Sean should have seen it coming but to be fair the shadow didn’t look like much at first, a black figure standing in the pathway between two buildings so close to the wall that it seemed to be 2D. He passed it every day on his way to work, it didn’t move, didn’t speak just stood there looming over the neighbourhood. After he noticed it for the first time he didn’t think anything of it until the day that he decides to peak into the alley to see who was standing there every day out of pure curiosity – there was no one there. Sean was not a religious or spiritual person but a disembodied shadow creature standing in an alley would surely unsettle even the biggest of sceptics at least for a minute or two, after all, fear of the unknown is ingrained into all of us. After that discovery, Sean decided not to check the alley again but he did feel the shadows eyeless stare on his back each time he walked by, weeks passed and the feeling became a comfort of sorts something stable in his life, something he could predict, a routine if you will. He would leave his apartment, feel the comfort of the unsettling feeling – as bizarre as it sounds – and then again after he came back home.
Sean worked at the town’s local library, it wasn’t an exhilarating job by any means but he enjoyed the silence and the tranquil feeling of placing books back on the shelves, helping people find what they needed and just reading all day while he supervised the whole place from 8 am till 6 pm. He also liked his co-workers and his cigarette breaks when he was free to let his mind wander off to the fantasy land in his head. He wanted to become a writer once or a traveller or an actor but he didn’t have any good ideas for a book, he hated flying and being in the centre of attention scared him more than getting stuck in an elevator. So he gave up and at the ripe age of 28 here he was outside of the library building smoking when one of his co-workers – a pink-haired girl named Haley – approached him out of nowhere with a cigarette of her own. He acknowledged her with a nod and a weak smile but didn’t start a conversation – he didn’t feel very social that day.
“Are you okay?” asked Hayley, Sean turned to slightly caught off guard.
“I guess I am” he answered, “Why do you ask?” Haley frowned a little then took out her lighter before she spoke again.
“You just look like you haven’t been sleeping lately,” Sean thought about it for a second and realized that it was in fact true, he had trouble falling asleep for a week or a month by now he could not remember. Did he really look that tired?
“Yeah I have trouble falling asleep lately, I’m fine though”
“Are you?” Haley questioned “You lost a lot of weight recently; you smoke like a chimney and you barely even talk to anyone anymore. You weren’t like that when I started working here”
Another pause, he was not always like this? Hayley started working at the library about three years ago, Sean remembered that because that’s when he dropped out of college and started working full time. That was also around the time that his short stories got rejected from ten different magazines and publishing companies and when his boyfriend of five years broke up with him. The 25-year-old version of himself he saw in his head was indeed much different from the one he saw in the mirror every day while starting his day. His hair was longer, his once favourite pants now hung from his hips like a trash bag and he had a hard time walking up the stairs to his apartment. He essentially lived on autopilot, repeating the same tasks from sunrise to sundown, Sean never noticed that because he was comfortable with his own misery and if the system ain’t broke, why fix it.
“I’m okay seriously” he finally said “But thanks for asking” putting out his cigarette he turned to the door to go back to work, leaving Hayley behind looking sceptically at her friend.
It was business as usual after that but Sean did stop himself a couple of times to think about the conversation he had with Hayley, in the following week he caught her looking at him with concern while they were both at work, she also left food for him on his desk but he either forgot about it or didn’t feel like eating it each time. One gloomy Wednesday afternoon he was coming back home contemplating if he should stop smoking and get back on a healthy diet only to dismiss it with the usual “I’ll start tomorrow” that never came true. He was passing the shadows alley when he stopped abruptly, something felt off. The feeling of being watched was gone, the shiver up his spine non-existent. He turned to look to the alley and it was indeed empty, the strange shadow that he grew so accustomed to was not there. He tried shrugging of the uncomfortable feeling of his routine being broken, he looked deeper into the alley hoping he just missed it or it changed locations but it still wasn’t there. He huffed and shook his head at the absurdity of the situation and the fact that he was looking for a shadow figure that so many would run from and continued walking home.
He reached his apartment door winded as always after climbing the stairs to the third floor. He walked in tossing his letterman bag on the floor and walked to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. He felt exhausted even though he didn’t do much that day at work, his eyes felt dry, his knees ached and he felt a headache forming in the back of his skull. A coffee definitely wouldn’t help but it was the only thing he could stomach right now. Haley asked him again today if he was okay and if he needed anything, he said no as always even if this time something deep within him said that he should get help. With a sight, he started walking to the salon with a cold cup of coffee to absentmindedly watch whatever was on the TV but he dropped his mug to the floor when he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He saw himself of course but right behind him stood the shadow. The same shadow he saw in the alley every day. He didn’t drop the mug because he was panicked, he was surprised to see that ‘thing’ up close and in his apartment. Sean noticed that the creature had white beady eyes and no mouth and that it also wasn’t shapeless, it had a silhouette that eerily resembled his own… He and the shadow locked eyes when they looked in the mirror but before Sean could even blink or turn around the shadow came closer and placed its ‘bony’ hands on him, one on his forehead and one on his mouth. The touch felt cold like the early morning fog after a rainy night and it effectively kept Sean from running or screaming – what he should be doing but he didn’t. He just stood enjoying the feeling of the unease, anxiety and misery he knew so well, the creature that held him begun swaying gently from side to side moving Sean with him as he thought ‘If the system works…’