“Jimmy? Are you there?”
Jimmy could still hear the voice in his head as he drove down the freeway, heading for the city proper. He had snuck out of his room in the middle of the night, and was on his way to Pigtown–all because a dream that he was somehow certain wasn’t a dream at all.
“Please Jimmy, you have to help me. He’s hurting me, please, Jimmy, please!”
It had been days since Jimmy had thought about Marlon, since he’d even recalled being in a relationship with anyone at all at school. But then he’d woken up in his bed, or at least, in the dream, he had woken up in his bed, and he’d sensed something in the room. He’d only felt something like it once, in the darkness that night on the sidewalk. Terrified, he’d tried to sit up, only for something to land right on his chest, squeezing the breath out of him. There, in the corner of the room, a figure, a shadow, a silhouette of someone, he couldn’t see who, but it was their doing, they were crushing him, killing him, and the voice, he’d heard Marlon’s voice…
I don’t know how much longer I can last, I need you Jimmy, I love you–”
It had taken all of his willpower, all of his disbelief, but he’d managed to reach out, grab hold of the cord of the lamp on his bedside table, and click it on. The weight had lifted, he’d heard a scream come from the being in the corner, and it had disappeared with the light, leaving Jimmy sitting up in his bed, panting and heaving for breath, the sound of Marlon’s voice fresh in his ears, his face fresh in his mind, and again, the shame, the crushing shame of abandoning him, of forgetting him.
Who knew if it had been real or not. It couldn’t have been real, but then, none of it could have been real, any of it, which is why it was constantly in a state of unraveling and unbeing. It was just a dream, and it had to be more than a dream. If he’d stayed in his room, if he’d fallen back asleep, it would have been nothing more, but he knew, somehow, that if he went to Pigtown, it might become something more than that. A message. A sliver of hope.
It was two in the morning when he drove through the liminal space between the city and Pigtown. Outside the district, the streets had been empty, but here, they were full of activity. He had no idea where to go, other than, perhaps, to the place where it had happened. He parked the car a block or so away from Depot, and retraced his steps to the same dark sidewalk where Marlon had simply vanished into the darkness. Jimmy’s heart was pounding in his chest, and he hesitated as he approached the doorway where the man had stepped out from that night, that shadow. He stopped, turned to go back to the car, or to the precinct, or anywhere other than here, but there, behind him, was him.
No–not him. Another man in full leathers, but a bit shorter, and younger–though it was hard to tell, since the only thing he could see of flesh was the bottom of his face, his eyes and brow shaded by the muir cap on his head. “You came. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten me.”
“M-Marlon?” Jimmy said. “Is that you?”
“Yes and no,” the figure said, and took a step forward. As he did, the streetlight behind him flickered, and went dark. “I had almost forgotten you too, my love. I had forgotten how good it had felt, when we’d crossed on the bed while they’d kissed. How good our darknesses feel together.”
Jimmy felt something stir at his feet. He looked down, and saw his shadow was bent at a strange angle in the light where he was standing. The light was above and a bit in front–his shadow should have been small and behind him. Instead, it was in front of him, one hand outstretched towards Marlon, though Jimmy was making no such movement. He took a step back, and the shadow snapped back into place with a sickening sensation, something gut wrenching. He could feel it, suddenly, the longing, perhaps even deeper and more distraught than his own had become, tempered with an anger he couldn’t begin to fathom. His own shadow was furious, furious at him, but he had no idea why.
“Marlon, what happened to you? Where did you go?”
“I’m not talking to you!” the man spat at him, with just as much disgust as he’d felt from the shadow at his own feet. “You’ve held him down long enough. You escaped one time, but not again.”
Marlon raced towards him then, and Jimmy turned and ran off down the street away from him. He kept to the sidewalk at first, but the streetlight ahead of him flickered off, turning into that same pitch black hole that Marlon, his Marlon, had fallen into. He swerved around it into the street, where the light was more diffuse, and Marlon followed him, shouting and cursing at him, his own shadow clawing at the ground below him, trying to slow him down and hold him back. It was only a block away from the precinct. Perhaps, if he could get there, he would be safe.
There was one other close call when Marlon swerved into a dark corner and disappeared, only to reappear ahead of him, rushing from the side to cut him off. He tackled Jimmy to the ground, and he saw the lights begin to dim around him, almost like the darkness was trying to swallow him down into the very street, his own shadow rising over to smother him. He managed to fling Marlon off him, get up, and dash around the corner. If there hadn’t been a patrol coming out of the precinct at that moment, he might not have made it, in the end. But there was, and Jimmy shouted at them, “Shadow! Shadow!” hoping that would be enough to get them to see what was happening. Sure enough, the three burly cops heading out on patrol all turned in his direction at the word, and each of them pulled free a massive flashlight from their belts and ran towards him. Marlon was so preoccupied with his prey, and too new to realize the dangers of the precinct’s cops, that he didn’t consider turning back. He knew this was his only chance to get a hold of Jimmy’s shadow, to free him, so they could be together as they always should have been, away from their fleshy masters.
The first beam struck him, and it seared through him like a laser. He howled in pain, twisted away into the darkness, gathering up as much as he could to try and reform and protect himself. The beam swung and found him, and a second as well, pinning him in the light as the third officer came around behind and brought his own beam to bear on Marlon’s back–only it was looking less and less like Marlon, and less and less like a person at all, the longer the light was on it.
