The Few Who Shine
Her body unzipped into folds like an old coat, further opening this terrible void.
He is a skeleton fashioned from filth and sorrow, a collection of forgotten memories and discarded fabrics. His hair is a weak red, like a dying stoplight. As Tom walks by, it feels more like the red-haired man is the one moving, floating by like a body in the White River, bobbing in a current of urban life.
The trick is not just to ignore them but to focus on something else entirely—something visceral, something that can easily overtake the mind’s eye. Sex, violence, a dream, or a nightmare. Anything to keep them from picking up on you noticing them. A lot of times, even if they spot you, they’ll still leave you alone. You’re meaningless to them, really.
His tendrils are red too. They extend in the concrete like the roots of a great tree. The city folks step over them, on them, around them, but they do not acknowledge them. The red-haired man just stands there, watching it happen.
Tom’s heart races. He doesn’t know if he was spotted, but he can’t afford to look again. He’s forced to continue walking, but he doesn’t get far. The crosswalk signal flashes its hand—a hand of fate, so it seems. He can’t cross the busy intersection, and by the time he considers turning right and going down the block, he’s already waited too long. He just has to sit there, waiting, pretending.
The hand must’ve flashed a thousand times.
Finally, the cars stop. The hand disappears but does not reappear. Instead, the silhouette of a walking man. Tom follows suit with the pedestrian traffic, striding away from where he last saw the red-haired man that is the Master. He cannot look back, so he does not know if the man is still there. But eventually, he arrives at work, and he does not see the red-haired man again for the rest of the day.
It could’ve been worse. He could have looked the man in the eye. That happened once with the white woman in Harlow, and he’ll never do it again. He had to move twice to feel even somewhat safe.
Back then, his mother still called once a week to check on him. She also sent him flurries of posts she found on Instagram—quotes about life, fate, and believing in oneself. She still believed in him. Maybe she still cares today?
He’d only know the answer if he called her. But he doesn’t call her that day. He rarely does.
The next time Tom sees the red-haired man, it’s from a distance—from the window of his office on the tenth floor. The man ambles along slowly, but with a purpose. His tendrils dig deep into the earth, still pulsing with angry red, like blood vessels. They spread wide along the ground, and they crawl up the concrete pillars supporting the monorail. Even though they are incredibly small from this far away, since they are the only color Tom sees out the window, it’s easy to spot them.
He goes back to his CAD drawings. There’s not much else he can do. It doesn’t do good to dwell on what can’t be changed. That’s something his mother taught him very early, and after all this time, it still sticks. He takes another sip of his coffee, which has gone tepid.
“Tommy, my man!” Kevin says as he walks down the aisle behind Tom. This irks something deep in Tom’s soul—honestly, everything about Kevin does. He’s irked by Kevin’s smile, by Kevin’s seemingly boundless confidence, by Kevin’s strange attempts to bond with him through rap music and sports. White people like this are the ones that make Tom miss his apartment in Louisiana and even miss his childhood home in East Texas. They smile at him, congratulate him, remind him of his otherness. In some ways, they are like the red-haired man—just without the tendrils and colors.
This longing for home rarely lasts. Soon Tom remembers his childhood, and a deep sense of shame washes over him. A darker cloak of otherness drapes across his shoulders, dwarfing the one awarded to him by his white colleagues. White people were monstrous, but at least they pretended to be kind. Tom never felt that kindness from his peers. They were the cruelest to him. They called him names, beat him, took his belongings while claiming to be ‘borrowing’ them.
This is why he couldn’t stay in Texas. He hated it and its endless fields of cattle. He hated how his Black neighbors looked at him, how they, too, “othered” him. He’d rather stay on the run forever than spend one more day there.
The red-haired man is out of sight, but Tom can still see the tendrils stretching across the cityscape. This reminds him of the first time he could see them and their owners. That was long ago, when he was still a child, soon after his eyes were robbed of color. The first veins he saw were blue and shining with silver. He never saw who they were attached to.
