The Shadow on the Wall (Part I)

It started on a summer’s evening. The Equinox, I believe.

Dusk was arriving, so I began to shut the house and go to bed. As I closed windows, slid doors, drew curtains, the heat inside the house built up at once; swelling like the rhythm of music. I tried to ignore the sweat emerging at my brow.

I always leave the study til last, as it’s the hottest part of the house; facing south. I went to the double doors at the side and folded the blinds down. The patio folded with them. Then to the long front window. I hesitated a moment; glanced at the sunset. Glanced too long, perhaps, for when I pulled the chord and turned back to the room, I couldn’t quite see as well as before. It was as though I was projecting rays onto the room. I felt dizzy, and sat down on the couch which faces the back wall. After a few moments the orange haze cleared, leaving only dots that danced in front of me. I shut my eyes tight, but when I opened them again the dots were still there – dancing. I shook my head, and went upstairs to bed.

*

The next morning was painfully hot from the first. I woke up in a sweat, the dream just fading, and as I gazed up at the ceiling I thought – at least the dots have left me. I went down for water, then padded across the hallway to the study to take up my work. The room seemed even hotter than usual, so I opened the double doors at the side and dangled my toes out into the air. But the air was stale.

I turned to the bureau – which up until then sat along the back wall below the old picture frame my father had made. I blinked. Surely not, I said. For there they were again – in the gap between the nickel frame and the mahogany veneer of the bureau. Yet, I had not looked at the sun that morning. I blinked again, and focused my eyes on the wall. The black dots swirled and dove as midges do beside a lake.

I put it down to tiredness – I sleep even worse in the summer – and began to set up my typewriter. I fed a new sheet of crisp white paper through the carriage, thinking of how I would begin the next chapter, when I noticed that the dots had disappeared. I typed a few letters – my own name – for that is all that occurs to me whenever I hit a block. Yes, I thought, the letters are quite clear. I’m not drowsy. I looked up at the wall. There were the dots, still swaying slightly in no particular pattern; seemingly contained between the picture frame and the bureau. I glanced back at the paper in the typewriter. Nothing. I sat down and searched the drawers for my glasses – which I only wore when very tired, or when writing becomes a chore.

I put them on.

The paper was still crisp white.

The dots were still on the wall.

I got up, overcome with a nervous sensation that made my leg twitch. I reached out to the wall, thinking perhaps it was some sort of noiseless insect. I swatted around for a few moments, then turned to the long window at the front of the house. A reflection of something? But nothing seemed to be moving outside, save for the leaves of the trees in the garden of the house opposite – too large to cast such tiny shadows. I glanced behind me, tracing the movement of the dots. They seemed to trace my eyes in return. I put my hand to the wall, hoping the shadow – if it was indeed a shadow – would land and dance across my palm. But the dots disappeared.

I lifted my hand.

There they were, at a distinct point on the wall – beneath where my hand had been; where a crack in the wallpaper could be seen, if one looked hard enough.

I drew back from the wall and wiped my hand on my leg. I had touched something unclean. An optician, I said to myself. I must go and see an optician. I crossed the study to the telephone, and twisted the numbers into the machine. Dr Ewend had had a cancellation just moments before.

*

It was what he called a “floater”. I’m sure that’s not the professional term. As I reached for my hat, I noticed a subtle smirk upon his face. Perhaps I had told him too much, or had seemed too panicked. His eyes were sort of crinkly at the edges, as if he was in on some kind of joke – one that had gone straight over my head. I hadn’t dared go so far as to tell him that I only saw the dots in one specific place – that incongruous patch of the study wall, between the empty picture frame and the overfull bureau. As I left the surgery, I began to convince myself that the blame lay squarely with the sun, and that if I just tipped my hat a little, and if I stopped myself from looking at it, then all would be well.

I walked with my head ducked, a crick in my neck, tracing the cracks in the pavement. At one point I stopped, mid-stride, for there were the dots. There, in the cracks in the pavement.

Flying ants.

I was overcome with relief, swiftly overtaken by an uneasy feeling that there was some sort of infestation in my study. At my front door, I hesitated. I don’t do well with infestations. I gulped a dry breath. My head began to pound.

Eventually, I unlocked the door and headed to the bathroom for an aspirin, and decided to go for a little lie down.

*

I awoke in the middle of the night and desperate for water. I hurried down to the kitchen sink and scooped handfuls into my mouth. Satiated, I turned off the tap, wiped my mouth, and leaned against the basin a moment. The dream was at that lingering stage – right before it slips away.

I was drawn to the typewriter, but hesitated. It was up against that wall.

Nonsense, I said. The sun is down; my eyes feel fine. All I needed was a little lie down. All the same, I set about moving the bureau a little; side on to the wall.

The words would not flow, and I became distracted. That was when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. A dark black shape – moving – too big to be a dot, too well-formed to be a blob. It was a definite shape – like that of an animal’s shadow, though which animal it could be I struggled to tell.

I sat motionless in my chair. I strained to look, but not look too much.

The shape moved, over the faintly faded part of the wallpaper, where the bureau had previously been. I slowly turned the head of the anglepoise to face the wall. The black shape seemed to grow darker and more solid.

A hand, it might have been.

Yes, a hand.

A man’s hand, I was sure of it.

Too large to be a woman’s.

No ring on the wedding finger.

There was no gesture to the hand. It was flat; no intent. Little more than an anatomical drawing of a hand, perhaps – and certainly not suggestive of life. Yet, it floated, unencumbered by a body, hovering gently. I went over to it; fascinated and revolted. I reached out my own shaking hand to meet it, but it darted up in a straight line, and broke into dots that swayed and danced as before.

It was then that I wondered that they might not be dots at all, but pupils. They were eyes – watching me. Watching me as I recoiled, as I stumbled backward over the wire of the anglepoise lamp, as my head struck the floor.

Read Part II

Beren Reid | Autumn 2016

Photo by sankavi on Unsplash

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