Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Shadows

Her hands trembled as icy tears ran slowly down her frigid face, biting at her caramel co- loured skin. She simply could not comprehend why. Why her? “Five years”, she whispered to herself. Five years. It had been five years since her world had disintegrated. Her world was gone. Although it had been five years, her anger had yet to subside. Empty was the only word she could use to con-
vey the state of her soul. Emptiness consumed every second of every hour of every day. She sat in silence under a maple tree as she listened to the rain thrash against the brilliant fiery auburn leaves
of autumn that swayed in the harsh wind. The forest that surrounded her was vivid with colours and beauty she had yet to discover. How could something be so bright, in a world so dark? She wondered. The once blue sky was now painted gray as bright flashes of lightning lit up the menacing sky. The sound of thunder shook the world as she sat in silence, thinking. She did not really mind the defean- ing booms that some may fear. She rather enjoyed the company of hearing something besides her own thoughts. She enjoyed having something to listen to. She enjoyed the rain as it calmed her. The steady sound of thumping on the leaves sounded almost melodic to her. It reminded her of being a kid, gazing up at the ebony night sky dotted with glistening stars as moonlight shone in her bedroom, raindrops glazing her widow, slowly dripping onto the flowers below, helping them flourish and grow. Though those times had passed. As if those memories had been swept up by the wind and were nev- er coming back. And though she longed for simpler times, she did not wish to go back. She did not wish to see them again. She wished nothing more than to be normal; something she simply was not. And the question returned, “Why?” “Why me? Over 7 billion people in the world, but the universe just had to choose me, didn't it?”.A feeling of vexed confusion enslaved her as memories of the past crept into the back of her mind.
She recalled the agony, terror, and trepidation they had put her through. Everything that she knew and loved had been stolen from her. Her melancholy expression had now been replaced by one of fury as memories resurfaced in her brain. Though it hurt to remember, how could she ever forget?
She indeed always realised she was different. She always saw the adults whispering her name, though she could never decipher the words they spoke. She noticed the glances she’d receive, though she never understood why. All she understood was she could always see them. The ones that haunted her nightmares. The ones that stole her dreams. The ones that frightened her as a child. The ones that made her scream. The ones that stole her childhood. Yes, indeed she always realised she was different, for she was the only one who ever saw them. She recalled her Mom telling her they were simply shadows, a trick of the light, a figment of her imagination.Though that was when she was 5. Even back then she could not convince herself that this was the case, they were simply too real, too frightening. As she grew older, she saw kids outgrowing their ‘monster under the bed phase’ so she asked herself, why didn't she? Why couldn't she? What was different about her? As she grew older

they only became stronger, she saw them more and more, time and time again, as if they were a recurring nightmare, following and watching her every move. Once she grew up, she feared people would think she was insane, so she never spoke of it, though there were always there, they never left, they were always right by her side.
As a kid she recalled calling them monsters, though that name eventually transitioned into shadow people, then nightmares. For they never seemed to leave. Indeed they were a nightmare,
for they were always waiting, for no matter how much she wanted to escape, run away hide, cry, she could not, for, they didn't care if she did, they would not go, quite the opposite in fact, they relished her pain, and was fueled off her fear. She could often hear them wailing indistinguishable whispers, fearful of faded chorus of feeble voices in the distance. The noise kept her up most nights, their sorrowful voices echoing in her head. The sound resonating in her ears. The sound disturbed her
yet there was simply nothing she could do. Their hollow eyes seemed to penetrate her skin, and their shadowy silhouettes seemed to melt into the darkness.Though they frightened her, she did not be- lieve they were particularly dangerous as they could never really get within five meters of her. Every Time they approached, it was as if a barrier kept them separate for they begin to fade away, seemingly mixing into the shadows.
She recalled how they had hurt her. The agony and terror was just as fresh in her mind as it had once been before. She recalled falling asleep, not being able to wake up, she was trapped in her dream, but it felt so real. She recalled being 10, playing outside. Her mom was there,
it was a sunny day. She saw the shadow people approaching, she blinked, and mayhem broke loose.
