The floor beneath my feet was vibrating as our small, dirty car rolled down the old, dirt road that led toward the city. It was a gloomy morning. Small droplets of rain pattered the window lightly. There was no sunlight because the fog was too thick to let light reach the dirt road. My mother was in the front seat, the place where my father used to sit, squinting to see the road ahead of us.
My mother’s mind was wandering, I could see it in her eyes. She wasn’t in the car, not mentally at least. She was far away somewhere with my father.
The closer we got to the town, the harder the road grew. It was a sign that cars traveled on that road even though all we could see of them was a ghostly, yellow light shining through the mist. Up ahead I saw a shape. A shape stood still in the middle of the wet road. The shape grew larger and larger.
A truck. The brakes slammed down on the wheels. The wheels slid along the wet road but were unable to get enough friction to reach a stop. My mother let out a gasp. She swerved to avoid the truck, though she would have been better off if she didn’t.
The car began to spin on the wet road. Before I could think, the world was upside down. Before I could understand what happened, the car landed on its roof, and gravity pulled my head against the roof. My mother was unusually quiet, and I knew what I would see before I looked down to see my mother.
My mom stared at me with misty eyes, but I knew she couldn’t see me. She would never see me or anything else ever again. At least not in this life anyway. A dark, red liquid was soaking through her chestnut hair, where her head made contact with the car roof, and out of the cut the seatbelt made on her throat, when it pulled tight.
Pain was all I could feel. Pain in my head as I lay trapped in the flipped car, and pain in my heart as I stared at my mother’s lifeless body. The ringing in my ears was blending with the sirens and the truck driver’s shouts to create a deafening cacophony. I felt the mist in my head fogging the world that I had lived in. My mind couldn’t process what I was seeing.
Several pairs of hands slid me out of the car, which was starting to smoke. It was going to explode, leaving my mother’s body to burn in the wreckage. Something was inserted into my arm and began pumping medicine into me. I heard beeping and frantic voices. I was in a hospital. The same hospital I had last seen my father in. The beeps were getting further apart, and I felt the pain threatening to drown me.
There was nothing keeping me here in this world full of pain. The beeping sped up, and the doctors let out shouts. They began pumping more chemicals into my arm, but I didn’t want to stay, and they couldn’t make me. The last thing I heard before I left was a beep that was longer than the others.
Then the pain was gone, and I opened my eyes. Everything in the room was blurred except my mother’s tear-streaked face as she sat next to my dead father. I knew I’d see them again, but I could tell by the tears on my mother’s cheeks and the grief-stricken look on my father’s face that my parents hoped it wouldn’t be this soon.
Two mortal days later…
The school bell rang through my ears. A soft, September wind blew through the playground of the old, red school building that I used to spend my time in.
School children came running out of the door and into their parents’ loving arms. Seeing the parents waiting to greet their children after the first day of school left an empty feeling in my stomach.
I thought of the perfect way my mother’s wavy, chestnut hair fell onto her shoulders and the dimple in her cheeks. The way my father would pick me up and swing me around. His emerald green eyes that shone whenever he smiled at me. My parents were perfect in every way.
But my peaceful thoughts about my parents were interrupted by horrifying images. Images of my mother’s chestnut hair soaked in blood and a seat belt pulled tight around her neck. Images of light draining out of my dad’s eyes as the wires in his arm failed to keep his heart beating. The disappointed look in his eyes as he burst into light and disappeared, followed shortly by my mother.
Both of them just wanted to see me one more time before they left for somewhere I couldn’t follow. I tried. But I couldn’t.
I didn’t know what was keeping me here. When I left the mortal world, it was easy. I just had to let go. But now I’m trapped between life and death. The middle is meant to be a rest stop. People are only meant to come here to fully let go or wait for tired, loved ones to take the journey with them. Then they could leave. But it’s not that easy.
Anger burned hot inside me as I looked at my parents. My parents told me they would never leave me, and yet they abandoned me in the middle. Maybe they intended for me to follow, but I couldn’t. I needed to let go somehow, but I couldn’t, and bad things happen to the dead that stay in the middle.
That’s what happens to people who stay here. They forget. They lose shape, and they forget who they once were and become a shadow. It’s a fate worse than death. I’ve only met one.
The moment my mom moved on, I felt her tugging at me to leave. I felt myself following with her into the unknown, but something held me back. So I stayed here in this blurred reality where nothing living is clear, and the dead only stay for a short time.
When my parents moved on, and I was left alone in that blurry hospital room, watching the nurses carefully lift my limp body and carry it away, a shadow appeared. Its voice was bland, but slightly higher, which led me to believe that it was once a girl, though now any memories that remained untouched by shadow were trapped inside its hair. Just a shadow of someone whose dying wish was to help the other shadows move on.
