shadowShadow Can

by Aeryn Rudel

When I was little, I was afraid of my shadow. Mama told me I was right to be afraid. She said your shadow is a dark reflection, an almost-invisible demon bound to your fleshy self. She said it was a collection of all the ugly things about you, all the bad thoughts you don’t act on but still think about. I grew up, and I stopped being afraid. I thought Mama was just spinning some of that Louisiana hoodoo she grew up with to scare us. I should have believed her.

It started one long July afternoon. I was lying on my bed, sweating like a bastard in the hot Georgia summer and wearing nothing but a pair of skivvies and my sweat-slicked skin. My shadow flickered and moved across the ceiling as the sun streamed into my tiny bedroom.

Maybe it was some kind of heat daze, or maybe it was the pot I’d smoked the night before with Tommy Nelson across the hall, but a strange thought occurred to me—I should tell me shadow to do something, to get me something I wanted. I pointed at the ceiling where my shadow hung like a cool spot of shade just out of reach and said, “Shadow, get me a Coke.”

My shadow didn’t do shit, and I remember laughing at the absurdity of the thing, turning over, and despite the murderous heat, falling asleep. When I woke up a few hours later, I saw a bottle of Coke sitting on my rickety old nightstand. It was the most beautiful and terrifying thing I’d ever seen.

The room had grown darker in the late afternoon, and the shadows had thickened. I saw *my* shadow against the far wall, opposite where it should be from how the light was coming in. It was waiting, unmoving, a blot of eager darkness on the white plaster. It’s head—my head, I guess—moved a bit, a nod maybe. That was all it took.

Over the next couple of weeks, I learned what my shadow could do. For starters, it could bring me things and not just sodas from the liquor store. It could bring me the cash out of the liquor store’s register. It could bring me that new pistol I wanted at the pawn shop. All I had to do was make sure there was enough light, and when my shadow was flung up against the wall, I just told it what to do. “Shadow, bring me this. Shadow, get me that.”

I think simply acknowledging it for what it was made it free. Just admitting it was something with a mind of its own was enough. The Wilsons’ cat died first. His name was Ralph, and he sometimes came into my bedroom in the morning and slept on my bed. I liked that little fur ball. My shadow knew that. It knows everything about me. I found Ralph on the foot of my bed a week ago, still and ice cold. His eyes were black, like the life had been sucked right out of them. My shadow was on the wall across from my bed, watching. It wanted me to see what it had done.

I ran out of my apartment that day, sick and terrified. Stupid, really. How can you run from your own shadow? After Ralph, I stopped asking my shadow to do things. If I didn’t ask for anything, maybe it didn’t have the freedom to do what *it* wanted. I thought that until Tommy Nelson’s baby died. They said it was crib death, but I overheard one of the EMTs when they took little Amanda away. The EMT looked scared, and she said the baby’s eyes looked like black marbles.

Amanda died last night, and I called my mama this morning. She called me stupid. She called me foolish. But she said she’d come. Mama told me the truth when I was little; your shadow is all that’s ugly about you, it’s all the bad thoughts you think when you’re mad. Amanda used to cry at night and wake me up. Ralph pissed on my bed once. Amanda and Ralph made me angry, made me think terrible things I would never do. My shadow remembered those things; it probably remembers a lot more.

I think it still needs me to get into this world, and if mama can’t fix this, then I’ll drive out to the old quarry off Route 23. They say the pond there is three hundred feet deep. I’ll bet that far down there are no shadows.


Aeryn Rudel is the publications manager for Privateer Press, and the acquisitions editor for the fiction imprint Skull Island eXpeditions. He has been a writer and editor in the tabletop gaming industry for over a decade. Aeryn is also a notorious dinosaur nerd, a rare polearms expert, a baseball connoisseur, and he has mastered the art of fighting with sword-shaped objects (but not actual swords).
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