#BookbedFictory 031: ‘The Shadow’

by Krystle Mae Labio
This year’s Fictory is for a cause. We donate P100 to a chosen beneficiary for every fic submitted. This is part of the final batch of release. Enjoy this one!

Prompt: Someone’s watching. You’ve become convinced of that. You’ve become much less convinced of everything else.

Trigger warning: death of a family member

At half past 2.am, I woke up sweating, gasping for breath and teary-eyed. It was that dreadful nightmare again. I wanted to go back to sleep because this wasn’t my normal waking hour, and I had been sleep-deprived for weeks because I kept having this terrible dream. I had been wreaking havoc on myself for days because I felt exhausted waking up.

Today must be different, so I got out of my bed and took a sip of water to calm myself. It was still dark outside so I turned on the lights, and grabbed a towel for a quick shower. I felt a chill run through my nape. I turned to look but all I saw was my reflection in the mirror and my own shadow.

So, I went right inside the bathroom. I rarely took long baths, so I was done in ten minutes and got ready for breakfast.

“Hey, I heard you crying desperately in your sleep. I tried to wake you up but it’s still dark.”

I dropped the box of pancake mix as I heard that voice. I lived alone in my loft and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come over at this hour, let alone someone watch me sleep!

“Goodness gracious! Who are you?” I left the kitchen to check who was behind the voice.

“It’s me. Theo. Hi. Sorry to frighten you. I’ve been here since you were young, but you gave me the chance to talk to you since you’re having those nightmares.”

Was I hallucinating? Were these side-effects of my nightmares? WasI losing my mind already? I couldn’t see anyone, but the voice was so clear.

“Where are you? Get out from where you’re hiding and show yourself!” I grabbed a spatula and the stainless bowl I prepared for my breakfast for defense.

“Turn around. I’m here. I won’t hurt you. I can’t hurt you.”

I was getting hysterical. I looked around the loft and I couldn’t find any signs of intrusion. In a blip, I turned on all the lights just so I could see all the nooks and corners of my place. I planned to call the police because this wasn’t funny at all.

“Calm down. I’m right behind you, always right behind you. You’re casting me. I came from you. Go against any light, and you’ll see me right here. Just right here, behind you.”

“Stop! Please. How come I can’t see you and you’re talking to me right now? Who are you? What are you? Where are you hiding?” My tension was at its peak. I glanced at the wall clock – 3 a.m. I could wake up the whole building.

“I can explain. Look down right here, I am a shadow. Casted since the day you learned to stand and walk. When you go against the light, I exist. I follow you. Always.”

I was still scared but there was something in Theo’s voice that made me start to calm down.

“I’ve always tried to talk to you but you couldn’t hear me back then. The day you started to have those terrible dreams was the day I felt you could hear me. It was too dark so you couldn’t see me, and then you fell right back to sleep. Until today.”

Whoever or whatever Theo was, he was not normal. I checked my shadow. And there he was. No face but moving.

“Keep talking.”

“You can tell me your dreams,” he continued, the reality of it all making me gasp. “I know you’re already tired.”

“You’re… you’re real?”

“Yes, I’m your shadow. And I want to help you. Walk with me, right by the window. Would you like to tell me all about what’s been disturbing you?”

“This is so surreal, Theo.”

“Don’t worry. I know you’re troubled, and you feel lost. They must have sent me here because they heard your plea for help,” Theo answered.

“They? Who are they?”

“Does it matter? Some things are far greater than our mere comprehension. How about you go back to bed while it’s still dark outside? Look, the stars are beautiful. Sun will be up in a few hours or so. You still have time to take a nap.” 

And he was right. I still felt groggy and I had a long day ahead at work. Maybe if I slept more, everything would make perfect sense when I wake up.

I turned off the lights downstairs and went back to my room.

“You still there?” I called out.

“Yes, I’m still here. Would you like to talk?”

I was not sure if it was right to talk to my shadow, but Theo brought some sense of peace. I felt relieved. There was someone checking in on me, after all.

“It started when my brother…” I started, drawing a deep breath, “took his life. I carried the guilt of not being with him, during his dark moments. I found out I was the last person he talked to before he… before he died.

From then on, I started to dream about him. Dreamt about the things I could have done for him. The times I could have spent with him. The times I should have listened to him and understood him. I started to wake up in the middle of the night stuck with these heavy thoughts, stuck with the regret and the guilt. I thought I had started to move on. I thought I already started accepting that there was no way I could turn back the hands of time and bring him back. There was no way to save him because he chose a better life out there than stay here with the harshness of the world.”

I paused. “You still there, Theo?” It was hard to keep talking to someone you couldn’t see.

“Yes, keep going. I’m listening.”

Relieved he replied, I continued. “Recently, I feel empty. Even at work, I keep questioning myself. Am I doing things the right way? Am I doing things for a greater purpose? For the common good? Why am I feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled with the things I do? I am often distracted and confused. The rewards and recognitions don’t mean anything to me anymore. The praises I get from my friends and family don’t hype me up anymore. 

I have been reading and posting about life’s meaning, finding what you are passionate about, but they don’t move me. I feel like I am not, and will never be enough. I feel like I don’t have value and worth anymore. Thoughts like these keep coming, keep waking me up. I thought they were nightmares, but nightmares are supposed to be crawling at night, aren’t they? These things are real, Theo. These things are what make me not who I am right now. I succumbed to this mind-blowing epiphany and I don’t know what to do with it! I feel so helpless. I feel so lost.”

Tears fell down my cheeks and the pillow I was hugging, but surprisingly, I felt better. Way better than the past few months. I felt freer. Like having gotten out from a very deep dive and finally breathing air again.

“You know,” Theo said, after a while, “all that you’ve told me, I felt all those. Your emotions were overflowing and I myself couldn’t contain it. I just kept getting darker and heavier, too. I cried for you many times because I felt your pain. I felt you, and I desperately wanted to help you. So I reached out to the highest heavens and sold my existence so I could talk to you.”

This made me sob harder. “Thank you, Theo,” I said, crying. “I owe you, too. You just gave me freedom. Thank you, Theo, thank you.” I paused. “Do you mind… would you like to stay for a little while? Here with me?”

I waited for his reply until I felt a cold wisp of air enter my room. Rubbing my eyes, I started to wake up. The sunshine streamed through the window. I got up from bed and stepped into the light, but Theo never showed. ☁️

Krystle Mae Labio was born and raised in Davao. She now works as a Software Engineer in Cebu, and loves the sky, the rain, cats, chocolate, milk tea, and of course, books!


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