The Beam of Light
She lurked in the shadows.
She was a vapor, spreading darkness throughout the hallway.
Nobody could hear her. Nobody could see her. Nobody could sense she was there. In fact, she was more air than solid mass, more of a ghost than a pet. She clung to the feet of all who walked by, spreading despair with every touch. She curled around their ankles, swirling and following their every step. She was content here.
A temporary glimmer of desperation and failure overtook the normally optimistic and amused expressions of those in the hallway. She was sharing pessimism and unhappiness with this world. She was ruining their day. She was making the hall silent, one victim at a time, until everyone knew what it was like to feel alone, simultaneously.
It made her day.
If she had an ounce of happiness, or the capability to feel amused, she would have laughed in pleasure. Her chortles would have echoed throughout the hallway, past the lockers and forgotten homework. Everyone would have stopped dead in their tracks, terrified of the voice that seemed to steal their happiness. But the shadow had no joy. She could not laugh. Laughter was what she had been missing for as long as she could remember. And since as her days of happiness had been ruined by anger and defeat, she did not truly miss giggling. So now she drew the happiness from these young pets, at this large Neopian school, and stole the one thing that they needed.
She stole their hope.
Yet as soon as the darkness had enveloped them all, it faded.
The shadow dissolved into the sunlight streaming in from the sky. The sunlight prevailed above the outdoor lockers, the unprotected hallway. The darkness disappeared into nothingness, as if the source of the despair had gotten sick of fighting against the sun. It was as if the darkness had given up.
How incorrect this assumption was.
The pets blinked once or twice, and then resumed their conversations with each other. They could not explain why their minds had wandered so much within the past thirty seconds. They could not understand why they had felt such despair and pain. Yet they were all too chicken to mention it, too concerned by their image. No, nobody needed to know about the thoughts the darkness had brought. They had a job to do, and it was to remain happy.
The darkness glowed in contentment as she listened to their upset thoughts. Even the most optimistic were affected. Even the loudest were quieted.
The hallways were almost silent now. And, with that, the shadow slunk through a crack in a nearby door.
“Today, class, we will be handing back your tests from last week.”
In general, the class moaned. But two students towards the back were indifferent; they weren’t worried and remained unaffected by this change in plan.
Papers rustled as voices rose. The students were wiggling in their seats, trying to get a better view of their friends. Their whispers rose into loud spouts of laughter; the class had apparently forgotten about the darkness in the hallway. They apparently did not notice the change in mood, or did not find it a concern.
This angered the Shadow Usul.
But she was here. There were forty pets to torture into desperation, to suck all the happiness from. There were forty specimen right in front of her, perfect examples that could later be her minions.
Suddenly her focus changed.
The teacher had handed out the last paper to the youngest in the class. She was new. She was shy. The Shadow Usul could tell all of this by reading her thoughts, although she could have seen it on her face. The Kougra is not happy. The Kougra wants a friend. The blue Kougra still has an ounce of happiness inside of her.
Quietly hovering towards her, the Shadow Usul planned her movements perfectly. Nobody could detect her. Nobody would have any idea she had been here. Yet the Kougra would notice. And she would be powerless.
With thoughts only of malevolence, the shadow swirled around the unsuspecting pet. She had just reached to read her test score as the darkness approached.
Only a B?
The girl jumped slightly, concerned by this new voice. The voice was not coming from her head, but she could tell that it was not coming from anyone around her. It was too cold, too lifeless. It sent chills down her spine with its every whisper.
Yet another failure. Why do you try, try again?
At first, the girl tried to resist. She knew that half of her class hadn’t done as well, and that she should be proud of what she accomplished.
But within seconds, she was no longer able to resist.
Yes, I know you hear my every whisper. You hear my words, and you believe them. Sure, it isn’t that bad of a grade, but grades are all you’ve got to prove you’re worth something. Grades are the only thing that won’t let you down. Or at least you thought.
The girl’s eyes shimmered of agreement, as much as she’d like to pretend she didn’t believe these sentences. The shadow was feeding her insults on a spoon, and she was forced to open her mouth, insult after insult...
You’re ugly, friendless, and new. So why do you still come to school each day with hope, when you can’t even do anything of worth?
But her words came out merely a squeak, a tiny plea against the ‘truth’ the shadow spoke.
And what was worse: more than the shadow heard.
“Have something to say to the class, Kathleen?”
She shook her head slowly and sadly, and her eyes no longer sparkled of anything but failure.
“Nah, the new kid doesn’t want to say anything. The only person that will listen is herself.” A loud Buzz towards the back made sure his words echoed throughout the class.
As laughter filled the room, the Shadow Usul grew in confidence. This was the only type of laughter it could stand: the laughter that caused pain in someone else’s heart. This was the laughter that came from the idiots who were secretly unsure of themselves.