The wailing sirens make him uneasy, even now. They remind him too much of his old neighborhood, of the detectives who stood on his front lawn, berating his mother and questioning his siblings. They remind him of his friends who called him “soft” and of fights at the bus stop. They remind him of carrying a knife whenever he played outside, just in case.
He stopped carrying a knife in adulthood. He didn’t carry any weapons, for that matter. There was no point. After all, nothing could stop a Master from getting you, if it wanted you.
When he was a boy, his mother’s cousin—Miss Aonya—would tell him scary stories about the Métminwi, a monster with very long limbs that devours anyone found roaming the streets after dark. She also claimed to have seen the Métminwi on multiple occasions, wandering around at dusk as it scouted for new victims. All of his relatives agreed she was crazy, but notably, they did not denounce the monster’s existence.
The red-haired man reminded Tom of her stories. Métminwi roughly translates to “master of midnight,” so he calls them the Masters. Miss Aonya told him there was only one, but ten years ago he saw two sets of tendrils from his bedroom window—one yellow, the other white; the Master was never more than one color. Perhaps these were the only two, and these two could change their forms and colors, but he knew for sure there was not just one.
Long after the sirens fade, their sound rings in Tom’s head. Anxiety wraps around him like a blanket, warming his fear.
He’s in a nightclub, dancing to thunderous music when the Master walks in. Its threads shape around the doorway, creeping like ivy across the walls and ceiling. This time, the Master is a young woman, with strawberry hair—the same shade as the red-haired man.
Miss Aonya said the Métminwi could disguise itself during the day, and it could be anyone, which is why no matter where you were, it was best to be inside by dark. That was the true terror of this story—that the darkness was not safe, no matter where you moved. They could still find you.
Tom has to hide his horror. He keeps dancing with the pretty woman in front of him, who smiles widely and smells sweet, a subtle perfume. This woman did not drink—she simply came there to dance and had done so for hours with Tom until beads of sweat glistened on her smooth, dark skin. Tom focuses hard on his attraction to her, avoiding the gaze of the Master. The threads weave intricate webs upon the stage, upon the bar behind Tom and the woman, until the entire room glows a crimson din.
Miss Aonya said it only devours people who are alone. But in what sense did she mean “alone”?
To be eaten by a Métminwi would not mean death. Instead, your body would be digested over an eternity, while your soul served as one of its many strands. You would become one with this fate, forever. Miss Aonya said this is why it would roam in darkness, where death was frequent. It would consume the dying before their soul evaporated into the stars and before their consciousness disappeared.
The Métminwi was the only true ‘eternity’ for humanity. Hell to some, heaven to others.
The tendrils wrap around the dance floor, creeping from opposite sides until they clasp like the hands of long-lost lovers, reunited once again.
He focuses on the woman. He asks her name, and though he hears her reply, he does not listen.
Again, the Master shows up outside his office window. It is near the edge of downtown, and its threads form a tight blanket on the asphalt.
When he still lived in Louisiana, Tom would visit his family more often because it was far easier to. His least favorite part was gathering for supper, mostly because his mother never understood why he didn’t want to pray with them at the dinner table. “Families pray together, son,” she’d say. To her, it was as much about love as it was religion. Tom always wished he could tell her why, but he didn’t want her to know the truth about God—about what came after death. Faith guided his mother through horrible times; it saved her life when she was on the brink of suicide. The truth would break her spirit.
“Tomás, pendejo, you need to call Mamá more. She misses you.”
His sister never minced words, even when they were kids. Even though they didn’t share a father, she felt as much like family as Tom could imagine. That kind of closeness made him push away harder, as a reflex. He never let anyone cross that threshold—not without rebuttal or disconnection altogether.
The Master’s tendrils were expanding on the streets, farther than Tom had ever seen. The red glow could have been a map of the city grid. Anger welled up inside Tom, a cauldron boiling with indignant heat. Why didn’t it just kill him already?