Is that what I was destined to? The shadow took me somewhere unseen by the living. It told me to wait. But wait for what? To wait to feel my one living body fade into a shapeless shadow and the memories that I hold closest to my heart glaze over and become inaccessible to my mind, or worse? The memories remain sharp in my mind, but when I try to speak them aloud, the words stop in my throat, unable to reach the outside world as I lose form.
I didn’t stay in the house it left me in. I needed to find what was keeping me before I was lost and unable to join my parents. I traveled around my old neighborhood until I found myself here at the old school building that I had attended until my father died, and the money ran low.
The shadow danced in and out of my mind. What had kept it here for so long. Why was it so content on me remaining in the house. Would she ever manage to fulfill its dying wish.
No. Once you were a shadow, there was no leaving this blurred middle between life and death.
People say that once you move on, you start a new life. One empty of the suffering I had to face when I was alive. But shadows fade, and they fade into nothingness. Not even their souls remain. That horrible fate was getting closer to me, and there was no way around it.
The machine hooked up to the little boy on the table began beeping faster as the seven-year-old boy’s heart gave one last, unconscious fight for its life. The machine finished its beeping with one final drawn-out beep. The young boy woke up dead and a part of a world between life and death. A world where people come to forget the mortal life.
I gazed into my five-year-old daughter’s eyes as she faded into a world made for souls who fail to move on to their final resting place. Instead, they find themselves as shadows who are trapped and are forced into eternal suffering. Some shadows are unable to move on because of guilt. Some are trapped because they did something in their mortal life to keep them here, and some people wait here for the people they love and wait too long. Now my daughter, the only one I ever loved, was cursed to that awful fate.
The little boy didn’t say anything once he looked around at his blurred surroundings, that once were his mortal life. His face showed all the emotions he felt. His terror at awakening even after he knew he was dead. He was amazed that the unendurable pain he had felt just moments ago was gone and a touch of curiosity at the place he was now in.
His eyes landed on me, and all emotions washed out of his eyes. All emotions but fear. If I looked like the woman I once was, maybe the young boy, who died too young, wouldn’t be as scared. But my body had lost all shape. My short, shoulder length hair was now just wisps of smoke. My feet no longer fixed solidly to the floor. Where my feet should have been was merely hovering above the floor. I was just a clump of dark, shapeless mist. Known to some as a shadow.
A shadow was a soul that was trapped between life and death. Unable to move on until they traveled to a place home to nothing but horrors. I could have moved on to somewhere better, but then I saw a girl, inducted into this world at a young age, and unable to leave because of the member of her family who she never knew but who she was unwillingly waiting for.
This world is wrong. Children shouldn’t have to stop here, and if they do, they shouldn’t have to stay for someone they never met.
In that last moment, before my soul was fully contaminated beyond repair, I hesitated. In that split second, where I could have moved on, I stared into the young girl’s eyes and thought of how they would look as they faded into the land where my daughter was trapped because she waited for me, and I took too long. I took too long to join her. Then I was a shadow, and there was no going back.
“It’s all right,” I tried to whisper to the poor little boy, because I knew the pain and suffering the boy had been through in his failing fight for his life, but the words were lost in my throat. Shadows’ thoughts had to remain trapped inside their heads as they begin to fade.
I reached out my once-solid hand and beckoned for the boy to follow, but my hand was gone. My time between is running out. Still, the boy seemed to understand what I wanted, and he seemed to know my intentions were pure. He nodded.
Some of the dead think that if they touch a shadow they will be forced into our cursed fate. So shadows are forced to spend their last moments before fading being segregated and avoided by our fellows because some foolish mind thought that death was contagious.
My world was getting darker by the second as the wind began to blow my wispy shape through the ghost land that stretched out in front. I would never make it to the place I left the girl. The ghost land was bare and desolate. Most don’t stay here for long. But I could see the final life of a shadow now, it is crowded with tortured souls that are suffering more than they ever did as a mortal.
I once thought that nothing could be worse than the pain of loss, suffering, and injury that the mortal life brought. But the fate of a shadow is much, much worse.
I saw my reflection in the tiny boy’s eyes. I was nothing more than a few tiny wisps of smoke being blown out of focus by the wind. I was fading quickly.
A girl with chestnut hair came floating down the street just as my wisps of legs disappeared. Her emerald eyes met the young boy’s. The young boy that was left by his parents who didn’t have enough money to pay for both a daughter and a son.
The last thing I saw was the girl, who died in a car crash and the little boy, who died fighting an illness that took so many lives and inherited his mother’s chestnut hair, run into an embrace and disappear with a flash of white light, into the peaceful afterlife they deserved.
Then I faded into the world of darkness and pain. The first thing I saw was my daughter, no older than she was when I last saw her, because you don’t age in the life of a shadow. But you also don’t flourish; the strong, healthy girl I once knew was gone, and instead I saw a sleep-deprived and starved, little girl, with large bags under her eyes. Her bones showing up clearly against her thin, pale skin. It was all worth it, all the pain I endured, because I got to be with her again.