I don’t know the exact moment the shadow started following me, but it’s been long enough now that this is the only reality I know. When I was younger, I was terrified of its unnatural shape, shifting and stirring in the dark corners around me. Perhaps the detail I found most horrifying was not the grey haze of its body, but its face. There were no features, save for a mouth. Always open and exposing its yellowed teeth, it spoke dark little threats while I tried to hide from it. It would hiss and whisper, “You are nothing.”
I tried to confront it, but that only made things worse. The first time I tried to reason with the shadow, it began shouting, “You’re nothing!” The voice echoed through my skull like a drum and beat out my thoughts. All my arguments were worthless with its grinding voice drowning me out. It was best not to argue. If I did nothing, eventually it would grow quiet again and be happy enough to simply whisper its threats.
The best option I had was to stay busy and ignore the shadow. It is, after all, a coward and it likes the darkness best. At work, I took on every task I could, so that there wasn’t a spare moment where the shadow could come out from hiding. When the boss needed me, I was the first to arrive, and the last to leave. The shadow was there, sure, but it was hard to see it hiding in the corners when my eyes were glued to my computer screen.
The only problem was when I had to go home. Alone in my apartment, I was the perfect prey. The shadow climbed on top of my shoulders and its lips peeled apart. A wretched odor dripped from its throat and it continued to whisper, “You’re nothing, can’t you see?”
Those moments alone only fed the shadow’s strength, until finally, it attached to me like a parasite. It melded into me, fusing its cold grey skin with mine. I could no longer see the awful mouth, but I could now feel it breathing on my neck every second of every day. It had made a home and it wasn’t going to leave.
I turned to religion next. If this thing was a demon, then perhaps church was the cure. I read the scriptures and prayed every night. I begged for forgiveness, but my words were heard by no one. The shadow mocked my attempts to be holy and reminded me once more, “You’re worthless. What god can fix you?”
With few alternatives left, I considered the one thing I had been dreading my whole life: telling someone. Maybe a friend, or a family member, or my boss even? I could tell them all about the shadow and they would help me. It was pointless though, and I knew it. No one would believe a word I said, and if they did, they wouldn’t know what to do.
I had only a single option. I was tired of fighting the shadow. It was never going to leave.
Now here I stand, one with the shadow and unable to escape. It’s growing louder, and chanting in my ear, “Do it, do it, do it.” I know what it wants and if I give it what it's asking for, it will finally leave me alone.
The knife feels sharp, and I hate the pain, but it will be over soon. The voice is already fading and the shadow is slipping away. There’s blood on my skin, and I have only one thought, “What if I had told someone?”