He’s scared. Even with all that’s happened, he doesn’t want to die. Neither fate in the afterlife sounds pleasant.
He considers moving again. But, this job was very lucrative, and in twenty years or so, he’d be able to retire to a faraway place. Maybe the Masters don’t visit Europe as often. Does death hang above Croatia as it does here?
One night, he dreams of a woman who is standing in glistening water up to her waist. A golden line is drawn from the crown of her head down to her navel, and on her chest is a strange symbol glowing with soft pastel hues. Tom still sees color in his dreams.
The clouds above the woman are angry, but her auburn eyes are calm, and her peach lips are still. Her hands swim through the air—slowly, hypnotically, so much that, even in this dream, he begins to nod off. She does not speak, but still, she communicates. She is one of the Thirteen, and she knows the truth. To her, it is not strange; it just is, like the setting sun or the dying tulips. She simply accepts it.
When he awakes, he instinctively goes to his bedroom window. The Master is on the streets below, as the red-haired man. He’s reaching past the lilac shrubs, onto the balustrade of Tom’s balcony.
All he knows is not to look them in the eyes, their blinding white eyes. If they sense your knowledge, they will come for you. He also believes they will not devour you if you are in the light.
After Tom made eye contact with the white woman in Harlow, she followed him for a long time. She would come to his office; she would stand outside his window. One day, she finally cornered him in a dark alley, and her face opened to reveal a white light, out of which tendrils grew like sentient moss. Her body unzipped into folds like an old coat, further opening this terrible void. Hands that were darkened with rot appeared from the brightness; they grasped against her seams, clawing to freedom.
They came close, but they did not touch him. They halted and hovered as if stopped by a barrier. Tom then realized he’d unwittingly backed into the dim glow of a halogen streetlamp, and they did not cross this light.
But the woman did not move, the hands did not disappear, and no one came.
She just waited there. Her god-awful maw lay open like a doorway, beckoning him to come inside. Her tendrils grew thick around the bright circle on the asphalt until the ground in the alleyway looked like a carpet of writhing white worms. Tom could only sit there, staring at her as she stared back at him. They stayed this way for a long time until at some point, the woman began to change. The rotten hands retreated, and her body closed. The worms retracted but still remained at her feet. Her lifeless white eyes stared into Tom’s, burning a hole in his memory. After what seemed like its own eternity, Tom made a break for it, bolting down the alleyway as fast as he could.
In hindsight, it was stupid of him to run. The alleyway was still dark, and she could have easily snatched him. But for some reason, she didn’t. She just let him go. Honestly, the fact that she let him escape was probably the most terrifying thing to him. Maybe the light didn’t stop her at all. Maybe she was just toying with him, making him feel like he could stave off the inevitable, giving him false hope.
That following morning was when he first saw the poster with his mother on it. By then, she had been missing for six months.
There is yellow on the horizon. More are coming. It’s hard to say why. Despite seeing the Masters for decades, Tom still doesn’t understand how they communicate, why they gather. He can only guess it’s around death.
Once, a local rapper in Baton Rouge tried to hand Tom a mixtape as he walked to work. After he refused, the rapper grew angry, bombarding him with insults. “Fuck you, Uncle Tom.” The irony was not lost on Tom, especially after his sister became pregnant. Tom was an uncle, but to whom, he could not say. He didn’t even know the child’s name.
His sister hadn’t spoken to him for some time before their mother went missing, and even after that the silence never did break. He never asked why, but Tom guessed that his sister held him responsible. “I’m the only one who fucking visits her anymore, manito,” she declared one night long ago, as rain pummeled the windows. “Jesus Christ, why you gotta be so thick?! Do you even care about her?”
Tom just couldn’t be around his mother. The more she said she loved him “no matter what,” the more he was repulsed. At first, he thought she’d stopped calling because she grew tired of his reclusiveness, but once he knew she’d disappeared, it made more sense. In a strange sort of way, it comforted him to know that was the cause. Maybe she still believes in him, like she did before. There’s no reason to now, but maybe she does.
