Free Flash: How Old Is A Shadow

“How Old Is A Shadow”

Tom’s nipples had bled right through his shirt. Embarrassment is why he now insisted on running before dawn and why he placed Band-Aids over his areolas. Vanity brought him to the man who ran in the shadows.

The men met before dawn, sharing darkness, running along the same path. The man claimed to have found a trick which lent him life everlasting. His tenor bordered desperate, yet vanity gilded his claim and Tom approached without breaking stride.

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Tom asked the man to explain and the fellow balked, saying that there wasn’t enough time.

“Not enough?” Tom asked. “Aren’t you immortal?”

The man said he made himself an anchor and fastened it to the shadows before dusk. Before the sun can rise too high, the heavy night—pregnant with the promise of a brand new day—pulls him away from the rising sun, stifling the birth, and so today exists in birth eternal.

“I do not change,” he said, “for I am only living in a moment,” then, breathless, added, “and that moment is forever.”

Feet pounded pavement. Mouths agape, cigarette breaths in the dead of winter, the joggers were not unlike trains, at once traveling toward inevitability while also courting the uncertainty of any journey whose terminus begins and ends in the void.

“You may be alive,” said the man in the shadows, “but you are not really living.”

“And if I had my own anchor?”

“You have only to ask.”

Tom thought of his skin, once taut, now giving slack. The wrinkles at the corners of his eyes spoke of years passed. Gray hair colored his temples. He knew this was prologue to days spent alone, incontinent, and lost in half-remembered youth.

Vanity reasoned that a chance was worth taking.

“Give me your anchor,” Tom laughed.

“Thank you,” said the man. He stopped running, raised his arms into the air and laughed.

Tom moved as if to turn toward his odd companion but found he could not stop. An invisible rope held his waist like a vice, pulling him forward. He felt a panic as his speed increased, helpless as a leaf caught in high wind. He looked over his shoulder. Everything was very far away.

Tom would live forever if he wanted.

The man, now ancient, shielded his eyes against the sun and in the receding dark he thought, “This is what it’s like to finally die.” Daytime washed over him. “It is beautiful,” he cried.

He blew apart into a cloud of dusty shadow and fell, sparkling, detritus like starshine, a walking shadow whose journey was finally over.

(This piece originally appeared at Spelk, a website dedicated to flash fiction. I plan on including the story in my next collection of short fiction, which will hopefully be available within the next year or two.)

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