By Robert Moriyama
had a secret. He knew something that no one else -- and
especially, no grownup -- knew, or even suspected.
Timmy knew that shadows were alive,
that they were parasites (a big word, but Timmy understood it all too
well) that clung to everything, every animal, and every person in the
world, living off the life force (juice,
Timmy called it) of their hosts. The one time Timmy tried to
explain this to his father, the man had laughed and turned on a
goose-necked lamp so he could make shadow-figures on the wall.
"Look, Timbo, I can make a dog, or a duck, or a
rabbit," the big man said. "Shadows are just like pictures from a
movie projector; they’re just places where the light gets blocked or
partly blocked." Then he ruffled Timmy’s hair (a little too
roughly, an impartial observer might have said) and walked away.
He didn’t see the dog shadow and the rabbit shadow reappear with
nothing between the lamp and the wall except air. He didn’t see
the dog shadow attack the rabbit shadow, catching it by the neck and
shaking it until the long ears and gangly hind legs went limp.
Timmy saw, and Timmy understood the message. Don’t try to tell anyone else -- or else.
For almost a year, Timmy had kept his secret.
But on this particular October day, he had slipped. Amy Tang, the
prettiest girl in Timmy’s second grade classroom, had been growing pale
and thin over the past few months. Miss Hartman had explained
that Amy was ill, that she had something called leukemia, and everyone must treat her nicely and help her to catch up after her frequent absences from class.
But Timmy had noticed that as Amy had grown more and
more pale, her shadow had grown denser, darker; as Amy had grown
thinner, her shadow had grown larger. It was killing her, he
knew, taking too much juice. Maybe her shadow was too young or
too stupid to know how things were done; maybe it was sick, and
couldn’t control its feeding.
At lunchtime, Timmy had tried to talk to Amy’s
shadow, to tell it that it was doing things wrong. Amy, of
course, had heard him, and he had been forced to explain what he was
doing, and why.
From the expression on her face, Timmy had known
that Amy didn’t quite believe him. But he thought that she didn’t
quite disbelieve him either. And Amy’s shadow, whether it
understood him or not, had not been happy that he had been telling
tales again. For an instant, as Amy turned to walk away, part of
her shadow had peeled itself off the dusty asphalt like a snake rising
to strike, reaching for him with impossibly long fingers of solid
Then Zachary Zucor had galloped by in pursuit of a
soccer ball, and the shadow had contracted like a punctured balloon,
returning to its normal shape and place at Amy’s feet.
Timmy understood that the shadows would not try to
hurt him as long as there were other people around to see, and maybe --
just maybe -- to learn the truth. But when he went to bed, he
would be alone in his room, and then -- he pictured the shadow-rabbit,
shaken to death in the jaws of a grotesque version of his father’s
After an early dinner -- macaroni with cut-up
weiners for him, salads and stinky cheese for his parents -- Timmy’s
mother rushed him through his bath.
Timmy winced as his mother guided the washcloth
through an accelerated tour of his body, leaving a trail of reddened
and tender skin in its wake.
"Ow, Mommy, too hard," he whimpered.
"We have to finish up and get you into your jammies
so Mommy can get ready for the party," she said, neither slowing down
nor reducing the force of her scrubbing.
"Ow!" he said again. "Mommy -- "
"We’re done, my little whine factory, so no use
complaining any more," she said. She pulled the lever to let the
water drain, lifted him out of the tub, and applied the big white bath
towel as roughly as she had the washcloth.
It seemed like only moments later that Timmy was in his pajamas, his hair still damp and his skin still stinging.
"Into bed, kiddo, and go to sleep. Mommy’s friends will be here any minute."
Mommy’s friends would be there any minute -- and Timmy knew that his guests would arrive soon after.
"Mommy, let me stay up," he begged, clutching at the
cloth of her skirt. "I’m not sleepy at all. I want to play
with the nice people."
