|Fantasticoe -- 2012
After an hour in Detention, a place GJ was more than familiar with, he was released to leave his middle school. While walking down a hallway only occupied by other students who had not left for home, he caught a glimpse of a mysterious door.
“Curiosity killed the cat” was an expression GJ was quite familiar with. He felt the need to break every rule made simply to find out what the repercussions were. So naturally, GJ had to fulfill the urge to open the door that held a sign warning, “Caution! Do Not Enter!”. He peered down the hallway to make sure nobody was in sight. When the coast was clear, he sprinted to the door and wearily turned the knob. To his surprise, the door creaked open!
Taking a final look down each end of the hall, GJ took his chance and went inside. “What’s so dangerous about this?” GJ wondered. The room looked like a simple storage room. The walls were lined with brass shelves that held dusty boxes of all sizes. The room was small, so he didn’t have very far to travel before realizing the room was falsely advertised. Still, this room was off limits, so GJ remained cautious.
He quietly and slowly moved around the room. The idea of being caught thrilled him and adrenalin flooded his veins, making him shake so violently that he became clumsy. A nerve influenced his knee to involuntarily twitch, throwing him off balance. Before he could regain his posture, he fell into a shelf, sending boxes crashing to the ground. The dramatic crash triggered an alarm that rang so loud, GJ was sure people could hear it at the end of the hall.
Without hesitation, GJ darted out the door and slammed it shut behind him, catching his heels on the way. He felt a sting of pain but forced it away.
He sprinted all the way home, dodging people on the sidewalk, hurdling curbs, and ducking under old, saggy tree branches. When he finally realized nobody was chasing him, he slowed to a walk, trying to catch his breath. Paranoid, he checked his path numerous times before realizing what he was missing. He stopped in his tracks and spun in circles, but no matter which way he turned, he couldn’t find his shadow.
Stunned and terrified, he started running even faster than before. When he reached his house, he nearly flew through the door. Oblivious to his mother, he ran up the stairs and into his room, and sent the door violently into the door frame. He heard his mother through the wall, “GJ, Honey? Are you okay?”
“No!” He panicked and searched his mind for an explanation, “I’ve been vomiting all the way home. I don’t feel well, Mom. Please go away.”
With that, his mother’s voice was gone, leaving him alone with his thoughts. “How could this happen?” he wondered. “Is this even possible?” Dizzily, GJ sat on the edge of his bed. Within minutes, he fainted into his pillow.
The next morning, GJ sat up at the sound of his mother knocking at the door. “Honey? Are you feeling any better?” Puzzled, GJ looked around his room, searching for a hint of what happened the night before when he suddenly remembered everything. He jumped to his feet and searched around himself, but still, his shadow was nowhere to be found.
Thinking quickly, GJ knew he had to make his sickness believable to get out of going to school. He began to gag violently and moaned through the door. He shuffled his hair around, making it as messy as he could and laid on his floor in the fetal position. “Mom,” he croaked, “I can’t go to school today.” Taking that as an invite, Mom walked in the room and glimpsed at GJ. “Oh, you do look pale,” she speculated as she cupper her mouth and nose in her hand. “I got an email from the school administration yesterday saying H1N1 may have hit the schools again.”
“What are the odds,” GJ whispered to himself. “Well I’ll see if I can get you anything from the market today, but don’t you come out of here, Mister. I don’t want anyone else in this house catching it. I’d hate to do this to you, but until you are absolutely symptom-free, you will be quarantined to this room.” Less than ten seconds later, she fled his room, holding her breath until the door was closed.
GJ breathed a sigh of relief and let his mind race while he waited for the rest of his family to leave the house. When Mom finally backed out of the driveway, GJ ran to his father’s office and signed in to the open computer. Immediately, he clicked on the Internet icon and waited impatiently. He searched the web for an hour before stumbling upon a website called, “Have You Seen My Shadow?”
After skimming through a few paragraphs, he dialed the toll-free number on his cell phone. When the receptionist answered the call, he quickly explained what happened.
“Now, Sir, this is a website advertising a trilogy. I cannot help you write your fictional story and I will warn you that you do not have copyright permission from the author. However, if you’d like to purchase your four book trilogy for just two easy payments of nineteen dollars and ninety-five cents, please enter the twelve digit number on your credit card.”
Annoyed, GJ slammed his phone shut and searched the website for the author’s name.
After finding it, he searched for information on Mr. Liam Dravinski‘s estate. Furiously, he wrote the address on an old receipt and was temporarily relieved to see how close Mr. Dravinski lived. If everything was going to be this easy for him, he’d have his shadow back in no time.
