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Shadow

by

Cailean Darkwater

Fading ...

Can't help but hug myself, but it's an empty gesture, it gives me no comfort. Slipping through my fingers ... my life, my self, my reality. Extending those trembling digits in front of me, I try to focus upon them, clutching them to me within my perception.

They flicker in and out of my vision; I wish it was a trick of the light.

But it isn't.

Truth is, I am the trick of the light.

Fading ...

It started like an infection, the dark spots; pure, dead blackness.

My doctor never messed around with pleasantries. Very to the point; heart-beat, pulse, blood pressure. While this comforting routine was going on, I told him about these little black patches upon my flesh. Showed him; he kneaded the skin and meat between his thumb and forefinger.

"Hmmm, very interesting," he mused. "Any other symptoms?"

I said no.

Rubbing his clean-shaven chin, deep in thought. "Might have to run some tests ..." He trailed off.

Ever been in that situation, where, in the whole social order of things, you know that it's the other person's turn to speak, and they don't pick up their cue? You want to break propriety and say "And then?" just to break the deadlock, the unending silence.

I was just about to do so, when he muttered into the intercom on his desk. The office door opened, and a middle-aged woman, obviously a patient, walked in. The good doctor started his time-old routine again with his new visitor. I was confused - had I been dismissed and not realized it? Anyway ... wouldn't the doctor have the courtesy to wait for me to depart before inviting someone else in?

I had to ask.

Reaching out, I tapped him on the shoulder hesitantly.

Unprepared for the horror of my hand sliding THROUGH him. I stood there, stock-still in shock. Then the intruder left the office, walking right through me as if I didn't exist.

Time for a reality check.

Fading ...

There I was, suddenly ghostlike, some unquiet spectre that roamed the land of the living. Except it wasn't a line between life and death I had crossed, but a line between real and unreal.

Here I was, ruminating over what was happening to me, totally cut off from everything. Trust me, there is no greater bombshell you can receive than the explosion of nothingness. I was lost, I didn't know where to turn, what to do. And it's not like I could ask anyone.

Legally, I was assumed dead. Assets taken, car, house, beach bungalow. My job was gone, I had been replaced. It disheartened me, but how could they hire a shadow like me?

Fading ...

Not exactly sure how, but I ended up in a supermarket.

I hate them.

So why was I here?

I suppose, it's the last place I would look for the answer, metaphorically, and well, ironically, it AIN'T the last place, since I am here after no time at all.

Here I am, looking at line after line of people stretched long, at the end being a checkout slave, ritually beheading the hydra, ever to see another head appearing in its place, eternally.

Being outside, looking in: I saw some terrible similarities. On each of the waiting customers rested a face of boredom, irritation and impatience. I wondered what it would be like, every day, working at the checkout, seeing face after face after face, all with the exact same look. Looking at these little soldiers of consumerism, I saw a look they all shared, a faint hope, a yearning for something better, met with the crushing jaws of fatalism and despair. That they knew that tomorrow would be exactly like today - that the relief of a Sunday, seeming salvation, was in reality a brief stay of execution.

It was their life, and it was ending one minute at a time.

I pitied them, and envied them at the same time. Their lives left something to be desired, to say the least. But at least they HAD a life, rather than existing only as some shadow thing, a flickering fašade, a faded photograph of an individual.

Fading ...

The line was unending, and to see this stasis of faces and misery in motion was torture. I HAD to get away ... wandered down the aisles in search of something.

I was confused. Did I really expect a big hanging sign telling me "Happiness - Aisle 4?" Not like I could skim the array of items and find one little packet labelled "Answer."

I did not look to the shelves, but to the people. Here were real people, doing real things, true mundanities of life; the grind of everyday; putting a meal on the damn table.

If I couldn't find reality here, I might as well quit looking. Perhaps that's why my subconscious had led me here. I was fading fast, I didn't know how long I had, I just knew that it was happening inexorably. You know how they say if you ignore something long enough, it'll go away? Well, the world hadn't acknowledged my existence for so long I was withering away to nothing ...

Fading ...

A kindly, grandmotherly woman, going about her business, ticking off groceries methodically, lips pursed together when an item on her list eluded her.

A tall, lanky, middle-aged fellow, five o'clock shadow matching tired eyes as this bachelor briskly grabbed the generic brand necessities of life.

A slim, lithe young woman, stalking slowly between the shelves, every movement purposeful, yet beautiful. With the grace of some deadly feline, this green-eyed hunter picks out her gourmet goods for some exquisite soiree.

A seemingly lost young man wanders from aisle to aisle, picking up items at random. Dressed in black, the mirrorshades he wears glint in the fluorescent light, obscuring the possible method in the madness.

But none of them acknowledged me. Not one.

Reality. Trust me, for all you curse it, for all you freaking HATE it ... you don't know how much you crave it when it goes. It bites, but without it, what the hell's the point?

To hell with this. It was OVER. I sat back against the array of brightly-packaged sweet delights and closed my eyes, braced for the inevitable oblivion.

"How do you flicker like that?"

A girl's voice, puzzled.

"You flicker like one of those old movies, the ones in black and white."

Was my life just some movie, running close to the end of the reel? Twenty-four frames a second; giving the illusion of motion, delusion of change.

"No, I'm not a movie," I replied tiredly, slowly opening my eyes.

I guess I was looking at the world through torment-coloured glasses - didn't realize at first that someone had actually noticed me. The girl's eyes, full of curiosity and wonder, looked into my harrowed orbs. She may have been young, but it doesn't require experience to see another's suffering.

Without knowing any more about me, she engulfed me in a tight hug.

