A man is tormented by a disembodied shadow.
I lay on the bed in my small room. The plastic, disposable pillow crinkled under my head as I watched the reddish light of the setting sun illuminate the tower in the middle of the courtyard. It was getting dark. I had just awakened from a nap and most of the lights were on. Soon I’ll have to turn on all of them. In order to save money on electricity, the institute only lets me keep one or two lights on and have the windows open during the day. At night, however, I have to keep all the lights on past dawn. Why? Because I have to keep the darkness out.
Shadows moved across my room. I saw something inside one of the corners twitch. I grabbed my flashlight and shined it over to the corner. It was there, I know it was. It’s been following me for quite some time. The doctors here say it’s all in my head. That I’m being paranoid and I should just ignore it. I don’t believe them. Whatever I’m seeing is real. I’m not sure if it’s only me that it’s after or if it has targeted anyone else but I know it’s real.
I turned the flashlight off and the corner became dark again. At that moment, my door opened. Two nurses came in. It was four o’ clock and time for my session with the doctor. I got up out of bed, put on the slippers that the hospital gave me and walked with the nurses down to the office of Dr. Lawrence.
My other therapist said that Dr. Lawrence is one of the best psychotherapists in the state. He had written a few articles about different conditions over the years but his specialty was the diagnosis and treatment of paranoia. In the last few meetings my old therapist thought I might be having paranoid delusions so he sent me to get treatment at the Bell View Mental Institute.
The nurses walked behind as they led me down the hall. Every once in a while, where the ceiling lights weren’t bright enough to reach the floor, there were little inlets of darkness. I carefully and nervously walked across each inlet hurrying to the other side feeling that, any minute, something could grab me and pull me into the seemingly endless sea. The final island of light that I stepped foot on was in front of the doctor’s office.
Dr. Lawrence opened the door and greeted me warmly. He invited me into the great continent of afternoon light. The landscape was pretty much your standard psychotherapy office. It had some plants in the corners and a nice comfortable couch in the middle of the room next to a big armchair. Both the armchair and the couch were covered in shiny brown leather. Diplomas were scattered all over the walls and many books populated the shelves. He also had a large amount of mental health journals as well. Next to the armchair was a tall, skinny lamp. It was a plain metal lamp much like the small desk lamps that the institute had.
Behind Dr. Lawrence’s armchair and lamp there was a gigantic window that let the afternoon sun in. The sun was near the horizon now and the shadows in the room and outside were getting longer, flowing inward toward me the way water rushes in after a dam breaks or when tsunamis strike the land. They came in, slowly engulfing the continent with darkness. It was lurking somewhere in that sea. Like my own personal leviathan, it was waiting for the shadows to devour the rest of the continental light. Then, before that last piece of my continent sunk into the sea, Dr. Lawrence turned on the lamp piercing the dark and placing a safe island in the middle of the room around the chair and furniture.
Dr. Lawrence sat in his armchair with his notepad all ready for me. He was a tall man with slicked back black hair. He wore a pair of small, circular glasses. He was in his early thirties and he didn’t have the mustache and beard that you expect a psychologist to wear like in the cartoons. He sat comfortably on his leather throne in command of his room. With his great act of chasing the darkness away, he demonstrated what I could only see as his full control.
I was still afraid though. My leviathan might be too powerful even for Dr. Lawrence. He was only a man much like me. He may have control over this piece of territory but his power goes only so far. It can’t cross the great gulf stretching beyond the window or the office door. I knew that it was still out there living in the lakes and bays outside the boundaries of the tall lamplight.
“Mr. Daniels,” he said in a pleasant voice, “lay down and we’ll get started.”
I got onto the plush leather couch. It made noise as I moved around to get comfortable.
“Now tell me,” he said, “According to your previous doctor you say that you are seeing shadows. Am I right?”
“No,” I snapped, “I’m only seeing one.”
Doctors never seem to listen. Or at least they never hear the details you want them to hear.
“Okay, okay. No need to get angry. I’m only here to help.”
The doctor continued, still in his calm, patient voice.
“What does this shadow look like?”
My eyes continued to move around the room. I spotted the figure lurking in one of the dark, unlit corners behind the armchair. I concentrated on its form as it grew and changed shape. The only way for me to get the doctor to understand was to explain things to him.
“I can’t say for sure,” I said while shaking nervously. “It doesn’t really have any features.”
“Does it have an overall shape?”
“I’d say it was human.”
“Human you say? Hmmm.”
Dr. Lawrence looked down and started writing something in his notebook. I looked back at the shadow in the corner. It seemed to float there in that black puddle devoid of light.
