Editor’s Note: Chris has a talent for writing the uncanny, to which I am very drawn, because of how it reflects the dark mysteries of real-life. Things don’t add up. Humans and the world around us are rife with contradictions. We think we know so much, when, in fact, we know so little — about ourselves, about each other, about the often illogical ways the world operates. Chris explores that not-knowing and not-understanding and subverts our idea of what is true and real. — JL
The sun shines from its zenith and so I sit, just a little ball of darkness on the ground in the shelter of a sapling. All afternoon, I watch the cars go by until I see you. My imagined mouth thickens with saliva and I know I must have what you have. With the shadows of day now long, I flow from one to another—the sapling to a fence, down the angled strike of a light pole that takes me across a baseball diamond, its dying grass. All the while, I keep my gaze set upon you.
Your precious cargo.
With autumn’s early eve, I become free. The night’s very breath. When you pull into your garage and bring down the door, I slip inside with you. You enter the house. I make my way, a vaporous ribbon, under the crack in the door.
I see that you feel me. You snap your head in my direction, then wave off the notion. You tell yourself that you’re a grown woman. That you shouldn’t believe in such things. But there’s a part of you that still does. That’s the part you should listen to. We both know you won’t.
Under the glaring lights of your kitchen, I crouch in a corner as you prepare the family meal. I follow to the table, dividing myself between the cracks in the floorboards, and re-coagulate underneath like a spectral tabby. I hear your nervous mastication, your absent acknowledgments, your lament.
Afterward, you huddle on the couch. You know I am here. I see your eyes dart to the shadows beneath the recliner, where I used to sit. You thought you saw movement. You did. Like always, you doubt and chastise yourself. It can’t be true, you say.
Your fear spills through the air and into my shifting nostrils, a pungent pheromone that only heightens my shadow’s lust. I run like mercury underneath the end table, draw myself up the armrest to within inches of your delicate wrist, and bathe in your terror. Just turn on the lamp, my dear, and trap me here forever—a sofa-bound spirit, imprisoned by light. Despite our past, I have taken a new liking to you—call it pity—and so I implore you to reach for the lamp, to stop what I must do, because of what I have become in death. You feel me but rebuke your screaming instincts, forcing yourself instead to laugh at the stories I told, all the while harboring suspicions of their truth. Can a shadow take a shadow, steal the soul of the one who casts it, so that light carries through? Your logical mind pushes back. You’ve never seen someone without a shadow, you note. I ask without speaking if you were ever really paying attention.
Alas, your soul is not in peril, my love, because I am not here for you.
Having grown weary of our wordless repartee, I whisper to the entryway and follow the zig-zig-zag grey of the banister’s path as it snakes up the stairs to the second floor. Here there is a room, door closed, lights off, lullabies sung. An ocean of black for me to drink, and all the little fishies with it. I make myself a skate and swim into the water.
Morning comes, and I, sated, hunker within the shape of a mailbox made by the low, eastern sun. As you emerge from the door, I see in your tired eyes that our conversation is forgotten, erased by the light of day, obfuscated by your effort to get the child to his school and yourself to work.
I slide across the lawn in a stripe cast by the clothesline, until my view of the bus stop is unobscured. My grin, if you could see it, spans the width of the form I have taken. I vibrate with anticipation.
You lean down, tighten backpack straps. Place a forehead kiss. Open your eyes and finally take notice. I watch you pause, running a checklist of your senses. You consider your own shadow and look to where our child’s should be.
Chris lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, daughter, and a fluctuating herd of animals resembling dogs (one is almost certainly a goat). He writes short stories and novels, “plays” the drums, and draws album covers for metal bands. As a lawyer, he goes after companies that poison people. His short fiction has appeared in Metaphorosis, The Molotov Cocktail Magazine, Ghost Parachute, Ellipsis Zine, Defenestration, and others. Plays himself on Twitter @chrisjpanatier.