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08 August 2008 @ 03:44 am
"Shadows of Self"  
Dearie me, by my clock, it's later than late in a latebox.

Yeah, I went there.

See what deadlines do to me?

So here we are again... This is this week's brigits_flame escapade. XD  As always, exquisite beta work courtesy of the one and only eltea, though this time, you can also thank her for huge parts of the premise and essentially all of the ending.  Ah, eltea, my Everything Consultant.  Life without you, dearest, would result in an absurdly sad state of affairs.

The prompt for this week is "Shadows of Self," and this week's attempt turned into something rather different from what I anticipated that it would.  The tone pulled a one-eighty when I had my brain turned.

Brandon Winfield knew almost immediately that something was wrong, but identifying it took longer.

It wasn’t anything obvious—it started out subtly, quietly, just… a flickering.  A flickering of the dark as the blackness bent its boundaries.  At first, he didn’t realize what it was.  At first, he assumed that the mirror was bent somehow, or scratched, or that the heat wave had melted it in some virtually imperceptible way, leading to the vague incongruities that fluttered at the edges of his vision.  Glass was a liquid, right?  Really old windows were thicker at the bottom, because gravity dragged them down over time, like demons sucked into the pit of Hell.

All right, so that wasn’t a particularly favorable analogy.

Miserable figurative language notwithstanding, Brandon made the conscious decision not to be concerned.  He hadn’t paid a visit to the eye doctor in half a decade, and both of his parents had had terrible eyesight, and that was that.

He was crossing at the intersection of Twelfth and Pinnacle when it happened.  He’d just raised his hand to thank the soccer mom who had stopped for him, and as he glanced the other way to make sure he wouldn’t get splattered, he saw his shadow splayed out on the pavement.

His shadow was holding up four fingers.  Brandon was holding up five.

Furthermore, his shadow’s posture mocked his—slouching and lackadaisical, utterly unconcerned, a devil-may-care tilt to the shoulders.

Brandon stared.  He swallowed.  And then he stared a little bit more.

A horn bleated deafeningly, and he jumped, nearly right out of his skin.  The world swam back into focus, Brandon blinked, and his shadow looked fine—looked like him again.

The Suburban roared past, rending the very air, tugging greedily at his coat.  Brandon stumbled, and then the crosswalk settled beneath his feet, the rippling ribbons of the lines lying obligingly flat again.

“Oh, God,” Brandon heard himself murmur.  “What…?”

Somehow, he made it to the other side of the street.  Somehow, he made it home, and then, somehow, he sidled past the deceitful mirror in his bedroom and collapsed, facedown, on top of the comforter.

It was a rather long evening.

His alarm blared the next morning, shrill and metallic and utterly heartless, and roused him from a sleep like death.  Brandon rolled out of bed and landed heavily on the floor, at which point he became suddenly and terribly familiar with the carpet.  Come to think of it, come to see it, and come very nearly to taste it, he’d never realized how ugly that carpet was.

Gathering himself to his feet, Brandon staggered into the bathroom, cringing as he saw the mass of wrinkles and dishevelment into which his shirt had transformed overnight.

But his reflection didn’t stop at cringing.  It went straight from wincing penitence to outright terror, and it pressed a hand against the glass, its lips moving, its eyes wide.

Brandon Winfield screamed like a little girl.  He careened out of the bathroom like a trolley car jumping the tracks, banged his shin against the leg of the kitchen table, crumpled with a burst of expletives, and lay winded on the linoleum for a few calming minutes.  Sufficiently reassured by his persistent sense of logic, Brandon managed to drag himself upright once again and stepped warily into the bathroom.  This time, the mirror told no lies.

Damn straight, Brandon thought.

All was well until, looking absently over his shoulder during a call from a client, he caught sight of his shadow, black against the beige of the back wall.  It tossed its head—his head—the head—and lifted a hand, extending just three fingers this time.

Three what?  Brandon gaped mutely.  Three…?

“Mr. Winfield?” the woman snapped.

“Oh—sh—I’m sorry,” Brandon sputtered.  “I, uh… my secretary was just in.  You were saying—?”

The next morning, his reflection went down on its knees to plead.  Reflexively, he looked behind him, and there, on the bathroom wall, lounged his shadow, holding up two fingers.

Brandon turned to the mirror, but all he saw was his face—his real face, the seeds of panic stirring in his eyes, sleeplessness imbruing the skin below with crescents of a pale purple.

“Two what?” he cried.

The next day, he did his damnedest not to look.  If he didn’t see it, it couldn’t try to tell him anything, right?  That made sense.  That made perfect sense.

He was crazy.

It was the only possible explanation.  The only reasonable reason.  He’d lost it, and that was that.

