Everything we learn about the darkness
We learn in our beds when we’re six.
We know the darkness is alive.
We’ve seen it move. It ripples across our rooms.
Of course, no one believes you.
Why should they? You’re six.
They sit with you, read you stories,
While the darkness whispers under the bed.
I told my mom to leave the light on.
She laughs and says there’s no such thing as monsters.
She mocks me when she looks under the bed and laughs.
She doesn’t understand.
I know the monster isn’t under the bed.
I know the monster isn’t hiding in the closet.
The monster isn’t hiding in the darkness.
The darkness is the monster.
It stands behind her as she goes through the routine.
“Nothing under the bed,” she said
“Nothing in the closet behind your clothes,” she teases.
Look behind you, I want to say.
But I don’t because she wouldn’t believe me.
She never has.
As I got older, I realized the darkness I was seeing
Wasn’t exclusively in my room.
It was everywhere. In my locker at school.
In my desk, whenever I opened it.
I could see it in the corner, looking at me.
One white eye, staring out, in a sea of black.
It never spoke to me. I never spoke to it. But we knew each other.
I could see it out of the corner of my eye, now.
It would leave me from time to time even in the height of day.
No one noticed I didn’t have my shadow with me. Who would?
Flitting around, an umbral hummingbird, too fast to notice.
I found myself looking for it. Wondering what it was.
I soon realized everyone had one,
A dark passenger they pretended not to notice. Or simply didn’t care to.
Teachers positively oozed it; a desperate almost frantic darkness.
When they opened their purses, their briefcases, it flowed like syrup.
Noxious, sticky, wrapped around their cigarettes
Spilling from their coffee cups, pooling sadly at their feet.
The janitor spread it across the floor
Like a dark wax, his eyes flickering from
One long-limbed girl to the next. From the cavern of his face,
His lingering gaze cast a palpable shadow over his latest fancy.
Bullies wore it like clothing. It rose from them like steam.
I soon learned to recognize when they,
like a fountain pen would leak
Spilling their noxious contents over innocent books
Books with swollen eyes
With fattened lips.
Books which would duck away
Pages aflutter, fearing another spill.
Strangely, I never received their ire.
I had few friends. My haircut, my clothing
Meant I was too poor to associate
with anyone who thought they were my better.
Until he came to our school.
His head down, all in black, goth they called it.
But he was nothing like they thought.
They laughed. He said nothing.
But I knew he was different.
He gave me the chill I learned to associate
With the monster hiding behind my mother
As she said goodnight.
For you see, this boy, Calder he was named.
Was different from any I had ever known.
He had no shadow. Not in any room,
Not in the yard. Never until we met.
He was like me. We knew each other in an instant.
We became friends; our shadows struggled for dominance beneath us.
In pantomime swordplay, ray guns sending beams of darkness
into each other, grasping falling down dead, to rise for a new game.
We ate together every day; to let our shadows play.
To whisper who was the darkest in our class,
Who could be most like us. No one came close.
We secretly reveled as our bond increased.
We, together, watched as the janitor convinced a girl
To go into his office. We saw her, covered in gloom, in pain.
Without hesitation, our shadows leapt from us,
Flying free, predatory hawks streaking to the maintenance room
Snatching the janitor back into the oily confines of his office.
His door banging shut behind them.
We waited until they returned, lazily taking station behind us as if
nothing happened. Indeed, this was the quietest they had ever been.
We shared lunch as the principal screamed from his office.
A wail of terror, with a tiny undercurrent of relief.
The police arrived, their faces ashen, their horror evident.
Our shadows frolicked for the first time in the afternoon sun.
Penumbra © Thaddeus Howze 2019. All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning essayist, author and journalist for websites having discriminating tastes in speculative fiction, non-fiction journalism and critical thinking.