Chasing Shadows

This is my first short story, so please comment your opinion. There is also this PDF thingy, but you can’t talk there.

A man in a business suit was on walking down the road. Along his long and tedious journey home, he was accompanied by no one, but the leather briefcase in his left, the weight of exhaustion on his legs and the elongated shadow at his feet, mirroring his every movement.

It was a warm, midsummer night like any other. The desiccated leaves on a line of trees nearby sizzled at the gentlest of gusts in the otherwise stale air, crying out for a rain that has yet to arrive for one more week. In the distance, a pack of dogs’ barking chorus serenaded the moon, visible in its entirety in the complete absence of clouds.

The faltering streetlights only managed to carve momentary cones of luminescence into the black veil that has settled upon the pavement, yet it did not bother the man. A regular commuter on this path, he had taken the course so many times that his body could maneuver the street in pitch darkness without any conscious input. Such was the case tonight as well.

“Argh, this is the last time I take on an extra shift!” He grumbled out loud, exhaling the irritation built up over hours upon hours of monotonous office work. “It just isn’t worth it!”

Though he had only achieved his current position at the office fairly recently, the man had little patience to spare for the myriad of annoyances he had to endure on a daily basis. In his thoughts, he would constantly curse every second he had to spend in the company of the barely intelligible, self-important, insincere collective of pathetic drones he had to reluctantly identify as his colleagues. However, if one were to question him about his employment, he would speak passionately about the better-than-average environment in which he gets to make a living, doing work he could have never even imagined to be so excited about. He could fable all day long, maintaining an honest expression all throughout.

Eager to start a life of his own, he began work at his current place of employment while still in college, functioning as the lackey of lackeys, completing tasks that would test nothing but his endurance in the face of utter boredom, receiving a payment not much greater than what he would have earned at any fast food chain.

Even so, he never gave in to the piling demands he was flooded with, he willingly accepted as the clock’s uncaring hands gradually creeped their way into the nightly hours every single day. This astonishing commitment to such arduous labor, something others would have abandoned on a short notice, might have originated from his innate sense of duty and willingness to invest every atom of his being to a single focus when needed, but his unyielding motivation came from an entirely different source, the bitter wounds of failure outside of one’s control. Having been laid off from his previous part-time jobs due to the arbitrary force of corporate nature, simple downsizing, he no longer possessed the will to decline any offer presented to him. If he had the capacity to twist the situation in his mind as a chance to make himself indispensable to the firm’s operations then he was more than enthusiastic to carry out even the most humiliating of tasks, given the opportunity. The fear of another failure has become the driving force behind his every waking moment.

Months would pass, the daily grind increasing seemingly infinitely, consuming his life almost entirely. Not having the time or energy to produce results on two fronts, he soon dropped out of college, abandoning his original intentions in the process. And with that single choice, an avalanche was initiated. One by one, the aspirations he held so dearly for many years have dwindled, opening the door for compromise after compromise.

Working in the field he was interested in? Why take this risk when he already has a perfectly fine job! Besides, he could always go back and get a degree once he had managed to establish a foundation for his future, universities are not exactly known for growing tired of waiting for a future student, sprouting legs and walking away in a hurtful manner.

Building a new home for himself? A small block of concrete with a bed would suffice, one can sleep anywhere, really! There’s no point in spending more than the bare minimum on housing if he were to move out into his proper new home in a few years’ time anyway. It might even happen sooner than that, he was just awarded with his very own garbage bin a few weeks ago, he was practically climbing the corporate ladder three steps at a time!

As time went on he had eventually stopped convincing himself that this was an exercise in gritting one’s teeth for a short while and had reached the conclusion that this was merely a routine to settle in, one that may or may not change in the future, overthinking his circumstances was just a negligent waste of the most precious resource of all, time. Indeed, he had conditioned himself to live what he had considered a whole life in a state only mere steps away from the abyss of constant misery.

