is gone, and he seems much more expressive. “Weren’t you older before?” she asks. “What happened to you?” His expression grows dark as he looks down at her. “I think it’s more important what happened to you,” he says quietly. “What’s the last thing you remember?” She crosses her arms, trying to recount her steps. “I


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was…I was heading to a party. I went with my friends…We got there, and then…that’s it.” “That’s it?” he asks, his expression softening. She squeezes her eyes shut and tries to remember, but she can’t. “That’s it.” He sighs heavily, his eyes focusing in the shadows over her shoulder. “You were drinking,” he tells her, and his voice is deep and quiet. “Okay…” she nods, waiting. “You drank a lot,” he adds, his voice growing stern. “And—“ he shifts, his mouth pulling into a frown. “Someone drugged you.” She pulls back, watching him carefully. “What?” He grits his teeth and spits it out again. “Someone drugged you.” Her gaze falls to the ground, searching the darkness. “Well—what happened to me? How did I end up here? Where even is here—“ her eyes shoot up to his, “—you never answered my questions.” “Lulu,” he starts, reaching a hand out. “That’s not—I don’t go by that anymore,” she snaps, forcing away the drop in her stomach. “It’s Lucy.” He turns his hand to show his surrender, and then drops it. “I’m sorry—Lucy. I helped you, and you’re okay now. You can go back.” She shakes her head, looking around. “I still don’t understand.” “You don’t have to,” he says, stepping closer. “But you have to go now. It’s time.” He reached his hand out again and took hers. “But I don’t—“ she blinked, and suddenly she was staring up at the morning sky, surrounded by snow.


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he finds him again a year later, in the middle of the night on the side of a highway.

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She wakes up slowly this time, taking in the blanket of darkness surrounding her with a calm sort of acceptance. She’s laying down and looking up at the smoky ceiling, and the way the shadows shift it almost looks like there are stars. She pushes herself up gently and finds him sitting across from her, hood down and his face exactly as she remembers. “So this is real,” she says, her eyebrows drawing together. “I thought maybe, after last time…” “It was a drug-induced dream?” he offers. “Childhood trauma dredged back up?” She nods, clasping her hands together. “Something like that, yeah.” He answers with silence, one shoulder lifting in a light shrug. She frowns. “Where are we?” His mouth twists and he leans back onto his hands, but he remains quiet. “Who are you?” she presses, but he still gives no answer, his eyes moving away from her. She leans forward and glares at him. “Do you have a name, at least? I hardly doubt it’s the Dark Man. This isn’t a horror movie.” He meets her eyes with an unamused glare. “I have many names.” Lucy scowls. “Well, what do you want me to call you? You know my name, so it’s only fair.” His gaze softens, and he shifts to lean forward, setting his elbows on his crossed knees. He watches her for a long time with fidgeting fingers, before he nods slightly. “I’d like you to call me Orion.” “Like the constellation?” Her eyes narrow. “Is that your real name?” Orion shakes his head, his mouth pulling into a small frown. “No…no it’s not. But I wish it was.” She nods slowly, watching his gaze flicker back to the


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floor. “Okay. Orion it is.” His eyes skip back up to hers and he smiles, and the slight turn in his lips turns something inside her. She smiles back, and the air between them seems to get brighter. He breaks their look first, turning away to face the shadows. “…You should go.” “Why won’t you tell me where we are?” she demands. His expression sours, and he pauses for a long moment. “I don’t want to,” he finally admits, standing up and extending a hand. “What—that’s not a good reason!” she exclaims, standing on her own to face him. He shrugs, continuing to hold his hand out. “You’ll figure it out.” She folds her arms across her chest, glowering at him. “Or you could just tell me.” “It’s time to go,” he says, setting his hand on her shoulder. She opens her mouth to argue again, but when she blinks she’s back in the car, upside down and staring through cracked glass at a tree trunk.


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he knows better than to talk about Orion to anyone now, but when people tell her she should’ve died in that accident, she knows they’re right. She plays along in the daylight, but every night she goes crazy piecing the puzzle together. She’s almost figured it out when the call comes. For weeks after her father’s death, there is a permanent vignette around everything she sees. The shadows follow her feet, and she can feel them gather inside of her when the sun goes down. Everyone tells her it will get better, but at the end of the third month, she’s certain there will be no change. The darkness is inside of her, and that’s when she decides if she can’t escape it, she should embrace it.


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She wakes up in the room again, exactly as she expected she would. Orion is standing over her, his arms crossed and his face drawn in fury. Lucy stands and looks around the room, nodding. It’s exactly as she remembers, and it all makes sense now. “So,” she turns to Orion, “do you come here often?” He grits his teeth and steps towards her. “Do you think this is a joke?” he growls. She scowls back at him, setting her hands on her hips. “We both know you’ll send me right back to my life—you’re just mad I finally figured it out and you can’t play dark and mysterious anymore.” His expression drops and his jaw works for a moment, before he wrenches away from her and stomps around the shadows. “You think this is some kind of game I’m playing with you?” he demands, swiveling back on her. “You think this is fun? You honestly think you understand?” “I know you’re Death,” she reproaches, her eyebrow raising in a challenge. “Well, this is Death. I guess you’re like the Grim Reaper or something, right? Maybe a fallen angel?” she bites. His entire being darkens, and he strides forward and bears down on her. “You’re dead, Lucy. Dead.” She puffs up her chest, meeting his eye. “And you’re going to put me right back, so what does it matter?” He shakes his head slowly, stepping closer. “You killed yourself this time. Why did you do that?” She crosses her arms, her mouth tightening. “How do you decide who to send back anyways? Do you have some sort of criteria—do you have a checklist? Or do you just pick based on how you feel that day?” “You don’t understand any of this,” he growls. “You took my dad,” she snaps. Orion’s mouth softens, but he doesn’t move. “It was his time to go.”


