“Do you remember when I left?” my Shadow asked.
I set my cup down, chills running down my spine. How could I forget? I nodded.
“Tell me,” he requested, visibly settling back in the chair.
“I don’t like remembering it,” I said. Some memories are better left buried.
“I know,” he said; was that pain in his voice? “It’s the only way I can start to tell you mine.”
I sighed and closed my eyes. When I opened them, all I saw was a scared five-year-old boy. Goosebumps broke out on my skin and I shivered; it might have been the cold night air coming in from the kitchen window.
“I was five-years old,” I began. “Dad was at work, and I was at home with Mom, although she was sleeping on the sofa in the sitting room. I was supposed to be watching TV, but I was more interested in my toy truck. Barney and friends was on, but I didn’t pay any attention to it, not until he called my name from the TV. ‘Alright boys n’ girls, why don’t we welcome our newest friend, Chike Gabriel Duru!’ I looked up, disbelieving. ‘What do you say boys and girls?’ Then he turned to look at me, and he was no longer Barney; he was a pale, old man with yellow eyes and shark-like, rotting teeth dressed in a black-and-white striped dovetail suit with calf-length trousers, matching socks that disappeared beneath his trousers, shoes two sizes too big, a black bowler hat and a walking stick with its handle carved to look like a snake. He smiled, and my head felt like it was going to explode. When he stepped out of the TV, I almost ran out of my skin.”
“You should’ve at least run out of the room,” my Shadow said.
“Easy for you to say.” I looked at my hands but all I kept seeing was that was that pinched face, ancient eyes and those teeth. Oh God, those teeth.
“Go on,” my Shadow prompted me.
I sighed. “I checked behind me to find Mum still asleep. I turned and stared at what, or who stood in front of me. He carried evil with him; it surrounded him like a decaying miasma the colour of pus. I tried to breathe through my mouth, but I could taste sulphur and…something else. I shut my mouth immediately. My breath began to come in gasps and I clutched my chest in fear.
“‘Relax Chike boy,’ he said, shoving his free hand into his pocket; his eyes now had a playful glint in them. The kids on TV looked like they’d been dead for decades and then mummified; they all sat on chairs in two rows, the back row higher than the front. Their hands clutched their knees which were closed together, and their dead eyes stared at me. I tried to speak but what came out was a croak. Wake up, Mum!, I screamed in my head. There’s a bad man in the sitting room!
“The man walked to the window and looked out, scoffed and then walked back to his previous spot. His eyes bored into mine, and I felt my insides crawl.
‘Who-Who are you?’ I finally blurted. ‘What do you want?’
The man cocked his head to the side and smiled. My brain threatened to shut down.
‘Who am I?’ he asked, and then chuckled. ‘I have been called many names. The Wizard. The Shaman. Neymartilok. My name is not something you can begin to think of, let alone pronounce, so you can call me The Magician.’
‘The Magician?’ I repeated.
‘Yes. Do I scare you boy?’
‘Good. Fear is good. Fear keeps you in line, doesn’t it?’ He laughed; an irritating sound that sounded like the call of dead birds. I scooted backwards on my bum, hoping to put some distance between us, my back fetching up against the sofa.
‘Mom?’ I called, desperate for her to hear me, to wake up; I didn’t dare take my eyes off him.
‘Save your strength’, he said. ‘She won’t wake up boy, not while I’m here.’
That stopped me. I fought to hold back tears. ‘Why are you here?’ I asked.
‘I have come for you,’ he said.
‘Yes Chike.’ He smiled, and his attempt at warmth made me cringe. ‘I have come to take you home.’
‘Home? I am home.’
‘Pah!’ He scraped something off his tooth with his left pinkie, studied it for a moment and then licked it off. ‘This isn’t your home Chike. Your parents were nothing but vessels used to bring you into this world. This may be their home, but it is not yours. I will be your father from now on. Your place is with me. Come.’ He held out his hand.
I stood, took two steps forward, and then stopped as questions popped up in my head. Who is this man? Why is it that he tells me ‘Come’ and I go?’”
“That was me,” my Shadow said. “Saving your hide for the first time.” I felt him smirk.
“Thank you,” I said, meaning every word. “Those questions stopped me and made me think about the situation I was in. I turned and looked at Mum once more. She was still asleep, but now there was something else; a soft, blue-white glow surrounded her. I think it was her love, and it called out to me. So I made up my mind.
“When I turned to face The Magician, he already knew I was no longer coming with him, and he looked scarier; how that was possible, I have no idea. His face became more angular, his mouth wider, like his lips had split further at the sides when I wasn’t looking. His eyes were now red and black, and he reeked of death.
‘Chike,’ he said, his voice surprisingly smooth. My brain felt like it was going to implode. ‘Don’t make me make you regret this.’
I took a step backwards.
I threw myself towards the light around my Mum, knowing instinctively that the glow around her was the safest and strongest thing in the room.
‘No!’ I heard him scream; whether in frustration or anger, I don’t know. I felt his hand close around my left ankle, and a million tiny fingers dug into my brain. I can’t remember if I screamed or not, but somehow I resisted the urge to curl into myself and hold my head. I reached out and plunged my hand into Mum’s glow and immediately I felt indescribable warmth flood my whole being. I closed my hand around the light-it felt solid somehow-and I pulled myself in.
‘No you don’t!’ The Magician said, and then I felt as if I was being torn in two as he pulled the other way. Then, a ripping sound and I felt a great weight leave me. I thought he’d torn my trousers, but when I turned, he was holding you.”
I closed my eyes as long-buried emotions threatened to rise to the surface. After several calming breaths, I continued.
“I didn’t know this ordeal hurt this much, you know.” I chuckled sadly, and my Shadow did the same. “You were nothing but a boy-shaped mass of blackness, but I knew what you were.
‘This will have to do, I guess,’ The Magician said, holding you by the neck. On TV, the children were now standing, holding hands. ‘It’s been a long time since I had a shadow to myself. The last one didn’t amount to much, sadly. Just goes to show how special you are.’ He turned and walked back to the TV, his walking stick swaying from side to side with each step as he carried you in his arms. I felt a cocktail of emotions from you, fear and uncertainty being only some of them. I was too stunned to move.
“In front of the TV, he stopped and spoke without turning, his voice low and menacing. ‘It’ll be a while before I see you again, Chike, but when I do, I will kill you. Enjoy the rest of your life.’ With that he stepped into the TV and walked off to the right, the children following. I was left staring at an empty set, and then the TV winked out. I don’t know how long I held my breath, but then the world lost its colour.
I blacked out just as Mum woke up.”