GJ grabbed a jacket and left for the man’s house. As he walked, thoughts of panic filled his mind. He couldn’t believe he was actually going to this stranger’s house to ask for help to find his shadow. What if the author really did just make it up? Would he call the police on GJ? Though GJ panicked, he nevertheless kept walking.
Up to this point, GJ hadn’t thought about what he was going to say, but he angrily knocked on the door anyway.
A man in his late fifties answered the door. It was clear in his face that he was old, but his body looked more fit than most men past thirty. He wasn‘t ripped, by any means, but he could probably outrun any of the kids GJ went to school with. Though this guy looked strong, GJ gulped down his intimidation, determined to find the man who was his only hope. “Are you Mr. Liam Dravinski?” GJ asked.
The man nodded and stood there. “I need your help,” GJ said, sounding more desperate than he intended to. “You wrote four books. If you know anything,” GJ hesitated, “about missing shadows…”
Mr. Dravinski took the hint and examined the ground below. “Would you like to come in?” he began, “I had a feeling this might happen again.” GJ noticed how calm Mr. Dravinski’s voice was. Even after telling him this bizarre news, the man invited him in as if they could discuss it over coffee or something, like it was no big deal.
The inside of Mr. Dravinski’s house was small and brightly lit. Books lay everywhere, in stacks and spread out, some open, some closed.
At the table, also cluttered with books, GJ explained the last time he saw it, the mysterious room, and the website where he found him.
“GJ, you seem like a nice kid, which is why I’m sorry this had to happen to you. With that being said, I want you to know that you’re not the only person this has happened to. When I was your age, I lost mine too. I can’t remember the last time I felt so horrible in my life. I felt so depressed and incomplete, which is why I’m willing to help you, GJ. Let me make a phone call really quick.”
Relieved, GJ waited anxiously as Mr. Dravinski dialed a number into his phone.
“Hi, this is Liam Dravinski. I know, I know, I should call more often, but listen Jay, you remember when we were boys and I lost my shadow? Yes, that was way back. Hey, listen, I’ve got a young man here now. He lost his yesterday.”
There was a long pause. “Okay. Yes. Uh-huh. Yep. Yep. Okay. Thank you. Yep, I‘ll keep you posted,” Mr. Dravinski hung up and looked at me with hopeful eyes.
“Okay, Kiddo. I think we should go the route I took. Things may be a little different from back then, but if it’s anything like my experience, you need to be mentally and physically ready. Are you up for that, GJ?
GJ whispered with tears in his eyes, “I’ll do anything to get my shadow back.”
So they started to plan.
“Are you sure this is it?” GJ skeptically asked.
“Gray Man Alley, straight ahead,” Mr. Dravinski said as he stepped forward. GJ looked at the alley ahead of him. It was like any other alley he’d ever seen.
“Go ahead of me,” Mr. Dravinski said. GJ walked forward and took a deep breath as he crossed the sidewalk into the alley.
Quickly, he learned that this alley wasn’t as ordinary as it looked from the sidewalk. There were rats in nearly every dumpster, bugs bigger than golf balls creeping up the dark brick building, and dingy people appeared, looking more like witches and goblins than actual humans. For a moment GJ forgot why he was there in the first place.
“Hey, there. What brings you here?” a seductive female voice said in the darkness. GJ and Mr. Dravinski looked around, wondering where the voice came from. “If you run your fingers over me, I’ll tell you anything you want to know, big boy.” Still, they couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. “Down here, handsome men.”
They looked at the ground and saw an orange, sassy cat rubbing herself on GJ’s leg. “Whoa!” GJ jumped.
“Oh, what’s the matter? The pretty little lady can’t have a little lovin’?”
Too stunned to talk, GJ was thankful when Mr. Dravinski broke in.
“Delilah, cut it out. Do you remember me?”
She looked up at Mr. Dravinski and pondered. “Liam, is that you?”
“It is,” Mr. Dravinski said, “but I go by Mr. Dravinski these days. Listen Delilah, this is my friend GJ. He‘s in the same predicament I was in many years ago. Is there anything you can tell us? Have you seen a shadow without its physical body?”
She purred and responded, “I’ll only tell you if you pet me first.”
Cooperating, Mr. Dravinski stroked the cat sincerely.
“You should stop by more often, Mr. Dravinski. Nobody pets me quite like you,” she flirted.
“Delilah, the question?”
GJ stared from a short distance, disturbed at the sight of a cat hitting on a human. She purred again and said, “Oh, I’m just having a little fun. Yesterday something came by, but didn’t stay long. I’m pretty sure it headed north, but I guess I don’t really know.”
