Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
The Shadow Theory
By: Sean O’Morrison
A pale doctor walks into the interrogation room holding a medical file under his left arm, he is accompanied by a woman. Smiling at the patient, he begins his session by introducing himself, “Hello Mr. Strahan, I am doctor Weise.” He turns to look at the younger brunette female as she hands him a small digital recorder. She then she leaves the room. Dr. Weise checks the digital recorder to confirm it is working properly, and sits it on the table. He makes eye contact with Mr. Strahan, trying to make sure his patient is paying attention.
“I understand how these types of sessions can be for the patient; also, I would like to assure you my only interest is in helping you Marcus. I myself have seen a therapist, and though it was not court appointed I did find it very, very useful. Sometimes we all need help. You need to understand that receiving help does not make you bad.” Dr. Weise is sincere, but does not feel that Marcus wants to hear his lecture. “Well then, let’s begin.”
The spotty, white haired doctor sits down across from Marcus, and slides the digital recorder to the middle of the table. He lightly gazes upon Marcus, and once again smiles. He turns the recorder on. “Are you ready Mr. Strahan?”
Marcus feels a wave of fear run up the length of his spine to the base of his neck. It is a cold feeling, not only in the room but in his mind. This nice doctor is about to see he is either crazy, or that there are unexplainable, and even extraordinary things all around us. He swallows what gulp he can; considering he is extremely parched, and then replies, “The question Dr. Weise is … are YOU ready?”
Already trying to analyze the young man and what makes him tick, Weise opens his file and begins scanning it, “Ok”, Weise looks back to his patient, “Let’s just start with your name.”
After twenty seconds or so of stale silence there is a response, “Marcus Strahan.”
“And what do you do for a living Mr. Strahan?”
Doctor Weise takes off his glasses and wipes them on his flannel shirt, giving Marcus time to adjust to the series of seemingly elementary questions. Of course Weise already knows all of this information, it is in his file.
“I am … or… I was, a bouncer at a club in Atlanta.”
“Would you call that dangerous work?”
Marcus eases up a little bit, trying not to seem too cold as he replies, “It all depends on who’s in the club, and how much they have been drinking.”
“Have you ever had any sort of… altercation with any patrons, whether drunken arguments or otherwise?”
Marcus grows impatient at this point. He knows where the doctor is going with this. Weise is trying to find some rough past, or previous violent behavior. It takes most of his energy to just let it go. “To be honest Doc I’ve had many beefs both on and off the job. Some were pretty ugly. I have also had anger issues in the past. I guess that goes with … bad luck.”
Dr. Weise writes something in his folder before sitting his glasses on the table. He leans back in his chair and crosses his fingers together on his gut, trying to find the proper words. “You seem agitated Marcus,” he paused, “and I understand the last few days have been very stressful for you?”
“Yes they have Doc, I’m scared. I’m scared for my life and I’m scared of the world…I just want this place to make sense again. I want to not be so damn afraid.” Marcus debates in his head whether to tell him or not, and decides that if anything, he just wants to get it out. He just wants someone to know his troubles. Something very odd is happening in his life. He says, almost as if he is in pain, “The Shadow.”
In a confused tone Weise repeats him, “The … shadow?”
“It’s not like I’m seeing crazy shadows, or shadow monsters. I’m not hearing voices or anything; it is just this one shadow. I see it everywhere.”
Doctor Weise leans forward with interest and returns his glasses to his face, then begins overlooking the file once more.
Marcus continues, “I keep seeing this one shadow all around me. There is nothing scary about his shape or size, I mean, he has no claws or horns. You wouldn’t think it would feel so menacing. He just watches me and watches me and he won’t go away. It’s like he’s always there but… he isn’t there, ya know?”
He now has the doctor’s undivided attention, “What do you mean by he is there but not there, Mr. Strahan?”
“I see him, but It’s never just on a wall or something. I only see him in reflections, or stray lights.”
“Could you elaborate more if possible?”
Marcus sighs trying to figure out how to say what he has been seeing for the last week without sounding like a complete madman. “He … he hides in plain sight. I won’t see him on my wall, but I see him on the wall through the mirror in the corner. If the sun or moon shine through the window, I won’t see him in the window, but in the square light spot on my wall. I see him … watching me.” Marcus shivers as his hairs raise.
At this point Dr. Weise is no longer interested in the violent acts of the previous day. He is spellbound by this “Shadow Man” that has obviously driven his patient into some kind of nervous breakdown. “Marcus, how long has this been going on?”
“For a week now, and it has been a very long week.”
