The Shadow Six

by Kelly Smith. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2023

Another shadow had broken into Mrs Cottler’s house. It was the sixth one this week. Myrtle followed it from the cat flap all the way to the bathroom on the second floor. A panther this time. A beautiful black, whiskered shadow with paws the size of plates, curled up inside the bath.

Of course, Myrtle hadn’t let it in. She didn’t even know how to let the shadows in. And despite what the other children thought, she had no idea where they came from. But Mrs Cottler would never believe that. 

Myrtle leaned over the bath and prodded the shadow with a broom handle, watching as the wood melted through its silky coat. The panther opened one yellow eye, the only part of it that wasn’t black, yawned and rolled over.

‘What’s that?’ came a voice behind her. Myrtle turned to see one of the other children, Paulo, in the doorway, pointing at the panther with a shaky finger. ‘Is that another shadow?’

‘You know it is,’ said Myrtle. ‘Why even ask?’

‘But it…it’s huge.’

‘It’s not that big,’ she said, even though the size of it made her feel sick. It filled the whole bath, head resting at one end, tail curled around the taps.

‘It’s a tiger,’ said Paulo.

‘It’s not a tiger, it’s a panther.’ Myrtle had never seen a panther in real life, but she knew what it was as clearly as she knew her own name. In fact, Myrtle had a bit of an instinct when it came to animals. ‘And it can’t hurt you.’

Paulo stepped back and sneered. ‘Oh, Mrs Cottler is going to be so mad. I heard her tell you. If she catches one more shadow animal in this house, then –’

‘I know what she said,’ snapped Myrtle. She grabbed Paulo’s arm. ‘So don’t you dare tell her.’