I was five minutes behind schedule. The subway, which normally arrived at the station at 8:40, had arrived at 8:45. That meant I was going to get to work five minutes late, if not later. I had never been five whole minutes late in my entire life. Well, not since I was six, but I tried not to remember that incident.
My shoes thumped against the pavement, the slight heels just high enough to limit my pace to nothing much faster than a hurried walk. With each step I took, butterflies bubbled up inside of me. Not the good kind of butterflies you got when you were excited. These were the kind that would eat you from the inside out, the kind you got when you knew something bad was going to happen. The butterflies that always came when I got a bad grade, or when my dad would come home late at night, the car swerving so much I was surprised he managed to make it in the driveway. The butterflies were so common nowadays I was considering naming them.
I took a deep breath, and then took a few more.
The glossy building loomed above me, one of the tallest in a city known for its tall buildings. It belonged to Sunshine Co. Sunshine was involved in more than 50% of the top businesses on the market, and though it wasn’t stated outright, owned most of the congressmen currently in office. It employed millions of workers, and I was one of them. A nameless, faceless body in a sea of others just like me. The feeling of worthlessness struck me particularly hard this time, and pushing it down wasn’t working as well as it normally did.
The glass door opened easily under my hand, as smooth and noiseless as it looked. The lobby inside was full of washed out colors and people wearing dark blues and greys. I noticed the bored receptionist behind the desk wore the same outfit as me, a grey pencil skirt paired with a business jacket. Guess we must shop at the same store.
I rushed past the security guard and pressed the call button for the elevator. The doors slid open, and I elbowed into the throng of people. It was odd that the elevator was always crowded no matter what time of day it was; in fact I suspected that was somebody’s job. Standing in the elevator all day with these people almost sounded like a worse job than mine.
I made my way to my cubicle. Its walls were bare and covered in dust, the space inside occupied by a single desk free from any decoration. My chair was worn and squeaky, groaning when I settled into it.
I was about to start up my computer when an unfortunately familiar voice called to me.
I turned around and was met with the sight of my co-worker, Brian. He was located across the hallway from me, and every time I talked to him I considered asking for a new cubicle. His personality was comprised entirely of fake smiles and random gestures.
“Hi,” I said, not wanting to start a conversation with him.
“Saw you came in a few minutes late today, huh? Little miss perfect is slipping!” he said, wiggling his fingers at me. There was no reason for him to do that, it just looked like he possessed worms for fingers. The absurdness of his actions unfortunately did not prevent the feeling of shame from spreading through me.
“Don’t you have work to do?” I snapped.
“Brr, icy. Did you feel that snow blow in? ‘Cause I did.”
I ignored his overdramatic shivering and focused on getting through my work.
The hours ticked by like they normally did when I was at work, like molasses riding on the back of a snail. When I paused to stretch my back, I realized that it was unusually cold. I was even starting to shiver. Maybe Brian really had felt a cold storm blow in, though I doubted it. The air conditioning was probably acting up.
The skin on the back of my neck tingled as I felt a breeze blow across it. A warning light flashed in the back of my head, telling me that something wasn’t right. It took me a few moments to realize what it was.
The cold air wasn’t caused by a faulty air conditioner.
Someone was blowing on the back of my neck, their breath cold and damp and completely unsettling. I spun around in my chair, primed to yell at the intruder of my personal space. There was nothing there. I turned back to my screen, but after a few minutes I felt it again. I tried to ignore it. I rubbed my hand over my neck. I squirmed and I twisted. The more I struggled the colder the breath became.
After what seemed like hours of this torture, I had the idea to turn my screen dark so I could see behind me. I casually put it on sleep mode and waited to see what appeared. At first I couldn’t see anything unusual, only my round eyes and terrified face. I leaned closer, scrutinising every inch of the screen. It took me a few seconds, but I saw it. Just over my right shoulder was a dark figure.
For a second, I could almost believe it was human.
It started to flicker and swirl, dark shades giving way to even darker ones. It looked like a hurricane made of shadows, the storm pushing and pulling the figure from the inside.
I stumbled out of my chair, flailing and punching at what seemed like thin air. I knew this wasn’t the proper reaction, but my instincts didn’t seem to care. At some point I must have started screaming, because all sorts of people rushed to my cubicle. Brian started to shake me, yelling things that I couldn’t focus on, didn’t have the time to focus on. I saw something slip away in the corner of my eye, and I knew that the shadow must have left. I shoved Brian away from me and pushed my way through the crowd, driven by a strong urge to put as much distance between me and this place as possible.
The chaos of the city did nothing to quell the feeling that I was being pursued. Every once in a while I shot a glance over my shoulder, only to catch the tail end of a shadow dodging out of my sight. I shivered and picked up my pace.
As I dodged through crowds and crossed busy streets, I thought numbly about how my mom would react if I told her what happened. She would scream and spit, waving her arms at me and bursting my eardrums. I could hear her now, using the same voice she used anytime I got a grade that was less than perfect, “All of your hard work, all of my hard work, and this is what you do with it? You’re going to end up at some register working to death! Is that what you want?”
Well, Mom, I did what you wanted. Got a well paying job, but then I blew it.
Maybe I just wouldn’t tell her. I could probably find a different job before I had to talk to her again.
I realized that I didn’t really care if she was going to yell at me. The revelation startled me for a moment. It was such a long leap out from the shadow of fear in which I had lived my whole life that I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t feel anything close to the happiness I should have been feeling. I could only feel the intense fear and helplessness of being followed by something that I couldn’t affect, even though it could affect me.