Nevertheless, all things considered, living like a tiny cog in a grand clock did pay off for him on the long run. Eventually, his obstinate work ethic really did turn him into an invaluable cornerstone of his company, setting him aside from the constantly changing lineup of colleagues, those who could not keep up with the taxing demands pouring down from the higher levels. His efforts bore fruit in the form of a long-awaited promotion, a real one this time, one that has propelled him straight towards the life he had envisioned for himself all those years ago.

But nowadays, when the struggles were seemingly on the decline, began to grow resentful. The everyday incidents he once cared little for were now an unending source of ire in his eyes. Seemingly almost overnight, completing the menial busywork he had been doing for years has become a chore he could not bear to take any longer. Everything he had kept bottled up inside was released at once, making it impossible for him to return to the mindset that kept him going until now.

Walking down the familiar path, he kept wondering as to what reason was there for him to even bother anymore. He endured everything for the sake of a life he wished for himself, and he has finally achieved that goal through hard work, yet there was not an iota of satisfaction for him to find in it. After all this time, the happiness he assumed to attain in this imagined future has turned out to be nothing but a newfound sense of purposelessness and dread for the long decades ahead of him. Somewhere along the road, he had become completely hollow.

He crossed an intersection. Knowing that no one would use this road so late into the night, he only glanced left and right out of obligation. As he turned his gaze to the side, he noticed a young couple at the corner on the other side. They were embracing silently, the membrane separating their hearths dissolving in their shared heat, slowly melting them into a singular entity. They were completely ignorant of the world around them, their reality has stretched only as far as each other, everything outside of those boundaries were akin to an utterly irrelevant, unobservable plain of being, one that might as well have not existed for all they cared.

Witnessing this display of genuine affection has left the man with an unwilling smile on his face. It reminded him of the reason why he chose to take on all the hardships in the first place, why he tolerated the insufferable condition the way he did, why carrying on was not in vain, and why he was hurrying to that apartment at the end of the road. He remembered that even living a hollow, half life was worthwhile when he had that person waiting for him back home.

The man took a few deep breaths, exhaling the heavy murk festering within him, lightening his steps as he hastened forward. He passed the lovers without them even noticing his presence, soon leaving them behind in the shroud of blackness slowly following him as he walked.

Not much time would come to pass after his crossing when the man had become aware of a strange sensation. He felt a gaze on his back, as if he was being trailed. This impression was greatly upsetting for him, to a degree he had never imagined anything would. Even though he had no such phobias, the unexpected stare somehow made him extremely jittery.

He plodded on, trying to chase the unpleasant feeling out of his mind. It was unusual for him to run into others roaming these streets, but it was not an inconceivable occurrence, it might even be the couple he saw earlier, he reasoned with himself as such. Yet, why he was so unsettled by the phenomenon, he could not say. Something about the eyes locking on to him has invoked a primal sense of fear within him, urging him to flee without ever looking back.

He walked on, driven by instinct, shaking, but unable to turn his head around even for a second. He was gripping the handle of the briefcase with a such strength that its plastic body was creaking. Within the man, the fearful confusion was slowly being overtaken by boiling frustration. His body was refusing to act as his conscious mind dictated, all he could do was to count the steps taken against his own will, one after another. With each muffled tap the soles of his shoes have made upon the concrete pavement, his vexation grew stronger.

“Dammit!” After nine steps, he groaned out loud, biting his lips until the metallic taste of blood would flood his mouth completely, digging his fingers into the ironed fabric of the trouser that enveloped the disobedient limbs. He had managed to stop.

Forcefully contending with the cries from every fiber of his being, he began to turn around. First, he could only command his eyes to slide in the intended direction, his neck muscles gradually following along. Reaching the end of his neck’s turn radius, anything beyond his shoulders’ line was still hidden before his sight.

