“Did you see that?”
Luke looked across the table at me like he always does when it happens — like I’m nuts. Only for a moment, but, long enough to get the message across. He’s polite that way, doesn’t want me to feel worse than I already do. Besides, I agree with him that it’s time I saw someone. That it’s been going on for too long now. And how lately, it’s only gotten worse.
I don’t know how I’ll describe it when I go in, or even what kind of therapist I should be seeing. Whether an ophthalmologist — you know, an eye doctor — or a psychiatrist. Friends have been leaning it towards the latter. But I really don’t know. Am I actually going insane? What if I’m not imagining things at all?
What if the shadows are real?
Luke was staring at me, his eyes big with tender concern. He could tell it was still on my mind. “Your move,” he said, with a warm smile.
I picked up the dice, gave them a shake, and rolled. Community Chest. “Advance to Go, collect $200.”
“I swear you get that card way more than chance.”
“I’m gifted that way,” I grinned. The tension lifted slightly. He poured another glass of wine.
“Have you given any more thought about seeing someone?”
“You know I have,” I said, looking away.
“I’m a little worried about you. You know I’m a worrier.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I liked that he was a worrier; no better affirmation of love, than worry. We’d been together four years, and engaged for two. I know how that sounds, how long engagements don’t usually bode too well, but, truth is, we liked it that way. Two unashamed procrastinators wouldn’t have it any different.
The citronella candle flickered in a wisp of breeze. It was a warm night, the humidity blanketing without being sticky. Peak Monopoly weather, I thought, leaning back in the chair. Luke said, “Well, that wine’s going straight through me. Back in a tick,” his tone more upbeat. He squeezed my shoulder as he walked past.
I took a deep breath, and calmness overcame me like bathwater. Maybe it was the wine, but I didn’t care. For a moment, awareness of the shadows had vanished. It was just me, the glass, the low sibilant buzzing of the cicadas in the garden. I should have learnt by now that this kind of complacency was a mistake. Learnt what the previous weeks had been trying to tell me. How it was always worse when I wasn’t ready; when it took me by surprise. It was like it knew.
And, it knew it right now.
The glass fell from my hand, but I didn’t hear it break. There it was. Past the last focus in the farthest reach of my vision, there it was. The shadow was here.
But something was different.
Every other time it had happened it was just a flicker darting from view, a flash of something impossible to know. This time there wasn’t the slightest confusion, not an ounce of doubt in my mind. In the blurry extremity of periphery it quivered without shape, pitch black, a presence of sheer, utter dread.
It wasn’t moving.
It was real.
Every muscle tensed and froze and I could barely breathe. Tears welled in my eyes. Everything but the presence was white noise; just me, alone, outside in the dimness of night, with that which had tormented me for months. But I still couldn’t tell. I still couldn’t see what it was. The only way it was going to end, I thought, was if I looked. Made it real and defined and possible to understand.
Turn your head, Sam, turn, turn it now.
Slowly, my neck started to twist as the tremor in my body grew stronger and stronger. It’s still there.
Look at it, quickly, stop hesitating, look at it look at it look at it.
My stomach rose as I inhaled the deepest possible breath. And I turned. A sudden spin of vision straight towards that shadowy blackness, and suddenly gone was the fear inside me. But something was wrong; in the visual swirl of the turn, everything was changed.
In place of the shadow, standing motionless, expressionless, somehow inhuman as he stared back at me, was Luke. My Luke.
Only, not Luke at all.
I didn’t have time to ask him how. I barely had time to think. The sounds of the night, the distant traffic, the quiet siren of lamp-light, the cicadas and crickets and nameless clicks, it all went mute. Dead silence. I was transfixed in that unbelievable moment as his hollow stare burrowed through my eyes, into the deepest reaches of my soul.
It was then they finally came. Shadows rising from every corner of my precious universe, and I saw now that these shapes could never be known. Like a convergence of vines and horns and contorted clawed limbs, them all jet black; the aperture through which I saw the world rapidly closing in. My body was frozen as my mind struggled and writhed in its last futile resistance. I was powerless. The world shrunk away and was gone as I sunk deep beneath into an infinite darkness.
Through the last fading view I could see a smile on his face. And, in the final pulse of life, I managed a breathless whisper.
I’ll always love you.
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