My apartment building was a welcome sight. It was four stories high, and home to just about thirty residents. Even though my apartment wasn’t the biggest or fanciest, it was on the ground floor and you could see the community garden through the living room window. It had a better view than you usually got in this city of concrete and smoke. I pushed through the door and rushed down the dirty hallway towards my apartment. Some absurd part of me almost believed that the living shadow wouldn’t bother me within my own home, but I knew that was a foolish hope.
When I finally made it inside, my first act was to run through the apartment and turn on all the lights. Winded from running faster than I had in years, I sat cross legged on the couch and faced the door. I was tense and alert, waiting for the monstrosity of shadows to breach the safety of its fake wood.
An hour passed, and then another. Minute by minute and second by second, I slowly let my guard down.
I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew I was jumping awake. The light in the room was dimmed, and getting darker. I rushed to the window and peered out. The garden was bathed in the soft glow of twilight, the colorful flowers turning dull and grey.
My heart started to hammer in my chest, feeling like it was going to tear through my skin and land in a bloody heap on the window sill. I almost wished that was possible, because it seemed like that fate would be a better one than mine.
The living shadow was back, and it had brought friends.
The darkness came creeping out, crawling and sliding out of every corner and from behind every plant. The shadows were quick to cover whatever surface they could find, leaving behind an inky, impenetrable night. They gathered at my window, threatening to burst through the glass and smother everything with an avalanche of darkness.
My heart was beating as loud as a drum as I yanked the curtains shut and stumbled backwards. I went over my options as well as I could, barely able to concentrate on anything. My breath caught in my throat, the air failing to move past the barrier of fear lodged in its way.
I knew that I was trapped in my apartment, outside was nothing but darkness. The only option I had was to try and wait out the night.
I realized that the shadows had already found places where they could hide. They were under the couch and behind bookcases, pooling underneath the table and in the cupboards. I needed more light. There was a flashlight on the coffee table, and a few candles scattered somewhere. It wasn’t the best, but it might be enough. I tried not to think about what would happen if I managed to make it through, the thought of facing it all again the next night seemed unbearable.
Five candles, and one flashlight. That was all I had to protect against the shadows. I lit the candles and placed them around the kitchen, making sure to position them where they would drive away most of the shadows. The flashlight I carried with me, ready to aim the beam of wonderful light at any stray shadows I spotted.
Sometime during my rush for safety it had started to storm. I heard a thick crack of thunder over my head, sounding much closer than I would like it to be. It sounded like one of the storms I was taught to never be outside in, lots of rain and even more wind. The thick clouds blocked out any light the moon might have given me.
I heard the wind outside, whispering and yelling. Its voice was as quiet and shrill as it was loud and rumbling. It whispered my mother’s words, demanding and forceful. It told me to put down that paint and pick up that textbook, that I could have gotten a higher grade than that.
I fell to the ground and covered my ears, trying to block out the horrible noise. The sounds shifted, my mother’s harsh lessons giving way to my father’s rough voice yelling unintelligible threats. The wind sounded like broken plates and drunken screams, like sobbing mothers and cold nights. I could feel something itching in the dusty part of my brain, something covered in shadows and spikes that I’d been trying to forget for years.
I let out a small scream as the dreaded memory reached up from the pit I’d pushed it into and swallowed me whole.
I was six years old. I remember playing in my room, ignoring my mother’s calls that dinner was ready. She eventually came upstairs, an expression on her face that made me drop my toys with a clatter. I had grown scared then, for I had never seen that much fear on someone’s face before.
I remember being rushed down the stairs, only to see my dad’s tall figure standing at the bottom, his arms crossed and his expression stern. He was yelling something, and before I knew it, I was being thrown out of the house by the back of my shirt.
I landed in a pile of freshly fallen snow, the powdery white substance almost burying my small figure. It was cold, still snowing, and I didn’t have a coat. The moon was high above my head, flanked on all sides by dark clouds. I scrambled out of the snow and tugged at the door handle. It was locked tight.
From behind the door came the loud clamor of shouting voices, one much louder and slurred than the other. I tried to call to them, but the door stayed firmly shut. The voices grew louder, the argument peppered by loud crashes and the sound of breaking glass. I started to cry as I realized how cold and alone I was.
After a minute or two of crying and shivering, my young mind remembered the terror that all children face when confronted by the dark of night. I remember the intense fear that gripped me then, the kind of fear that had previously been reserved for nightmares and the sight of empty liquor bottles. I began to pound on the door. I hammered and screamed. I begged and cried for them to let me in. My only answer was another loud crash.
I remember covering my eyes, trying to pretend I wasn’t living my worst nightmare. The dark played tricks on me, making me feel spindly legs crawling over my small feet and thick scaly tails wrapping around my legs. I had known by then that monsters weren’t real, but common sense usually gives way in the face of terror.
I was shivering uncontrollably, a combination of fear and cold. My fingers had turned a nasty shade, and I remember shoving them in my mouth to try and stop the dull ache stabbing through them. I wished for something I could do to get rid of this horrible dark with its biting cold and invisible monsters.
It had seemed like an eternity before the door opened and my mom pulled me inside, her face bloody and misshapen as she rushed me to a warm bath.
I pulled myself out of the memory, feeling strangely calm. I felt more at peace than I had been in years. Laid out in front of me was an entire plan, my whole life from beginning to the possible end. I saw now that my candles had been a hopeless last attempt, that the shadows had been following me my whole life. Even if I did survive this night, it would only be to face the same shadows every night for the rest of my days.
My eyes slid over to the stove. I knew how to make the shadows go away.
Tragic Fire At Apartment Complex
A fire broke out late Wednesday night at the Main St. apartment complex. The fire started on the ground floor, and firefighters were able to arrive before the fire spread much further. Investigators are still searching for the cause of the fire. So far there has only been one confirmed fatality.