By Brian Hoover.
The obnoxious scream of the alarm clock dragged Mark away from his thoughts. It didn’t surprise him that he hadn’t been able to sleep at all. He sighed as he got out of bed and turned off the alarm before it woke his roommate. Sluggishly working his way over to the bathroom, he locked the door and turned on the shower, letting it warm up while he took his medication. If Mark was being completely honest with himself, showering was his favorite part of the day. He was convinced that he did his best thinking while he was in the bathroom, and the hot water on his scalp did wonders for his focus.
He washed himself and relaxed in the shower spray for a few minutes before turning the water off and toweling himself dry. When he removed the towel from over his face, he caught a look at his reflection in the mirror. His brown hair was sticking up in every direction from the thorough drying he had given it, and his green eyes were still just as bagged and bloodshot as they had been for the last few months. He had lost weight recently, a bit too much to be healthy, and each of his ribs was clearly visible against his pale skin. And, of course, there was that damn shadow behind him.
It appeared around the same time he had found it almost impossible to sleep, at the same time he had started throwing up each and every morning. Since then, there had been a buzzing in his head, a pressure, a fog he couldn’t think through. As much as he tried, he couldn’t describe it to his friends or family, even to the doctors that he had been to see, and he had stopped trying to make anyone understand.
The shadow, or whatever it was, was vaguely humanoid, but it was far taller than Mark was, needing to stoop so that it did not hit the ceiling. It was translucent, a dark, stormy grey that moved in mesmerizing, sickening currents across its wispy body. Its head was elongated in the back, tapering out to a point that faded away like smoke, and its eyes were a dull, dead white. It had no other facial features.
As far as Mark knew, it didn’t do anything. He never saw it move, not even blink, but it had never been more than ten feet from him in the last two months. It seemed to like darker areas, and he would often see it in the corner of his room, watching him while he slept. The first night he had seen it, Mark had almost pissed himself, but he quickly became jaded to its presence, helped along by the feelings of boredom and depression that always seemed to accompany the shadowy figure.
Leaving the bathroom, Mark saw that his roommate was gone, presumably to go get breakfast. He sat down at his desk and turned on the computer. In the reflection from the monitor, he could see the white eyes of the shadow behind him.
“Fuck off,” Mark growled. He didn’t receive a response. He was tired, so very tired, and it wasn’t just physical. In classes, he was unresponsive and forgetful, and he could barely hold a conversation with his friends. They had asked what was going on, but all he had told them lately was that he was just tired. He just wanted everything to stop, to have a week or two to himself so that he didn’t have to worry about classes or friends or family, a time for him to just relax and take stock of his life.
Something warm wrapped around his shoulders. He looked down and saw the grey, wispy arms of the shadow around him, and they were more comfortable than his bed had been in weeks, more inviting than anything he could remember. A whisper of a breeze brushed his ear. Maybe it actually was a whisper. Mark couldn’t tell. The buzzing was starting to go away, and the silence seemed to collapse in on him. He could hear his own heartbeat, slow and weary, and his eyelids drooped lower. Mark knew, somehow, that he was going to be able to sleep, to rest, and everything else seemed far less important. He wouldn’t really regret missing a class or two. The pounding in his ears was slowing down, and as Mark’s head tipped back he could see the face of the shadow. As his eyes shut, the dead, flat white of its eyes brightened.
BRIAN HOOVER was born on March 4, 1995, in Chicago, IL. He is now a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he studies Mechanical Engineering.