In Shadows I'm Gone
by Evan Davies
Utter fucking drudgery.
But you're almost free.
Before I found the shadow (or was it before the shadow found me?), you could sum up my life just like that.
Sitting at my beige cubicle from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, endless email threads, meetings about meetings, and everyone constantly on their phones. A pointless corporate existence would be an understatement -- I was a minor, minor cog in the machine of a massive, international telecommunications company.
But I've been planning my escape.
I've stood on the threshold. I've seen where the shadow leads.
I wonder if anyone else has ever noticed how dark, how endlessly deep the shadow is in behind the Xerox machine down the hall.
Or am I the only one who's seen it?
It was six months ago when I first did. Back from lunch, I had to photocopy some spreadsheets for something or other. More than anything, I just wanted somewhere to hide from these people. I closed the door to the copy room and locked it.
And suddenly it was like the world outside of that room had ceased to exist.
At first, silence. Deafening almost. I could hear myself breathe, could hear my heart beating.
Otherwise, it was just your average office copy room: a half-full recycling bin, reminders on the wall to replace ink cartridges if the orange light is blinking, drawers for paper refills, a few supplies like pens, staples and paperclips.
And the copier.
In the far corner of the room, it stood there. Not like a machine designed to spit out an innocuous stack of progress reports. It stood there like a great plastic boulder protecting a secret passageway. A guardian.
Then the sound and the darkness grew from behind, from that shadow on the wall.
I moved in closer.
Was it the sound of water lapping up on the shore? I thought I heard gulls, then the rustle of tree branches. A storm rumbled somewhere in the distance, thunder cracked and a heavy rain fell.
I grabbed the sides of the copier and rolled it away. In behind, the wall had vanished. There was only that impossibly deep, swirling shadow.
Waiting there for me to traverse its strange, yawning mouth.
I leaned in and reached out my arm. My hand disappeared into the unknown.
Then I heard the doorknob jostle behind me.
Suddenly, the room became just a room again as some office drone's knuckles rapped on the other side of the door. I turned back to the shadow, but it had faded away and my hand was resting on the wall. I stood there, hoping the darkness would return.
The knocking grew louder and I had to open the door, mumbling something about how the lock had gotten stuck.
I returned to the banality of my desk, but my mind was a million miles away.
That seems so long ago now, another lifetime...
Co-workers have begun to notice how much time I've been spending in the copy room. I really couldn't care less what they think.
Every day I'd come back, lock the door and wait. I'd Just stare at that space behind the copier. Hoping.
And for three and a half months, nothing.
I became obsessed. I checked online, the library, started researching inexplicable phenomena, paranormal activity. Do portals just pop up here and there? Does Xerox secretly specialize in transporting matter through space and time?
As it turned out, spontaneous shadow portals weren't really a thing. Except for me in this office where it's all an illusion, what we do at these mindless jobs. It's who can put on the best show, who can play the game, who can be the biggest sycophant.
Ironic, I guess, that the single most exciting event of my life happened in this place.
But as often as I returned -- day after day, week after week -- the shadow didn't come back.
Not until last week, that is.
It's obvious that I haven't been full of that go-and-get-em spirit lately. I've been forgetting this, ignoring that. I'd blown off a departmental meeting and had heard my supervisor was looking for me. He was really pissed, apparently. Run, I thought. Copy room, now.
As the door closed, there was that impossible silence again. I was alone, so alone in that room. Behind the Xerox, I saw it. I'm not fucking crazy after all, I thought as I pulled the machine away from the wall.
The shadow stood there, about three feet in diameter. This time I was quick about it. I extended my hand into the darkness. It felt cool, calm. Like a thick fog.
I moved first my head, then my body into the wall. Then I was through.
It was dank and dark, except for the flickering torches that lined the walls and dimly lit what appeared to be several tunnel entrances.
I was in some kind of central chamber. In front of me, on the floor sat an ornately-decorated casket. Inside, a withered corpse of a man dressed in fine velvet robes, surrounded by trinkets and dusty bottles. Four candles surrounded him, and instinctively I lit them all.
They sputtered and hissed in the silence. The corpse groaned.
I grabbed a torch and leaned over the ancient body.
"Who disturbs me" it wheezed.
Its eyes had opened, and shone like emeralds in the firelight.
Behind me, the shadow's portal had vanished into the rock's wall.
I was scared out of my mind. Ready-to-shit-my-pants kind of territory. But I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt so alive.
The corpse began to raise itself up.