“I cannot imagine,” Weise says in support, “Any idea what could have triggered this anomaly, or when you first noticed?”
A long unnerving silence falls over Marcus as he stares at the floor, still debating on giving this kind doctor the full story. He wonders what a mental institution would be like. Would he still see this shadow? Would he for sure be sent there if he tells Doctor Weise? He deduces that Dr. Weise is his only line of defense now; his only hope, and so he begins.
“A week ago I rode the bus. It was about five when we hit my stop, and I got off like usual. I didn’t notice it at first, I had my headphones on and I was in my zone.”
Weise scribbles a few notes down in the file, and asks Marcus to continue.
“So I hit the store and got a PowerAde; nothing special, and when I got outside I noticed it.” Marcus grows a concerned look, almost as if he cannot believe what he saw, “I had no shadow.”
The doctor quickly gazes up at his patient. He fumbles in his head for a second, hoping his original diagnoses was correct. Hoping that Marcus is just having some crisis, and is not crazy. But how many sane people claim they have no shadow? Weise speaks, almost in a condescending tone, “Marcus everyone and everything has a shadow. One cannot defy this simple fact, unless you could block every light source, including our sun. Even glass has a shadow.”
“That’s what I’m saying though Doc, I don’t have one. Believe me I tried, and tried to figure it out. The lady next to me on that corner had a shadow; it was long from the sun, stretching right out in front of us. I had nothing. I even tried crossing the street to the park and still nothing, no shadow.”
Dr. Weise grows concerned. How would something like this even be possible? There is no way this patient is lacking his shadow. Is he really crazy? I hope not … but wouldn’t it be worse if he were somehow telling the truth? No. There has to be something deeper going on here. Medications maybe? Drug use? It would make sense considering what he has done.
Weise feels his thoughts running rampant, and for the first time in his thirty-four-year career he has no idea what to say. By now the room has been silent for a full two minutes, and he senses Marcus is uneasy. He quickly fires off a question to break the silence, “So you have had no shadow in the last week, and you are afraid of this fact?”
Marcus feels smarter than his court appointed therapist at this point, and retorts, “Yeah, who wouldn’t be? Combine that with the fact that the same day, I began seeing this mysterious shadow all over town, watching me. It’s enough to make you feel crazy.”
“Do you feel crazy Marcus?”
“I feel like something is going on that’s beyond my control. I hope it isn’t some switch flipping in my brain.”
Without the tools, or research to know how to handle his case at this point, Dr. Weise decides to end the session. He thanks Marcus for his time and tries to let him down esy.. “Mr. Strahan, I am going to need a little time before I can draw any conclusions on your … situation. You are going to have to stay in here a few more days.”
Marcus’ heart sinks, “I didn’t mean to hurt him Doc. I don’t deserve to be locked up like a criminal. Promise me you will come back? You are the only one who can help me now.”
Doctor Weise feels pity for this patient, and gives Marcus his word that he will do his best to figure out what the problem is. He then takes his medical file and his recorder and leaves the room. As he exits, the guard comes in to escort Marcus back to holding.
In his holding cell, Marcus cannot stop replaying the events of the day before. Behind bars most of the time you spend, you spend alone in your head. He sees the window of his apartment, with the headlight shining through. He envisions the pistol in his hand, the one he had been holding for days. He was terrified that the shadow wanted him. The troubled man had no idea what he could do, even with the gun. He then pictures the light reflection move as the car outside turned, sliding an ominous yellow square across his bedroom wall.
There it was; the shadow, in that pale yellow light right next to him. It was 2 or 3 seconds overall, but playing it in his head it feels like years. The sudden figure on the wall right beside him scared him so much he let out a yelp. He thoughtlessly jumped, and fired at the wall. Bam! One shot … Bam! Two … each gunshot rings in his head and feels like a symbol. Bam! With each eruption from the pistol, he hears in his mind the prison cell closing behind him.
Marcus begins to cry in his bunk, remembering the screams that followed his blind shots at the wall. The walls were thin, and several rounds made it through to the next apartment. His neighbor John; a divorced father of two, was struck and killed by the gunfire. As Marcus heard the screams of the children, everything stopped. He knew his life was over. He was stunned, heartbroken, angry, and alone in the world. He felt discarded in that moment. He sat in the corner listening to the neighbors call 911, and banging at his door. They were yelling for him to open up, but he was frozen.
It took forever for the police to arrive and arrest him, but not before the shadow man came back. As the sirens grew louder, and stopped outside his building, the flashing blue lights penetrated the window. There on the wall, in the flickering blue box was the shadow. He was flashing … as if he were in some kind of strobe light. Just watching him, as if to say, “I win, and you will never defeat me.”
