The next few days were hazy to say the least. I had never been able to get a full night’s sleep before, constantly tossing and turning, waking up at random intervals with some odd excitement that resulted from being half-asleep. I felt as if my brain had never been able to fully turn off.. to fully go into sleep mode, cleansing itself of all the beta proteins it’s cells had made for waste that day. And as a result, I always felt groggy and half-alive. Or was this how everyone felt?
The fascinating thing about our minds is that, for each one of us, our individual realities define us. Our minds use themselves to understand themselves and our surroundings, but how do we know if and when our minds are lying to us? I feel they lie to us every day and that there is no reality like that which we perceive through our own eyes, but rather some sort of average reality, resulting from the billions of other individual realities. All I knew is that I wanted to feel truly awake and alive.
On some of my routes for work, I struggled with my mind trying to force microsleep on me. Battling myself for my own consciousness, I found myself drooping my head and closing my eyes in the middle of a long, uneventful drive only to be awoken by the sound of a rumble strip or the feeling of a tire dropping into the soft shoulder of the road. I’d never had any accidents and I certainly had never told my bosses that I thought I suffered from some sort of sleep condition, since that would result in me losing my DOT license and I’d be back to square one with finding another full-time job to keep the bills paid.
But since my first encounter with the shadow my entire life has gotten worse. Getting the proper amount of sleep is unmeasurably important for a successful life. Hell, all I wanted was to be able to perform my work duties without inadvertently looking for a place to curl up and go to sleep.
There would be times where I’d be going along a road which never saw much traffic and could swear I could see the shadow lurking behind a tree, or anticipated seeing him right around the bend. But for a week, he was never there.
You see, what terrified me most of the shadow was not it’s terrifying presence or it’s seeming ability to be anywhere it pleases without effort… it was both in his unpredictability. The fact that you never actually saw him move made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck as well. Though he himself had not inflicted physical harm on me, there was no mistaking that he was a menace with nothing but ill intentions.
The shadow consumed my thoughts. 5 days passed before I realized that I hadn’t even thought of staying in touch with the few friends and family I had. My free time, if you could call it that, was sitting in my desk chair, leaned back staring at the ceiling, lost deep in thought wondering about the origins, intentions and validity of the shadow. The more I tried to tell myself he was simply a trick of my eyes, the more I remembered certain details that made this accusation completely unrealistic. Though…. it was ENTIRELY “realistic”. The shadow was certainly not something which could be scientifically explained.
A week had gone by without so much as a trace of the shadow, besides a heavy feeling in the very bottom of my gut, eating away at my insides and refusing sustenance as I forced down small bits of food to keep myself from passing out, only to be vomited up later while I (tried to) sleep at night.
My second encounter with the shadow was a bit more… complex.
One Wednesday after a late southern run, I stopped to grab a water and a snack to force down my throat at a convenience store. I had finished all of my stops and was headed home for the last 90 mile leg of my journey and it was about 6PM on a February night.
The place was called “Baker’s” and it was a really run down place with a flickering light in the middle of nowhere. Out front were old-fashioned, rusty gas pumps that I assumed had not seen a drop of gasoline in at least 20 years, as the sign for gas prices (or what you could make from it’s fading and missing numbers) were stating gasoline was not even one dollar per gallon. There was a crude outhouse around the back of the store that would be too skechy for me to use even when the sun was high in the sky.
The sun was almost completely set down under the horizon in the west when I rolled my cube van to the far side of the lot. I preferred not to get in anyone’s way and I like not having to make a 5 point turn whenever backing out of a spot… The choice was all mine, as there was not another vehicle in sight, at least on the front lot.
As I’m getting out, a guy on a Harley parked next to me. He was a few inches taller than me and significantly heftier. He had a leather jacket on with the words, “Ride or Die” embroidered on the back. The basic bitch of the Harley world, essentially. I didn’t get a good feeling about him, probably originating from the fact that when he parked he looked over at me and told me I was in a motorcycle spot.
“Yeah sorry about that, not much choice for a vehicle my size, you know? I’ll be out in a few.” I respectfully stated as I made my way into the store. He said nothing, but proceeded toward the skechy outhouse.
10 minutes later I walk out of the store with a few snacks, bottle of water in hand. I’m making my way to the truck when I notice something doesn’t look right about it. Even through the darkness, it didn’t take me long to realize that someone messed with my cube van. I looked over to my right to see a cloud of smoke as the Harley from earlier raced by.
Accelerating my pace toward the truck, I began to smell something awful. Something like… shit. Once I got right up to my truck, the smell was overwhelmingly unpleasant. One side of the vehicle read “ASSHOLE” smeared in what I made out to be human feces.
Anger coursed through my veins as my mind digested what I was seeing. There was only one culprit.. there was no denying that it was the guy who was pissed that I parked in a motorcycle space. “That mother FUCKER” I thought, rampaging back into the vehicle. I threw my snacks and water onto the passenger seat and noticed something else sitting there as well.
It was the shadow.
I’m not entirely sure if it was the sheer amount of anger I had in my heart for that biker, or some sort of weird insensitivity from the countless hours of expecting to see him… but I wasn’t particularly phased, to my astonishment.
I got in my truck like normal, still rampaging because of the biker. I started up my engine and before I moved the shifter into drive, I looked over at him.
Still hardly tangible, he had that same unmoving presence about him that exuded terror. This time though, I embraced that feeling and I looked at the shadow in a fly-on-the-wall sort of way, for the first time. He was powerful. He was evil. Just being so close to him commanded my full attention. Not realizing what I was doing, allowing that feeling to penetrate through to my core, I realized I had been slowly leaning towards the shadow.. quite possibly trying to get a better understanding of him.