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“Bullshit,” she calls, staring him down. “I’ve died four times, but it was his time to go?!” “It’s not your time yet,” Orion insists. “What if I want it to be?” she spits. He sighs heavily and steps back, giving her some space. “It’s not. I’m sorry.” He looks away to the shadows, and shakes his head. “I don’t get to decide when it’s time—I just make sure life happens the way it’s supposed to. That’s—” he frowns and turns back to her, shrugging. “That’s why I keep saving you,” he says gently, reaching out and touching her shoulder. “It’s not your time yet. You still have more to do.” “Like what?” she asks, looking up at him wearily. He shakes his head, looking down and dropping his hand. “I can’t tell you. I’m sorry. But you’ll know, when it comes.” She sighs, watching him. “Don’t you have any noncryptic answers for me?” she asks, the corner of her mouth twitching upward. He catches her eye and a grin cracks across his face. “No, I don’t. Unfortunately, cryptic comes with the whole grim reaper thing.” She nods, pursing her lips. “Right, right. Of course. And I guess now you’re going to say I have to go?” His smile dims a little, and he returns the nod. “Yeah. You have to go.” He moves to hold his hand out, and then stops. “Oh—and Lucy? Get some help. Saving you isn’t easy, and there’s still some stuff worth living for out there.” She nods, and slips her hand into his.


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he seasons pass slowly after that. Spring grows into Summer and over time the sky fades into Fall. Winter comes and covers everything, and the cycle begins again. She starts seeing someone and eventually she catches up to the rest of the world, which continued turning even as she fell behind. Breathing becomes easier and time moves faster. She holds her father alive in the back of her mind, and Orion’s words follow her everywhere she goes. For a few years, she searches for it. The thing she’s meant to do haunts every move and decision she makes. She wakes every day and wonders if it’ll be her last—if that will be the day she finds her purpose. She searches for it for a few years, but eventually even that search fades. Ten years after her fourth save, she finds it. She’s forgotten the dark room and Orion’s determination, and now the sting of her father’s death is just a breath of wind. She moved into an apartment in the city and found a job downtown. The day she finds it is the first Sunday after Easter—the sun is light and a crisp breeze blows the leaves left still and muddied from winter. She’s walking to the park and watching the kids playing ball across the street when it happens.

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One of the boys misses the ball by inches, and it rebounds off of the sidewalk and onto the pavement. The boy’s younger brother jumps up and races after it, slipping between parked cars to run right into the middle of the road. He doesn’t see the car speeding towards him as he bends to grab it, but Lucy does. She sees the car coming and she knows exactly what will happen—she knows exactly how quickly his life will be ripped away from him. She knows the cold shadows that will steal his warm, toothy smile, and the way he will look with his limbs limp on the asphalt. She can already feel the loss of his bright, young life from the world, and that is when she understands. There isn’t time to scream out to him or call for help—there is only time to act. She lunges forward and sprints into the street, catching the boy by the shoulders and shoving him away. She feels the headlight slam into her back and her head cracks on the


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She wakes up on the floor of the dark room with the Dark Man and everything is still made of shadows, but it’s all a little clearer now. She sits up slowly and for a long moment she just takes it in, nodding as the memories of the room flood back to her. Orion kneels down and when she finally meets his eye, he looks a little older than she remembers. “Did I save him?” she asks, straightening up. An easy smile spreads across his face, and it’s the warmest expression she’s seen on him yet. “Yeah,” he answers. “You saved him.” “Good,” she says, folding her legs and setting her elbows on them. “So,” she pauses, her eyebrows drawing together. “All those times you saved me...they were so I could save him.” Orion nods. “You got it right this time.” “I know,” she starts, slipping her hands together. “It feels right, this time. He still has his whole life but—I already got to do what I wanted. I don’t need more time.” His smile softens as he watches her. “Do you understand why I couldn’t let you die before?” “Yeah,” she nods. “I get it now. And—I’m glad.” She closes her eyes, and the boy’s face swims inside her eyelids. “I’m glad I got to save him.” She opens her eyes and finds his smile again, gentle and creasing at the corners. “You look older now,” she remarks. He shrugs lightly. “You’re older now.” Her eyebrows come together and she studies him. “But the first time we met—I was a child. And you were—” “I was what you needed,” he finishes, leaning forward. “You don’t need an old man anymore.” She grins, watching him for a long moment. Eventually, she leans forward to meet him. “So this is it?” “This is it,” he confirms. “Are you ready?” he asks, extending his hand to her.


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She looks at it for a long time, and then nods. “Yeah,” she answers, threading her fingers through his. “I’m ready.”


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