They marched for what felt like forever and hardly any time at all. Lana had barely enough time to think of her next question before Wilson opened the glass door to his lamp and blew the candle out. Darkness descended like the heavy thing on top of the wardrobe you’ve forgotten you put there until it comes down on your head along with whatever it was you were getting down in the first place.
‘What’s going on?’ she whispered. There was no reply from her guide, but the light blossoming before them gave her the answer. She wandered towards it until she seemed to step out of a tunnel and into blazing sunlight.
She stood in a street, but it was like nothing she’d ever seen. The stones beneath her feet were the colour of mustard and the house she faced was much the same. It glowed gently in the sunlight, along with all the other buildings along the street.
Voices called to her from all over. They spoke a language she thought might be Arabic, but could just as easily have been French. The voices were loud and fast and were definitely asking her something. She tried to turn but she was stuck fast, stuck staring at the wall.
Then she moved, though it wasn’t of her own choice. She turned left and moved along beside the houses. Her view reminded her of playing an old shoot em up. She bounced gently up and down and her vision was fixed somewhere between the round stones on the floor and the end of the street.
The sun beat down but she didn’t feel it. She didn’t feel much of anything. She turned left again into the front of a shop filled with carpets and rugs. They were beautiful, as beautiful as furnishings could be, stitched in reds and golds and oranges and purples. She turned again to face the front of the shop and stopped.
Men and women came and went. The women wore burkas and beautiful dresses in the same colours as the rugs. The men spoke loudly and hugged one another and always seemed to be smiling. It was peaceful, in an odd sort of a way. But there was an edge to the peace.
She was, she had realised, someone’s shadow. The man who sat in his shop all day. And he wasn’t happy. He gave warm greetings to all who entered, but deeper down than that, there was an aching sadness. She didn’t know how she felt it, but she knew he felt that way and there was no way to escape it. Slowly but surely, she found her own mood slipping and slithering until she felt close to tears.
The man was in mourning. Something had happened, years ago, from which he’d never recovered. He smiled and nodded and hugged and shook hands and haggled as though nothing was wrong, but it was. Had she been a customer into the shop, she’d have had no idea. She wished she was a customer.
As the day passed, the sun dipped low to the houses and she began to feel tired. She yawned, stretching to the roof above her, again and again. The sun touched the top of the house opposite and her eyes began to droop. A hand touched her shoulder and she jumped and found she could turn.
Wilson stood behind her. His clothes were even odder here but it was nice to see him.
‘Where am I?’
‘Tunisia. Do you like it?’
Yeah, it’s alright. It’s not home though.’
‘I thought you didn’t like home.’
‘Well, yeah, not so much. The man is very sad.’
Wilson’s head cocked to one side and he raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow. ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I was that man’s shadow, right? He was sad.’
‘You could feel his emotions?’
‘I see. Well.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Come, let us be on our way.’
He lifted his lantern as darkness descended and they set off once again. She’d taken only a couple of steps when something brushed past her shoulder. She glanced behind but there was nothing there. ‘What was that?’
‘What was what?’
‘Something touched my shoulder.’
‘I’m sure I don’t know. Perhaps you imagined it.’
She nodded and shrugged and shivered. She hadn’t felt the sun, but it was colder without it. They walked until her legs grew tired, but she couldn’t remember blinking. Then Wilson raised his lantern and blew it out.
She was ready for the darkness this time, but it still took her breath away. She’d noticed darkness like this when she moved to the countryside. It was never dark in the city, not properly.
The sunlight blossomed before her and she walked out into a city street. Glass buildings towered above her, but she could see only to the second floor. A yellow taxi came hurtling past, screeched around the corner and sped out with a blast of its horn.
The noise was tremendous. Cars, people, the beeping of the crossing lights. It was wonderful. She began to move, once more without any control. She bobbed across the road and set off down the street. Her bearer arrived at an office and she stared at the inside of a lift for longer than she thought they ever went. The building must be huge.
He was doing random, miscellaneous stuff and he didn’t like it. She focused on his emotions this time, trying to find more than just the feeling. It left her on edge and grumpy. He wanted to be outside, in the sun, but he had no choice. He wanted to be talking to someone, though she couldn’t work out who. He wanted lots of things, none of which he had.
Part of her felt sorry for him, but the rest just got annoyed. He was supposed to be working, but all he was doing was moaning away inside his head. And she was getting it all. She wanted to shout at him to shut up, but couldn’t.
Lunch time came and he bounded out of the building and into a huge park. They sat beneath a tree and she could look across the grass at the joggers and mums with babies. Her bearer’s mood changed entirely. It was like being with a different person. Why was he working in an office if he felt so crappy about it?
He rose from the bench and slumped his way back towards the office. On the way he made a phone call. She was getting waves of regret from him, strong enough to make her pant for want of breath. He spoke to his mum, though from the sounds of it, the person on the other end had no idea who he was.
Lana listened for a while, but the feelings grew stronger and stronger until she could hardly breathe and had to focus on sucking air into her lungs. Her bearer shoved his phone in his pocket and the feelings softened just enough. Something was wrong with his mum, something that made talking to her the most painful thing he’d ever done.
As he sat back in his chair and let out a long sigh, she realised she wanted to leave. But she was stuck, his depression beating down on her. She waited impatiently for the sun to drop and her guide to reappear. When the sun drifted past the window, exhaustion hit her like a train and her eyes barely stayed open.
She tried to glance over her shoulder, but she still couldn’t move. She was about to shout his name when something brushed her shoulder. She caught a glimpse of something black and shiny, sidling past her and into darkness. It breathed.
She wrapped her arms around herself.
‘Wilson, where are you?’
A hand touched her shoulder and she jumped. She could turn now and looked with relief into Wilson’s dark eyes. ‘I don’t like it here.’
‘You don’t? I thought you liked the city.’
‘Yeah, well, only when I can actually be there.’
‘You are there.’
‘This is New York.’
‘Yeah, well, it’s nice, but it isn’t home. And that guy is seriously depressed.’
Her guide frowned. It struck her because it was the first time he’d shown any emotion save smugness. ‘You could feel his emotions?’
‘Yeah, of course. Why is that weird?’
He shrugged. ‘No matter.’
She bit her lip and shook her head. ‘No, it is. Come on, what’s weird about me?’
‘Well, most shadows cannot feel their bearer’s emotions. It’s highly unusual.’
‘Oh. So why can I?’
‘I don’t know.’ He looked mighty pissed about that and turned away before she could ask anything else. Darkness came down and she was already looking over her shoulder when it came. It looked like a panther, huge and muscular and very real as it brushed against her. It slipped away, darkness swallowed by darkness.
She rushed to walk beside Wilson. ‘What are they?’
‘The big cats.’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t know wh—’
‘Yeah you do, you know everything. The thing that brushes against me every time we come back in here. Wherever here is.’ She muttered the last, but as before, he still heard her.
‘This is the Inbetween. The place where shadows come to sleep.’
‘Is that what the cat is, a sleeping shadow?’
Wilson smiled at her. One of her feet caught behind the other and she stumbled. He caught her arm before she fell and when she looked at him again, the smile had changed. His eyes twinkled. ‘Even a shadow leaves a mark.’
Then he blew the lantern out and she found herself back in the darkness, wondering whether it was possible for him to get any creepier.
The final part will be out Monday 8th December