It couldn’t have been a mirage. Tom doesn’t see color, lest it should herald their advent, the few who shine.
Weeks go by, and he doesn’t see the Master. But that doesn’t matter. The Master is everywhere; it is in everyone and everything. It’s in that woman’s sweat, in Kevin’s stupid grin, in the photograph of his mother. It controls humanity from a shadowy veil, a veil that only a handful of souls are cursed to see through. “Be home before the streetlights come on, like your momma says,” Miss Aonya warned. “And don’t you go wanderin’ off at night, or the Métminwi will get you.”
A coworker asks him if he would like to go out for drinks, to celebrate Tom becoming a senior partner.
The coffee is lukewarm again. He stares into the cup. Inside, a man with hollow eyes looks upon him.
Red veins creep underneath a gap in the office door, growing capillaries as they climb.
He knows the Master will never stop roaming the streets, and there is no unseeing the truth. This is his life until they claim him or something else does. Tom considers never leaving the house at night again. It’s not safe beyond those walls, and there are always lights on inside.
He wonders what his sister would think of this situation. Knowing her, she’d probably try to take on the Master herself. Maybe she could fight it, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t willing to risk it.
Tom was in middle school when he lost his colors, but he didn’t realize when exactly it happened until decades later. He discovered this on a drunken night alone while ruminating on his life. He recalled a classroom and a man in a blue suit who opened the door—a man who called for Tom to come with him. Tom would later go with this man, who would be the one to tell him he had scored exceptionally high on an early aptitude test, which qualified Tom for a special academy; there, the courses he took would give him college credit.
When Tom placed himself back in that classroom, and the man called on him, he saw the colors fading, like stains being washed away with bleach. The brown skin of his classmates became sepia, then simply a dark shade of gray. Their clothes lost their sheen, and the multicolored letters decorating the chalkboard soon became various shades and tones, all without hue. Soon, the only color he saw was the blue from this man’s suit. It radiated onto the floor, pooling like cartoonish water at his feet. This blue followed them in the hallways and stretched itself upon every surface.
The memories weren’t all bad. He remembered Christmases as a young boy and his mother’s windup ballerina dancing to the “Sugar Plum Fairy.” He felt the warm hug of his loving sister and their loud laughter over the crackling of a fireplace. He smelled monkey bread, and he saw them all playing board games on the carpet and their matching pajamas. For Tom, these memories were worse than any fictional hell dreamed up by Christianity. He sobbed very deeply that night; he cried so hard his body shook. The tears were bittersweet, like the perfumed smell of the woman from the nightclub.
When they found her, she was not the same.
It’s hard for him to describe what was taken from her.
If Tom were his sister, he wouldn’t forgive himself either. That’s why he didn’t get upset when he tried to call and she didn’t answer. Before he deleted Instagram, he sometimes looked at her page. Apparently, he’s an uncle to a boy, though he never did get the boy’s name. After all, he never visited them.
It’s too late for that now.
It is in the alley where he parks his car, curling over the hood. The Master does not move; it only waits. Yet somehow, you are not the one who draws nearer. Only it does.
Sunrise has not yet come. The clouds are a morose tone, and their rain is pithy. Tom moves toward the storm cellar, unlocking the doors before stepping inside. He doesn’t flip on the light but instead walks down by memory, by feeling. He spots fading remnants of green, climbing against the cellar walls, slithering into the abyss below.
When Tom gets to the bottom, he glances back to the surface. Up above, the Master stands, a red-haired woman, a Métminwi wet with stormwater, like she crawled out of the sewer. She’s looking down the flight of stairs, looking directly at Tom. Her eyes shine with a bright white that Tom has only seen once before.
This time, Tom does not look away.
About the author
I'm a creative based in the Pacific Northwest. I love writing, making music, drawing, cooking, and basically anything creative! I also love collaborating, so please feel free to reach out to me.