Beth sat on her bed watching Game of Thrones on her laptop and texting her friends back home. Her parents offered to pay for her apartment and Beth wasn’t going to argue. She’d rather have her own place than a dorm, but not for any of the obvious reasons.
The reason was because she knew she’d be followed. No matter where she went the shadows followed her. They had been with her since she was thirteen. At first she thought it was the house that was haunted but then she had a sleep over at a friend’s and they followed her there.
When she first saw one it looked like a shadow: a silhouette in the darkness. But then one night she had awoken and saw her mother in the doorway. She had a blank look on her face and was staring at her with soulless eyes. It looked just like her mother but instantly she could tell that it wasn’t. Whatever it was, was hiding behind the form and watching her.
Sometimes it would come in the form of her father, cousin, teacher and even strangers on rare occasions, but usually it looked like mom.
But it always seemed that there was something behind it, like the face was a mask or a puppet. Just as she thought she could make it out her mind lost grasp of it.
When it was time to go to bed she left her TV on. She could never sleep in total darkness. The shadow people clung to the darkness and she didn’t want them anywhere near her.
As she got comfortable she sensed more than saw a crawling motion in the darkness. That meant the shadow people were around. It had taken them a week to catch up with her, but they were back as she knew they would be.
Beth closed her eyes and tried to ignore them.
In the middle of the night she woke up to the sound of heavy breathing. She looked over and saw something that looked like her mother. It was staring at her with its blank face and was crawling on the floor like its back was broken.
She locked eyes with it.
“Go away,” Beth said.
The blank faced mother just stared at her.
“Go away!” She threw her math textbook at the figure and it vanished before the book struck.
“I’m all kinds of ___ up,” she muttered to herself and went back to sleep.
In the morning she had theater and that always made her feel better. But it was a Monday so the good day/bad day scale just came out even.
They listened to a brief lecture by the professor and then they did warm up exercises with improving scenes. Then they got into their groups.
Hers still didn’t have a play.
“I want to do something classical,” a blond cheerleader looking girl said.
“I want to do something cool, like fight club or Snatch,” Beth said.
“We could write our own,” a boy who looked too young to be in college said.
“I don’t know anything about playwriting. Let’s just do something a professional so we can look as good as possible,” Beth said.
The group quickly agreed.
Beth looked over and saw the only group that had their play already. Their leader who found the play was a tall, handsome (in a slimy politician way) guy named James. Whatever play they had was in a small yellow book they were always looking at. They refused to tell anyone about it and hid the book whenever anyone, including the teacher, came by to talk to them.
“Snobs,” she said quietly.
She met Gretchen for lunch in the cafeteria. She was lucky to have found Gretchen. She was weird and she liked weird. Maybe Gretchen was weird enough to understand the shadows that followed her everywhere she went.
College was a time for experimenting and trying new things. If she was going to sleep with a girl, Gretchen was her first choice. Amy was right: Gretchen did look like a tiny, evil elf. Not that Gretchen was evil or anything, far from it. She was the most naive girl she had ever met. That’s another reason she liked her.
“You look tired,” was the first thing Gretchen said.
“Well, thank you.”
Gretchen’s delicate brows knotted up for a moment in a look of confusion but she must have let it drop because she didn’t ask.
“How was history class?” Beth asked.
“I would have thought that a college history class would go into more depth about the subjects. Instead we merely glaze over them as quickly as we can. It annoys me.”
“You have to wait till later until you take the specialty classes. Then you can take a whole class on the Civil War or Women’s History or whatever.”
“I would like that. My comparative religion class is also painfully basic. They don’t delve into any of the cult religions or the pre-Egyptian ones. It’s like I’m back in first grade.”
“You’re the only person I know of that would ever use the word ‘delve’ in a sentence.”
“What’s wrong with delve?”
“Nothing! I love it!”
Gretchen cast a brief glare at her and ate her chicken sandwich.
“Do they ever serve pizza here? I like pizza,” Gretchen said.
“I’m sure they do. There’s a schedule up somewhere.”
“Is there also a schedule up for concerts? I think I would like to attend a rock concert.”
“You do? Awesome. Yeah, I’ll keep my eyes open for one.”
“Thank you. I look forward to it.”
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I thought I would be studying but the material is so basic that I know it in my sleep.”
“Wanna hang out? Watch a movie?”
“I would like that.”
“Good. We’ll go to my place after dinner.”
Beth was hoping Gretchen would stay over late. She really hated being alone with the shadows. She felt as if they wanted something from her.
She breezed through the rest of the day and had dinner with Gretchen and Amy. Amy’s usual group wasn’t there. She hung out with the ‘snobs’ from theater but since she wasn’t in their play group she wasn’t a part of their ‘in crowd’ anymore.
After dinner they walked back to her place. Gretchen didn’t wear a back pack but held her books to her chest like something from ‘Little women.’
“How you liking campus life?” Beth asked.
“I love it!” Gretch said with one of her rare smiles.
When she smiled she showed her teeth which almost looked pointed, like a shark’s but that was only their impression. They weren’t really pointed. At least she thought not.
Gretchen tended to walk fast. She said it was a habit from high school. She got a good look at Gretchen’s hair which hung down to the small of her back. Beth was jealous.
Maybe I should grow my hair out? She thought to herself.
“You would look good in a corset and bodice,” Beth said.
“Oh, yes. You practically scream for old, gorgeous clothing: especially Victorian.”
“I fail to follow your train of logic, but I will take your word on it.”
“You’re just going to have to trust me on this.”
The campus at night felt so different than at day. It was never an overly cheerful place at the best of times but at night the place became downright ominous. The old, brick and stone buildings seemed to take on demonic auras and leered out at them as if waiting for their chance to strike.
It was all just her own imagination she new. After all, the real demons were in her apartment.
