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"Shadow"
By: Cailean Darkwater
Site: www.caileandarkwater.com

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. "Grace, 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 Grace said "Look at 
the eyes, Emelia. Look at the pain, we need to DO 
SOMETHING!" was her impassioned plea.

Little Emelia 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.

Grace 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 Grace 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, Emelia, 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 Emelia and Grace 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." 




(c)opyright 2000 by Cailean Darkwater