His mother smiled, eight thousand dollars in
orthodontic work gleaming, but her eyes were narrowed and not smiling
at all. She pried his fingers from the folds of her clothes and
held his hand high enough that he had to stand on tiptoe as she checked
her ensemble for obvious damage.
"Oh, no, sweetie, you wouldn’t like this party," she
said at last, releasing his hand. "It’ll just be a bunch of
grownups talking and eating and drinking things that you don’t like."
"I’m almost a grownup," he said. "I’m almost
eight years old. And I can eat cookies, and have some milk or
some juice instead of what you have."
Now his mother’s mouth seemed to tighten as well,
her lips drawing taught against her too-perfect teeth. "No,
sweetie. You have to go to bed now. You have school
Timmy did not cry or whine. He knew that these
things would not work, that they would only bring anger that would be
expressed in unpleasant ways after the guests had gone. His eyes
stung and his lower lip trembled, but he did not cry.
"Off you go," his mother said. Her voice
seemed cheerful and loving, but Timmy could hear the edge hidden
within, like the sheathed claws of a cat, and he turned to obey.
He was alone now, in bed with his Space Commando
sheets pulled up so high that only his eyes and hair were exposed to
the dim glow of the nightlight. The sounds of raucous laughter
and the thumping of dance music filtered through the closed door.
In the darkness, Timmy couldn’t clearly see the
shadows, but he knew that they were there. He wondered how long
they would wait before they came to punish him for his betrayal.
He wondered what they would do -- would they bite and shake him like
the shadow-rabbit? Would they drain his life away, like Amy’s leukemia but a hundred times faster?
The hours passed, and still the shadows did not harm
him. Outside his room, the voices grew louder; now and then,
Timmy heard a noise, tinkleSMASH,
and knew that someone had dropped a glass or a plate. He wondered
how his mother and father would punish the grownups who broke
things. Would the clumsy brats be sent to their rooms without
dessert? Would they receive a stinging slap to the rump (or the
face) as Timmy would?
Eventually, the voices grew quieter. Timmy
heard the front door open and close at irregular intervals, heard car
engines rumble to life and then fade in the distance.
Timmy’s bedroom door opened, and Timmy’s mother
leaned in to check on him. "Timmy, are you awake? It’s
Timmy closed his eyes and said nothing.
"I saw you looking at me, you little faker," his
mother said, her voice slurred. "Well, you’re getting up in the
morning and going to school, and if you’re tired, it’ll just be your
own damn fault."
She closed the door, a little too hard, and Timmy heard her complaining (for the umptieth time) that she had never wanted kids, and this kid wouldn’t be any prize even if she had. Timmy’s eyes stung again, and this time he let the tears fall.
More time passed. The thin line of light at
the bottom of the door vanished, and his parents’ voices faded away as
they went to bed to sleep the heavy sleep of the very well lubricated.
Now he was truly alone. There would be no unexpected intrusions, no one to see what they could not be allowed to see.
Outside Timmy’s window, the moon had risen to the
point where it cast a skewed rectangle of silver light on the opposite
wall. Timmy stared at the illuminated area, waiting.
Somehow he understood that the shadows wanted him to see what was
coming for him, that they wanted him to be afraid.
A shape appeared, so black that it looked more like
a painted silhouette than a mere shadow. It was unlike any animal
that Timmy had ever seen or heard of. It was something like an
ape, and something like a spider, and something like a big, black bird
Timmy had once seen tearing at the remains of a raccoon in the alley
behind his house.
Timmy wanted to scream, but he knew that his mother
and father were sleeping too soundly to be awakened by anything so
unimportant as the terror of their only child. He wanted to cry;
he wanted to scramble out of bed and run as fast as his seven-year-old
legs could carry him. But he knew that he could not escape, and
he knew that the shadows wanted him to show his fear. Something
inside him hardened into a knot, a knot that had at its center a pearl
of stubborn courage formed by the long torture of his parents’ contempt
and polished to diamond brightness by his hatred of these things that were killing Amy Tang and that would probably kill him as well.
