Shadow by April Howard

"Shadow" is one of the March Writing Challenge entries that was chosen to be a featured story.


I’ll tell you about the first time I saw the shadow. I was by the sea. I could see the horizon stretched out before me, and I felt the enormity of it surge through me. The unbreakable bond between sea and sky exemplified before me. There’s something eerie about it too — the never-ending nature of the great beyond. I got that feeling. That feeling you get when you listen to a particularly powerful song or watch a particularly moving film — that tingly, hair-raising, momentous sensation. The waves were crashing against the rugged sandy beach, scattered with shingle and decorated with couples here and there: smothered in coats and wandering along hand-in-hand. That’s when I sensed a momentary darkness flick behind me. I turned but nobody was there. I was alone with my hands curled around the railings and the wind blowing through my hair. I felt frightened for some unfathomable reason; eyes often play tricks on their possessors.

A week later, it appeared again. I was alone in my room, and it loomed over me like the malevolent phantom I originally suspected it to be. In a morbid wonder, I had to abandon the book I was devouring and stare at it. It did not flinch. The black edges curled like a claw around the corner of my room and it seemed to be spreading. It completely dominated my room; it was as unavoidable as a hurricane. I found myself begging, bargaining with it to leave. I was in tears: heavy, ugly tears as the shadow continued to spread.

It began to follow me: to school, out with friends and everywhere else I went. At night, its presence was all the more overwhelming. I couldn’t sleep for it reigned over me, a tyrant guarding his people. I tossed and turned, but the all-consuming might of the spectre did not relinquish.

I sank inside myself, folded inwards like flimsy paper, until I could barely feel it anymore. My friends began to distance themselves from me; they must have seen it too. The shadow started to speak to me, telling me things that made my stomach churn and heart sag.

My life became a dreaded rhythm — a relentless stream of frustration and anger and sadness. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or think without the shadow invading. I don’t fully remember the day I decided to succumb. I just remember feeling absolutely nothing but the darkness that enveloped me and the cold of the steel blade and the searing pain after. Then I blacked out and woke up in the hospital with a drip in one arm and a bandage adorning the other. The shadow was nowhere in sight, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. I knew it would come back.

Then I met Trina. She said she was going to help me get better. This confused me. How could she help? She couldn’t eliminate it any more than I could. The thick stench it carried still hung in the air, and my body still ached like it was still controlling me. She surprised me, though; she made the weight upon my chest lighten. She let me out. She let the words flow out of me, the lexis plucked from my mind that could describe what it’s like — what it’s like to feel your world plummet inside itself.

I felt the world begin to unfold at my feet, to feel the light flush back in. I could breathe again and eat again, but one thought manifested itself in my mind like a sore: if I had talked sooner, it would have been over sooner. It wouldn’t have gotten so bad.

For words are the pathway to redemption.



April Howard

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