Jimmy just stared in horror as the thing that he’d known as his boyfriend, the man he’d come to save, melted away, lost definition, becoming flat and matte and small. One of the officers carefully set his light down on the ground, making sure it remained on Marlon without giving any space for a shadow to form that it might escape into, opened up the backpack he was wearing, and pulled out a plastic globe about the size of a basketball. He split it apart, and careful to make sure his own shadow made no contact with the shade, he scooped the small black creature into it, and locked it. One officer picked up the other flashlight, and together, the three of them carefully walked the globe back to the precinct, back past Jimmy, who just stared at them, and followed behind, wondering if he could help, if maybe, just maybe, they could fix his friend.
Inside the precinct, the previously calm waiting room was now anything but. Every chair was full with leather and rubber clad miscreants of various flavors, all of them staring at Jimmy, wearing just a pair of sweatpants and the tanktop he usually slept in. The hunger radiating off them was enough to curdle his guts. The three officers shoved everyone out of the way and took the shade back behind the desk and down the hall before he could catch up–only for an officer to grab him by the collar and haul him back. “Where the hell do you think you’re going, kid? What the fuck are you even doing in this part of town at this time of night!” the officer shouted at him. He was nothing like the men he’d seen lounging around the office during the daytime–he was muscular, and furry, his uniform clinging to his body, looking more like a stripper version of a cop, perhaps, though it was clear he wasn’t about to take anything off. Jimmy stammered out as best an explanation as he could, told him that he’d spoken to a detective just a few days prior about his friend going missing, the same friend that they had just turned into some weird shadow creature and taken away.
It was clear the officer didn’t believe him, and didn’t particularly care in any case. “Take a number, take a seat, and when its called, an officer will help you–but this is a restricted area, especially for freshmeat like you.” At that word, a few of the guys in the room–not the officers, but the other men waiting–all hooted and hollered, only for the officer to glare at them, and shut them right up. “Better yet, boy, you should go home and get back to bed. This is no place for you.”
Instead, Jimmy took a number, and since every seat was taken–though a few men offered to let him sit on their laps–he parked himself on the tile floor against the wall, and struggled to stay awake. He would start to drift off, feel something pull at him–not his shadow, but some other force he couldn’t quite describe, and it would be enough to panic him, wake him up, and each time he opened his eyes again, the waiting room would be more and more empty. He never saw anyone taken back, nor did he hear anyone’s number called, but he stuck his ground, staring down the officer behind the desk, as well as the one guarding the hallway who had chastised him, only for sleep to threaten again. He would check his phone, but the minutes began to crawl along as dawn approached, almost like time refused to progress until he fell asleep. After one final close call, at four fifteen, he snapped back awake, only to find the waiting room was empty aside from the two officers at the desk. He stood up, yawned, brushed himself off, walked up to the desk and slapped his number down on the table. “I’m done with this. Tell me what you did to my friend, and how I can fix him. I fucking want answers.”
The two officers looked at each other, surprised he’d lasted this long.
“The only one who can give you those answers is the commander, but I don’t think you’ll like what he has to tell you,” the officer said, his tone a bit softer. “You really should just go to sleep, and go home.”
That was reversed, wasn’t it? Jimmy was so exhausted, all of this was making even less sense than usual. “No, I want to talk to him.”
“Alright alright, look, he’s just wrapping some stuff up. Just a few minutes, and I’ll take you to see him,” the man said, yawning. “Have a seat.”
“I’ve been sitting for hours.”
“So then you can sit a little more, go fuckin’ sit down.”
Jimmy did as he was told, and the two of them stared each other down, both of them blinking slow, the end of the night bearing down on them, urging them to close their eyes and rest. There would be more nights in Pigtown, after all. Jimmy resisted the urge, though barely. He noticed, once, that the officer had begun to snore behind the desk, and the next time he pried his eyes open, he had disappeared–simply vanished from one moment to the next. Jimmy told himself he must have just nodded off, but the clock hadn’t advanced at all–in fact, it didn’t seem that time had advanced as much as it should have.
There was an analog clock above the desk, ticking away, but when Jimmy got up to investigate it, the second hand wasn’t advancing at all. Just trying to push past some invisible barrier, frozen a few minutes before dawn. The whole police station, which had been so full of raucous life earlier, was now silent aside for Jimmy. He went past the desk to the hallway, and there, he saw a little sign pointing down a stairwell that said “Jail”. That would be where they’d taken Marlon, probably. He went down the stairs, and found himself in a small collection of cells, but like the rest of the station, they were also empty, though there was evidence that they hadn’t been earlier–some abandoned clothing, an empty bottle or two. It was eerie. No longer was it fully silent, however. He heard sounds coming from another stairwell at the end of the jail, leading down to a sub basement, apparently.
He told himself that he should go, that he’d come back in the morning for answers, but something else called to him. He wanted to know now, and he knew, come morning, much of this would feel like a dream, like some wild fabrication, no longer fitting into a reality where the sun could banish shadows so easily. He started down the stairs into the jail proper, hoping he’d find the truth down there, in the darkness.