Day 29: I met him in the car park

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.

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