It follows me.
A blanket of nothing sweeping behind me like the tail of a kite. Attached but not attached. There but not there. I can feel it lurking like a shadow. Shadow, the stalker projected behind you by the very light it hides from. But this is deeper than a shadow. This is darker than pitch black. There is no light here to cast it. It is a shadow’s shadow. It is projected by something internal instead. Or maybe it’s not projected. Maybe it is doing the projecting?
Was it always there? When did it start? Maybe it didn’t start, maybe I started.
It’s 3:18am and I’m currently wandering through an abandoned park. All around me things that are bright in daylight, quietly wrapped up in the blue-gray of night. Nothing shines, nothing glistens. Yet it is all gloriously bright in comparison to that nothing that trails me.
I turn to face it, but it’s not there. That weighted feeling of someone standing directly behind you, but you cannot turn your head to see it. It’s always on your shoulders, breathing down your neck, except not breathing, breathing is reserved for the living. This entity is not alive. It is not dead. It just is.
And so am I. I just am.
It’s been three weeks since I started this walk. Stopping only briefly to lie on a park bench or cardboard box set in an alley, away from the prying eyes of the bustling damned. Those people, bearers of the suit and tie, nine to five soldiers, fighting a war on fictional enemies. I sit and watch as they file in and out of a Starbucks, gripping the cups of coffee that are gripping them. Addiction at it’s most mundane. Their whole life is a shadow of what they wanted it to be.
You can see it on their faces, as they swallow more than five dollar coffee. It’s their pride, or what’s left of it. But it’s more than that. They swallow dreams. They choke down reality. The bitter taste of their younger years slipping away into fluorescent lights and cubicle walls. Later, they’ll vomit it all up in a slew of “Welcome home, Honey” “How was your day?” “What’s for dinner?”.
The entire thing makes me sick.
That’s why I left. That’s why I’ve stopped “living” and started just being. I’ve been walking in a straight line, when it’s not obstructed by obstacles, of course, for three weeks. Three weeks since I just stood up from my chair at the Central Bank Loan Division where I was imprisoned, walked right past the line of patrons waiting to make sure their money was still there, and straight out the door. My shift wasn’t over for another six hours, but I didn’t care about that anymore. Unless they wanted to drag me back in and physically bind me to my “Rejected” stamp, they weren’t going to make me be there anymore.
Request for me to be just another mindless victim of a watered down society? Rejected!
And I just started walking. Left the Central Bank, straight through the streets of downtown. Past Sunny Oaks Café on the corner where I spent the last thousand mornings of my life sucking down the same mediocre eggs and the same slightly burned toast. Past the Central Library, where I would check out a Financial Weekly magazine to read but not read. Thumbing through the pages, looking at reports and graphs, pretending it all mattered. Pretending it was necessary to the world. None of it ever was. And it was all incredibly boring.
I reached the city limits that evening, walking through suburban neighborhoods, never stopping, never changing course. I walked directly towards the sunset, as if I expected to reach it. As if I would follow the sun to a new land, a new life, something more meaningful and exciting. But eventually it got too far ahead of me and the world was once again settled into the bosom of night.
That was when the shadow came. Maybe “awoke” is a better way of putting it? When the shadow was born. Brought up from the depths of myself? Or me brought up from the depths of it. Deeper than any ocean, redefining the thought of endless that is brought on by the skies. It was there. Was it always there? If it was, I hadn’t noticed it until that night. Maybe I was not the one that had been unchained, maybe I simple let that shadow out. Or maybe it was what gave me the strength to let myself out.
It’s presence is heavy, but it doesn’t weigh you down. It’s weight seems to be almost uplifting, defying the very laws of gravity. Physics and the laws of science have nothing on this shadow, for it can’t be understood, researched, tested, reported on. It can simply be felt. But it can’t be felt, not in the literal sense. You can’t find it with any of the traditional senses. It gives off no odor. It would have to be tangible for you to taste it. It’s too dark to be seen, even in contrast to other darkness. The only sound it makes is the sound of whatever it passes over. And whatever it is you think you can feel, you can’t. It’s all in your head. It’s all in my head.
Or if it had a head, I’d believe I was all in it’s head.
That first night I was afraid of it. Maybe I didn’t understand it, or maybe I didn’t want it there. But I knew it was there, and it frightened me. It threw an uneasy feeling over me like a thin coating of oil. Wet, but thick, heavy, nearly solid. Not sticky, but not easy to shake off. That fear is what kept me walking, for I was afraid if I stopped I would simply drown in it’s nothingness.
The sun came back. As if it had forgotten something, it returned from it’s shallow grave in the horizon. And with it, that shadow disappeared. Or did it disappear? It was still there, no light could illuminate that darkness, it was there when it wasn’t there. I could still feel that oily weight.
How far had I walked? I wasn’t paying attention. Had I passed borders? Was I in another state? All I knew was I was surrounded on all sides by farm fields. Corn as far as I could see. Punctuated with little farm houses and silos, the occasional cow or horse. Occasionally passed by someone in a beat up pick up, or a tractor, someone who would lift their wide-brimmed hat up and give me a resounding “Howdy”, and go about their day. Free, but not really free, just more free than the person I had been.
The person I was? The… animal I was? The animal I wasn’t?
The machine I was, the animal I wasn’t, the person I wished to be.
