Shadows

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I opened my eyes abruptly to see shadows running away. A second sooner and I would have seen their owners, surely, but I was too late!

Feigning slumberous tranquility, I let my eyelids slide shut to lure the fickle shadows back, but when I opened them again they were nowhere to be found.

Lightning flashed, illuminating the room with a flash of a surreal white color. I listened intently for the shadows, but only heard heavy rain pounding against the tin roof. A second burst of lightning lit—no, that wasn’t lightning, it was too… close?

Through the crack under the door, I could see the bathroom light flickering on and off. That isn’t normal.

And then the rain stopped, and the thunder calmed, and it was quiet. No rain on the roof, no lightning, no outside sound at all. The rustling of my blankets reached a thousand decibels as I lifted my legs out of bed and stood against the cold floor, the cold cabin boards creaking beneath my bare feet.

As I took a step towards the bathroom, the light flickered again. Memories flooded through my head from a case years ago, following closely in the track of a killer who played these sort of mind games before snatching up his next victim. The Flicker, they called him. The name didn’t do him justice.

“Hello,” I called out cautiously, placing a hand on the bathroom doorknob. It was as cold as ice, but not out of the ordinary for a winter night in the woods. “Is someone in there?”

No response. Cautiously, I turned the handle.

The bathroom was dark and the rain was returning quickly behind me, raindrops echoing eerily throughout the small apartment as they fell faster and faster and beat relentlessly against the thin, tin roof. I reached out and flicked the bathroom light on, staggering back at what I saw.

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I was a kid again, playing with friends at the Jolly Daycare. Not a care in the world plagued my preschool mind, unless the care was who I would sit with at lunch and whether I could get a second glass of milk with my meal. As I was chasing Lucy back to the swings, I heard something terrible: the cry of a cat.

It sounded… sick. In pain. I stopped in my tracks and looked around, hoping to find the cat and stop whatever could be causing such a painful cry. A group of other kids lined at the fence brought my attention to a small, black kitten limping a dozen feet away—that they were throwing rocks at.

As each rock flew through the air, the kids cackled and the cat let out another howl of misery. I sprinted over to the fence without giving Lucy another look and climbed over it. Holding an arm out to protect myself from rocks, I swept in and rescued the kitten. It didn’t take long before the kids stopped throwing the playground’s stones, but it took long enough for several to strike me at various spots on my back, shooting bursts of pain through my body that were completely muffled by adrenaline.

It was at that moment, when I hovered over the kitten and looked into its eyes, I knew I was destined for a life of service and helping others. It was that moment I described in my police academy interview, and that moment that has been keeping me moving forward all these years.

Another loud burst of thunder ripped me from my flashback. I was still standing in the doorway of the bathroom—light on, but with nothing strange in view. I stepped inside to have a closer look and caught my reflection in the mirror.

My skin had grown taught and leathery over the years, leaving behind the carefree look of my youth. Where I once had bright, shining eyes, deep holes reminiscent of long nights and stress had taken over. My lips quivered ever so slightly from the adrenaline still pumping through my veins at the thought of an intruder, which prompted another scan of the bathroom to make sure before returning my gaze to the mirror.

I wasn’t wearing much, just some sweatpants to keep myself warm during the wet months. Much of my body was calloused from years of police service, yet the muscles that once flexed with every movement had since fallen asleep. I hadn’t used them in so long, I wasn’t surprised.

“Hello,” the man in the mirror said softly.

I felt strangely calm, and answered, “Are you… me?”

The reflection grinned and slowly raised one hand. As I watched, I noticed my own hand rising from the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t turn my head to look. My eyes were focused on the mirror. Another burst of lightning from outside illuminated the small room and instilled the first pang of fear within me as I saw just part of a moving body—my moving body—in the mirror, but contained within a simple square, as if I were looking at myself through a window.

The doppelganger’s hand reached the top of his head at the same time mine did, and I could feel his nails scraping across his face as he harshly brought his hand downwards, scraping my dirtied nails against it. Small droplets of blood formed in the crimson trails left behind, and I tried to scream. Instead, the reflection laughed—and I did too.

As we laughed, we began to dig at our eyes, prying and trying to release the horrifying visions that we each saw. Digging deep, the pain turned to numbness and blood started to flow.

I coughed, jerking my head forward, and felt a temporary sense of weightlessness that prompted me to instinctively throw my arms out. As I jerked back into place, disoriented and with blurred vision, I felt the cool softness of a pillow. My blanket was untouched, and still as tightly wrapped around me as it was when I fell asleep last night.

Sweating and breathing heavily, it took several moments to calm down and realize it was all just a dream.