Only one did not laugh. Pity and anger contorted this pet’s yellow face.
Deciding it was time to leave, and let Kathleen ruin her own reputation, the shadow began to slither out of the room...
I did not laugh.
That poor newbie looked as if she was going to cry by the time the day was over. I do not know what was making her feel so horrible in the first place, but I have a theory. After all, how many people go from shy and mildly optimistic to silent and wishing to disappear in one day?
Do not ask me to explain how I know this. I cannot tell you. All I know is that, as I watch her eyes, I see shimmers of emotions. I used to be just like her once. I used to be just as quiet. I used to be new. So I know those emotions by heart now. I know what they look like, and how they feel.
Yet I’m not stopped by that anymore, am I?
No. Although they are few, I have friends. And they are the best friends in the world. The best friends a Kacheek could ask for.
I didn’t laugh. But all those idiots did. All of those stupid jerks that laughed at my mistakes when I was equally as quiet. I need to do something.
I need to save her from being like me.
This is mildly frustrating.
The Shadow Usul had vanished into the ceiling through an air vent, and was now curled up in the center of the school’s attic. Her thoughts were filled with anger, confusion, and revenge.
This girl was simply invincible.
She had once had Kaylee in her grips. She had the yellow Kacheek hypnotized by her every word.
Or at least the Shadow Usul thought.
Somehow she wasn’t nearly as hypnotized as she seemed. She wasn’t even hypnotized at all. She broke free from the spell. From the curse the Usul set on her. Kaylee had played the part of upset, angry, and depressed, but somehow it had never stuck. And for the first time ever, after centuries of tormenting, the Usul hadn’t noticed any warning signs. Kaylee was her minion one day, and the next she didn’t respond. After that, she had a smile on her face. And now the Usul feared Kaylee. She knew Kaylee had something that could combat her hypnotizing powers.
To make things worse, Kaylee was in Kathleen’s class.
The Usul had not noticed this until the laughter had begun. She noticed it only when she realized Kaylee was not laughing. She could sense the defiance and resistance in the room. Kaylee would know what was happening to Kathleen. Kaylee could stop the Usul. The Usul either needed to destroy Kathleen faster, or get Kaylee into her clutches.
But there is something about this girl I cannot combat.
The Usul did not know what it is. She did not know how she could capture the Kacheek and bring her back to darkness. To be quite honest, Kaylee was her greatest fear.
So, with determination piercing the darkness, the Usul opened its purple eyes.
She had a plan, and there was nothing Kaylee could do to stop it.
It had been days since Kathleen had heard the shadowy voice. Yet she had ruined her confidence by herself. She no longer needed the mimicking, lifeless voice to tell her she was worthless. She believed it.
It was yet another Monday, yet another chance to fail. Kathleen looked into the mirror, expecting to see the face she always saw. She had run out of time in the morning to fix her hair at home, so now she was griping a hairbrush in the school locker room.
She saw an entirely hideous creature glaring back at her. It did not even resemble a Kougra, did not even resemble the most hideous of pets...
Kathleen was unsure whether she should scream or cry. This couldn’t be her, could it? She raised her Kougra paw to her forehead, and watched as it brushed against a filthy face. She was exactly what everyone else told her. She was appalled of herself, and could not bear to look anymore.
Hello, again. The shadowy voice had returned, although it no longer sent chills up Kathleen’s spine.
You were pretty. Once. Long ago, at your old school. The voice was cool and calm, and almost reassuring as it pretended to compliment and mock Kathleen, all at once. Only pretty people get friends. Ever wonder why you don’t have any?
Kathleen eye’s shimmered of submission and failure. Nobody else was in the locker room this early; nobody else was there to break the spell of the hypnotizing voice...
Only I can make you beautiful...
Kathleen’s eyes flashed a different shade of green than they had ever shone. Her attention was fully caught by the silky voice speaking lies into her ears, the tricky syllables playing with her confidence.
All you have to do is accept my tiny little offer...
Before Kathleen’s better judgment could take over, before she could resist, her thoughts had already come up with a reply.
The shadow emerged from the mirror, and drew closer and closer to the powerless blue Kougra...
I could sense that the Shadow Usul was somewhere nearby. After being attacked by her less than six months ago, the feeling was hard to forget. She was ruthless. She was to be feared. She was the one controlling Kathleen.
I was sure of it.
I was also sure of the one thing she was terrified of, the one thing that could scare her away.
I had not planned on walking past the locker rooms. After all, it was totally out of my way. My next class was on a different part of the school. But something told me to go there. Something wouldn’t let me walk away. Besides, I still had a half hour.
But she was in there. I could tell.