It was almost comical how fast something can change. How one moment you can be happy, and the next, miserable. She recalled the shadowy men, grabbing children as they cried and shrieked, as they tried to fight back though it was of no use. Then it was her who was grabbed. She remembered the feeling of helplessness as if she were thrown into an ocean, it having complete control over her, though she still trashed, it pulled her under and everytime she finally managed to come up for air, she was pulled down deeper and farther than ever before. She cried out to her mom “What's happen- ing? What going on?” Tears began to well in her eyes as an expression of fear overtook her.
Her mom was unable to answer, for she did not know, for she could not see them.
“I don't know, but it will be okay, trust me, it will be okay.” She tried to give a reassuring smile, although she knew fear could be seen through her eyes.
The men were becoming more ferocious, pulling and on her wrist even harder than before. “Where are they taking me?” She asked quietly, whispering into her moms ear.
“I'm not sure, but everything will turn out fine Liz, everything will be okay.” Those were the
last words her mother ever said to her as the men dragged her away. She remembered looking around and a mirrored effect played around her. Kids crying, screaming and thrashing as shadowy figures tore the kids from their parents. Flames dances all around her as smoke stung her hazel eyes. The sound of fire screamed in her ears as she was carried away by a shadowy figure.
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When she awoke, she was covered in scratches and bruises, from what, she was unsure. Agony coursed through her body as she tried to move, the pounding of her heart sounded like thunder in her ears. She was frightened. “Where are my parents?” she muttered to herself. Then it was as if a piece of her felt missing, incomplete, broken. A heavy weight fell on her shoulders as she came to a crushing realisation: her parents were gone. How did she know? She was unsure, though she was certain of it, she felt like weeping, crying, screaming, though no sounds came out, she was numb with pain. Then she realised she was not in her bed at her house, but instead woke up in a
field of wheat. Scared alone and afraid. The harsh tips of the yellow plants were brushing against
her. Why was she here? How did she get here? she then saw a shadowy figure approaching, and all former thoughts had escaped her mind, for this one seemed angry, menacing, it seemed to be walking right to her, it seemed...different. As it approached she felt herself getting weaker. She felt her knees buckle under her weight, as if it was draining the energy out of her. What were they? This had never happened before. Why now? She feebly made a cry of “help” though no one could hear her, she was all alone. The silhouette was approaching, 10 meters, 7 meters, 5 meters, she had expected it to fade away, like the previous ones had, though it did not, it continued, though it had no distinguishable
face she could almost tell it was mocking her, laughing at how pathetic she was. She knew this was it. She would have the same fate as her parents. Ten more silhouettes appeared. Why did they want her? She felt so weak, her eyelids began to droop, she felt herself disappearing, her energy was draining. She could hear their empty voices snicker out of joy. It felt bizarre to hear something so dark, doing something such as laughing. She felt herself getting weaker, she could sense them getting stronger. She knew they were draining the energy out of her. Like eating fragments of her soul, piece by piece, until she had ceased to exist completely. She felt like she had to fight back, but she was weaponless, scared, and weakened, on top of that the shadows were actively eating her soul. Then, unexpectedly, she heard the lead figure wail in pain as it began to shriek and writhe. A disturbing image. Its body was slowly melting into the shadows and it began to fade as with its companions. And a series of whispers followed, though not the usual ones, for this one sounded humalike. Normal, and kind,
plus it was only one voice. As the figures faded another one appeared though this one was not of a monster, it one of a boy her age. Standing there with a look of pure fury on his face that scared her. He was muttering something to the figures that made them go. He turned to her and held out his hand to help her up. She had a feeling he’d been through something similar, as the expression on his face was not one that any normal child would have, and his eyes were ones that had seen stuff, and experienced even more.
“How?” She asked in confusion, ”What did you do to them?”
“Nothing that would convince them to come back, let’s just say. But I know they will anyway, they always do.” He snarled.
“Y-you can see them too?” she asked as she tried and failed to get up, agony taking over her body.
The boys vibrant blue eyes stared into her hazel eyes, “Yes,” he replied with an expression of utter pain on his face. “And there are others like me.” He helped Liz up, as they walked together into the distance, both wishing they were normal, both having more in common that they perhaps realised.