That was when I made a new discovery.
For the first time, I saw his eyes. His eyes were like a snake’s, but with a feeling of omniscience. Looking into his eyes gave me the feeling that he knew what was, what is, and what will be.
And that…. gave me comfort.
The realization of this shook me to my very soul. I broke eye contact and felt myself convulsing with.. excitement? Anticipation? I couldn’t tell you.
My eyes moved as quick as humanly possible back on the shadow. He had spoken to me. He had said MY NAME.
His eyes glowing brighter and more hypnotic by the millisecond.
I was off. I threw the cube van into reverse and slammed on the gas pedal until it could not go down anymore. The back of the cube van smashed into one of the rusty gas pumps, obliterating it. I didn’t have a chance to see if anyone came storming out of the store, but I imagine someone did.. but without skipping a beat, I put the old clunker into drive and spun out of the lot.
“Baker’s” The neon sign flickered off and on, becoming increasingly difficult to read as I sped to my target.
All common sense left me. My conscience left me. I felt nothing but anger, hate and revenge for the piece of shit I was looking for.. pushing the work truck to RPM’s it had not seen before. I think a few warning lights went off but I did not care in the slightest.
I was going to find the biker. And I was going to end his life with my own two hands.
The shadow stayed in the passenger seat while I searched the otherwise quiet route with my screaming engine, for the biker.
After what seemed like an hour, I caught up with the fat piece of shit. I recognized him by his embroidered jacket, flapping in the wind. If he noticed my fast approach, he didn’t care because he kept on going at the same 55MPH pace, even as my headlights were less than 2 feet from the back of his hog.
When it happened, time slowed down.. and it reminded me of my first kiss. I was in the 3rd grade and I had a huge crush on a classmate. Her name was Charlotte and I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the entire world. She was the type of girl that always had her hand up in the air, waving around frantically to answer the teacher’s question, front row. I adored that fact about her. It was rare to see someone match their outward beauty with so much intelligence.
One day after school, a bunch of us got together at a friend’s house to play Spin the Bottle. We always played games at Sam’s house, since his parents were never around. There were 3 boys and 3 girls, including me and Charlotte. My deepest desire whenever we played this or “Truth or Dare” would be for me to somehow be able to get close to Charlotte. Her presence comforted me and made me feel fantastic.
It was Charlotte’s turn to spin the bottle, and everyone could tell she was hoping to have it stop on Michael, the boy that all the girls wanted to be around. She pointed it right on him, giggled, and gave it a spin.
I watched the bottle spin round and round, like the tires on my work truck at that very moment, stopping the wheels of the Harley from circling ever again. Slower and slower the bottle spun until it landed on me. I looked up at Charlotte and could see nothing but disappointment in her eyes. I smiled weakly as we both leaned over the bottle and kissed.
Yells of agony shook me from my recollection and I realized I was behind the wheel of my work truck. Was that a microsleep? I wondered. It didn’t take long to realize that the vehicle was no longer moving, and was leaned over quite intensely. I was honestly surprised that it didn’t flip. Lucky I guess.
I remembered what I was there for. I remembered what I wanted to do. What I had to do. I smiled… with much more strength and confidence than that third grade boy about to get his first kiss. I looked at the shadow who looked right back at me. I knew what he expected to be done.
I didn’t think. I grabbed a two foot long, industrial zip tie that we used to securely tie up shredding bags and shut the driver’s side door.
At this sound, the biker was even more distraught and screamed “HELP. SOMEBODY HELP ME!!” desperately trying to reach anyone that could hear. But this was a very less-traveled road. And in his agony and through his screams, the biker was beginning to wonder why he had taken it.
I slowly walked toward the screams in the darkness, and almost tripped over a large piece of the Harley. “Such a shame” I thought, as I took a big step over the twisted frame.
Finding the biker wasn’t a hard task, as his screams were continuous and unrelenting. The force of the truck hitting his bike catapulted him a good 700 feet from the scene; I was impressed by that fact.
I found him trying to crawl into the woods with bloodied hands, dragging behind him two unmoving legs, broken with a femur protruding from the right limb.
I slammed my foot down hard on the back of the bikers neck and heard a crunch. For a moment, I thought he was dead and grew incredibly disappointed. But I heard him gasping and trying to scream even though no sound could find it’s way out of his throat. Excitement flooded through me again at this note.
Still pressing all of my weight against the back of his neck, I took the zip tie and made quick work of it around his neck. In his broken state, he put up a very small defense. I had to work the first few clicks of the zip tie through the chamber, which was always the most annoying part of dealing with those things. Soon enough though, I was able to give it a firm tug.
*ZZZZZZZIP* *clickclick click….click………click*
It was as tight around the biker’s neck as it possibly could be and I held it there, watching him squirm what little he could. When he stopped moving, I held it for another 5 minutes or so, savoring my victory. Relishing my feelings, the likes of which had never gone through me before.
As I let the zip tie go, I looked down at my trophy. A mass free of any movement laying on the ground. Broken and bruised. Bleeding and lifeless.
I was about to head back to the truck, when I remembered the jacket. Though corny and basic, it looked nice, so I carefully removed it from the biker and put it on.
A little big and remarkably untouched by the last 10 minutes of activity, this would work.
I straightened my collar, and walked back toward the truck.. toward Shadow… with these three words echoing out to the night sky
“Ride or Die”