The Knickknack Tree

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
It was sunny outside. Bright, almost blinding. Oliver sulked and sweated on his way home from work. His car had broken down earlier that morning, so he had walked the arduous one mile to the nearest bus stop, his briefcase knocking against his thigh in a maddening rhythm. He showed up late to work, scowling. He frowned at the woman who sat in the cubicle next to him—though he really found her quite pretty—and he rolled his eyes during his boss's presentation. When his watch finally, finally read 5:00pm, Oliver groaned, slung his briefcase over his shoulder, and left without saying a word to anyone.
The bus ride was as miserable as it had been earlier that day, and Oliver vowed to get his car fixed, even if he had to hold a gun to the mechanic's head to do it. Now, he found himself sweating on the same grassy path home, briefcase in hand, eyes rolled skyward. He cursed the sun.
Oliver was just wishing for a cloud to block the sun from his eyes when he noticed a particularly large tree just off the path. Dozens of little knickknacks rested in the shadow of the tree: pinwheels, shoes, sunglasses, dolls. He sprinted to the shade and dropped his briefcase to the ground.
"It's about time," he grumbled. Oliver waited in the shadow of the tree for a couple minutes, fanning himself, muttering about how stupid it was that the bus couldn't stop closer to his house. When he felt cool enough to venture into the blistering heat again, he grabbed his briefcase and took a step out of the darkness into the sunlight.
The shadow followed him.
Confused, Oliver looked back at the tree. It hadn't moved. He looked up at the sky. The sun still shone down at him—not a cloud in sight—yet a halo of darkness surrounded him. Another step forward. The shadow shifted again.
"Convenient, isn't it?" Oliver spun around to find the source of the voice. No one was there; just the tree and the miscellany beneath it. Believing the voice to be his imagination, Oliver took another step forward. The shadow swelled with him.
"What's going on?" Oliver shouted, clutching his briefcase to his chest. The disembodied voice laughed. Oliver's feet seemed rooted to the spot. Trembling, he called out, "only cowards hide in the shadows!"
Shadows pulsed and swirled in response. "True," the soft, cool voice whispered in his ear, "but those who know the power of darkness do too."
Oliver shivered. Suddenly, the shadows grew. Bigger. Darker. Oliver's heart pounded. The path disappeared. The sun vanished.
Oliver felt cold, then.
So, so cold.
Frozen. Stiff.
Oliver collapsed to the ground. He ached for the sun, for the bus, for his coworkers, for anyone or anything. He opened his mouth to cry out for help. Only silence answered him.
"Join me," the voice whispered, wrapping shadowy tendrils around Oliver's frozen body. And it dragged him down, deep into the darkness, leaving behind nothing but a collection of sundry items and a briefcase next to a particularly large tree.