Hello. My name is Horatio White, and I have no shadow.
It began some months ago, when my shadow began to detach from me. At first I would notice a slight gap, perhaps a few millimetres wide, between us, but if I looked closer the gap would disappear. Sometimes, as I stooped down and squinted, staring at my shadow, I would begin to feel as if it were staring back. As the months went on I would see things out the corner of my eye. My shadow, clear-cut and perfect on the wall next to me, slowly turning to look at me, or the unshakeable impression that it hurried to catch up with me whenever I looked to see where it had gone.
As the months went on I could never be sure if I was seeing something real or if it was all a symptom of some strange paranoia, but as the spring came and my shadow grew stronger and sharper I was not the only one to notice.
I was sitting very still one bright afternoon on the edge of the large fountain in the town centre, staring down at my shadow on the ground. It was just as still as me, moving only when someone walked past close enough for it to flit across their body like a silhouette against the sky. Now that I was looking closely, the gap between us did not appear. It was only when some glinting thing that caught in the sunlight distracted me and I looked away for a moment that I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I quickly looked back and there it was. A small gap of about a centimetre, just where my shadow should have met me. I stared but it didn't move, as if by remaining still it hoped I would not notice there was a gap at all.
"What are you staring at?" came a voice from next to me, and suddenly I noticed another shadow next to mine.
I quickly straightened up and smiled at the girl who sat looking at me with dark and quizzical eyes. I hesitated briefly, unsure of what to say. "My shadow," I eventually answered.
She said nothing, and instead just smiled at me as if I had said something which finally made sense to her. She told me her name was Elizabeth Black, and after that day I didn't notice my shadow anymore. It could have been gone for all I knew, because all I knew in that summer was her. We always joked about our names, Black and White, how something must have seen us and brought us together. There was never a gap between us like the one I had seen with my shadow. I never looked at the ground or at the walls because she was always with me, standing against the sky and with the sun behind her dark hair, with her smile and her eyes. "You're mysterious," she would say to me when I looked at her. "You're so secretive sometimes."
Perhaps I should have told her what she had suddenly come to mean to me, before it all came stealing back. The cool of the creeping shade, the chill of something dark. Sometimes she would frown and glance at the ground, just for a second, but long enough for me to know that look on her face. With a churning of dread in my stomach I would know she had seen it, and the more she saw it the more I began to see it too.
My shadow next to hers, leaning just slightly in the wrong direction, frozen just slightly in the wrong shape. "What are you hiding?" she once asked me, but I didn't know what to say, because I didn't know what I was hiding. I just smiled at her and told her I was hiding nothing. "I'm only hiding how much I want you to stay here in the sun," I said to her, and she smiled back at me and held my hand as we walked.
Not too long afterwards we were sitting in front of the television with some old film playing. It was one of those films where the colours were faded with age and the voices tinny, and everything was so dated that we laughed as we watched. As the evening wore on I lay down in her lap and fell asleep, slipping into a peace full of dreams about her and the summer.
I woke when Elizabeth screamed. I sat up quickly in the dull light of the television and saw it. There was my shadow, creeping across the wall and looming dark and huge over her. I looked around at the wall behind me, and the light from the screen was casting no shadow there. I looked back and I swore my shadow turned to look at me as it slowly moved toward her.
I leaped up and switched on all of the lights, driving the shadows from the walls, and when I looked down at the floor there was mine, attached to me again as if it had never left. I looked over at her, curled up and terrified on the sofa, staring at me with wide eyes. "What are you hiding?" she asked me again in a frightened whisper, and then she got up and left, and I didn't see her again for a long time.
For the rest of the summer I would stand alone in my house in the mornings when the sun came up early, and I would stare at the blank wall in front of me, watching my shadow. It did nothing. Whenever I looked down there was no gap between me and it. It remained as still as me, staring back impassively. I said nothing but I was so filled with the anger of loss that I was sure it felt everything without me having to speak. Perhaps that was why it did nothing for all of those months. Perhaps that is why it left me.
One morning I stood in front of the wall and the sun came up, but my shadow was gone. I walked over to the window and saw the sky turning pale, and when I opened it and looked out my shadow had fallen. It was cast across the ground below my window, pausing as if to look up at me before moving away.
I sat down on the bed, and suddenly I felt an overwhelming sorrow. Now my shadow was gone I no longer felt real anymore. With all that it had done, it had been mine, and now it was gone, like I had been cut in half. I suddenly felt like someone putting their arm out to lean on something, only it isn't there and they fall.
I went back into the town that day, back to the fountain, but the world looked different. People seemed to notice something wrong with me without knowing what it was. I sat down and looked around for my shadow, but it never came. No-one sat next to me. I was half a man and the world would not have me back.
With each passing day the world seemed to become a strange place of sunlight and shade, light and dark, its colour faded just like the old films, its brightness and contrast pushed into extremes until there were only blinding white light and shivering darkness. People were only shapes moving in between, but at least they were shapes. I was nothing, and I could not find my shadow.
The next time I saw it was the next time I saw Elizabeth. It was autumn by now, and I saw her by the fountain, sitting in the exact same spot she had sat in when I first met her. The sun was bright, and I saw a shadow behind her, menacing, unmoving, as if it were taking something from her. I walked toward her and saw the shadow and recognised it as my own, and it turned toward me, slowly and calmly, and then flitted away across the sunlit paving. Elizabeth was pale, and she looked up and saw me, a look of fear in her eyes as she collapsed forwards onto the hard ground.
They didn't know what was wrong with her when I took her to the hospital. She just lay there in the bed, pale and sleeping, her breaths slow and soft until they stopped. I held her hand and felt something so deep falling away inside that I forgot all about losing my shadow. I only remembered when I stepped back and saw it on the wall above her bed, staring down at her. It saw me and began to move, and I watched it gliding along the walls, slinking away into the corners.
When it passed the window I stopped following it and just looked out, because outside there was one small tree, standing alone and shedding its bright autumn leaves onto the grass. I stood and stared at it until it was dark and I could no longer see the colours, then I went home.
The next day, just like back in the summer, I woke and stood in front of my wall, and when the sun came up there was my shadow. Every day I stood there and watched, but it never moved. I never knew what it had taken from Elizabeth, but I felt like it had taken it from me too. Sometimes I saw the blurred and distant shadows of leaves falling down the wall around it, but still it never moved. It just became like those other shadows, slowly blurring, becoming fainter, fading away. Day after day I stood and watched as it seeped into the wall, into the air, evaporating into the distant sunlight of winter until it was gone.
Now it's December. The trees are dead, and even when the moon is full I know my shadow is not coming back. Next year, I will need no light, no sun and no seasons. I will need no-one else now. My name is Horatio White, and I am a man, and I am a shadow.