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Shifting Shadows

I see two boys, perhaps around nine years old, weaving between the trees in the sunlit meadow. The one in the blue shirt laughs as he tries to touch the one in red. Eventually, both boys tire out and jump into the brook to start splashing one another. I watch, ever patient, knowing what will occur. After millennia of enduring, the result has always been the same. The boy in red, sure enough, accidentally splashes his companion too hard, knocking him off his feet and fully into the brook. The boy in red jumps back, expecting a counterattack, but in the moment it takes for him to wipe his eyes I make my move. I envelop the boy quickly, so quickly that he doesn’t have enough time to cry out for the other.

The boy in blue is mine.

I watch again as the boy in red searches, to no avail, to find his brother. A name is called out once, twice, three times before the boy has the sense to dash to and alert his family. I follow the boy as he runs through the trees and onto the well-worn path, finally emerging to face his startled parents with red eyes and incomprehensible speech.

It used to be that one missing person wouldn’t cause a stir for a cycle of the moon. Nowadays, one child that is missing leads to a national alert. I watch the red-shirted child as he tells his parents what happened. I follow his father as he rides to the closest town to contact the soon-to-be-baffled authorities. I trace the trail of communication until, by the end of the day, I can see the distant lights of helicopters in the sky and the flashlights of workers on the ground as they tirelessly search for any trace of the boy. They won’t find any, of course. I learned from that mistake long ago.

By the second day I watch the boy in red emerge from the police station with his parents. They go home, all with red eyes this time, and by the time the sun sets a reporter emerges onto the screen with the story of the missing boy. Her mouth moves but I tune out the words. Instead I focus on the people in the room. I recognize that look from the past. Only twice has it never faded away. Two mistakes. Two who will never return.

Fortunately, the boy is quicker to heal than most. By the third day I sense he is ready to be released. The searchers find him asleep under an oak that they reason they must have missed before. When the boy wakes up he cannot remember what went on the three days he was missing. Before long, I am back in the house where the reporter talked about the missing boy. This time, the screen has three people on it. One rather large man talks rapidly in response to the others, but I do hear the word “aliens” mentioned many times by him. Another man, tall and clad in a silvery-grey suit, claims that the boy simply fell into a temporary coma and slept until the searchers found him. Unless, the tall man says with a hint of amusement, magical creatures spirited him away in the woods. The reporter thanks both men as he starts onto another story.

Aliens. Magical creatures. How funny it is that the first man is closer to the truth than the second one presumes. There is one difference between those beings and me. They are myths and do not exist. I too am a myth. And yet I exist in reality.

A week later, the only sign from the ordeal in the woods that blue-shirted boy endured is a small, faded scar where three curved lines intersect. The boy stares at me, studying my features, until his eyes once again drift to the scar, which will forever remain on the back of his left hand. He looks at me one last time before he leaves, and I heave a sad sigh as I linger in the mirror for a moment more. I then slip away and follow him as he sees what he thinks is his reflection or shadow on each polished surface of the house.

It’s depressing, really, to have to do this, but I have no choice. Over hundreds of lifetimes I have waited in the shadows, a shadow myself, to see if another choice could be found. I have found none. So again I retreat into the shadows, destined to always watch the boy, waiting for him to become a man, a father, a grandfather. Upon his death I’ll leave his shadow, and so I will shift again.





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