Burn

“One day it’ll be so hot your shadow will burn into the ground.”

Gracie thinks about her older brother’s warning as she plays in the park. It’s another scorcher and the sun feels like it’s only inches away. If her shadow is going to be burned permanently into the dirt, she wants it to be a good one. A shadow that looks cool, maybe. Or like it’s having fun.

The park is empty on account of the heat, so she’s got plenty of areas to choose from. She selects a sunny spot past the merry-go-round, where there’s more dirt than grass. Her shadow is sharp and clear here. It’s easy to read.

She tries a couple of poses. Eventually settles on one that makes her look like a superhero. The pose is kind of boring, though, she decides, and she thinks about how to change it.

Something happens in the meantime.

It’s subtle, like if she were to look away and then back she wouldn’t notice it. But she doesn’t look away, so she sees her shadow’s fingers curl in toward its shadow palm. She sees the feet of her shadow spread wider apart, the triangle between its legs growing larger as though it’s bracing itself.

She sees that it can grow shadows on its own: a single one that’s thin and tubular. She thinks it might be the shadow of a snake, curling around her shadow’s hands with its tail trailing down.

But it turns out it’s not a snake. It’s a rope. It lengthens, and though the shadow is flat, Gracie can tell that it’s reaching toward her. She backs up but she doesn’t get far.

There’s a tug on her left wrist where a thin shadow now lies.

The sun begins to slide. Her shadow stretches across the ground. It’s taller than her now. Denser. Gracie watches the horizon and tries to remember when sunset is supposed to be.

Her shadow is a giant. The rope pulls on her wrist.

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