Chapter One
Black Sun Rising :: Chapter One

I felt as alien as the bug-eyed ET that decorated my t-shirt.


My grasp of Egyptian lingo hadn't improved at all over the day or two I'd been hanging around the Suq area of Cairo, but I was getting used to being misunderstood. At least I'd stopped freaking out at every little oddball stare tossed my way by the inhabitants.

Food was no problem. I didn't have to stuff my face unless I wanted to - for its entertainment value only. And the one place I really needed to get to was so far away it might as well have been on Mars. I was an alien all right. I didn't know anyone. I didn't know why I'd been carted halfway around the world and dumped in the Middle East. I didn't know anything.
That's my life.
'Salami alaikim,' I muttered to an old man in dirty white robes with an unravelling tea-towel on his head. What I'd said didn't sound quite right, but surely he'd get the point?
My Arabic didn't seem to impress the old man. And he was obviously wondering what I was doing loitering at the entrance to a dark alley.
I grinned. His move.
He muttered something, pointing at me. His hand was grotty and wrinkled. Was he trying to scrounge? 'Okay, okay!' I said, producing a coin from my pocket. I didn't have much of an idea what it was worth.
He looked at the coin, spat into the dirt at my feet and lunged at me. I leapt into a kung-fu defence, but he was already past me and striding down the alley. He glanced back and shot some Arabic words at me.
I waved, though I reckon whatever he'd said wasn't too friendly. He spat again and turned away.
'Name's Shine!' I yelled, letting my middle finger drift up and jiggle at his back. When he took a last look before disappearing through a doorway, I pretended I was scratching my forehead.
With nothing else to do, I decided to go in search of coffee. Hadn't had any for yonks. Maybe my coin - which I'd acquired by a bit of sleight-of-hand in the market - would pay for a cup or two.
What I really wanted was to be back home in Albion Bay, not here in an unfamiliar city surrounded by strangers I couldn't talk to. It was freaky. I'd been lurking around on planet Earth since getting myself born in 1956 which might've made me an experienced old dude, except I'd died a week after I turned sixteen and had come back as a ... whatever I am. A Shade. A phantom. A thing made of shadows.
Spookshow baby.
And I didn't know zip. Sure, I played guitar. Made a bit of money from my music. Owned a house. Read comics. Hung with my Shady mates. That sort of stuff. But getting stuck in Cairo made me twig to the fact that I hadn't learnt much over the years. Not that was useful. I barely knew where Cairo was. Couldn't speak Arabic. Didn't know how to get home. Couldn't catch a plane, as all the lights in the cabin would cause a fairly confined bit of panic when I turned into a ghost. What's more, I didn't understand the first thing about being normal -- not there in Cairo, not home in Albion Bay.
Pathetic, man.
The turbulence that had landed me in Cairo had left lots of scars on my psyche, too, so I wasn't keen to experiment with leaping blind into the dark. We Shades can sort of walk into one shadow and then out another by travelling through the Shadowedge. Pretty neat trick. But it needs concentration - and a place to focus on. That place is best if it's in plain sight. And 'plain sight' only got me across the street, not across the world.
Anyway, I wasn't about to go into the Shadowedge right then. It was completely stuffed, more like a raging tornado full of teeth and claws than a tunnel of shadows we Shades could slide through with ease. Pretty well wiped me out last time I stepped in it. Its turbulence had something to do with the wind storm that had devastated the place where I lived - Nimjala and the Albion Bay area on the south coast of Australia. I remembered that a Shadow wind, dark and deadly, had poured out of nowhere like muck out of a busted sewer pipe. Where had it come from? The Shadow Realm, sure, otherwise known as Tenebra. But why? Didn't make sense - not that anything about Tenebra made much sense.
Tenebra's a humungous place - wrapped through the real world and lying behind it like a vast lightless ocean of otherworldly muck, full of evil freaks and monsters. Take, for example, the looney-toon Night Beast I'd been stuck in, the one that got me in this pickle. Weird. Fractured images of it lurked in the deepest parts of my brain, but only came to light when I wasn't paying attention. All that came to mind were a few scraps.
Certainly the Night Beast had been big. Made up of dark matter. It had got itself a body of sorts by lumping together the shadows of dead people. Cassandra - a cool Shade buddy of mine - had been in the Night Beast in ways I didn't really understand at all. Anyway, when the Beast got sucked out of the real world and back into the Shadowedge, I'd been taken with it and pretty well everything had become so bizarro from that point on my mind short-circuited.
Next thing I knew I was tumbling out of the Edge into a thick, stale darkness way beneath the ground. Surrounded by rocks and broken crockery. There was so little light - like none - I didn't need my sunnies. That made vision easier. We Shades can see better in the dark than in the light - especially as light blinds us and makes us fade.
'This is where he is,' whispered a voice.
Was there someone there with me?
No. Surely not. I didn't remember anyone being with me on the trip.
Metal ornaments decorated the walls. Along one side were what looked like stone coffins. Hieroglyphics were painted over everything.
I didn't realise it right then, but later I found out I was in Egypt - deep inside an ancient tomb. My life's quite a ride, eh?
