Footsteps stumble-skid around the corner, a huge stagger-run like a broken horse, the man’s breath ugly wheezes as he staggers to a sobbing stop, trying to move forward. Every binding in his body screams in protest, but he’s still trying to move. Some humans can run really fast and far; he’s not one of them. Bindings are breaking in his knees, lungs, feet, muscles, his heart hammering like a broken hummingbirds so badly I’m kind of surprised I can’t actually hear it. He thinks he has nothing left, sees me.
“Kuh – kid? What are you... the-the subway. Closed for repairs. Go,” he gets out, stumbling over.
“I know it’s closed; I was exploring,” I explain, because you have to explain things to humans.
“But – you –.” He’s trying to get his breath back, can’t.
I nudge bindings a little to help, because he sounds kinda scared.
“Go. It – oh,” and he says a rude word Charlie doesn’t want me saying, using a phone-light for a moment. “Jesus Christ. You’re blind?”
“It makes exploring fun! I made friends with a spider a few minutes ago, and –.”
“Kid. Run. Just – please. Something is –.” And he moves, between me and something else. “I’ll try to – to –.” And I have no idea what he is seeing, but his heart does some really mean spasms but I’m all good with bindings so he just stumbles, keeps standing. “I don’t know what you are. I was just – I was going to take pictures. For my blog.”
The voice that speaks is soft, flat. I don’t sense any bindings, don’t sense anything there at all. “I have been waiting in the dark for a long time, Curtis.”
“What?” Curtis says, still in front of me, sounding all kinds of lost.
“You were weak then; you are weak now. Flabby, useless. I died and you did nothing but watch as the cold claimed me.”
“Holly? I couldn’t ... the ice broke under you ... her ... there was no way I could follow,” he whispers. “I was crying on my phone, begging the police to come, anyone.”
“And she died. And I am here.”
“Hello?” I cough pretty loudly for a Jay. “I don’t know who you are, but I know you’re not a ghost cuz you don’t have any bindings to him at all and ghosts kind of run away from me.”
“Even ghosts cast shadows,” the voice whispers.
I scratch my head at that, then poke Curtis with my cane, because canes are made for poking. “So use light.”
“I did. It – she – laughed. I told you to run.”
“If I do, she’s kinda going to eat you and that would be mean plus you all protected me like a boss so you’re not bad at all and ... and I’ve run out of stuff to put after an and, but I think you can go away, shadow-ghosty-thing.”
“I am the darkness the dark fears, I am the spirit where guilt dwells. I am the shame of things in the dark that shadows flinch away from. Whatever you are, I am more than that. Could you see, you would die.”
“Nope. I’m a Jay, and you’re some ghost making yourself more than an echo because of his guilt, I bet, and you’re not the thing the dark is scared of at all.”
“Please; I can’t get away. Run,” Curtis whispers.
“Would you run if you could?” I ask, like Honcho or Charlie would, cutting right through bindings with wordings.
Curtis is silent at that for a moment, then: “No. Holly died, and I couldn’t stop it. It didn’t even – I could have gone to a gym after. Changed. Been – thin, able to – I didn’t. She died, and I didn’t.”
He sounds a little close to Honcho, on bad days. I don’t like people being that, because the world does lots of hurts without people hurting themselves even more, so I move past Curtis and he’s really big and slow and I’m a Jay so I walk ahead and grin up at the voice. “Hi!”
The air gets pretty cold, even for under the ground.
“You’re really confusled because you’re not Holly, and kind of a shadow of some ghost long gone, and Curtis is sad for all sorts of reasons but I don’t think I care because you would have hurt him more and that’s not nice so you’re going to go away and you’re doing it now.”
The shadow-thing I can’t sense just laughs, definitely all around me, and Curtis is all kinds of hurt, thinking it’s just like his friend he couldn’t save, as if people are meant for that. “You’re a shadow,” I say, all quiet and not-Jay, softer than whispers speak. “And you’re confused, because the dark isn’t scared of you.”
And I offer up a grin I’ve never even shown honcho, and the shadows are running away and they pull the ghost-thing apart entirely with them since it’s no longer cold and I turn and walk back to Curtis. “It’s all okay now!”
“What did – what are you?”
“I’m Jay. Which is kind of a what, too, and I was all exploring and making friends, cuz those are good bindings and I sort of scared the shadow away cuz I’m the shape the things in the dark are scared of!”
“That must be hard for you,” he says, softly in turn.
I blink at that, because humans are sometimes all kinds of surprises. “A little, but mostly I don’t do scary things because then I’d be scary and that’s not fun. Taking pictures is fun for you, right?”
“Not right now.”
“Okay! So we can go back up and have lunch because it’s definitely a food time and I like making friends and I eat a lot for a Jay!”
“You want me to buy you lunch?”
He is quiet, then we walk all the way back up to the surface, and I talk the entire way for him because he’s still a bit scared and I probably make him less scared or at least baffled instead and then we eat lunch and I point out lunches are friendship-bindings and totally challenge him to the buffet and I even almost lose, but it’s okay because he’s feeling all better and okay and his shadow is totally fine as well by the time we leave and I tell him it’s okay to be him, because you have to tell humans that a lot sometimes, and then kind of arrange to meet Charlie since more friends are always good!
Charlie is all kinds of surprised and I think Curtis is almost scared because his shadow gets kind of funny but I make faces at it until things are okay. And that’s totally an adventure too!