It was winter and the sun was setting early. Daylight disappeared before James had even set off from work in the evening, and by the time he was home it was pitch.
Walking through the car park, the cold air bit in and he saw by the unnatural orange glow of the street lamps. There weren’t many cars here overnight and James crossed to the stairwell up to his flat in an almost straight line.
At the gate into the garden, a streetlight flickered.
The stairwell up to the door was wet with rain. Each step caused a dull iron thud to echo around the car park, followed by a pattering of drips on the leaves below. The distance between the thud and the patter got further and further the higher he climbed.
At the door, he turned to look into the garden as he took the key from his pocket. He had always done this and, even when he caught himself in the act, had never wondered why.
This time, a glint on the windshield of his car made him pause. He fumbled for the key but continued to stare out across the car park. Another car arrived, its headlights drifting over his own vehicle, making it look like something dark and sinister moved within. James paused as he watched, then wondered what the other driver would think if they caught him staring. He turned back to the door, took out his keys, and unlocked it.
In the kitchen, with the heating on, he felt at ease. Pasta simmered on the gas and last night’s washing up was being done whilst the pot gently steamed to itself. The window looked out over the car park, and as he turned to open the fridge he caught sight of a shadow moving in his car again. He watched but it froze, then he opened the fridge and when he looked back it was gone.
He served up the pasta knowing that something was playing with his mind and that it was probably the winter. He got jittery when the light faded and the air got cold and he always had. His mind was playing tricks on him because he was tired and it would soon be time to go to bed. More than likely he had seen a bird’s shadow as it glided across the car park. The streetlights always confused them and they stayed up long past when they should.
He sat down at the small table with his back to the window, then picked up his plate and moved to the chair opposite, watching out for anything else happening. Apart from two more cars parking, nothing did.
When he stood up to clear the plate away, he could see a shadow once more in his car, though something glinted now, a streetlight off a door handle or even a light from his kitchen, and gave the impression that the shadow cast in his car was staring up at him with two dim, dark eyes. He switched the kitchen light off and they disappeared, so he thought the matter settled. When he switched the light back on they did not reappear.
As he was filling the basin with hot water to do this evening’s washing, he heard the boiler cut out and, shortly afterwards, cold water poured from the faucet. He shut it off, dried his hands on a tea towel and went to investigate the problem.
When he left the kitchen, the light flickered.
The boiler was shining the lights that showed it should be working, so James headed upstairs once again and turned the tap back on. The water was hot, as it should be. James continued washing up, his back turned to the door as the shadow behind it grew denser.
The washing done and everything put away, James headed to bed. Normally he would read or watch television, but tonight he felt drained and exhausted. He went to the bathroom and found his toothbrush, spreading it with paste and beginning the business of pre-bed grooming. Again, the light flickered, and this time he noticed it, staring at it, then reaching up to tap it. It swung from side to side but did not flicker again. He decided to pick up a light bulb tomorrow, just in case. It was not the time of year to shrug off a light bulb dying.
Once he was ready, he went to his bedroom, shutting off the lights as he did and giving shadows free reign across his flat. They grew in them and spilt into new spaces as the night crept on. They lengthened and spread, coming out from under wardrobes, desks, beds. They hid behind the curtains or clung to the ceiling in the corners of rooms.
As the tide of shadows filled James’ room, one stepped forward with eyes that burnt bright. The shadows stuck to it and it took on a shape of its own, made not just of shadow but something more.
He stared at the wall as the eyes burnt into his back. He knew nothing was there but he felt something. The shadow stared at him with its eyes reflecting the light from the window.
He couldn’t get to sleep. He felt more and more tired but he wouldn’t drift off and he daren’t shut his eyes. He could see the room getting darker as the minutes dragged into hours and the moon moved across the sky. The shadows grew thicker on the wall in front of him. Behind him, it took a step closer. Its eyes glinted. Its teeth shone.
The street lights flickered.
The months passed by and the days began to lengthen. The air was warmer and the sun rose higher. The shadows retreated ever further. They had fewer places to hide and the nights didn’t give them time to gather. They skulked from houses in retreat and left the world to the light.
It was temporary. Winter would be back.