Without responding, Mr. Dravinski began walking. “Don’t forget to ask for me on your way back,” Delilah called out.
“What does that mean,” GJ asked.
“It means we’re on the right track,” Mr. Dravinski claimed. They walked in silence until the end of the alley came near.
“Next stop: Old Rodney Road. Not as creepy, but nonetheless, odd.”
Old Rodney Road looked a lot like an old town, abandoned years ago. Trash overflowed from garbage cans, neon signs had burnt out letters, and a blinking light swung on a weak cord as crows circled it overhead.
A man with long, greasy hair sat cross-legged on the sidewalk by a liquor store and lightly plucked the strings on a broken guitar while he sang a song about a woman named “Death”. GJ noticed that the man’s cowboy hat had no donations in it, just a half-smoked cigarette. He felt ashamed for gasping when the man jerked his head up, exposing infected eyes.
“Excuse me, sorry for interrupting you,” Mr. Dravinski began, “Do you remember me, Hank? Liam Dravinski? I brought a friend along. You see, he’s in the same situation I was in back in the day. I was just wondering if you’d seen anything within the last twenty-four hours.”
Immediately GJ wished the question hadn’t been asked. A raspy, old voice replied, “The last time I did see was when Jimmy caught the grenade that took godforsaken road.” Still, Hank continued, “I didn’t see anything, but the wind sure didn’t sound right.”
“Thanks so much, Hank,” Mr. Dravinski said as he dropped a few dollars in the hat.
GJ couldn‘t hide his excitement as the walked in the lonely street. After a few steps, the excitement was replaced by disgust.
Ahead, a raccoon lay, dead with a failed dream to find what was on the other side of the road. The imprints of a tire ran vertically through its lifeless body. There was no way the raccoon could have survived being run over, yet somehow it pulled its head up, and spoke to them. “I saw something! You say the boy lost his shadow, huh?” The raccoon sounded cocky despite his mangled body. “I hear it’s headed to the end of the rainbow!” He spit blood at GJ’s feet and laughed at his own joke.
Mr. Dravinski didn’t recognize the raccoon but assured GJ that it was just angry at his own situation. “Our search isn’t over yet,” he said. “Chapping Mountain is our next stop and it’s just through the valley up ahead.“
Despite the raccoon’s words, GJ trusted Mr. Dravinski. He didn’t try to hide an appreciative smile as he thought about how lucky he was to have met someone who’d already experienced this.
After what seemed like hours, they finally reached the beginning of the mountain. “We can only go up from here,” Mr. Dravinski commented. “You think you can handle that?”
GJ laughed and budged in front of Mr. Dravinski, suggesting a friendly superiority.
After an hour of walking (with a combination of climbing), they stumbled upon their first cave and walked in. It was an open space, but wasn’t big enough to host a group with more than three people.
“I think we should get some sleep here tonight,” Mr. Dravinski suggested. GJ was surprised at how much time had gone by and instinctively agreed.
The two were relieved to find enough sticks close by to set up a fire for the night. “I can light it. You’re talking to a Boy Scout here,” GJ boasted. Delightedly, he ignited the fire and almost immediately, they both fell into a deep and much needed sleep.
The next morning, GJ was more ready than he felt he had ever been. Anxiously, he pulled Mr. Dravinski out of his sleep and rushed to move onward.
Sooner than expected, they found another cave, natural and welcoming. When they stepped inside, they reflexively dropped to their knees and covered their heads.
Thousands of bats woke and dropped from the ceiling of the cave, screeching and flapping their wings chaotically. After they each found their way outside, Mr. Dravinski and GJ sat upright, gasping for air. Before they could catch their breath, they were startled by a voice.
“Can I help you?” a Russian accent asked.
GJ scanned the scene and found nobody. “Please come out so we can see you,” he pleaded.
After a few moments, a small dark figure hobbled into view. “What are you?” GJ asked.
“I’m one of them,” he said, pointing to the cluster of bats that still gathered outside. “I’m not with them because I lost one of my wings to a kite,” he explained. “Those strings are invisible and sharp.” The bat continued, “The name is Gregory, by the way. Now, I think I’ve answered enough questions. Who are you and what do you want?”
GJ and Mr. Dravinski introduced themselves, explained their mission, and asked Gregory if he‘d seen anything.
“Let me get this straight. You’re missing your shadow?” Gregory repeated, questioningly.
“Well I’m sorry to hear your issue, but you’re wasting your time here. The sun rises on this mountain first, and if there was anything out of place, my brothers and I would notice it. You know, we’re the only tribe who can see everything a human can.
