There is something inside my shadow. I can feel it when I move, see it when I turn my head and watch my inky doppelganger dance along the pavement behind me. It should mirror my movements, but it doesn't. Not completely.
It twitches and jerks when it thinks I'm not looking. It oozes out and reaches across the ground when I'm standing still. It's not the movement of light changing its form, though most people I've mentioned it to give that explanation, right before taking another step back from me.
There's something in there, and I don't know what it is.
That morning, just weeks ago, the sun was out, uncovered, blasting the city with the full strength of its rays. My shadow and I were on our daily walk. I was hot, tired, covered in sweat. I ducked into a convenience store to buy a bottle of water. As I sat on a painted metal bench outside, cooking myself in the sun, I saw my shadow pool out from underneath me and surround a dead bird on the sidewalk. A moment later, the shadow was back in its proper place and the bird was nowhere to be found.
I tried to ignore it, pretend I didn't actually see it, but the sight of the black pool dampening and dissolving the corpse's feathers proved to be too much. It had burned its way into my brain and nothing I could force myself to think about would be strong enough to erase it.
On my way home I passed a playground. In the middle of the day, in the full swing of summer, not a single monkey bar or tee ball field was empty. Children and parents crowded the benches and grassy expanses shoulder to shoulder, cheering and talking amongst themselves.
A boy, not more than five, crawled to the top of a jungle gym, spreading his arms wide and yelling for his mother to watch him. He seemed to be directing his tiny voice at a dark-haired woman whose head was turned in concentration to what a man beside her was saying. She didn't appear to hear the little voice calling for her.
The child's footing wasn't secure. Perhaps the rusty metal bars were still slick with summer morning dew. His little feet slid out from under him, his arms grappling for a hold, his face bouncing with a loud crack as it connected on its way down to the ground.
A moment of pure silence, and then blood, sticky and slow like syrup, pooling around his face, seeping into the sand. Children stopped what they were doing, adults stared, and the dark-haired woman, now paying attention, began to scream.
I felt a rustling below and behind me, a darkness creeping out from the blur I cast onto the sidewalk. It was moving, not towards any bird or insect nestled in the grass but slowly, without alerting the distracted crowd, towards the cluster of children. Towards the jungle gym.
I felt bile rising, stinging my throat. I took a step back. It resisted, still crawling towards where the motionless boy lay, where his mother held him in blood-stained arms and screamed for an ambulance.
I ran, leaving the playground behind with as much speed as I could force into my legs, and made for my home. As I fled, I turned back to make sure my shadow was following. It roiled like an angry sea, grasping at the concrete and grass, trying to force me to stop. In those moments I did not care if anyone saw or questioned. I only wanted to get away.
I raced up my steps and unlocked the door, throwing myself into the house. I flipped every switch I could reach and sat in the middle of my kitchen floor, where the light was strongest. My shadow was forced to reduce itself to a fraction of what it had been outside, and the small blot on the floor slid furiously about my ankles. When it had calmed some, I crawled to the refrigerator, reached inside the meat drawer and tore apart a slice of aging lunchmeat I knew I wouldn't be eating. I tossed the pieces into my shadow, and they disappeared one by one.
I cannot go outside anymore. I cannot mix with people, with pets, with wildlife. I am now sequestered in the house, relying on grocery deliveries left on my doorstep, until whatever it is inside my shadow disappears or dies.
It's not me, but it hides where only I can see it, and it's hungry.