I saw my first living shadow when I was in elementary school. Most people don’t see it because most people don’t want to see it. They prefer to walk along in deluded comfort. The shadows are just the refraction of light around objects, nothing more. They are not real.
Not to most people.
I’m not most people. It looked at me from outside the basement window, and I got the feeling that it was trying to talk to me – in my head. The fear overwhelmed and sent me scurrying up the steps to find real people that would talk to me with their words and not in my mind. I worked hard not to see the shadows after that night.
It worked for a while.
There still those few times when the hair would stand up on my arms and I would feel the shadows trying to whisper in my head to get my attention. I would know they were there, but I would just put my head down and not look.
The older I got, the more difficult it got not to look. The voices got louder and more demanding. The shadows were not just around things or behind things, but they were on, and around, and sometimes even IN people.
It all came to a head at summer camp. I met a girl – another one that saw the shadows – and she opened my eyes to a world I will never be able to ignore again.
“You can see.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. Stacey had snuck beside me as I stood there staring across the creek at the cross standing on the other cliff. It was a deep ravine, cut by centuries of that determined creek. The divide was simple to cross because the path had been worn and prepared. Once you knew the way, it was an easy enough journey.
I had been to the cross several times when I visited the camp. It was an amazing experience getting there, but there were still times that I enjoyed watching the cross from the comfort of the dining hall.
“It’s a clear night, and the full moon reflects off the white cross.” The starkness of the cross always helped it stand out against the dark of nature – no matter the season. It had been set in concrete on the grey and yellow stone at the peak of the other mountain long before my time at camp began.
“Not the cross.” Stacey’s voice had a heaviness to it – almost sad but almost excited. “You see them.”
“Them?” I strained to see if some campers had been crazy enough to make the journey in the dark. They would have had to use flashlights to get down to the bridge and them up to the cross. It was too dark in the ravine even with the moon. I hadn’t noticed any lights earlier, and I couldn’t see any now. “What them?” I turned around to ask Stacey, but she wasn’t standing where she had just been. She had wandered off through the throng of teens while I had been looking for “them.”
I tried to catch up with Stacey that night, but after 10 pm we had to be in our cabins or in the dining hall. Stacey wasn’t in the dining hall, and we weren’t staying in the same cabin. I figured she had to be in her cabin since I hadn’t found her anywhere else. The next two days, she was just as scarce. She didn’t try to find me, and I couldn’t find her.
It was a strange camp season that year. I never remember it even raining all that much in the years before, but that year it stormed the whole time. The heaviness of the storms added to the weight I had been carrying around after Stacey’s comment. I was almost certain that the weight was going to break me. It was the first year I remember wanting to go home early.
“You see them.” This time Stacey found me sitting at the picnic table across from the pool. It was activity time, and with a break in the storms, I was taking advantage of the scattered campers and the sunshine to enjoy the quiet. I was too tired to do much else, what with holding up the weight of the storms and that nagging comment.
“You see them.” She said again when I didn’t respond to her first comment.
The hair stood up on my arms, and I looked around for the shadow that I didn’t want to see.
She watched my reaction and nodded before adding, “You sense them, too. That is good.”
Two boys rushed past us and jockeyed for the privilege of dangling from the bell rope. I wanted to ask her what she was talking about, but the boys were bouncing under the bell, and it was clanging loud enough for the whole world to hear. By the time they stopped, there where campers coming from all around to gather at the dining hall. Stacey was already on her way down the hill to join them. “Time for dinner.” She called over her shoulder to me.
My question would have to wait.