“Do you suppose he’s right?” GJ asked.
It took a long time for Mr. Dravinski to respond. “I’m so sorry, GJ. This was our last stop. I don’t know where else to go. I found mine not too far from here, but Gregory is right; they would have noticed.”
Mr. Dravinski followed from a distance, but decided to give GJ space. There was nothing he could do or say to make GJ feel better and that tore him apart, but he couldn’t find any comforting words, so he just walked behind.
The journey back seemed like a breeze, compared to the first round, not only because they both knew what to expect, but also because they’d both became so angry in their failure.
Neither had the desire, nor effort to respond to the creatures they had passed before. Instead, they silently walked.
Before they even had a chance to cool down, they were back in the city and stood awkwardly as they prepared for “Goodbye”.
“Listen, Mr. Dravinski. I know this is where we part ways and go back to the life we left behind. I just wanted to say that I hope our newly found friendship doesn’t end here. I‘ve been thinking about it since we left Chapping Mountain and I want you to know that it‘s not your fault. I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” GJ sincerely said.
“I’m sorry, GJ. I really thought I could help you there. Please forgive me.” With that, they firmly shook hands and began walking in opposite directions.
GJ approached his house, walked in the front door, and climbed up the stairs to his room. After a long nap, he woke to the scent of homemade dinner rolls, steamed vegetables, and turkey. He walked to the dining room and served himself.
“Are you feeling better?” Mom asked sternly.
“Yes, Mother. I’m feeling very well. I’ll be able to return to school tomorrow,” GJ said and started to eat.
The following day, GJ returned to school, as promised. Self conscious, he stayed in the back corner of each classroom and kept his usual outbursts to himself. When the final bell rang, GJ gathered his homework, eager to avoid his classmates and get home.
As he tossed papers into his bag, his friend, Diego, punched him in the arm. “Hey, GJ! Where the heck have you been? I called and stopped by a few times but your mom said you were on your death bed! Forget about that; you’re here now! I have to show you something!”
Nervous, but without a choice, GJ followed Diego out of the school and through the parking lot to the end of the of the property line.
“Diego, that’s just a tree, you know,” GJ said, smirking.
“Not, the tree, you dingus,” Diego defended himself, “look closer.”
GJ looked but saw nothing.
Right as he turned to dismiss Diego’s scandal, he heard something. It was a quiet whimper, almost inaudible. He turned around and asked the voice, “Excuse me, are you okay?”
“I’m sorry if I startled you, but I heard crying. Do you need help or anything?”
That’s when he saw it. A dark shadow turned at the sound of GJ’s voice and slowly crept closer, curious to match the voice with a familiar face.
“A shadow! Without its person? Is that…,” GJ thought aloud as a smile lit up his face.
“I have been looking for you everywhere! Where’d you go? What did you do? How did I lose you? I’m so sorry I lost you,” GJ said. “Oh, thank goodness you’re here!”
GJ stepped on the feet of the shadow and, as if they had never separated, they were connected again.
“Thanks so much, Diego! I have to go. We‘ll talk tomorrow!” GJ said as he started to run with his shadow at his feet.
GJ rang the door bell at least nine times before Mr. Dravinski finally opened the door.
“Hey, GJ. What’s going on,” he asked before he noticed the awkward position GJ was in.
“Notice anything different about me?” GJ asked, grinning.
It took a few seconds, but Mr. Dravinski caught on. “Your shadow!” he exclaimed. “Where was it?”
“I asked,” GJ began, “but he can’t talk.”
An idea immediately filled Mr. Dravinski’s head. “You wait here,” he said.
Minutes later, he was back with a bucket of sidewalk chalk. “Maybe he can write,” Mr. Dravinski hypothesized.
He put a piece of chalk on the ground and asked GJ to move his body in a position that allowed the shadow to grab the chalk.
To GJ‘s astonishment, the shadow wrapped its hand around the chalk and began to write.
“It worked!” GJ said. He read the message aloud.
“When you sprinted out of the closet, you slammed the door on me. I was trapped in there until a custodian responded to the alarm. I looked for you everywhere! I found this alley, and this road, but a raccoon scared the heck out of me, so I continued my search back here. I even searched the girls bathroom. I was so scared! That’s why I went to the tree. I thought I lost you forever.”
GJ apologized for the confusion, but couldn’t help but smile as he promised to never repeat that mistake again.
After what seemed like hours of talking, GJ moved wildly in the yard, playing games with his shadow. Mr. Dravinski stood, watching, and smiled a satisfied grin while the shadows grew as the sun sunk into the horizon.