They got up to her door and she pointed across the landing to door 2-4.
“That’s David’s room. The light’s on so he’s home.”
“Should we invite him over?” Gretchen asked. “Wouldn’t that be the polite thing to do?”
That wasn’t a bad idea. The more the merrier and the more living people, the less shadow people.
“Sounds like a plan, Gretch.”
The walked over to David’s door and she knocked.
David answered the door holding an X-box controller.
“Hey, Beth, Gretchen. What brings you to my humble abode?” David said.
“We’re going to watch some movies and chill. Wanna come over?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I’m at a big boss and this monster just isn’t going to kill itself. Of course I’ll come over.”
“You’re one weird guy,” Beth said.
“I know, right? Who wants normal?”
“I thought I did, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps I would like a different kind of weird,” Gretchen said.
Gretchen stood next to her, perfectly still and her hands folded neatly in front of her. It was like she was one of those living statues.
They were waiting for him to put on his shoes and she grew impatient.
“You don’t need your shoes. We’re just going across the way there.”
They went into her apartment and she quickly turned the lights on. She could feel the shadows still around but they were off on the edge of the darkness and wouldn’t bother them.
“What are we watching?” David asked.
“I don’t know. I got my collection over there,” Beth said, pointing to some DVD cases.
It turned out (not surprisingly) that Gretchen hadn't seen a single one so it was up to her and David to choose.
They settled on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. She was impressed that David had wanted that. It showed that he had good taste. As they watched, Gretchen seemed mesmerized. She practically didn’t blink throughout the whole movie, even during the naughty bits. Beth would have thought Gretchen would have been squeamish during the nude scenes, but she was just as mesmerized during those as the rest of the movie.
They sat there, eating popcorn and talking.
She liked both of these people. They felt right and comfortable.
Once the movie ended she turned to Gretchen who sat beside her on the bed. She didn’t have any other comfortable furniture so she used her bed as a couch as well. Hey, she was a poor college student.
She hoped to eventually use the bed for something more than sitting.
“So, what’d you think?” Beth asked.
“I am amazed. It was beautiful,” Gretchen said. “He loved her that much that he overcame death. So that even death may die.”
“What was that?”
“A part of an old poem.”
“I’d come back from the grave for Wynona Ryder,” David said.
She shot him a glare.
“Just kidding. The Lucy vampire was way hotter.”
“Okay, I got to agree with you on that. Lucy vampire was way hot,” Beth said.
“It seemed like such a waste to kill her,” Gretchen said.
“Well, she kind of killed children. That’s a bad thing,” David said.
“Of course, but still…”
“You can have Lucy, I’ll take Dracula,” Beth said. “He was weird looking, but he was all hotness. It’s Gary Oldman: you can’t compete with that. I’d take Gary over Keanu any day.”
“I’ll take his brides. All three of them,” David said.
“I’ll take his castle,” Gretchen said.
They laughed at the first joke they had heard from her.
Then all too soon they left for their own rooms and she was left in her apartment alone. She would need to get a boyfriend quickly. Or a girlfriend. Anything so she wouldn’t have to be by herself in this room. But then, she worried about if the shadows came out while she had visitors. They’d be frightened off and would never come back.
She was stuck. The pain of loneliness and shadows or the pain of eventual rejection and avoidance? She didn’t know which was worse.
As she lay down she saw movement out of the corners of her eyes. It sometimes came out slowly at first. Other times it would give no sign and suddenly she would be face to face with a shadow in a doorway before she knew it.
She let the DVD play on the intro screen as she tried to go to sleep. She had thought about sleeping pills but she didn’t want to get addicted. Ever since her best friend died in high school from an overdose she refused to touch even weed.
Maybe she should just get drunk every night? Now that mom and dad weren’t here that was an option.
Again she woke up in the middle of the night. This time she saw four figures standing over her bed and staring down at her. They had sickly, wide eyes that seemed filled with hatred. They all had grim, gaunt faces and she didn’t recognize them. She couldn’t tell if they were old women or men, but whoever they are she knew they would do her harm if they could.
She covered up with her sheets and began singing the words to a Linkin Park song.
Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. There weren’t supposed to be monsters in the closet. All the scary stuff in the shadows was supposed to be children’s imaginations.
There had to be a way to get rid of this.
She didn’t get much sleep that night.
The next night she invited Gretchen over again. This time the excuse was ice cream. She always liked the coffee flavors. Gretchen seemed to enjoy it.
“Hey, want to watch a movie?” Beth asked.
“It’s getting late.”
“Yeah, but I’m not tired. It’ll be fun.”
“I do wish to see a movie,” she said, considering her options. “Very well.”
They watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice which she didn’t tell the length. It was a mini-series and would last a long time.
As she planned, Gretchen fell asleep on her bed watching the movie. Beth fell asleep knowing that the shadows kept away that night.
In the morning Gretchen woke up surprised and embarrassed.
“It’s alright, Gretch. I don’t mind at all. I actually like the company. I hate being alone.”
“Why?” Gretchen asked while rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“Oh, I thought it might have something to do with those shadow people walking around your apartment.”
“What? You see them too?”
“Of course. They’re right there.”
“I can’t believe this. Not even my parents ever saw them. They thought I was making it up.”
“Why wouldn’t they believe you? They’re not hard to see, you just have to know where to look.”
“Gretch, do you know how to get rid of them?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“They’ve been following me since I was thirteen. If you know something, you have to help me. I’m afraid to go to bed at night.”
“I don’t know if I can, but I’ll see what I can find.”
“I can’t believe I finally found someone that believes me!”
She hugged Gretchen, happy that she was no longer alone and going crazy. She finally had confirmation of what she saw.
She let Gretchen go so she could hurry back to her own room and clean up before class.
Beth felt much better that day.