Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Identifying Shadows

Written this very night, here is "Identifying Shadows." At first, I wasn't sure where this was going. But I was determined to write. So I suppose you could blame this story on a need to write and a few rather unhelpful generators. I finally wound up putting a few random words together and got the title.

By the time I was past the first page, I still didn't know where the story was going. And then it ended, and I had a "huh..." moment.

I'm pleased with this story. It surprised me. Enjoy!

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Identifying Shadows

I got the point right away. She obviously didn’t want to be recognized, but I didn’t know why. But there she was, standing almost right in front of me in the crowd, wearing the stereotypical trench coat and fedora that practically screamed, “I’m incognito!” She had recognized me, of course, since I wasn’t in “disguise,” and she made a point to gesture fervently at me not to blow her cover. And, like the obedient friend I am, I kept quiet.

I wasn’t however, obedient enough to forget I’d seen her, or to keep myself from following her. It wasn’t hard to keep track of her; that silly getup she was wearing actually made her easier to track than if she’d been dressed normally. But no one else seemed to pay much attention to her. They were all too busy dealing with their own lives, their own destinations, to pay any attention to either of us.

In keeping with her silly stereotypical adventure, she ducked down a badly-lit alley, between a foul-smelling, overfilled dumpster and some half-rotted wooden crates and torn, soggy cardboard boxes. Walking into the alley was like walking into a wall; the smells of the place just suddenly began assaulting your lungs and nose hairs in a very valiant attempt to burn them out. I had to cover my nose; the alley probably ranked numbers one through four on the “Odors to Make You Vomit” list. I actually gagged a few times and once had to spit to get the taste of the foul air out of my mouth. What surprised me was that she didn’t seem to mind it. The silly, highbred, haughty girl didn’t have a problem with such a hair-raising stench as this. I’d seen her complain at a thumbnail’s amount of mud on her ankle, but she could withstand the smell of this alley better than I could. I wanted to puke. I wanted to puke badly.

And as suddenly as the stenches had hit me, they were gone. It was as if I had walked into another wall, but this one was just plain city air. The mingled aromas of oil, exhaust fumes, street trash and human sweat had never smelled so sweet.

I realized she was gone. I’d lost her. I checked my surroundings; there were over a dozen doorways, other side alleys, and a thousand nooks and crannies she could have disappeared into. Looking behind me, I decided against heading back through the Rotten Air Alley to get home. So for awhile I just stood there, with my back to Rotten Air Alley, looking disinterestedly around me and not really even thinking about what I was going to do next. I was more than a little upset about losing track of my quarry; if nothing else, it had been fun following her, and I would have liked to know why she was trying to hide.

Now this was when I sort of lose track of exactly what happened. I know at some point I heard a voice making frequent paranoid comments. For a good while I heeded it, turning and looking about, sizing up my own situation and searching for danger at every whisper. But when there was nothing, I just started to ignore it. The scientist showed up… I’m not sure if it was before or after the voice did. The scientist was one of those stereotypical old guys in the white lab coat and dark slacks and thick glasses. At first he just pointed and shouted, but then he produced a gun from somewhere and began shooting recklessly at nothing.

And of course, I got hit. It didn’t hurt, really, not that I remember. Of the actual impact I have no recollection. I know there should have been blood, but I don’t remember that either. I don’t even remember where I was hit now. My only memory of this part was being on my knees on the asphalt, and I could only see the ground beneath me. No blood, not my own hand holding me up, nothing. Just the asphalt and the shadows cast from streetlamps.

There were far too many shadows on the ground in front of me. Many of them were small. Well, smaller than a human-sized shadow, anyway. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any that were larger than the shadow cast by your average-sized full-grown man. I immediately recognized my own, bent over double in pain, and the slow steady drip drip of blood. It was bright red in my shadow, drip drip, but not dripping into any puddle.

Vaguely, I believe I remember identifying the scientist’s shadow. At least, I think it was a shadow cast by a lab coat and glasses, and holding a gun. It was difficult to pick out. There was, definitely, another man-sized one right at my shoulder. A pair of shining chocolaty-brown eyes peered out of the shadow. It was leaned in by my ear, and… maybe this was when I first heard the voice whispering paranoia at me.

One of the smaller shadows-- one the size of a small terrier dog-- hopped and jumped and dashed out of the-- as best as I can describe-- pile of shadows in front of my face. I of course watched it. And in following its path, I noticed a discarded fedora on the ground not far from me. I crawled over to it.

It was her. Well, the hat wasn’t her. The hat wasn’t even on her head anymore. But it was near her. She was unmoving, her body lying still next to the curb and obstructed from my view before by a pile of full trash bags. She was dead.

When I turned back around, I finally saw what I knew I would see: my own body.

I think I knew I was dead at the beginning. Even before then… when I first saw her and started following her, I think I knew, somewhere deep in my gut, that I was going to die. It was pretty painless, so I decided I’d keep with it. No sense trying to be one of those clich├ęd ghosts that tries to keep ties with the living world and find their way back into their own body and keep on existing that way. I was dead; might as well enjoy it.

A crowd had begun to gather. Their terrified cries and gasps at the scene before them were muffled in my ears. I watched for awhile as they poked at my body and at hers. They were kind of funny.

Then I saw her. She lifted a finger to her lips and gave me a look that said, “Don’t give me away.”
I got the point right away. She obviously didn’t want to be recognized, but I didn’t know why. But there she was, standing almost right in front of me in the crowd, wearing the stereotypical trench coat and fedora that practically screamed’ “I’m incognito!” She had recognized me, of course, since I wasn’t in “disguise,” and she made a point to gesture fervently at me not to blow her cover. And, like the obedient friend I am, I kept quiet.

I wonder… is there a death after death? Maybe I’ll just follow her and find out.

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