To be acknowledged, to be seen, to be felt, to be appreciated, gave me hope. Something to hold onto. So, a little six-year old moppet believed in me. Some people would say the concern of a child wouldn't matter, maybe in the glory days of my prior life I would have said the same, but for this moment, it was the sweetest thing I could imagine.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another small face. Another little girl was slowly walking towards us, an almost unnerving look of penetrating interest as she drew ever closer. Coming up to the other little lass and embracing her comfortingly, yet still keeping those inquiring eyes on me.

The second girl spoke. "Erin, what's wrong? Why are you crying?" because she was, I could hear her sobbing, felt her tears soaking through my clothes.

Drying her eyes quickly, the child Erin said "Look at the eyes, Tina. Look at the pain, we need to DO SOMETHING!" was her impassioned plea.

Little Tina hugged me also, stepped back, nodding slowly, quietly cogitating, I could tell she was thinking long and hard. Her silence did not indicate inactivity, but indeed the opposite.

Erin put her hand upon my shoulder comfortingly, "What's wrong? Why are you so hurt inside? I want to help you, please, tell me what's wrong?"

It still amazes me how the childlike heart can care so much for a total stranger. Later on, people get this social propriety thing drummed into them, the "somebody else's problem" doctrine. We'll watch another die and not feel guilty, because we are not directly responsible for their plight, it is "whoever's" fault. We can be witness to crime, point the finger at the guilty one, lost amidst the sea of souls. We can walk away, avoiding the nameless accused's conviction in the court of social morality, pleased with our performance in the pursuit of justice.

Thankfully, some are not content to merely be watchers. It is these people, the ones who risk themselves by becoming part of the situation, who make the difference. Like these two little girls, willing to help someone they did not know.

The words hurt coming out, as if I was choking on them; "I'm fading away. Somehow, I am leaving, not going to exist any more." The time for tears was over, moment of truth.

As I uttered this damning declaration, I flickered in and out rapidly, was this finally the end?

Fading ...

"NO!"

The shriek jolted me back to reality, if only for a moment. Little Erin was holding on to me for grim death, crying torrents. "You CAN'T leave ... you don't want to leave?" I shook my head, slowly. I didn't want to leave, but wishing so hadn't done a damn thing - I needed to do something, but I didn't know what, and my time was running out.

"If you don't want to leave, then DON'T! Please ..." she begged me, "don't leave me, don't leave ... I want you to stay, stay for me."

It was only a little hope, but hope nonetheless. I hugged this little angel to me, holding on to her as if my life depended on it. Meanwhile, Tina, though quiet, had not been idle. She asked me a simple question, long overdue.

"Who are you?"

This took some thought. When you are so young, what defines you as a unique individual? I thought back to when I was her age, and what I was like. I remember what I felt back then, looking back, seeing myself change over the years. New things I had accepted in to me, things I had chosen to discard from me. Maybe I hadn't always taken the right road. Looking at myself now, having lost everything that defined me within the world, what was left?

"If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound?" I was falling, and no one was around to witness me crash - but I knew the ground was rushing up to meet me. How could the world consider me non-existent just because it could no longer define me?

How could I be defined? I was seeing the ever-changing wonder of the world through my own unique, true sensation, and reacted to those perceptions, uniquely. How could the world say who I was, try and measure me with some external, by-the-book standard?

The successful business tycoon, hedonistic excesses undreamt of since Caligula; power not only to float above the law, but to warp and twist the system to his will. But how successful could he be, sacrificing his very soul upon the twin altars of Greed and Pride, an eternal offering to the great god Money.

The devoted housewife, very model of a modern mother; people remark on her clean house and the well-behaved children. Demure and quiet, epitome of married bliss? Yet her labours go unnoticed, ignored, taken for granted, hope dying in her eyes. Shackled in servitude, no longer appreciated as a living, breathing woman but reduced to the basic function of drudgery.

The kind-hearted teenager discards his sensitivity to the great beast of macho acceptance to be "one of the guys." The free-thinking dreamer destroys her creativity to be yet another mindless wage slave in the bureaucratic morass. The eccentric young man, considered an aberration by his doctor, swallows the tiny white tablets; narcotized into some artificial status of "normality." The beautiful young woman burns up her vitality in homage to the mighty glamour media, attempting to achieve the unattainable desire of physical perfection.

Was I one of the damned, these poor individuals whose inner fires had been smothered with who they SHOULD be, while ignoring who they truly were? To lose these definitions of the world, was I truly weakened? Or was it merely a revelation on how phantomlike the cocoon that the world had spun around me actually was? I looked upon myself, seeing who I truly was; shed of the artificial trappings of social cohesion, for the first time.

My wings burst forth from the decaying chrysalis. Not bright and eye-catching; I did not flitter and flutter amongst the pretty flowers as a butterfly, but ghosted slowly and unseen upon the breeze as a moth.

I suppose the limelight was lost forever, but looking at the transparent husk that had imprisoned me for so long; I realized I had left it all behind, yet I had truly lost nothing. No longer the centre of attention: but within the midst of the hurricane lies the eye, a void surrounded by the change of eternally swirling winds.

I had lost nothing that I needed to survive, I was whole. Left that superficial shell to rot to nothingness. Perhaps the world had lost me within the void of anonymity, but I had not lost myself.

Flying ...

They saw it, they knew; as I stood up slowly from my slumped position. One final flicker as my last vestige of doubt was annihilated. My eyes rained down triumph, little Tina and Erin saw me truly now, radiantly exultant in my victory. I bent down, however, in humility to these two angels that had been my salvation, hugged them tight in a heartfelt embrace as the tears of joy and thankfulness collected upon my eyes.

Dried those eyes, stood in front of these blessed children who had shown me the answer, and tried to answer the question:

"You asked me, who am I? I still can't think of anything, how can I answer that question with mere words? I can't, so I won't try."

I smiled slowly, I had the answer, and in that smile it lay.

"What more can I say? I'm me."

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