The creature’s limbs and claws were sharp and elongated; its face pointy and chiselled. “You hath entered the forest… th,” hissed the Shadow Imp. “Few visit me, these days.”
“We have heard your horse riding into town,” said Clifton.
“Yes, I send him there to pick up booze and smokes for me.”
One of the Inn’s guests collapsed from fatigue and the light emitted by the quartet diminished.
“You will danceth for me until your life force burns out,” said the Shadow Imp.
“Why are you putting ‘th’ at the end of words?” asked Clifton.
“That’s what it’s like in the poem! Haven’t you read it? ‘He doth rideth through the forest of yore.’”
The Shadow Imp outstretched an arm toward the tree top and shadows swirled over the canopy forming the first verse of the Shadow Imp poem.
“I’ve read it,” said Clifton.
"Amazing, isn't it?"
“It goes on a bit.”
“How dare you! That’s a literary classic thou are talking about.”
A second of the guest fell to the ground and the light dimmed again. Clifton noticed the Shadow Imp had faded significantly. “Why do they dance?”
“They dance for me. They flicker like the flame of a candle. They are my lifeforce.”
Clifton frowned. Capturing people to dance like fire seemed to be an inefficient way of creating light.
“Why don’t you use a torch?” asked Clifton. “Or a floodlight?”
“Yes, or a glow in the dark sticker?” added Pip.
“A torch? That is not howth the Shadow Imp operates,” insisted the Shadow Imp. “The poem says nothing of popping downth to the hardware store to buy a torch.”
It became clear to Clifton that the Shadow Imp was so enamoured of his portrayal in the poem, he'd do anything to live up to the story.
“All I’m saying is if you need light to cast shadows, there has to be an easier way,” said Clifton.
The third guest fell to the forest floor, fading the Imp’s shape to a point where he was barely visible.
“I needth more light!” he cried.
The Shadow Imp threw a shadow across Pip. She leapt into the air and danced like a Vaudeville dancer. The Shadow Imp recoiled.
“I’m tempted to stop that,” said the Shadow Imp.
The Shadow Imp wrapped Clifton in darkness and spun him around like a string unraveling from a top. Clifton couldn’t help himself but dance, his moves shining a blazing light through the forest.
“I don’t want to dance to death!” cried Clifton.
“I love this turn of the century jive!” cried Pip.
“Please, use a bon fire, a miner’s helmet, a jar of fireflies, a glow stick! Anything but this!” said Clifton.
An idea dawned on Clifton.
“Wait! I know where there is dancing to provide you with more light than a thousand suns!"
The Shadow Imp gasped and released Clifton and Pip from his spell.
“Hey,” said Pip, “I was just getting into the groove.”
The Shadow Imp tossed Clifton and Pip onto the back of his skeleton horse. “Direct me,” he said.
“Stand stage right and gesture to the bubbling pot centre stage, then exit,” said Pip.
“To the light,” said the Shadow Imp impatiently.
“Follow the mist,” said Clifton.
The skeleton horse galloped through a winding haze that snaked through the forest. They reached a clearing and the Shadow Imp dismounted, gazing out in wonder.
“What is-th this place?” said the Shadow Imp.
They were in the field where the rave had taken place. Thousands of neon glow sticks littered the field.
“So much illumination,” gasped the Shadow Imp.
“There’s an event here every Saturday. The next day, just sweep up the glow sticks and you’ve got your light source for the week,” said Clifton.
“But the poem says nothing of glow sticks. The Shadow Imp kidnaps travelers, he doesn’t collect tiny sticks!” said The Shadow Imp.
“Use one word to describe all those glow sticks,” said Clifton. “All the colours and patterns.”
The Shadow Imp’s eyes widened. “Psychedelic,” he said. “’The Beatles ruleth the radio … I’m digging Cream at the moment.’”
“And what about the final line of stanza twenty-three?” asked Clifton.
“’Hendrix is so, so cool.’”
“And what about the second line of stanza 37?” asked Pip.
“’The trees all hath roots and small dribbles of sap’?” questioned The Shadow Imp.
“Yeah…” said Pip.
“The poem is about psychedelia,” said Clifton.
“Far out-th,” said the Shadow Imp.
The final guest, who had bopped along side them on the journey to the field collapsed.
The Shadow Imp slowly faded and disappeared.
“Pip, did you even read the poem?” asked Clifton.
A powerful wind suddenly swept through the field, whipping-up all the glow sticks. A giant tornado funnel of neon formed and spun wildly. A few hundred glow sticks flew at the skeleton horse and covered it completely in a multi-coloured, glowing skin. A shadow hand reached over the tornado and pointed it to the forest. The Shadow Imp materialised, wearing a floral caftan. He leapt onto the glow stick horse and galloped into the tornado.
“Peace out!” cried the Shadow Imp.
The tornado crashed into the forest and slowly dissolved into the trees.
Back at the Inn, Clifton and Pip were greeted warmly by Spriggs and Virgil.
“Thank you! Thank you, both,” said Spriggs.
“Your guests need not fear again,” said Pip reading from a cue card.
“I don’t know if we will be having any more guests. We’re selling-up and moving on. Virgil is going into event management and I’ll be judging bake-offs from now on,” said Spriggs.
“We defeated the Shadow Imp for you and you're just going to sell the place?” said Clifton.
“On the one hand, our crappy Inn is no more. But you have saved the town from ever being the victim of satirical limericks again and for that, I’m eternally grateful.”
Pip leaned towards Virgil. “I guess this is goodbye,” she said.
“Oh Virgil,” she said, “you always know how to say the right thing.”
Clifton shook Spriggs’ hand and took one last look at the Inn.
“What’s next?” asked Pip. “Should we read your handwritten version of The Pickwick Papers?”
“I’m going home,” said Clifton.
Pip laughed as though she’d been struck by a boat propeller and patted Clifton on the back.
Pip and Spriggs watched Clifton walk down the road back toward the town. Above them a tree shook violently and Mrs. Somerset fell, landing directly on Spriggs.
“You know, I do remember you, Pip” said Mrs. Somerset, sitting on Spriggs’ back.
Spriggs groaned in pain. “You’re-a-prick,” he said.
THE END OF THE SHADOW IMP
Clifton and Pip’s folkloric adventures will continue in The Ghost Brigade.
If anyone has any thoughts on the story, please feel free to comment. Feedback is alway appreciated!