"I am Iulianus," it said, a bit regally.
"Martin," I replied.
At full height, he towered over me. Seven feet if he was an inch. He picked up a golden staff and rested on it.
"And why do you wake me, Martin?" he asked.
Out from one of the tunnels, a shrill cry floated.
Iulianus turned to the darkened entrance.
"Perhaps you are expected."
I didn't know what to say. Who the fuck was I? Just some bored guy with a shitty job who found a magical portal in behind the Xerox machine.
"I have to go to the bathroom," I said.
He approached me, then grabbed my face.
"I stay here, asleep in this chamber," he started, "because I have been tasked with receiving travellers like yourself. If you are worthy, there's much to tell you before sending you on your quest."
And then through his hand, I saw everything.
I saw the shimmering sea of Lyreene, its great monsters and the distant lands beyond where the mariner race of Valthons sail in search of treasure and exotic spices.
I saw the endless black forests of Eealok, in the realm of Cathail, the Blood Witch, where her murderous serpent children stalk the shadows.
I saw the great castle of Maueria, its monolithic towers piercing the yellow sky.
When my legs were trembling and I thought I couldn't see anything else, Iulianus removed his hands and I buckled in a heap before him.
"But you are not ready yet," he said before I could ask him to send me on my way.
"No! No, I am," I stuttered.
He raised his hand and I fell silent.
"You must come prepared. One does not merely set out to these great lands without clothing, tools, food and weapons. Where are yours?"
I had no answer.
Behind him, the shadow portal materialized.
"When you are ready, come back to us," he said.
I left him through the wall, afraid that I'd never return.
Now it's Friday a week later and I've come to work prepared, just like every day since. I have a sack full of food, I have extra clothing, a knife and a sword I bought online. A Zippo too, and some condoms just in case.
The shadow hasn't appeared again yet, and I feel like this is my last chance. People think I'm going crazy just standing around in the copy room with my supply bag, waiting until they leave. Waiting to go back, to finally start a life worth living.
Today it's do-or-die, though. Yesterday afternoon I got an email from my boss. He wants a meeting to discuss my performance, and after three written and two verbal warnings, I see where this is going: clean out the desk, have security escort me downstairs past the entrances you can only get through with a magnetic pass card.
This is my last chance.
These people want to stop you, want to stand in your way.
Standing around my cubicle, I see my idiot boss walking towards me with someone from HR and a security guard.
I grab my pack and make a run for it.
There's yelling behind me. I can hear the security guard on his walkie-talkie.
I'm almost at the copy room when a second guard tries to cut me off.
I pull out my sword and hold it in front of him.
"Whoa, buddy," he says, holding his hands up nervously.
Once in the copy room, I roll the Xerox towards the locked door as a barricade. I can hear banging on the other side, yelling.
The police have been called.
I turn frantically towards the wall.
Nothing. Where the fuck is it?
I pace back and forth. I'm panicking. What did I do differently the last two times this worked?
It won't be long now before they break down the door.
Now it's the cops and their radios I hear.
They're trying to talk me out.
I don't want to do anything foolish, do I? How about I unlock the door to discuss things? Would I like a cup of coffee?
No, I don't want a fucking cup of coffee!
It must confuse the hell out of whoever's on the other side of the door to hear me yelling, pleading for the shadow to return. I know how crazy it seems, but I have no choice now.
Some cop keeps talking to me.
This can end one of two ways, I'm told. The easy way, or...
A man who swings a sword around is volatile. I'm sure the safeties on their guns are already off.
I pace again. It's been at least an hour in here.
"I'm ready," I scream at the wall. "Iulianus, I'm fucking ready! Let me through!"
The banging on the door -- it's louder now, like they're using one of those battering rams.
It won't be long now.
I turn off the lights and sling my pack over my shoulder.
They're almost through.
I close my eyes and move towards the wall. Slowly.
I can hear the door's frame cracking, the wood splintering.
If the shadow only finds those of us who are in need, then why not me?
Why not me?
As the door is knocked off its hinges behind me, I lean forward in silent prayer, falling towards the wall.
And all I can do is pine for a life of adventure. All I can do is hope the shadow finds me once more and frees me from this life of monotony.
As I fall, all I can do is hope.
© 2012 Evan Davies
Bio: Evan Davies is a Canadian freelance copywriter whose nonfiction has appeared in several Canadian and international magazines and on various websites. One of his fiction pieces appeared in Yesteryear Fiction.
E-mail: Evan Davies
Website: Evan Davies Pour Vous
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