He kept his gaze securely above the ground, looking only at people’s shoulders and above.  If he didn’t see his shadow, it wasn’t even there, and it couldn’t possibly be doing anything untoward.  He avoided windows, too—the less of his reflection, the better.  He’d cure himself.  That was it.  He’d stop seeing the damn things, and they’d go the hell away, and he’d be fine.  Just fine and dandy.  Dandy and fine.  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

That evening, he tripped his way around his apartment in the dark, the blinds drawn tightly shut and shored up with blankets, the lights all off.  He bruised his knees on everything imaginable, but he didn’t see a thing.

It works! he thought in triumph.  It works like a charm!

It continued to work like a charm—albeit a dimly-lit and narrowly-envisioned charm—until the following night.  It was then that, during a surreptitious peek into the refrigerator, blinded by its anemic, tainted fluorescent light, Brandon discovered that he was out of milk.

When he emerged onto the street was when the problems began.  The dark and the cold of the unforgiving world set Brandon’s chafed nerves to burning.  Leaves rustled at the boundary of his hearing; the wind chuckled dryly through naked branches like clawed fingers; insects chirruped, and somewhere a distant siren howled.  Brandon couldn’t help himself.  Just as he passed into the downcast glow of a streetlamp that set the puddles on the asphalt to glimmering, he glanced over his shoulder.

He had three shadows.

Slowly, and then faster, and then faster still, they started to circle.

“What—are—you?” Brandon gasped, his breath catching.  He spun desperately, trying to watch all three at once.  “What do you want from me?”

He caught sight of his reflection in the nearest puddle.  It was screaming, eyes wild, features fixed, a soundless cry of agony sending tiny waves skimming across the water’s surface.

“What do you want?” Brandon shrieked.  What do you want me to do?”

The shadows converged on him, a seething mass of writhing gray parts, and Brandon Winfield went down beneath the onslaught.  Reduced to instinct, he fought to shield his head with his arms, pulling away, dodging the frigid tyranny of their shadow limbs—

Brandon opened his eyes.

He blinked, but it didn’t help.

He stood atop a grassy hill, a dirt path unwinding before him like a bedtime story.  And he knew immediately that something was wrong.

The colors were backwards.

His skin was nauseatingly bluish, his sensible black slacks were white, and copper-colored grass sprawled decadently beneath a pale orange sky.

Brandon pursed his lips and looked out over this alien world for a long moment.

“You have got to be shitting me,” he concluded.

That was when he saw the figure on the path.

“Here we go,” muttered Brandon Winfield.  “Here we go.”

Feeling: exhaustedexhausted
richelle2972richelle2972 on August 8th, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
That was so COOL! The entire time I wanted to scream at Brandon and tell him to PAY ATTENTION but he wouldn't! XP I've missed your stories, so thanks for this. :)
Vitamin Ctierfal on August 8th, 2008 07:38 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid Brandon is a bit of a doof. Now, however, he is a doof trapped in some sort of parallel universe where the world appears in approximate negative...

Anyway, you're more than welcome, of course! :D Thanks for reading it!! ^^
the_panic_lightthe_panic_light on August 11th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was brilliant, I really enjoyed it! Is there going to be any more from this character? :)
Vitamin Ctierfal on August 11th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad! :D As far as Brandon goes, I'm not actually sure... I've been inspired to write different characters in isolated incidents so far, but torturing him was a lot of fun... XD
bridgetforallyouare on August 12th, 2008 01:10 am (UTC)
hi, i am your editor this week, but i've been a bit busy this weekend and so have only started my edits today. i would like to devote some more time to yours, because it is longer than some of the other entries. i hope you will understand if i don't get to your piece until tomorrow, but rest assured i have not forgotten!
Vitamin Ctierfal on August 12th, 2008 08:01 am (UTC)
Hi! :) Business is perfectly understandable; whenever you get the chance will be great! Thanks! ^^
renga_atama on August 17th, 2008 02:10 am (UTC)
I guess this one didn't get edited last week, either! Well, I'm here to do that duty! =]

I loved reading this! The way it was narrated was very realistic and human, inserting Brandon's inner dialouge with the narrative. You really get a feel for him and actually get to feel sorry for him at the end.

I didn't find any grammar mistakes, but here are a couple story things to chew on:

I'm confused about Brandon's age. Throughout most of it, I thought he was a teenager, but when he mentioned his secretary (off-guard), it led me to a different conclusion. Perhaps you could sneak a couple things in to allude to his age. Not necessary, but something to think on.

I also thought the ending came a little suddenly. Like, we're in the real world, then SHADOWS ATTACK and now we're in the reverse...? Oh no. Then the end. Maybe I just hate cliffhangers, but perhaps just a little more to exactly where he is.

Otherwise, great piece, and great writing! =]

Vitamin Ctierfal on August 17th, 2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
Re: editor!
Thanks! ^^

Excellent point about Brandon's age -- I definitely tend to forget that the reader doesn't know everything I know, and these sorts of things happen, unfortunately, with some frequency... XD

I had no clue what to do with the end, so yeah, you're totally right there, too. x)

Thanks again! :D