By David Cook
Keith, get up.
‘Eh? Wha… what time is it?’
Get up, Keith.
‘Who said that?’
I did, Keith. Me, your shadow. To answer your question, it’s about six in the evening. You fell asleep, even with the light switched on. You were probably full after your tea. A nap always helps digestion.
‘What? Okay, who’s playing silly beggars? Is that you, mum?’
It’s not your mum, Keith. It really is me. Your shadow.
I know this is a shock, me speaking like this…
‘A bit, yes.’
…but look around. There’s no-one else here, is there?
And I think it’s time you knew the truth. I’ve watched you every day of your life. When you were a baby, guzzling your milk. When you were a little kid on your first day at school. When you were a teenager and you had that dreadful white boy afro. Honestly, what were you thinking?
When you had that job behind the bar in that filthy pub. When you were working in that office, pushing paper for that oaf of a boss. When you were going out with those girls that broke your heart. When you got married, and then when she left you and broke your heart again. I was watching, Keith. I was right there with you, always.
I’ll never leave you, Keith. Not like the others.
‘You’re really my shadow?’
‘You watch me all the time?’
‘Even in the bath?’
Even in the bath, Keith.
‘Even when I… er, you know…’
Especially then, Keith.
I don’t even mind about the special websites you visit, Keith. I know you know the ones I mean. I love you. Everything about you.
Even the way you say “um” all the time. It’s so cute. You know you wrinkle your nose when you say that, don’t you?
‘U… okay. So you can speak?’
‘Why haven’t you spoken before?’
I thought it best not to. I was sure you’d find someone, a real person, to love you, to cherish you the way I do. I knew that would be easier for you. I mean, a man and his shadow, together, in love? What would people say about that?
But now you’re 45 and you’re back at home with your mum, sleeping on a futon in her tiny, dingy spare room, living off beans on toast and looking at those websites and you seem so lonely, Keith. And it’s just not fair.
You’re a good man, Keith. A beautiful man. You should be with someone, and if those stupid women you’ve had in your life won’t have you, I damn well will! And I don’t care what anyone has to say about it!
I can make you happy, Keith.
Ooh, you make me go all squidgy!
‘So if my mum came in now, she’d be able to hear you too?’
Oh, no. She can’t. Other people, they’ll just get in the way, Keith. They won’t understand us.
Yes, Keith! You and me, Keith! You do… you do want me too, don’t you, Keith?
I didn’t like it so much that time, Keith. Tell me you feel the same about me as I do about you!
‘It’s just that… well, I’m a man, so you must be too, right? And I prefer women.’
Oh, man, woman, they’re just labels, Keith. Besides, I’m not really either. I’m a shadow. I can be anything you want me to be… baby.
‘If I turned the light off now, what would happen?’
I’d still be here, Keith. Watching you in the darkness. You just won’t be able to see me. You aren’t rejecting me, are you, Keith? Who knows what I might do if you reject me?
‘Mum, mum, mum! Can you come here? I think I’m going mad!’
Why are you calling her, Keith? She’s not coming, I told you.
‘What do you mean?’
Just then, you said “so if my mum came in now” and I said “she can’t”. Oh, I see, you didn’t get it. You thought I meant she wouldn’t be able to hear me speak. I meant she can’t come, Keith.
She’s dead, Keith.
When you were having your nap earlier, after your little session at the computer, I sneaked away to her bedroom. I watch her sometimes, too. She was talking to her friend on the phone, saying what a disappointment you were, still living at home, divorced, baked bean stains all over your trousers, looking at who knows what on the internet all day. I didn’t like the way she spoke about you, Keith. So I waited for her to finish talking, and then I broke her neck. It snapped like a skinny twig.
‘No. No, no. You’re lying! You’re a shadow. You can’t touch anything.’
‘You… you killed my mum…?’
She wouldn’t have understood us, Keith. The relationship that you and I could have. But now I look at your face, and I can see you don’t understand what we could have either. You’re scared, Keith. Don’t be. I can make you see what a wonderful life we can have together. You and me, we can have it all; delicious candlelit dinners, walks in the countryside, snuggling on the sofa watching Notting Hill and Bridget Jones. I know you don’t like those kinds of films, Keith, but I do. And you want me to be happy, don’t you Keith?
Don’t overdo it, Keith.
‘You can’t make me do anything I don’t want to.’
Oh, Keith , my love, of course I can. What are you going to do? Call the police? I don’t think they’ll believe a shadow killed a poor defenceless old lady. But a man in his forties living at home, divorced, bitter, a sexual deviant? I expect they’ll believe anything of a man like that. Especially as they might just find a few flakes of your dandruff under her collar. And if I’m not happy, maybe I’ll sneak off to the phone when you’re sleeping tonight and dial 999 myself.
So you’d best stay in line. Hadn’t you, Keith? And don’t say “um”.
Ooh, that’s even cuter! I love it! And you! And you love me too, right?
Don’t ruin it, Keith! Remember what could happen…
‘…I love you too?’
Say it like you mean it, Keith.
‘I love you too.’
Yes! You mean it? You really, really mean it?
Oh, baby, you’ve made me the happiest shadow in the whole wide world!
‘Okay. That’s… that’s good.’
Oh, this is so wonderful. I’m sorry about your mum, by the way, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, can you? Now let’s go and watch a nice film and have a cuddle and forget about this whole horrid murder business.
The rest of our lives start right now! What would you rather watch, Notting Hill or Bridget Jones?
Do we have any popcorn?
***first published on www.shortfictionbreak.com***
David Cook lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife, daughter, cats and guinea pig, and writes as a way of filling in the time while waiting for the rain to stop. He has been published at Short Fiction Break and Flash Fiction Magazine, and has a story featured in A Box Of Stars Beneath The Bed: The 2016 National Flash Fiction Anthology. He also publishes work at www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com. You can find him on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing – @davidcook100.