His breath has become rugged and disorderly from the combination of immense efforts to halt himself and the overly abundant adrenaline in his circulation. With his heart pounding in his throat, he concentrated all of his willpower towards his left leg, trying to shake off the tingling sensation that has been numbing his appendage. As if it was stuck in cement, the exertion it took to make his foot part from the ground was mountainous in itself. After a few exhausted sighs, however, an even greater task was ahead of him. Sending billions of signals into the muscle tissue that moved the extremity, it sluggishly initiated the desired motion, swinging behind his leg still planted firmly onto the sidewalk, sending his entire torso into rotation around his body’s centerline.

The scenery shifted before his eyes. The cones of light he had been mindlessly chasing after disappeared, replaced by a motionless sea of darkness, no vehicle sailing across it, the other shore faintly glimmering in the faulty lamp posts’ weakened neon radiance.

As his sight panned further, the brightened circles on his side have once again became visible to him, revealing the silhouette of a woman, walking down the same road as he did. She sauntered forward with an empty expression, staring blankly in front of her, almost as though she could not even see anything.

A burst of air escaped through the man’s nose. Looking at the frail being, presenting no threat to him at all, he could not help but smirk at his own overreaction to her presence. The glassy-eyed look on her face wasn’t by any means a welcoming one, but it gave off more of an apathetic and weary vibe. If anything, she reminded him of the jadedness that has been wooing him for quite a while now.

Deciding to allay the misplaced panic that still fueled a sense of anxiety within him, the man opted to step to the side and wait for the woman to pass him by. He reached into his pockets to look for his cell phone, intending to use it as an excuse for his pause on his course, but as his fingers had stretched to the device’s supposed location, he found nothing.

Confused, he began to frantically rummage through his pockets, completely forgetting about the frightful sensations that he had previously experienced. In his cuss-filled search for the object, he failed to notice that the woman was only a few meters away from him at the time.

“Where is it? Come on…please tell me I didn’t drop it somewhere-“

Midway through his scouring, the man stopped. He lifted his head from the downwards angle he had taken up, realizing that the female pedestrian was standing right in front of him. Without saying a word, she was staring at him, her lips trembling slightly.

“…”

No sound would leave either of them for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the man broke the silence.

“Umm…can I help you?”

“What is your intent?” She asked, her voice weak and whisper-like, pushing out every syllable with tangible effort.

“E-excuse me? What do you mean? I-I was just looking for my phone and-“

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

As she spoke those words, the man realized that she had not been staring at him. This whole time, from the moment she had first appeared, she was gaping at something else. Something behind his back.

He instinctively turned around, only to see nothing but emptiness. Even as he tried to look behind his shoulders, he could spot nothing. There was supposed to be nothing where he looked, yet he was certain that he could feel a presence almost touching on him from outside his field of vision. It was as though the woman’s remark has dispelled the blindfolds of obliviousness, a sensation that he has been present within him for as long as he could remember has now become a threatening entity, oozing with malicious intents.

“You won’t see it. You alone could never see it coming.” She said.

Shaken by the glance, completely devoid of life, a thin, foggy membrane covering the irises, he began to back away from the woman. He stumbled a few meters backwards, afraid to break eye-contact. With his nervous, uncoordinated steps, he slipped for a second, managing to support himself with his hands. In the brief moment in which he plummeted towards the ground, he felt as his body has entered the territory of something beyond his comprehension. It was a miasmatic force, forming around his shape, vying to pull him into itself and devour him. For that instant, he could perceive the ethereal jaws of the being that followed welcoming his corpse into its own illusive biomass.

He heaved heavily once the sensation retreated along with his impact onto the smooth pavement. The woman closed the distance between them while he struggled to come back to his senses.

“It’s already over for us all.”

Her crooked posture and vacant, almost macabre expression as she spoke has sent shiver down the spine. The man hopped onto his feet in an instant and broke into a frenzied dash in the direction opposite to the woman. He was no longer thinking, his synapses were set ablaze, his entire body transmitting a single message.

“Escape…I must escape!”

Without even looking where he was heading, he ran, ignoring the increasing pain in his limbs as his untrained muscles struggled not to break apart from the sudden overburdening strain released into their fibers. He could feel his blood vessels popping, the pulsing sound in his ears, the acrid, metallic pungency of the sanguine fluid filled his nose completely. He could barely recognize his own uneven respiration as he sprinted, but the last words of the woman disappearing behind him echoed in his mind clearly, as if she was still standing before him.

