"I like spring," Mister Fickus said, swinging a pickaxe in one hand and a shovel in the other. "Everything's still dead from autumn, but with the addition of just enough warmth in the air that those dead things without warmth of their own can frolic."
"Quite," Doctor Brookline replied. He held up his lantern and tried to look into the shadows between the trees. They seemed to lean towards him in a menacing way. It made him sweat.
"Live things, always spreading themselves around," Mister Fickus said, shaking his head and curling his lip. "Droppin' their seeds everywhere, giving me allergies. Granted, those dead things spread themselves, too, but it's more respectable. Dripping, ichorous sacs pulsing with nightmares, deposited into the rafters of basement ceilings or behind expired prescriptions in linen closets. You know, visible. Present. None of this sneakin' around like pollen."
"Indeed," Doctor Brookline said. He shivered in his sweaty clothes. The winter frost had retreated but had left behind a chill in the spring air.
Mister Fickus thumped the pickaxe into the ground with a thud that made Doctor Brookline jump.
"What's wrong?" Mister Fickus asked. He shrugged out of his coat, rolled up his shirt sleeves, snapped his suspenders, spit into his hands, grabbed the shovel, and went to work while Doctor Brookline shook his head.
"Doesn't grunt seem like grunt nothing. Grunt seems grunt like you're grunt grunt afraid of grunt something," Mister Fickus said.
"I am of course not afraid."
"Good," Mister Fickus, "because I've grunt dug these things up grunt before and many men who grunt read about them in books can't handle grunt them when they're looking at grunt them with their own eyes."
Doctor Brookline fidgeted so much that the lantern shook.
"Hold that grunt steady, then," Mister Fickus said. "Not much bad happens to the men themselves grunt. Some go mad, but most recover after a few grunt years."
Mister Fickus paused and leaned on the pickaxe while he swiped a handkerchief across his brow. "Yep, not a bad trade-off for the kind of things that they chose to mess with."
"And what of the...creatures?"
"The creatures? Oh, they usually just scamper off into the woods."
"The woods?" Doctor Brookline said. His voice, used to thundering at medical students in lecture halls, suddenly sounded thin to his ears.
"Yes. They don't have much of a reason to go far. Plenty of food, plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in."
"But these monsters eat...men, yes?" Doctor Brookline said. He wished that he'd brought his pistol.
"Sure, sure, but you don't have anything to be afraid of," Mister Fickus said. "Not tonight."
"Why's that?" Doctor Brookline asked.
"These monsters are afraid of the goatmen that are watching us," Mister Fickus replied. He waved towards a shadow. "Not all living things are bad, I suppose."
A half-man, half-goat emerged into the lantern light. His hooves clapped gently against the forest floor. A multitude of charms and pendants were strung across his horns. He shook hands with Mister Fickus.
"How's the little lambs, then?" Mister Fickus asked.
The Moral: the shadows hold lots of living things, like ninjas.