Misery seeped from the locker room, stronger than the odor of gym clothes. Being fairly certain that the Usul wasn’t taking a potty break, I decided there was only one thing to do. Go in, of course.
The Shadow Usul grew closer and closer. She was hovering through the mirror, leaving the fake image of Kathleen behind. Kathleen was too far outside of her mind to realize this though. The Shadow Usul had taken over her thoughts. She knew Kathleen’s every dream, every hope, and every secret. There was no hope now...
It would only take one more second for the Usul to completely take over Kathleen’s mind. To make Kathleen one of her own minions. Kathleen would be the Usul’s own, the test subject to lead others into submission. She could use Kathleen to rule the school, and eventually the world.
One more second until Kathleen was powerless.
And that was all Kaylee needed.
With a leap, Kaylee launched herself at Kathleen.
Kaylee had been quieter than the Shadow Usul as she had walked into the locker room. She was the only one in this room who could match the Shadow Usul’s speed, stealth, and intelligence. She was also the only one who could stop her. As the Shadow Usul’s essence seeped in farther and farther into Kathleen’s mind, a shadow covered her face.
Since the Usul had left the mirror and was now in open air, Kaylee realized she could see the shadow. If only for a second, the dark mist hovered between Kathleen and the mirror...
The second, that could have lasted for a day, was over.
Jolting the Usul out of her pride and accomplishment, who began to holler.
It was not an angry scream, a yell of rage, or a booming echo of defiance.
It was pain. It was defeat. The Shadow Usul screamed in agony and released its grip on Kathleen. Kathleen took a few steps back and blinked in confusion as Kaylee finished the job she set out to do.
Griping the shadow as tightly as she could, Kaylee refused to let go. It did not burn her hands, did not send any negative feelings through her body. It felt right. Something about Kaylee was able to counter the shadow, to be the beam of light extinguishing the shadow.
Three more seconds had passed, and now the shadow had wiggled free.
It slunk into the mirror slowly, clearly defeated. It was less dark, less overwhelming. The shadow was translucent now, and seemed to be more of a mist then a menacing blanket of darkness.
The only part that was still threatening was the glowing purple eyes that turned back to glare at Kaylee. The shadowy eyes showed unspeakable rage and immeasurable determination. The fight was not quite over yet.
Without a word, the Usul disappeared into the mirror. She was off to recover before tormenting someone else.
Kaylee turned around to see that Kathleen had fallen onto the locker room floor.
As soon as she made this discovery, Kathleen could feel Kaylee’s eyes searching her face. Kathleen brought her eyes up slowly. She met Kaylee’s gaze. Kathleen’s eyes shone of embarrassment and pain, failure and mistakes.
Kaylee’s eyes reflected her feelings, yet had an extra shimmer of sympathy.
She reached out a paw that seemed to explain to Kathleen how she wasn’t the only one to fall for the Shadow Usul’s traps. Without speaking a word, Kaylee told Kathleen that she had once been a victim, yet she had been trapped for much longer.
The people at school would forget Kathleen’s mistakes. They were few, and did not last for long. However, they would never be able to forget all Kaylee had done wrong. They would never forget the shadow that lurked about Kaylee, even if she had defeated the shadow twice now...
Kathleen reached for the outstretched paw, and Kaylee pulled her off the floor.
The Usul was in the air vents again. It was a month later. And the scars were still there.
Where the filthy Kacheek had merely touched her, where Kaylee had refused to let her go, there was no more shadow. It was as if Kaylee was a permanent light, bringing sunshine to this absence of light known as a shadow. The scars no longer hurt. But the pain was fresh in her mind. She could not forget it. It was stronger than the most shadowy voice, more painful than the worst feeling of failure.
With every glimpse of the now faded darkness, with every patch of sunlight streaming through her once stealthy body, the Usul now understood what Kaylee had that could beat shadows.
It was light.
Maybe it was hope. Maybe it was the knowledge she could make a difference. Maybe she was related to a light faerie. Whatever it was, it was light. It stung. It destroyed the shadow.
The laughter of Kaylee and Kathleen twinkled gently through the hallway. It was enough to make the Usul feel sick, and if she didn’t know any better, she would have thought she was catching the Neoflu.
But she sure did know better. The lack of darkness that striped all over her body was proof of that.
Whatever it was, it was light. Whatever it was, it was dangerous. Whatever it was, the shadow would never mess with it again.
Whatever it was could destroy all of the shadow with just one more encounter.
Kathleen was smiling. The shadow could feel it. Kathleen was happy, now with friends. Now with good grades. Now with hope.
As she walked away, merely feet below the shadow, the Usul merely curled into a ball.
The darkness was not done yet. The fight was not over yet. But someone, someone knew her weakness...