I spotted a cafe that looked nice and dingy. So I tossed off the memories and headed that way, sticking to the shaded parts of the street. The Suq was gloomy and narrow, so even in broad daylight it was pretty safe for a light-sensitive freak like me. It would've been safer to only come out at night, natch, and to stay hidden during the day. But what can I say? I got bored easy.
Few lights were on in the cafe and they were dim. Its single other customer had plonked himself close by the window, as a bit of a gesture to afternoon cheeriness. Down the back it was real murky. I went in and edged myself into one of the darker corners.
A thin man in jeans and a floppy Hawaiian shirt asked me something. I assumed he was the cafe owner.
'Coffee?' I asked, emphasising the question mark and holding up my coin.
He considered it, sighed, then nodded and snatched the money. He came back a few moments later with a small cup filled with the black mud they serve as coffee.
While I sipped it, I stared across the room and out into the street. People bustled by, lots of them. All different. Some carried pots and baskets. A few rode push-bikes. A guy on a Honda putt-putt drove past, weaving about unsteadily; everyone ignored him, as though it was his problem if he ran them down. Dust billowed up off the road, stirred by his tyres. There were heaps of kids playing, running, yelling. A big fat woman strolled past, holding the hands of a boy and a girl. They completely blocked the path, and had no intention of being hurried by anyone. I wondered what would've happened if the motorbike had come by at just that moment.
What really bugged me was that they seemed to belong there. Not like me. I didn't belong anywhere.
Suddenly a skinny chick in gypsyish rags and a filthy jumper - even though it was pretty hot - appeared next to my table. She dumped a load of peanuts in front of me. She must have been no older than me, but her fingers were as scabby and withered as an old woman's. Her dark eyes stared at me expectantly. She wanted money.
'Sorry' I said, flapping my empty hands about. 'Nuthin'.'
She gathered up her peanuts and limped off, her expression totally blank. I felt rotten. There were heaps of beggars in Cairo and she'd been one of the more needy looking. She had a twisted leg. Bit of a bummer, I reckon.
I watched her leave. She didn't bother approaching the cafe's only other customer.
Which of course made me notice him.
His clothes were rather westernized - white shirt and suit, though without a tie. The suit looked a tad grubby. He was wearing a turban. His face was gaunt, sporting a black moustache and thick eyebrows. His piercing eyes turned toward me as though he'd sensed my attention. He had thin, sharp lips and they grinned crookedly. Lots of teeth.
He stood and came toward me. As he did, he pulled a wallet from his coat pocket. His right hand held a lighter.
Great. I'd seen this performance before. Street marketeers would try to flog you a wallet. To prove it was a good one, they'd set it alight. Weird, I know, if a bit of a chuckle.
But I didn't need light thrown in my face. If it was strong enough and near enough, it'd turn me ghostly.
I waved at him. 'No!' I said. 'Lah. Don't want it. Lah.' He grinned and came closer, showing me the wallet, holding it out as though it was a crucifix and I was a vampire. Before I could think to get out of his way, he had me trapped in the corner.
Suddenly he spat out some sinister and un-beggar-like words. His lighter flared. Fuel levels were set high and the flame that sparked from it seemed like a bomb blast. I felt its light splash across my face as the man thrust it under my nose.
'Hey! Nick off, jerk!' I cried.
His grin widened and he shouted in triumph. Had he been deliberately testing me for Shadyness? Leaping to my feet, I lashed out and knocked the lighter from his hand. Its flame snapped out as the lighter rattled over the dusty floor.
'Whatcha playin' at, freak?' I snarled.
He yelled some words I later found out meant 'Evil demon!' Then he threw himself across the table, his hands going for my throat, ripping at my t-shirt. He slammed me against the wall.
I grabbed his wrists, twisted and broke his grip. Though I look like a fifteen-year-old, I'm strong. Not Superman strong, but World-Championship-Wrestling strong. The man cursed.
'Who are you?' I said, holding him off me. I don't think he understood. At any rate he didn't answer. He kept thrashing about, trying to get loose.
By this stage, the owner of the place and several of his relatives were taking an interest in proceedings. They appeared behind my attacker and dragged him off me. I let go of his arms, muttering thanks. I had to get out of there.
The owner gestured at me to stay where I was.
I couldn't understand what any of them were saying. There was lots of yelling. A string of what sounded like threats tumbled from the cafe owner's lips. My attacker yelled back. They were all waving their hands around. The man pointed at me and said something nasty. The owner looked, then laughed and struck the man's shoulder. Finally, the cafe owner and one of his mates grabbed the man, dragged him to the door and tossed him into the street. He hit the ground with a wallop, causing a momentary eddy in the passing crowd as everyone skirted around him.
Before I could blink, he was on his feet. He yelled something else. When the cafe owner spat at him, he ran off.
'Sorry you was... found out,' said a young guy who popped up at just that moment. Perhaps he'd meant to say 'disturbed'. Cafe owner's son? His eyes studied me knowingly. They were large and bright against the dark skin of his face.
I gestured that it didn't matter. I wasn't about to argue the toss.
He glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was nearby.
Then he leaned closer. His finger pointed.

'Shades,' he whispered.

And he wasn't talking about my sunglasses.



Shadow Dance
Night Beast
Ancient Light
Black Sun Rising