Out of all the strange phenomena I’ve investigated over the years, perhaps the oddest was when I was asked to monitor darkness itself. Until that point, I’d taken my and every other shadow for granted, and had merely presumed that their size depended solely on ambient lighting. Through an old contact, I was put in touch with a married couple who believed their shadows were becoming independent, and they could prove it.
At that time, I was writing for a once-quite-famous magazine which dealt with the unusual, and after having recently done several interviews with fairly big names in the more off-beat areas of music and the arts, I thought it would be fun to to find out just how messed up this couple was. I’d seen and experienced quite a few things but their story was in the National Enquirer league.
J and M B where at the later end of middle age and lived alone with an old black lab on it its last legs. Their house was single storey and had both brick and wooden outer walls. It sat on its own smallish property and was bordered by overgrown fir trees, and was accessed via a short dirt road from an insignificant back road. Their yard was messy and their lawn overgrown, but they weren’t hillbillies, merely disorganized. After speaking to them in person, they even seemed quite educated, although the fact they lived away from others and bore more than a passing resemblance to one another made me think they might have been ‘keeping it in the family’…
On that occasion, I elected to go alone. Actually, to be honest, I just hadn’t managed to persuade anyone to go with me. After explaining the mission to a few people who sometimes joined me on an expedition, the overriding consensus was ‘no, they sound like messed up psycho freaks.’ I’ll admit, I’d also been a bit wary about the whole deal, but it had such a unique feel to it that my sense of adventure overrode my sense of self-preservation and reason.
The B’s living room hadn’t been touched since the 70s. This was because they’d inherited the property and hadn’t seen any reason to update it. The décor was all mainly brown or baby-shit yellow, with various and contrasting patterns in the carpet, wallpaper and bubbled glass doors of the laminated fibre-board cabinets. There was a pervasive smell to the place – something like a mixture of stale pipe tobacco and talcum powder. I could hear the tick-tocking of a grandmother clock somewhere out of sight. The worn velveteen sofa had lace armrest covers and the TV was a giant fake wooden box with a curved light grey screen. I couldn’t help staring at the immense remote control with its three buttons that rested on the glass coffee table.
While I drank tea from a decorated china cup and saucer, J and M stood side by side in front of the sliding window that separated the lounge from the kitchen. J would start a sentence and M would finish it, or vice versa. They explained that the problem had started about 6 months earlier. J had come in from the garden, taken off his boots, hung up his jacket and walked across the floor to take a seat on the sofa, where M had been sitting watching some early evening show on TV. M had noticed that J’s shadow had remained just inside the door and hadn’t followed J in. J had sat down on the sofa and, together, they had stared at the shadow and begun discussing this conundrum. After much debate, J had stood up, walked over to his shadow, stood atop it and, with encouragement from his wife, returned to the couch. This time, the shadow had acted in the usual fashion and had accompanied him. Everything was again alright in their world.
The next day, the same happened, but with M this time. And on it went. The couple would watch and discuss and eventually the problem would be resolved. Day after day after day they’d lose their shadows and then regain them but, as time passed, it appeared that their shadows were not only just becoming reluctant to rejoin them, they also seemed to be moving about on their own.
As I sat there drinking the tea, I couldn’t help notice in just how mundane a manner they described such an extraordinary event. They may have well been describing the weather.
I looked over to where their labrador snored in its bed, next to the dining room table, and then asked them if the dog reacted at all. In unison, they laughed and looked at each other. M suggested I look down the left hand side of the sofa. I suddenly felt a slight knot in my stomach. I gently placed the cup and saucer down on the table next to the brick-like remote, then leaned over the doilied armrest. On the floor, in a much darker shade than the horrific pattern that made up the rest of the carpet, was the definite shape of a dog. I looked back at the still sleeping labrador in its bed across the room and it really was about the same size. Okay, I thought. Deal with this logically. I asked them if the dog had been wet when it lay down next to the sofa.
Again, J and M sniggered. “No, silly”, said M. “Look again.”
This time, I really, really didn’t want to look. But I had to.. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of the creepy grinning couple, quite pleased with themselves and their in-joke. I gingerly looked over the armrest and saw that the silhouette was still there but it had most definitely moved. Before, its front legs had been stretched forwards with its head between them, yet now it had all four legs stretched to the side with its head leaning back.
I jumped off the sofa. “What the hell?”
J nodded. “See, we told you.”
My mind was racing. I’d come for a bit of self-amusement and this was seriously creeping me out. Hell, THEY were seriously creeping me out. The small house was silent aside from the snoring of the real labrador and that damned tick-tocking of some clock.
It was then that I looked more closely at the Bs. More precisely, at their feet. I couldn’t see shadows. “You don’t have shadows!”
Again, they looked at each other and gave some cartoon-like eyebrow raise and simultaneously tutted. They both turned to me and M said “Neither do you, silly!”
I dreaded looking down, I really did. But M was right. I had no shadow.
Unconvinced, I waved my arms about and looked for a contradiction to her outlandish claim. But still she was right. “Where the hell is my shadow?”
J pointed towards the door and pulled a ‘what did we tell you?’ sort of face.
I looked over at the door. There was a mat, a coat/umbrella stand, and a very dark patch. Whether that was my shadow, or all of ours, I had no idea. I just knew I wanted mine back. Something was seriously wrong with that house and its owners. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew I was way out of my depth and had to get out of there fast. The Bs hadn’t shown any aggression or even a hint of doing something bad towards me but I didn’t want to push my luck. I started walking towards the door.
“Will you come back and let us know what to do about our problem?” asked M.
“We don’t get visitors often,” said J.
They both looked at each other and shrugged and pulled an ‘it’s such a shame’ face.
Thoroughly freaked out, I grabbed my coat and mumbled something about being in contact with them at some point, opened the door and prayed that my shadow would latch on and follow me. As I stepped into the cool evening air, the rising moon created enough light, combined with the dying sunset, to show me that I did indeed have my shadow back. I looked back at their still open front door with its pale yellow interior light ebbing out. I stared at the sad but hopeful faces of J and M B and shouted “Thanks for the tea!” I got in my car, and got the hell out of there.
I never wrote up the article about their shadow problem. I kept my mouth shut and soon the whole event was forgotten. I still feel a twinge of guilt for not helping the Bs resolve their problem but I think that if I’d have stayed any longer there, I would have become a permanent feature of their household. Or, at least my shadow would have.