I don’t remember it too well. I just remember the running. I did not understand where I was running to. Or why I was running. I just was.
Larks circled overhead, their melodies echoing in the wide expanse. The first rays of sunlight had pierced the night and the sky was bleeding profusely, drenched in a crimson light.
And I just ran.
My legs were carrying me, my body soaring and leaping over the rocky terrain of the lakeside with agility that I had no idea I possessed.
Wait. My body skidded to a halt. Lake-side?
Could it be? No it couldn’t possibly be. It was so far.
But it was. Yes it was.
My body had brought me back here. Here, where I hadn’t been in a long time. Here, where I had never been alone. With a gasp, all the memories began crashing back.
I remembered the grainy sand. I remembered the tumultuous waves swirling and colliding with each other. I remembered the bundle of trees past which the foliage gave way to the ruins of a dilapidated cottage which was always covered in darkness due to the impregnable canopy of leaves overhead. I remembered going to the cottage everyday with my brother, where we would sit in the cottage, surrounded by nothing but darkness and neglect. The darkness had held a perpetual sense of obscurity encompassed in its tendrils of nothingness. It held a grotesquely beautiful escape in its atramentous filaments, twisting and turning around the world like poison ivy creeping up around the decaying walls of the cottage.
It was the one place I knew where there were never any shadows; where you could truly escape the shade that was always by your side. Whenever I entered that clearing, I used to look behind me and watched my shadow being left in the light. I watched it shrivel into nonexistence and dissipate. I would remain shadow-less till I reentered the light. I used to think it couldn’t reach me here in the dark. I used to think I was safe.
My grandmother used to tell me that all of us had evil and good inside of us; the light and the dark. The two were constantly at war with each other. In the day, the light was stronger and it kicked out the darkness from inside of us, which appeared as our shadow. And at night, the shadow crept back into us.
From that day on, I had always slept with the lights on. My brother used to turn them off as soon as I had fallen asleep.
My brother was nothing like me. He was not afraid of his shadow. He saw the clearing as the place where his shadow was strongest, where he was surrounded by the darkness. I saw it as the one place where I had let the darkness around me destroy the one inside of me.
When our father used to come home at night, smelling of alcohol and fury, I used to cower in my blanket and pretend that I couldn’t hear the screaming. My brother didn’t cower. He just sat there, tears of fury brimming in his eyes and his fists clenched. When the screams ended, I would go to sleep. But if I woke up at night, I would see the moon reflected in his open eyes.
I won’t lie. I was afraid of him. I loved him as all siblings are obligated to, but he terrified me.
Growing up, he was never reprimanded. He was never scolded. I was blamed for everything he did. And I silently bore the brunt of the repercussions of his actions. I was too afraid to say who was really to blame.
I never understood him truly, but he knew the darkest corners of my soul.
Then one day, after school, we went to the cottage again. I lay there against the cold musty wall, relaxing in the solace that the darkness brought.
We sat there in the murky blackness. Silence. Nothingness.
My brother’s voice pierced the stillness.
“I have had enough,” he said in a dead voice. Emotionless. Blank.
I didn’t know what he meant. I was too afraid to ask. We spoke no more that day.
Now I stood here. With the wind ruffling my hair. I felt cold as I started to walk the path that twined through the woods and to my house, my shadow trailing faithfully behind me.
I walked the roads I used to walk every day. I turned left once, and then a right and kept on following the road till I reached the house I grew up in.
The windows were dusty. The once clean lawn was overrun with weeds. I looked to the second window from the right, a pane was still shattered. It had been years. No one had fixed it.
The next few days, my brother acted strange.
One fateful night, when the might of the wind shook the panes of the window and howled against the walls, my father came home. He had been fired from his job, and he was angry. I covered myself in the blankets as the wailing of the wind and the screaming from downstairs melded into a cacophony of chaos. It was then when the creaking of my brother’s bed was swallowed by the shrieking, when the slide of the drawer was masked by the shaking panes and when the bombardment of the wind drowned out the creak of the door. Lightning. I don’t remember.
I remember going downstairs and watching my father lying on the floor, a cleaver embedded in his skull and blood seeping out. I remember the blood spiraling out on the floor and my mother shrieking as my brother just stood there. Lightning flashed, throwing the whole room into relief and casting the shadows far away.
That is when I saw it.
My brother had no shadow.
And as my mother screamed in disbelief and the rain crashed down on the window, my brother just stood there. His lip curled into a smile.
I knocked on the door.
“Hold your horses I’m coming I’m coming! Who is it at his ungodly hour? I hope you aren’t one of those sales-”
The door swung open as my mother opened it.
Her sentence trailed off as she looked at me. There was a second of silence, utter crushing silence. Then I noticed that her pupils were dilating.
“Mother,” I said. “I’m home.”
She tried to say something but no sound came out as her eyes brimmed with tears. I smiled. My mother was speechless with happiness.
Suddenly, she tried to slam the door and run away.
I didn’t understand.
I grabbed the door just as she tried to slam it and ran in behind her as she tried to run to the kitchen.
“MOTHER!” I bellowed.”What is wrong?”
“S-s-stay away from me,” she stammered. “How did you ret-“
“Mother what are you saying? Are you okay? What has gotten into you? I come back after so much time and is this how you greet your so-“
“I HAVE NO SON!” she yelled. She was shaking, her muscles taut and her eyes brimming with tears.
I knew I had abandoned her after that night, but I don’t think that warranted such an outburst.
The light above flickered.
She was sobbing now.
“I’ll never forgive you,” she sobbed.
“I’m sorry, mother…”
A whisper. Begging. Imploring. Pleading.
She looked at me with a look full of such unadulterated hatred that I flinched.
“…forgiveness…” she whispered.
“You want forgiveness?” Her voice was building.
“YOU WANT FORGIVENESS FOR KILLING YOUR FATHER!?” Explosion. Fury.
“Mother, that wasn’t me. That was him. You know it. You were there. You saw it.”
“WHO?” she screamed.
“…my brother, mom.”
Clearly, my mother had been suppressing memories.
More silence. Then my mother wailed a loud wail of someone who had given up. She clenched her hair and began tugging as streams of tears washed down her face. She buried her head in her hands.
Then she looked at me:
“YOU HAVE NO BROTHER!”
The light flickered again. Throwing the world into shade.
“I thought they were curing you I thought the-“ She broke off, crying.
“Curing?” I asked.
“At the asylum,” she sobbed. Resigned.
I looked down at myself. I saw myself clad in a white robe. A plastic tag on my left hand.
Sr. No. 1583
“No, mother. My brother. I remember him. We went to the cottage.”
“You always went alone,” she said in a dead voice.
The light flickered as I fell to the ground with my head pounding.
Headache. Throbbing. A shrill sound. My brother’s face. The world spinning. Tears.
The light flickered one last time, and as I knelt on the ground, my brother’s shadow stood over me.
‘The darkness never leaves,’ it whispered. ‘You can’t escape your shadow.’