“You cannot run away. It has been with you for a long time, it is a part of you. You are already in its hands, you always have been.”

The man pushed on, even as his body was breaking down, his pace did not decrease the slightest, not for a fraction of a second. He could no longer tell whether his experience was real or not, all he knew was that something was chasing after him and that he had to get away from it, no matter what.

In spite of his borderline self-destructive efforts to flee his pursuer, his senses were telling him that the endeavor was proving to be futile. With each meter he thought to have gained, he could feel the entity behind him getting closer and closer every passing second. In his mind, he had come to the belief that the unseen being could not be outrun by human capabilities.

Once the notion was born within his thoughts, he had immediately began to scan his surroundings without slowing down, desperately seeking alternative means to elude his inconceivable hunter. It was then that he realized, he could not recognize the environment around him. In his maddened scurry, he seemed to have abandoned his familiar pathway and entered a neighborhood in which he had never set foot before. Though it was hard for him to make sense out of the buildings hiding behind the shroud of the night, he got the distinct impression that the walls and fences around him were wavering as he passed them, ripples disturbing their surface every time his feet made contact with the ground. To him, the whole area looked as though it had belonged to a realm separate from the one he had inhabited his whole life.

Befuddled by the otherworldly vista, his steps grew longer as time passed. As the waves underneath his soles increased in volume, it felt like his shoes were sinking into the solid concrete, making it hard for him to keep up his sprint. Before he knew, he was crawling weakly from one brightened spot to the other, everything outside the light becoming blurred and disfigured, impossible to identify as anything but misshapen, ghoulish objects.

Overwhelmed by the living scenery hindering his forlorn attempts to flee, the man collapsed to his knees. He looked far and wide for a way out of his predicament, but the more he searched for a way out, the more lost he became. Now, after the vain struggle has finally broken his previously unyielding willpower, he was left without an ounce of hope, tears rolling down on his cheeks as he reached out towards the last cone of luminosity before him, the distance increasing with the coiling sidewalk sliding out from under his legs.

“What do you want from me!?” He yelled, stabbing his fingernails into the concrete, clawing his way towards the presumed safety underneath the lamp post.

“Please…I’m begging you…let me go!”

His cries echoed in the shapeless world around him, but no answer was audible. Instead, the responses he had been vying for appeared amongst his thoughts as if they were his own.

“You don’t need anything I have…it was all yours from the beginning…”

The pain of his nails grinding off against the pavement, grime tearing into his exposed nail bed, every inch he crawled was agonizing, but his mind could barely register the anguish.

“How could you let me go…if you’re not holding me at all…”

The gap that has been expanding just a few moments ago was now folding in on itself, propelling the man towards his goal.

“I wonder how long have you been here with me? Since I was hired? Since I’ve decided to get out from home? No, you were born alongside me. Raised as I was. Nurtured by my life…”

He reached out with both his hands. Kicking himself forward into the air, his mangled fingers penetrated the cradle of warmth, the open wounds burning up in the blinding glow. In that instant, he felt that his spent corpse was completely revitalized. He stood up, keeping his appendages within the bright cone. On his back, hundreds of diaphanous hands were crawling up and down, seeping into his being. The blurred buildings all around have started to swirl, opening their eyes for the spectacle before them.

“Could this have happened in any other way? Somewhere along the line, did I make a mistake? Did I have a chance to change my fate? Or would you have followed me, no matter what…”

He stepped into the light. As he entered the entity he had been carrying along with himself rose up from under his feet, spreading across the circle of luster with every breath the man took. Soon, there was only a single ray of brilliance left, quickly fading away.

“Is this it, my shadow?”

The streetlight’s radiance disappeared at last. The man’s world was enveloped by the darkness within it, embracing it, merging into a singular instance of complete emptiness.