Carl was never alone, and tended to press himself against walls, sidling along them to travel between rooms, and once at his destination, kept close to the floor. He was terrified of playing outside, especially in the early mornings and evenings when his shadow was long. He spent nights weeping into his quilt, immersed completely in shadow, until he fell asleep, exhausted. His only relief, which was mild, were cloudy days. Carl was afraid of his shadow.
"You're shadow isn't alive, Carl," said the psychiatrist that his mother took him to.
"It is," said Carl meekly. He looked at the doctor and smelled stale coffee on his breath.
"Now now, Carl. A shadow is just a relative lack of light. Do you understand that?"
"Yours is. Mine's alive."
The doctor stiffened his spine slightly at this.
"Why do you say that?"
"It talks to me," said Carl, with a glimmer of hope that someone was finally listening to him.
They psychiatrist smiled slightly, his mind happy at finally being able to peg Carl's diagnosis. He asked several more questions, set up a followup appointment, and prescribed medications.
Carl's mother made him take the medicine, but it made him feel hazy and did nothing to invalidate the vital status of his shadow.
"I'm not going anywhere," his shadowed assured him, as Carl was laying on his bed looking at the ceiling, his limbs heavy and lazy.
"I know," said Carl after a few minutes. After that, Carl pretended to swallow the pills then stuffed them in an increasing glutinous pile in his sock drawer.
As he grew out of boyhood his shadow frightened him less and less.
"We make a great team," whispered his shadow once while Carl was walking home from high school.
"I guess," said Carl with a sigh. "I seem to be doing all the work though."
"I can do things," replied his shadow indignantly.
"Sure. I'd like to see that someday. You kind of just hang off me."
"You'll see," hissed his shadow menacingly.
A few years later Carl found himself in a helicopter with no doors flying over the shores of the Mekong. The humidity and heat were oppressive, the smell of sulphur was in the air, and he fought to keep his nausea contained. He watched the grass on the ground swirl and bow with the downdraft of blades. Then an RPG tore through the cockpit. The other soldiers screamed out, shouting invective. Carl scrambled to free himself from the falling metal. He jumped out the door, immediately regretting it as the blades buzzed near before the vehicle keeled over in the opposite direction. Carl landed a second later in the crown of a tree. He crashed down the branches, tearing his flesh, and came to rest in the V of the trunk. He started to cry as the helicopter exploded in the background. Blood flowed freely from a gash to his femoral artery.
He felt light-headed and the pain became remote. His shadow seeped up the tree, following the trail of blood.
"I'll do anything for you," said his shadow.
"No," said Carl weakly.
"Yes," said his shadow. It compressed and entered his leg, sliding in like an eel. When the last of it was inside, it pulled the wound closed.
Carl breathed raggedly and began to feel cool, like he was laying in a mountain stream. The sound of gunfire became muted, but the sun seemed to get brighter, pouring strength into him. He stayed in the tree, his broken bones preventing him from moving, and was assumed by the active combantants on the field to be dead. Five hours later he was retrieved and med-evac'd. The surgeons were perplexed by the wound that just held itself closed, but Carl recovered, and his shadow never bothered him again.