At some point, I had shed my outer skin. Not real skin, mind you, but my suit jacket. I had untied the blue and white stripped noose from around my neck. Opened my throat the early morning air. I had kicked off the wing tip cages that trapped my feet. I had reached into my pockets and pulled out my wallet, my keys, my cell phone. A trail left behind me like a warped Hansel and Gretel, but I didn’t want to turn around and use those bread crumbs to get home. They were just there to mark a trail of escape. I was convinced if I turned around, all of it would have already been eradicated by that shadow. Consumed for sustenance. The shadow feeding only on what once was.
I could have used the wallet, filled with magical money cards. Pulling imaginary money from other dimensions. I could have used all that money to purchase food, water. But I didn’t. I could have used the phone. I could have used it to contact my family, the people I had enslaved myself for. I was abandoning them. Or at least that’s how I should have felt. I should have felt guilty for making them worried, and by now they would be worried.
Phone calls from Master at the bank. I’m not even trying to be cute with that, the head of the bank is actually named Greg Master. Phone calls from Master, using his stern tone to inform my wife of my actions this morning. Explaining in his dry, corporate tongue how I just up and took flight. How I left without saying a word. They say actions speak louder than words and I can only hope that that’s true.
Where am I now? I don’t mean physically, as in location, I mean in regards to my weary existence. Was I going to just keep walking until I couldn’t walk anymore? Was this the end of life as I knew it? Was this just a beginning? I felt as if the shadow, that shadow that was darker than shadow, held the only answer to this question. Where was I? Where was I in my existence? I was in that shadow, or it was in me. It was me. It was me and I was in it. A self that exists outside of myself. I was trapped in myself, or was I finally free from myself? Did the shadow hold me down or lift me up? Why did I feel like I couldn’t stop walking?
Later in the afternoon, or at least what I perceived as afternoon because of the declining sun, I wandered into a small town. Bars, cafes, a church. Nothing out of the ordinary, that was except for a large statue in the center of town. I could see it the entire time I was walking, in the distance, casting strange reflections of light from the evening sun. It was like a lighthouse in a storm.
By the time I reached it, the sun was almost gone again. The shadow was waiting, watching, soon to be released again. Soon to attach itself to me and carry me through another night of walking. As I walked past the statue, a plaque on the base caught my eye.
The statue was of a man, dressed in a nice suit, top hat, cane. A boring, mundane man. Reminded me of all the patrons of the bank. Reminded me of me, you know, if I had a top hat and cane. But it was the plaque below him that struck me.
“Everything in life is a straight line. No matter what the direction, no matter what the obstacle, it is always a straight path from one point to another. Even when you meander, you are simply heading in a new straight line. Life is just a straight line from one point to the other. What point you start at is predestined, but what point you end at is entirely up to you. Choose your straight line, and walk it. – Arland C. Lester, Town Founder and Head of the Bank of New Lester”
A straight line. What Mr. Lester failed to mention is that that line can be obscured sometimes. By the shadow, or maybe by the one walking it. As he said, I changed direction, I started walking a new straight line, both figuratively and literally. However, the predetermined starting point changed too. I started this line at the shadow, and in it’s dark embrace I would end it.
I left New Lester, as I had figured the town to be named, and walked into another night. As if on a time loop, the shadow was upon me again. Or was it? It was there, but was it on me? Was I on it? These questions, were they there before?
The nature of the shadow, it’s being, seemed to be in a constant state of enigma to me. I had to keep questioning it, not to figure it out, but to keep it close. The shadow was always right there, yet it was distant. It was as if I was walking behind a person, a few paces behind. Walking at the same speed. They always seem close, but no matter how long you walk, you never quite get closer. You step, they step. The shadow matched my pace, step for step, not physically, but mentally. Always right there, always just out of reach, yet always within sight. Not actual sight, I couldn’t see it, but some kind of third-eyesight. Maybe that was it? Maybe I had awoken a third eye. Seen things that normal people cannot see.
But how? How could I have awoken so suddenly from a slumber I didn’t know I was in? Was reality an alarm in my head, repetitive noise in the background to snap me back? The ticking of a clock, beating in my chest, timing out everything, waiting to reach that point that the alarm sets off, awakening me to something more. Or something less. Less is more.
Less. That was it. I had less responsibility. No job, no family, no need to eat or rest, just walking. I had less around me. The bustle of the city was gone, the noise, the lights, the people. Replaced by seemingly endless fields, no sound but nature. No light but the stars. No people, they were all asleep in tiny farm houses littering the landscape. Less. More.
Even the shadow itself was less and more. It was more or less. More or less there, more or less gone. More or less always present. It was always and never. Everything and nothing. As was I.
Where was I going? Where had I been? Would I just keep going, or stop soon and let the shadow catch me, let me catch it? What did this all mean? It didn’t mean anything. It was just a response. A fight or flight response. I had been fighting. Fighting the trappings of modern living. I could have stayed there, fighting to be, or I could take flight. I had taken flight. And here I was, flying that straight line. The fight or flight response shifting, or me shifting the direction of my straight line, as Mr. Lester would have said. It was as if my life was a representation of a battle of two ideals. Mr. Lester telling me to walk, to take flight, and Master telling me to stay, to fight. Which was the better choice? That was all up to the shadow.
It was always there. It was what caused response. Fight or flight, it was decided only by those that the shadow chose. Or those who chose the shadow. I had chose the shadow, and it had given me the ability to fly.
And now, I will fly. Endlessly, no, not endlessly. With end. I will fly, with an eventual end, in the new straight line. The shadow would always be. I would not always be.,
Fight or flight. Choose your straight line. Find your end. The shadow is waiting.