"Do what you want," he said. "But make Amy’s shadow behave right."
For a moment, the shadow-thing seemed to recoil,
surprised by Timmy’s sudden display of bravery. Timmy sensed
acceptance of his demand, and nodded, satisfied.
Then the blackness peeled itself away from the wall,
swelling into a boiling cloud of darkness that swept across the room to
Timmy’s bed so fast that he barely had time to blink. It settled
over him, and it was cold, so
cold that Timmy’s body spasmed in shock and he gasped like a man struck
suddenly in the stomach. The chill spread through Timmy’s body in
seconds, bringing a frightening numbness. Timmy’s eyes fluttered
shut; his breath left his body in a long, hissing sigh; his shivering
slowed, became sporadic, and then stopped.
The shadow withdrew. The moon drifted across
the sky, dragging the rectangle of light across the room, shrinking it
to a narrow stripe and then to nothing. The nightlight flared for
a second, then died, leaving the room almost completely dark.
Seven o’clock arrived, and with it, Timmy’s mother, her face drawn by
the pounding headache that was the price she paid (and paid often) for
her love of parties.
"Wake up, you little brat," she said. "You can
get your own damn cereal this morning, ‘cause my head feels like
somebody’s using my eyeballs for batting practice."
Timmy remained silent and motionless.
"Come on, you lazy ankle-biter, you have to get
ready for school. Don’t make me come over there and throw you out
Timmy did not move, did not speak.
"All right, if that’s how you want it, just remember
I warned you," Timmy’s mother snarled. She crossed the room in
three floor-thumping strides, wincing as each step brought a fresh
explosion of pain in her head, and yanked the covers from Timmy’s bed.
Timmy was like a statue, cold and stiff.
Pigeons would have happily perched on his head with no fear of being
disturbed. His flesh was pale, almost blue; beside him, Amy Tang
would have looked healthy.
"Timmy, wake up! What’s wrong with you?"
Timmy’s mother reached down to shake him, then
recoiled in surprise as she felt her fingertips go numb the moment they
touched his shoulder. She leaned closer, peering at his face
through slitted eyes. She touched his face, brought her ear close
to his nose, touched his shoulder, his chest.
"Timmy? Timmy?" Her hung-over brain
lurched clumsily from anger to fear as the wrongness of Timmy’s
condition broke through its protective shell of alcoholic
numbness. One fact exploded in her head like a very expensive
fireworks display: cold equals dead. And Timmy was very, very cold.
She straightened, then began to cry, keening, howling, surprised by the sudden horrible sense of loss that gripped her.
"Jesus, Annie, what the hell is going on in
here?" Timmy’s father appeared in the doorway, the poster boy for
blood-shot eye remedies, the before
picture for a health club ad. He grabbed Timmy’s mother -- Annie
-- by the shoulders and shook her until she stopped wailing.
"Oh, Jack, Jack, it’s Timmy, Timmy’s dead!" Annie
sobbed. She began to cry again, her body seeming to collapse in
Jack pushed her away and leaned down to clutch at Timmy’s pajama top, jerking the little boy’s motionless body upright.
"Come on, you little bugger, snap out of it!" Jack said. "You’re scaring your poor mother."
Timmy’s head lolled to one side, his bluish lips
falling open. Jack suddenly became aware of the unnatural chill
seeping through the cloth of Timmy’s pajamas, and he let Timmy fall
back onto the bed.
Something wrong here, Jack. Something very wrong.
"Stay here," he said, "I’ll call 9-1-1."
Annie nodded through her tears, hugging herself as
if trying to dispel the numbing cold that seemed to have spread from
Timmy into her.
Jack half-stumbled into the hallway, opening and
closing his hand again and again to ease the pain that crept from his
knuckles into his fingers and up his wrist. He picked up the
phone, dialed 9-1-1 and said, "We need -- we need an ambulance.
