Light pours into my room through the four large windows on the walls. The sun, high in the sky, casts soft white rays of sunlight through the glass, filling every corner and pooling on the floor. My cat purrs, stretches, and hops up onto the desk next to me. I lean back in my chair, letting the warmth of the day envelop me, and fight the urge to fall asleep. My eyes are blinking, slower and slower, and I’m about to give in and drift off when I catch a glimpse of movement outside. That’s interesting; the forest animals don’t usually come this close to our buildings and we’ve never had any strays. I try to determine what kind of being it is, but I’m too far away and the bright sun reflecting off the snow makes a sharp contrast to the creature’s dark, shadowy appearance. I glance at my cat, purring beside me, and I almost want to forget about the odd little shadow as another sunbeam warms my face, but the mystery creature darts into my field of vision once again. I focus my attention back on it and as I do the being pauses, right at the edge of the woods, and turns to look directly at me, like it knows I’m watching it. I feel a tug in my chest, an uncontrollable urge to follow that shadowy creature, and my curiosity gets the best of me. Before I even know I’m doing it I stand up and run downstairs, throwing on my winter gear and locking the door behind me. As a gust of wind chills my nose and cheeks I almost want to turn around and go back inside, but I can’t. It’s as if this mysterious animal, which is now starting to pad straight into the woods, has a magnetic force, too strong to resist, pulling me toward it and into the forest beyond.
I tuck my key into my pocket and start dragging my feet through the snow, stumbling through its heaviness. The biting wind whips around me. It’s so cold that I’m already shivering. As I reach the edge of the woods I’m relieved to see the deep snow thin, and I find it easier to walk as the wind is also blocked by the trees. I look around for the creature and begin to think I’ve lost it, when I spot a shadow winding its way between the densely packed trees far ahead of me. The irresistible urge, the invisible string around my chest, tugs me again. I pick up my pace, to try and get closer to the creature, but as I walk faster, so does it, until I’m running behind it, chasing it deeper and deeper into the woods. I try to keep up, but the shadow creature runs too fast, and eventually, I have to stop and bend over to catch my breath.
Looking around for the creature I realize I’ve lost track of it, but then I notice two different shadows. They are similar to the first one in that they seem to be shrouded in darkness, obscuring my ability to see them clearly, but they are much larger. While my original shadow creature was small and agile, the shape of a cat perhaps, this new pair is taller and clumsier, like moose or small horses maybe. They begin to lumber forward as well, and they seem to have the same pull as that cat, tugging me with them. Almost unconsciously, I follow them.
I walk with the new shadows for a long time. My mind wanders. I feel a bit drowsy. Eventually, the cat comes back. Some other shadow animals join us, too. There’s a turtle near my left foot, but it can’t keep up for long. It feels as though there is a shroud over my mind, blurring the details and making everything quieter, calmer. After a while, my shivering stops. In fact, I’m feeling a bit warm, so I decided to stop and take off my coat. As I stop, my mind suddenly clears, like the veil has been sharply yanked away. My brain snaps into focus and the sounds of the forest all woosh into my ears. I notice my surroundings for the first time since I started following this new set of shadows. The deciduous trees of my backyard woods have morphed into tall pines, the ground carpeted in fallen needles, muffling my footsteps. I’ve never been this deep in the forest before.
I’m pulling off my jacket sleeves when I realize I can’t remember where my gloves and hat went. That’s odd. I look around for them but get distracted as I notice there are many more shadow animals than I had realized, at least ten by now. I look around me and see a deer, a wolf, a skunk, and other creatures that I don’t recognize. They all start to walk forward again, forming a circle around me. I take a hesitant step, suddenly feeling a little less curious than I had earlier. The sun, which had been high in the sky when I entered the forest is now sinking below the treeline, illuminating less and less of my surroundings. The unfamiliar trees tower high above my head, obscuring the little light that is left. While I was hot a minute ago, the shrinking sunlight is leaving me chilly again, but as I try to zip my coat, I can’t make my hands work right. I’m so tired. I don’t usually walk this much in a day. I just want to go home, but when I turn around, the shadow wolf behind me growls and doesn’t move out of my way. As I warily turn to face forward once more, I see that the ranks of the shadow creatures have grown even larger. Everywhere I look, more and more creatures amass, filling the forest and even the air around me.
I slowly back to the side and trip over my original shadow cat. Before, it had looked lithe and graceful, darting through the trees ahead of me. But now, so close, I can see it is bony and angular, its formerly demure face turned chilling and cold. I scramble to my feet and retreat from all of the shadows walking menacingly toward me. Their eyes are hollow and dead. I try to scream, but I can’t make my lips move right. I turn and run, and I can hear them behind me, chasing me, calling my name, commanding me to stay, stop, come back. I glance over my shoulder and a massive flock of birds and wasps and bats is descending upon me, surrounding me, and I’m trapped, trapped, there’s nowhere to go and I don’t even remember why I wanted to come here in the first place, and I trip and fall and my hands get scraped on the snow and the shadows have got me and all I want to do is go home and I can smell their rancid breath and I close my eyes and wait for the end and wish I had just stayed behind the window and I can’t breathe I’m suffocating suffocating and –
and I wake up in a hospital bed. The shadow creatures are gone. The sun, high in the sky, casts bright rays of sunlight through the open window. The window. I sit up straight and squint outside. The parking lot is empty except for a few cars – and a small, dark shape, slinking along the lampposts. Tug, tug. It pulls me on its invisible string, beckoning me. Frantically, I look around, trying to find someone, anyone who can help me.
“Window…” I slur, desperately trying to push some coherent words past my leaden lips, heavy and unwilling to do their job. “Close the wi…”