The shed door creaks open, the blazing sunlight outside burning my eyes and blinding them as they flutter open. My head feels like it had been stepped on. A lot.
“What the hell are you doing in the shed?” a man’s voice growls at me.
My whole body is stiff and I wonder why I am huddled on the dirty floor of a wooden shed.
Trying to move with the least amount of pain in my joints, I flex gingerly, sitting up and rubbing the blurriness out of my eyes.
It takes them time to adjust and focus on the angry face of Mr. Alfred Gordon, my neighbor from up the street.
“I asked you a question. What the hell are you doing in the shed?”
I half expected the belligerent “buddy” to be added to that. But that would have been suggestive of an angry stranger, not neighbors who have shared a neighborly sometimes casual indifference, sometimes aloof friendly relationship for years.
“Sorry,” I manage, wondering why my voice sounds so strange to my own ears.
Filled with embarrassed shame and still with no memory of how or why I ended up in the neighbor’s shed, I manage to stagger stiffly to my feet. Hanging my head in shame, I apologetically walk past him, wishing I were anywhere else in the world at this very moment. Ducking my head in further shame as I squeeze by, I avoid looking at him.
I don’t want to see the curiosity. The weird questioning look. The irritation at the irrational crazy neighbor he found hiding in his shed.
A vague recollection comes to me of having locked the shed door from the inside.
How did he open it? I must have dreamt that. Or only thought I locked it. It doesn’t seem like the kind of shed that would lock from the inside.
I can feel his eyes on me as I do the walk of shame out of his yard.
He calls after me in a less angry tone.
“Why are you barefoot and in your pajamas?”
“I must have been sleepwalking I guess.”
I feel like this must satisfy him at least a little. Maybe even salvage our neighborly relationship.
Turning up the street, I walk up the sidewalk. Ahead is the wonderfully bland world of normalcy. A tidy residential street with well-trimmed yards, mature shade trees, and nice middle class homes with nice middle class cars parked in their driveways and on the street.
The house ahead has one of these nice mature shade trees spreading its branches to shade the ground beneath it. With the bright morning sun, its shade stretches across the sidewalk.
I slow, stepping out into the street, keeping my feet to the sun-warmed concrete beyond the reach of the tree’s shadow. I walk around it on the street.
The rude honking of a car horn startles me, intruding and insistent. I turn and look, the driver looking at me oddly as he has to swerve to go around me.
I know what he is thinking. Why aren’t you walking on the sidewalk?
I don’t know. I just could not bring myself to step into the shadow of that tree.
Or he may be wondering why I am walking down the middle of the street in my pajamas and bare feet.
I don’t know that either.
I am past the shadow of the tree and meander back to the sidewalk, leaving the road to the occasional car.
I can feel their eyes on me. The drivers as they pass, neighbors in their houses and yards looking at me, adults, kids. I am sure even the Harrel’s dog, who seems to always be outside rain, shine, or snow, is looking at me like I am some strange creature.
It is a strange feeling.
I walk on, stiffly, pretending to ignore the eyes watching me until I reach my house.
Entering the house, I can’t help but note its sullen silence after the bright sun, gentle breeze, full of life morning outdoors. The lights are all off; the sun through the windows more than adequate to light the house.
For some reason I cannot fathom the soft shadows behind and under furniture have a subtle threatening quality to them they have never had before.
Entering the kitchen, I flip the light switch and nothing happens. Frowning at the switch I flip it a few more times, although this never helps in a case like this. Again to no effect.
“Circuit must have popped.”
I try another light. Poke at the switch for the coffee maker. And settle on looking at the dark and silent microwave, who’s green glowing time is not lit. Pressing buttons there does nothing either.
“Circuit must have popped.” I say it again as though I only just realized it and did not just say those same words.
Going to the basement door and opening it, I look down at the darkness below me with a feeling of dread that is alien to me.
“What is wrong with me? I have never in my life been afraid of the dark.”
I have to force my hand to reach for the light switch on the wall just inside the stairwell, flipping the switch.
Relief floods through me sickening and heavy in the stomach with the snapping on of electricity and the sudden glaring of the light below filling the darkness and pushing it to nonexistence.
I start down the stairs and the vague sense of dread hangs around me like a moth fluttering vulgarly against a flame, drawn inexplicably to that which will kill it in a most violent death.
Reaching the bottom, I move across the basement, avoiding even the faintest of shadows, to find the fuse panel.
Opening the panel, I study it carefully, working to read the faded printing next to each of the fuse switches. The one for the kitchen is slightly out of sequence. The fuse is blown.
Flipping the switch off and on, it stays put.
Heading back to the stairs, I freeze in the middle of the basement at the very moment the world goes black.
Blinking in the blackness; there is not even the light of the sun filtering in the basement windows; I swallow hard.
Somewhere from far away is a sound I can hear only in my head. Softly. Gentle.
“Please, let us in.” The words are so quiet I am not sure I hear them. I have a sense that they come from another time, another place, outside the door.
“There is no door. I’m in the middle of the basement.”
I feel eyes on me. Darkness.
I think I can almost see them, those eyes. But they are wrong. They are only liquid darkness which cannot shine with the light as eyes do.
“There is no one here. I am alone, in the dark.” I whisper it quietly, as if afraid the shadows themselves might hear.
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