Shadows moved with the sun. There was no shadow without light–a natural balance the world set in motion eons ago–and everything: all people, places, creatures, and things, could cast one with ease.
Lucy Whitlock had two.
Her original shadow behaved as a shadow should. It moved like hands on a clock around her body, lengthening in the legs to an awkward degree when the sun was at a certain angle and shrinking as the light sank lower in the sky.
Her second shadow–one Lucy earned when she was six years old–stayed fixed, rooted firmly behind her, no shorter or taller than Lucy herself stood.
When Lucy grew, her second shadow grew. When Lucy cut her hair, her second shadow matched it with an eerie perfection. Not a single person could claim that this second shadow belonged to anyone other than Lucy, and not a single person could explain it.
Not that they hadn’t tried. Now fifteen and in the throes of teenage angst, Lucy had been poked, prodded, and studied more often than she could count.
First, it was from her contemporaries–fellow playmates: students in her class, troop members at the local Girl Scout meeting, teammates on the soccer pitch; they all wondered at the shadow. Some walked behind her to see if they could alter it, cover the thing with their own shadow and by some force, extinguish it. They marveled, awed, took pictures, and tried as they could to explain the unexplainable.
When that didn’t work, they accused her of making it up for attention. Children both her age and older would cover her ankles with the palms of their hands. They raved when they saw her in the hallway, heckling and jeering.
Lucy ignored it the best she could.
Eventually, her peers began demanding she remove her clothing to see what device was hidden in the fabric. Lucy refused, and ended up in the principal’s office, forcibly removed from her troop, and excommunicated from her soccer team.
Noticing Lucy’s erratic behavior–something that was said to be “unlike her”--adults stepped in. Not to discipline the kids who called her a liar and pulled at her shirt in the middle of class, but to ask what Lucy did to provoke such actions. If she was behaving and doing what she was told, why did the other kids treat her this way? It couldn’t only be because of a shadow. What was she doing and could she please stop doing it?
That night, her father found her in her room, a serrated bread knife pressed into her right ankle, blood already staining the carpet. She sobbed in his arms. She had only wanted to cut the shadow from her body. It wasn’t what it looked like.
Next came the doctors and the scientists. They tested vials upon vials of blood. Performed psychological evaluations.
“The shadow appeared when your mother died?”
“How did she die?”
“A car accident.”
“You were in the car?”
“How did you survive?”
“I don’t know. I just did.”
There were no conclusive results. Not one expert in his or her field could say for sure why Lucy had a second shadow, one that always lingered just behind her.
In the depths of her frustration and despair, Lucy began to talk to her shadow. At first, it was very one-sided. Lucy could see the shadow patiently waiting behind her shoulder. It had no eyes, but she felt as though it was watching her.
After her peers, the adults, doctors, and scientists were exhausted by Lucy’s second shadow, her father found his last resort: religion.
A priest visited her home. Much like the doctors, he asked her questions, though these questions were of a different kind.
“When the car accident happened, did you feel anything?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you feel pain?”
“Did you feel scared?”
“It’s hard to remember. I was young.”
“I understand; I understand. Just try for me, hm? Were you scared?”
“I don’t know…maybe.”
“Did you feel protected?”
“During the accident?”
“You were untouched by glass, fire, and twisted metal. Not a scratch from my understanding. Did you feel protected?”
Was that what her shadow was? Protection? She had never thought of it that way. Everyone had always made it seem awful, unnatural, evil even. What if…what if it was good?
“The accident wasn’t the only thing you survived, was it?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“A fire at your school. Pipes bursting during a Girl Scout meeting. A sink hole during soccer practice.”
“Everyone else survived those, too.”
“Others were injured. Some badly. And you were in the direct area for each.”
“What are you saying?”
“Angels come in many forms.”
That night, Lucy spoke to her shadow. She didn’t look at it when she did, but rather felt it behind her, shimmering as Lucy’s words fell from her lips. She spoke of what the priest said, what she was sure the shadow already knew.
“...and I have to know. I have to know. What are you? Are you…an angel?”
Silence answered her. And then, the shadow spoke.
Except, it wasn’t in words, but rather a vague sense of feeling. Like a cloak draped heavy over her shoulders, Lucy was keenly aware of the shadow now. She knew what it wanted of her. She knew why it was there. And she knew beyond a doubt that the priest was wrong.
Angels did come in many forms. But so did demons.
The next day, Lucy went to school. She looked at the faces of those around her–the ones who mocked her, stared at her, tried to expose her for the liar she wasn’t. She may have her shadow, but they had much, much worse.
Lucy’s shadow shuddered. The building recoiled in response, shaking just enough to startle those inside. Students and teachers rushed out of the classrooms, spilling into the hallway.
Lucy smiled. Her shadow smiled, too.
She began to touch the shoulders of the people who passed her. Her touch spread, jumped from student to student to teacher to teacher until everyone was exposed.
From outside, a scream rose up. Then another and another until the individuals gathered became one mass–a collective petrified clump of bodies shrieking into the nothingness.
Lucy went outside. She stood on the steps in front of the mob. One long, single shadow cast from her feet–stretched along the staircase, pointing away from the sun.
Lucy felt the light and smiled while those around her fled–ran for their lives. Each one followed by their own second shadow.