“You seem to be more on edge than usual today Mr. Daniels. Is the shadow in this room with us now?”
I managed to point a trembling finger toward the darkened corner of the room.
“Behind you. There.”
Dr. Lawrence turned and looked into the corner. As he did, the shadow seemed to fly from that spot in the room to the shadow of the lamp. It stretched itself and molded its body to fit the shape of the lamp’s shadow while still holding its distinctively human-like appearance.
“There’s nothing there,” Dr. Lawrence said, “Hmmm. Interesting.”
The doctor continued to write in his notebook.
“Of course there isn’t anything there!” I shouted. “It’s in the lamp’s shadow now!”
I jumped up on the couch ready to run if the shadow decided to come out of its hiding place. I shook violently. My eyes were wide open.
“Calm down Mr. Daniels or I’ll have them bring in the sedative.”
Parts of the long skinny shadow started to move around in a mocking manner. It held up its arms and put its thumbs to its ears. Then it wagged its other fingers at me. If it had a tongue I would imagine that the creature would be sticking it out at me.
I jumped up and down frantically waving my arms and pointing toward the lamp.
“I won’t calm down!” I yelled, “It’s hiding in the shadow of the lamp! Look! I can see it! It’s mocking me!”
Dr. Lawrence pressed a button on the wall next to his chair and there was a slight buzzing noise. In a few seconds the two nurses came in. One was carrying a needle. The other grabbed my arm and, the next thing I knew, I blacked out. Damn my sensitive constitution. Medicines just take effect too quickly.
# # # #
The second session with Dr. Lawrence came promptly at four P.M. the next day. As usual the nurses came in and took me to the office. I never knew why the doctor picked four o’clock. Maybe he thought he could torture me back to normal. That was what it seemed to be, torture, especially now with the sun going down early.
“Mr. Daniels,” Dr. Lawrence said, “When did you first encounter this shadow?”
I thought long and hard about that question. It felt like forever since the first time I met my leviathan. As I thought I nervously looked around the room. Then the answer came to me.
“A few months ago,” I replied.
“Tell me what happened.”
The doctor leaned back on his chair still holding his pen to the pad.
“Well,” I started, “I was at the subway waiting for the train. It was a normal autumn day. It was very cold out so I had on a heavy overcoat. I was a tiny bit late for work that day and knew that I’d be in trouble with the boss. Other people were around me waiting for the same train. I looked at the people just minding my own business.’
‘That was when I noticed something strange in the corner of my eye. It looked like a man. It wore the same coat that I wore and was about as tall as I was. The only difference was that it was featureless. It seemed as if the thing was just a big dark shape attached to the wall. There was no face, no eyes, nothing.”
“Did you think it was just a regular shadow?”
“Yeah, at first, but then it moved.”
“It moved? On its own?”
The doctor, once again, wrote something in his pad.
“Well, I looked away for a few minutes then looked back. I saw nothing there. The shadow just vanished. I thought it was just my imagination. By then the train arrived and the doors opened. Without giving it anymore thought, I quickly followed the passengers onto it.”
“There must have been another time when you and this shadow met. Did you meet the shadow again?”
“Tell me about it.”
“It was later that day when I was at work. My boss called me into his office. He was furious with me. He yelled at me, blaming me for something I didn’t do. It continued for hours. He finally started to insult me. Eventually I had enough. I yelled back at him. I said so many hurtful, horrible things.’
‘As I was yelling, I noticed the shadow I saw before. It was behind my boss this time. As I yelled, it grew bigger. With every insult and horrible word that came out of my mouth it grew. Soon the shadow was so big and dark that it covered the entire wall. I was terrified by this. I was afraid that it would swallow my boss whole. I stopped yelling and, in a state of panic, ran out of the office as quick as I could.’
‘I ran out of the building and down the street. I knew the shadow was following me. I could feel its cold icy breath down the back of my neck. It must have changed size and shape twenty different times as it jumped from one dark spot to another. I ran to a corner and called for a taxi. Then, thinking the shadow wouldn’t know where I live, I told the driver to take me home.”
“Hmmm,” was the doctor’s only response. He wrote something down in his pad. Then he looked up.
“Did you see the shadow again after this?”
“Yes. Somehow the shadow found its way to my house. It hung around every day constantly lurking in the dark areas. It hovered over me. The shadow was in the halls, under the sink, behind my fridge. It was everywhere. I started buying lights. I bought flashlights, candles, nightlights, lamps, neon signs, everything. I was obsessed with keeping that shadow out of my house. It got to the point where I placed lights outside. I rented spotlights and stadium lights. Then I put up Christmas lights. Anything with a light on it, I had it out there. The neighbors thought I was crazy. They called the police many times to complain about all the lights that were on. It was so bright that astronauts probably could’ve seen my house from space. I left the lights on all day and all night. Eventually my electric bill went up.’
