A shadow in the hall didn’t belong.
It was an evening like any other: sunlight faded in windows; shadows thickened. Lamps cast soft light in the middle of inner rooms but shadows in corners were made darker by contrast. A dimly lit inner space was the central hall which connected other rooms. I passed through that hall every day of my life, as a toddler, then a teen, then an heir, then a person with my own toddlers and teens, then a marriage survivor in an empty house.
A corner of the hall held a telephone table – an upholstered bench built together with a platform for a telephone, and a shelf beneath for a phone book. Since decades before I was born, the family in the house had stayed connected to the outside world through swishes and ratchetty clicks of the rotary dial on that black, Bakelite-bodied device. Though throughout my life that same telephone remained on that same bench, and even though it was still connected to a landline, the only callers were telemarketing robots, so the ringer was turned off. The old phone’s only purpose was to connect the memories of my life to the lives of all those who had been there with me and before me. It was a comfort to see it every time I walked by.
So, it was like any other Autumn evening, except there was an extra shadow by the phone table. What is an extra shadow? The dim air in the corner of the hall and around the phone table was joined by a thicker form of darkness. Almost body-like in shape, it still seemed to be just a shadow. The first time I noticed it, my only brief thought was about which lamp in which room was causing the unusual display. The thought was quickly dismissed.
Days passed. Another late October evening of waning day and lamplight and another passage through the hall presented another moment of distraction by the extra shadow. This time I wanted to identify the cause. I turned on the hall ceiling light. The glow filled the space and banished the shadows in the corner and around the phone table, as expected. But the dark form remained. The size of an adult person with recognizable features of shoulders, a head, torso, legs – but if there were arms, they stayed tightly against the body, yet the form remained nearly transparent and motionless. Alarmed that this might be the shadow of an intruder, I turned away to look, carefully, at every opening onto the hall, hoping, …yet not hoping, to catch a culprit. No one was there. I was alone. Turning back, I saw only the well-lit hallway. The dark form was gone. I quickly concluded that it was just a trick of the light, so I turned off the switch and moved on.
The very next night, the last of October, was life altering. I was sitting in the living room in silence, reading a book. A noise from the hall interrupted the quiet evening. The sound was familiar but buried behind deep memories, a swish followed by a ratchetty series of rapid clicks. My gaze quickly left the page and shifted in the direction of the noise. The sound had come from the telephone in the dark corner of the hall. The dial had been rotated. Someone was there. I did not ask for confirmation but received it: swish, tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic.
Book on table, body instantly upright, fire poker in hand, I slowly stepped toward the hall. Again: swish, tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic. In the same way I was aware of searching for a dangerous invader, there was also the realization that I could not breathe. My steps began as small strides but shortened to mere inches as I moved closer to the hall. For extra caution I stopped to listen and peer into the hall, which in this moment seemed like a black cavern filled with murderous monsters. Stopping was a good idea because fear had made my feet freeze in place. Maybe I didn’t need to look, after all. Maybe I had imagined the sound. Then: swish, tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic-a-tic.
“Doggone it!” I did not want to go. I reached through the door and found the light switch. I flipped it on. Glorious, bright, reassuring light bathed every inch of the hallway. Even better, no one was there. “So, what made that noise?” I mused aloud. “I did,” came a barely discernable whisper. I turned toward the voice. It came from the corner with the telephone bench. The dark form was back.
I recognized its shoulders, head and chest. But now, an arm extended toward me. A hand unfolded. The form whispered, “Come closer.”
Stepping back, I replied, “I don’t think so.”
“I need you,” the shadow said in a shadowed voice. “Come closer.”
I questioned, “What do you need of me?”
“I have a message from your departed loved one.”
My heart skipped a beat. A lump in my throat made it impossible to breathe or swallow. I had never believed in calls from the grave, but this revealed a hidden hope of eternal connection with my beloved companion, a hope I had not known my heart carried. Without caution, without hesitation, without the wisdom to consider personal safety, I stepped forward to stand face to shadowy face, expectant, hopeful, yearning to know the message from the other side.
There was no message.
In a quantum instant I was transformed. I felt my presence pulling from my body, spinning in space, and merging with the mysterious form in the dark corner. A strange awareness of existing in two places filled my thoughts. In a moment of time too short to count, I was absorbed as part of the shadowy entity, yet I could still see myself standing in the hall with an eager expression, an expectant posture, and a demeanor of total hope.
Even as from my shadowy corner I stared into my own eyes, the being who had been me began to fade, to become transparent, until all physical traces disappeared completely. Then I was alone. Whatever the dark form had been, it had moved on and I was its replacement.
I have waited for so long, seen so many waning days, stood here in this dark corner trying to get your attention, to make my shadowy presence known.
Now, at last, I can whisper, “Come closer.”
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