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Someone Call Shadow Control!

Culver hauled the sack of chittering shadows to the back of his truck. "Now, now," he said. "None of that. Y'all should know better than to nest in a Light lady's bird feeder."
One of the shadows said something about the possibility of a dog in Culver's mother's ancestry.
"Now, don't go about assuming," Culver said. "My mother's grandfather was a dove, actually. Great head of feathers, that one. It's where I get my soft skin."
Another of the shadows muttered something else indecent, which Culver decided to just ignore because a Light strode by on the upper sidewalk, and he didn't want the man to think the Shadow Control guy was crazy, talking to himself. The Light's eyes slid over Culver like oil off water and kept on down the street. They didn't associate with those who didn't glow, those too lazy to have been born without light in their eyes. People like Culver.
Culver pushed the big, shifting bag further into the truck bed and pulled up the back end of the truck. A few purple shadow eyes blinked at him through the blackness. The exterminators wove their bags from the vodka strength of the noonday sun, killing the shadows straight off when they stuffed them in the bags. But Culver wove his bags from the strands of dawn, from when the first few beams trailed across the fields, not too bright, but just bright enough that they couldn't slip through the stitches.
He drove back to his house, avoiding the potholes in the lane so as not to jar the shadow-bag. One time a whole three bags had escaped that way, when he hadn't tied the bag well enough, and they had spilled out into the sunlight and disintegrated.
Through the open window to the trailer bed, one of the shadows yelled something about revenge and the various ways that it would tie him up and cut off his fingers, and how dare he even think about bundling them into a sack! It had a cousin who lived under the wall of the city large enough to swallow him whole if he even thought about putting them out in the sun. It paused for a breath, and a little sob.
"Now, now," Culver said. "I'm not here to hurt you."
He rolled down the road and turned off at his house twenty minutes later. He lifted the sack from the trailer bed.
The shadows had quieted, now, huddling together. They never believed that he was different from the exterminators.
He carried the sack into his house. Simple lantern lights lit up the space, not the bright sunlamps most people used. He plodded through to the back door, where his aviary waited.
Flitting shadows filled the room, the kind that didn't tremble anymore. They'd grown into proper shapes, mostly of birds; of cockatiels with their tall head feathers, a few ostrich-sized from when he'd first began.
He opened his bag and the new shadows tumbled out, trembling, for all their witty bravado and cutting words, they had believed they were about to die. They blinked their purple eyes, some outlines of feathers, or just blobs, a few shaped into the vague silhouette of a small robin or a sparrow. They muttered some more half-hearted curses at his family tree.
The other shadows in the room fluttered down. They gathered around the new arrivals, shepherding them into the darkest parts of the aviary. They murmured encouraging, soothing words.
Culver smiled. He stretched the greyed parts of his fingers, still shaded from when he had shifted so long ago from pure shadow himself.
"Stay away from the Lights long enough," he said to the new shadows, "and you can grow into solidity, into flesh. You don't have to live in fear."
A call came in on his mobile phone. "Shadow Control," he answered.
"There's a big one on my fence, it's disgusting! It's scaring my children and saying horrid things!"
On fences, without trees nearby to afford a shaded escape, sometimes there was no way out before the high noon sun.
"On my way."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 19th, 2022
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