‘Things escalated after that. People continued to call the police. I, myself, lost a lot of sleep over those months. Finally, my friend recommended me to his therapist but I ignored him.”
“Mmmm Hmmm,” the doctor replied. Then he wrote in his notebook. “Tell me, Mr. Daniels, about the night you ended up here.”
I continued to look around the room nervously. Then I continued.
“Yeah sure. It was the night before Halloween. Everything was very quiet. I knew that the shadow had to be in or around the house somewhere. I had no idea where. That was when I heard the rustling of some bushes in the front. I rushed to the window and looked outside. A shadowy figure was stooped down near the bush. I decided that it was the best time to make my move. I grabbed a flashlight and ran out the door. Screaming at the top of my lungs I went toward the shadow swinging the flashlight at it.’
‘To my surprise and horror I found that I attacked Old Lady Jenkins. She was over here looking for her cat Mittens. She, of course, called the police. When the police arrived, Mrs. Jenkins told them everything and pressed charges.’
‘The next day I was sent to court. The judge told me I needed psychological help. For the next couple weeks I was subject to many tests and examinations. Then, later, therapy. They gave me some anti-depressants and other medications. Unfortunately, none of them worked. I kept seeing the shadow. It haunted me every day of my life.”
When I finished my story, Dr. Lawrence wrote something down in his notepad. Then he looked up at me. He examined my face through his small, circular glasses.
“Well Mr. Daniels,” he said, “that was quite a story.”
“You think I’m crazy don’t you?”
“No Mr. Daniels. I do think that the shadow might just be in your head. What you are seeing is real only to you. You seem to have an overactive imagination. That, with a lot of repressed feelings, has manifested itself into paranoid delusions that someone is following you. You need to face this problem head on. However, we can help you here. I’m going to prescribe some new medication to help calm the nerves. Then I recommend that you go to group therapy sessions every day. They should help you deal with this fear of yours. The rest is up to you. The therapy sessions and medication can only bring you so far.”
The doctor looked intensely at me and pointed to me in order to emphasize his words.
“You, Mr. Daniels, have to make the effort to face your problems the rest of the way.”
Dr. Lawrence pressed the button to call the nurses in. They took me back to my room. In my room I thought about what the doctor said. I looked at all the lights that were on and keeping the shadow under control. Then I decided to turn off each and every light. I left only one on. It was a small, portable, rounded lamp that I had on one of the shelves.
“Come out shadow!” I said, “We are going to settle this once and for all.”
The shadow emerged from its hiding place bigger than ever before. It shot up the wall and across the ceiling. Its head covered the now darkened ceiling light. It seemed to growl at me. I stared right back at it determined to conquer my fear. I could hear a slight chuckle coming from the darkness of the shadow. The chuckle turned into a loud and sinister laughter.
“How do you expect to defeat me?” the shadow asked in a dark, deep voice, “I’m a part of you.”
I was amazed and fearful. This was the first time I ever heard the shadow talk.
“What do you mean shadow?” I asked trembling a little.
“I mean exactly what I said. I’ve been inside you ever since the beginning.”
“If you were inside of me, why haven’t I noticed you until the time I was waiting in the subway station?”
The creature let out a loud, evil laugh.
“You people are all alike. You only see darkness in other people and never the darkness in yourself. I was here since you were born. You just didn’t see me because I wasn’t strong enough. Remember that time in your childhood when you stole the candy?”
As the shadow talked, a patch of darkness in the middle of its body gave way to a lit-up scene of a candy store. I saw myself as a child looking nervously around. I also saw the shadow of the boy I used to be. It was pushing me toward a pile of candy. As it did, it grew bigger. I saw myself reach into the pile and pull out my hand filled with chocolates, gumdrops and licorice. Then I ran out of the store.
“That was a good one,” the shadow said, “Candy is always much sweeter when it’s stolen. Don’t you agree?”
“I was young then. I didn’t know any better.”
“Really?” the shadow said in a way of disbelief, “That wasn’t a few pieces that you stole. It was almost half the barrel. I’d think that a child of ten would know the difference between right and wrong. Now let me show you another part of your life.”
The scene changed again. I saw myself waiting on the subway platform. I had on the heavy overcoat. Next to my leg was the briefcase where I kept important papers. I was looking at my watch.