My son -- I think he’s dead. He’s cold, like ice, not moving, not
breathing. 732 Derleth Road. Please hurry."
The telephone receiver fell from his hand.
Jack frowned down at his rebellious fingers, now so numb that he could
hardly move them at all. He could hear the 9-1-1 dispatcher
talking, giving instructions, asking for more information, but couldn’t
quite make out the words.
"Jack, help me," Annie said. "I can’t feel my
feet, my legs. I’m so cold." She plodded into the hallway,
moving as though wading through chilled molasses. Her face was
pale, almost as pale as Timmy’s.
Jack turned toward her, raised his hand to reach for her. "Cold," he said slowly. "Me too."
Annie fell, and although it was her well-upholstered hip that struck the floor first, Jack heard a crunch
like a slab of ice landing on concrete. She did not cry
out. She did not move once the momentum of her fall was spent.
Jack tried to lower himself to the floor as a wave
of fatigue seemed to follow the numbness spreading through his
body. He was in a half-crouch when he lost his balance and
tumbled sideways into the small table that held the telephone and a few
odds and ends Annie had accumulated. The table fell, the
telephone fell, the knick-knacks fell, crashing onto the hardwood floor
and scattering like fleeing insects. Jack followed them down, now
trapped in his near-fetal crouch.
When his shoulder hit the floor, Jack felt nothing,
but heard again the sound of something brittle shattering against a
hard surface. His eyes, the last part of his body that he could
control, rolled slowly from side to side and up and down as he tried to
understand his situation.
It was only when he noticed Annie’s shadow that he understood. Annie’s shadow was moving, climbing up the wall, while Annie lay motionless, dead or near-dead.
"Timmy was right," he whispered "Timmy was right."
The paramedics arrived a few minutes later to find
Jack and Annie where they had fallen, limbs still locked in the same
"Anybody here? Metro paramedics -- someone
here called 9-1-1?" Joe Berrigan shook his head. "Looks
like they picked up and left, maybe took the kid to the hospital."
"Maybe," Tony Merrin said. "Look -- they left a couple of mannequins lying in the middle of the hall."
But then Joe leaned a little closer and grunted, "Those aren't mannequins, man ..."
The two men set to work, moving to shift the bodies
into better positions to perform basic first aid. But both men
recoiled when their gloved hands encountered flesh as cold and hard as
"Holy freezer burn," Joe Berrigan said, shaking
numbed fingers. "No need to check for vitals -- I swear there's
ice crystals on this woman's eyebrows."
"This guy, too," Tony Merrin said. "Whoever
made the call must have made a run for it right after. No way
either of these two picked up the phone."
They found Timmy's body in the same condition -- except that his face was peaceful, almost smiling.
"What the hell could do this?" Joe asked.
"They're all colder than a frozen pot pie -- way colder than the air in
"Liquid nitrogen or hydrogen or some shit like
that," Tony said. "Except it's just them. Even their
clothes are pretty much room temperature."
"Nothing we can do for them but get 'em to the
coroner," Joe said. He keyed the microphone on his radio and
said, "Dispatch, this is unit 23 at 732 Derleth. We have three, I
repeat three D.O.A.s for transport, one adult male, one adult female,
one male child. We're gonna need another unit here..."
In another house, some miles away, Amy Tang was
dressed and ready for school. Her mother smiled down at her,
thinking that she looked better somehow, as if her illness had miraculously receded overnight. Amy grinned back and ran -- it had been months since she last had the strength to run -- to meet the school bus.
Amy’s shadow trailed along behind her, a bit lighter and a bit thinner than the day before, but no one noticed.
Robert Moriyama is an Aphelion regular, with various
stories and umpteen entries in the "Materia Magica" series featuring Al
Majius, Githros and company, appearing in this 'zine over the past few
years. (All the stories have the word "Matter" or "Matters" in
the title ...) He is also participating in Jeff Williams's
Nightwatch project. His most recent Aphelion story was "Prufrock's
Problem" in the September 2004 edition.