Isaac had been slipping in and out of the dark with the heat of his fever. His room had been moved to a room in the upstairs kept away from the other children. With the storage supplies taken out and his bed put in, there was little room left to accomodate the small table left next to his bed that kept a fresh supply of water and towels. Frequently, he would find his sheets changed, though he could not be sure when this had happened he was certain it was always Elma who had done it.
When he was awake he frequently thought about her and the way her auburn curls often hid her smile. He was also certain that if he could dream she would waft through those umbral thoughts as well bringing the sunshine with her. Dreams had not come to Isaac for some time now. Sleep was a dull thrum that took away the buzz of damp and hot world. As it stood, there was a window at the end of the hall and allowed for a stale breeze at few select points during the day and allowed even less daylight through the bottom crack of his door. Elma would bring the sunlight in with her when she came, very casually as if she didn’t know she was doing it at all, leaving the door half open. Isaac knew better though, and despite having not told her yet, he would repay his debt in full to her by marrying her.
Isaac had many points where he’d woken up recently…by something. He’d never heard anything, but he could tell someone was there, or had been there. As far as he could tell it was always in the night and he was always struck by a certain dread silence. There were times where he thought he might be dreaming, but he knew his dreams had left him for some long indeterminable time by now. His small, clammy fingers pulled his blanket around his nose where he found it too unbearably warm. There the blanket stayed, stifling his breathing further. Did he see something behind the half opened door? No, no he couldn’t. His vision was blurry and trying to focus made his head hurt more. He was brave and stood vigilant under his covers until a wave of naseua washed over him and brought him down into the dark again.
He awoke in the morning, looking at the open door and found the dark wood of the hallway looking back at him. He grabbed a towel off the table and wiped the sweat off of his forehead, then dabbed it in the waterbowl and wiped his face with it again, in a familiar and unpleasant ritual. He had knocked something off the table, small and metallic. Looking at the table there was a rubber ball and a single jack. He grabbed it thoughtfully in his comprehending hands.
This happened for several nights to come. Small trinkets, candy, some rather attractive buttons, smooth stones, these all found a way to his table. Never a footstep, never a person in sight other than Elma. He was afraid to ask her what these were. What did they mean? He hid them under his blanket to keep her from seeing, but when she changed the sheets she must have noticed. He wasn’t always awake when she changed them. When Elma did come in, Isaac was all hushed. She brought in the daylight as she always did, but he felt like there was a shadow following her. It was hot, and his tongue groped around in his sweltering mouth to find the words to say, but he failed. He shrunk into himself as she left again. “It appears you’ve found a new friend.” Elma smiled knowingly at Isaac. The words, as they left her mouth, stuck into his chest. He gaped into the empty doorway at her passing, her words had fallen ominous across his young ears.
That night the presence was there again. Isaac felt as if he were boiling. The shadow that follows her daylight, it had been leaving these trinkets for him. Why? What would it gain? Did he owe it something? Was it taking his life? It wanted what?
Isaac flushed. He knew what it wanted. It wanted Elma, it wanted to take her from him and to leave him in a wake of anguished existence. Isaac didn’t have a lot of strength, but he must do something. He lay in bed, thrashed in his covers, eyes closed, but ever so slightly open. So clever, Isaac thought to himself. He waited for the silence to come, when the wood of the house stopped breathing, when the wind would hesitate. Before him a ghostly hand appeared above his table gently placing down a sweetbread close to him. His chest lurched but he kept his gaze on the hand and looked past it to the door, trying to retain the illusion of his sleep.
A face grinned back at him from the darkness.
Isaac forced air through his lungs issuing forth all of his fear, all of his apprehension, his anger, his weakness, and his exhaustion.
“Know this, shadow!” as his voice struggled to maintain his strength. You cannot have her! She brings the daylight to me and me alone! I will protect her from you so long as I live. You can have all your things back, they won’t change my mind! I promise you this! You will never find happiness, you will never have the sunlight as I do. I know you want it, but you cannot ever have it, because your darkness will get in the way! No matter what you do, you will always be in the dark and despair."
The words hung dead in the air. The wood stopped breathing, the wind hesitated, the moon hid its face behind a cloud.
The grinning face retreated back into the darkness and so Isaac expelled a silent breath….