“Now watch,” the shadow said, “you will start to look at the woman to the right of you.”
I watched the scene and saw myself looking at the woman on the right. To any passerby it could have been a small, innocent peek but I knew what was going through my mind. It wasn’t as innocent as it appeared. My expression was very different from normal. It was wild and animalistic as if some deep-rooted urges were bubbling up from deep inside me. I quickly turned away trying to keep those feelings down.
“I admit it!” I said to the shadow kneeling down and covering my face in shame, “It’s true! I was looking at her in that way. I didn’t mean anything by it. I am just a man you know.”
The monstrous shadow didn’t listen to me. He just laughed as the subway sunk back into the darkness.
“Now let’s visit another time in the same day.”
A new scene floated up. This time I saw myself standing inside my boss’s office. He was yelling at me.
“The best part of this was the things that went on in your head,” the shadow said, “I just love your imagination.”
The shadow reached inside the image of me and pulled out a big thought bubble. In the bubble, I saw an identical scene of me with my boss in the office. This time, however, I held a metal golf club. My boss was yelling at me in the bubble too but stopped when I raised the club over my head. In the fantasy, my boss helplessly looked up at the club and then at me. He got on his knees and pleaded with me not to attack him. I swung it down anyway clubbing my boss mercilessly. I didn’t stop. He was on the floor and I kept up with the beating. It was a gruesome sight as the blood splattered all over the office and my boss’s body became covered with big purple bruises. Before my imaginary self could do anything more, the horrible scene faded away.
“You see?” the shadow finally said, “I am everything that is evil in your psyche. Every little feeling, every little desire, everything that you have suppressed over the years. It was quite inevitable. You pushed me down deep inside yourself for so long that I had to come out somewhere. I was like the magma in a volcano. The pressure built up and I popped out at that point. Now there is nothing you can do.”
I didn’t see it, but I knew that the shadow must have been making a gigantic grin. I imagined it to be a devilish grin. Something Lucifer himself would be wearing as he tortured the souls in the underworld. I shuddered at the thought that something so horrible could come from me.
“You’re wrong!” I yelled, standing up, but still nervous. “There is something I can do! I am going to stand up to you no matter what. You are no longer going to rule my life!”
The shadow let out an angry growl. It startled me so much that I almost lost my balance. Then it started making noises. It let out unearthly growls and then barked loudly. It grew until it engulfed the entire room. My eyes were wide open with fear as I stared into the darkness. It was so thick that the single lamp that I had on was no longer of any use. I couldn’t see anything. I just stood there trembling; staring up at what I thought was still the head of the shadow. It kept making noises. The noises started as loud barks and then they changed into lion-like roars.
“That’s enough of that!” I yelled, still trembling with fear, “I am not going to be intimidated by you anymore. If you are part of me I will not let you control my life. You’re in my mind and I am your master. You will respect me!”
The shadow stopped roaring. There was only silence. My body stopped trembling. I stood there motionless. I imagined that the shadow was staring at me amazed that I stood up to it. Then, to my surprise, the darkness of the shadow slowly receded. It shrank; giving way to the light from the lamp as it slowly disappeared into a corner.
After the shadow was gone I collapsed on the bed exhausted from the ordeal. It felt as if my body was pulled in all directions like a rubber band then released. With the shadow defeated and my demons under control, I fell into a sound sleep.
I awoke the next morning refreshed and optimistic. For the first time in a long time I had a very good night’s sleep. When the nurses came to get me at four I went down the hall. Instead of carefully creeping along the inlets of darkness I jumped and skipped through them happily island-hopping to Dr. Lawrence’s office. When I made it to the door I ran in and happily greeted the doctor.
“Thank you doctor!” I said as I vigorously shook his hand, “You cured me! I no longer see the shadow. I can finally live my life again!”
The doctor was surprised by my outburst and a little skeptical. I don’t blame him. I did just get here a month ago. After I was finished shaking his hand he looked at me through his rounded glasses examining me as if I were a specimen on a microscope.
“I’m sorry but I don’t believe it,” he said, “I’m going to need to run some tests and place you under observation. Just to be sure.”
It took a few more weeks of testing before I was deemed fit to return to society. When I was released they canceled my group meetings and took me off the medication. I thanked the doctor once again and left the office. The nurses gave my clothes back and escorted me out of the hospital after I changed. I never saw the shadow after that.
However, on the last day, when I was ready to be released, Dr. Lawrence seemed to be a little tense. He kept looking over his shoulder every couple of minutes. He no longer looked like that confident king that created islands in the sea of darkness.