Dr. Weise walks into the room, this time with a whole stack of folders and files. His hair is a mess, and he looks as though he has not slept in the three days since their first session. This time he does not smile, and he offers no introduction. He simply sits down and places the digital recorder on the table. He does not turn it on, but begins speaking, “I will be honest Mr. Strahan, when I left the other day I had no idea what to do.”
Marcus hopes for some sort of good news from the doctor.
“I went home, and after searching through textbooks from medical school and online for several hours, I stumbled upon a case eerily similar to your own.”
“What do you mean Doc, you mean someone else lost their shadow and it wanted them dead?”
Weise does not respond. He doesn’t even look at Marcus. He instead pulls a small flashlight from his pocket. He states, “I am very skeptical about all of this, but I took an oath to help my patients, and never turn them away.” Weise finally makes eye contact with a serious, and cold face, “I cannot help you if I do not give you a chance.”
Marcus is relieved and worried at the same time, “I appreciate it Doc”
Dr. Weise then calmly demands, “Hold out your hand Mr. Strahan.”
Marcus hesitates. What is this? But he feels trust for Doctor Weise, so he holds his hand out over the table. “See, no shadow,” he says with confidence.
Weise clicks the small light on, and begins moving it around Marcus’ hand. He moves the light up, down, and side to side, to his amazement there is no shadow. As a control, the doctor then tests his own hand in the same fashion, but his shadow is clear as day. He peers up at Marcus in amazement. But the amazement is short lived.
An overwhelming sense of fear overcomes the doctor. He stands up, and begins to pace.
“Doc, shouldn’t you be recording this?” asks Marcus with concern.
Weise stops and leans his head down. His body slouches over, and his arms clinch the sides of the steel table. It seems as though he is close to tears. “Marcus the case I came across may well have changed my outlook on you.”
“That’s good though … right?”
“I do not know.”
Marcus has never been this stressed out about anything. He has a thousand questions, but he asks none. He decides to let the doctor gather himself for a moment. It takes a lot out of a man, seeing something truly unbelievable. It is not something you can easily brush off.
Eventually Weise sits down and opens an old discolored folder. “According to the case, a young man about twenty years ago claimed his shadow had vanished, and then swore on the stand that it began to watch him. He was convinced this shadow meant him harm. One day he saw this shadow; in the glass of a storefront, and drove his car right through it. He killed three people, and wounded two more.”
Marcus is losing hope. There is no way this kind of thing just happens. The poor soul, he wanted the sick game to be over just like me. It’s so weird, we both ended up hurting someone else trying to drive the shadow away.
Doctor Weise carries on, “Upon evaluation, they deemed him insane, and he spent the rest of his short life in an asylum.”
“No Doc I’m not insane! I never wanted to hurt anyone, I was just scared. This has all been too much to handle.”
“Listen to this part Marcus. In this asylum he developed a theory. One that is loose, and there is no scientific evidence to back it up. He sounded … well, crazy.”
“What was this theory?” Marcus begs, “Please Doctor Weise, I have to know,”
Dr. Weise lets out a sigh. He removes his glasses and wipes his face, rubbing his finger and thumb on his stringy white goatee. He does not want to encourage any of this, but he feels like his patient needs to hear it. He commences, “I do not personally believe any of this, but the man in the asylum believed in parallel universes. He was certain we have a counterpart in our likeness. It goes around and does everything that we do, in some other plane of existence. He said that is why there are shadows, not because of light. He said everything and everyone we see, is there on the other side as well”
“I mean Doc, that sounds like nonsense, just crazy babbling to me.”
“I agree, well until I get to this part. He believed his shadow or ‘parallel self’ had somehow died. Like he said, they were supposed to go to the same places, and do the same things together, including dying.”
“So he thought his shadow died? What, his ‘shadow ghost’ was haunting him? Come on Dr. Weise, I thought you had something for me.”
“I know it sounds insane son, I feel that way too. He swore he was supposed to die and his shadow moved on without him, something about ‘universal balance’. His shadow was watching him, and waiting for him to die. Possibly even trying to hasten the process.”
“So this man in the asylum, how did he die?”
The doctor hesitates, “He…he hung himself with a bed sheet.”
Marcus is disgusted, confused, and angry, “Jesus Doc!”, he exclaims.
Doctor Weise knows this is stressful to hear, but maybe somehow it can help Marcus figure out what had happened to his shadow. He feels awful. Three days of coffee and research and this is it, this is all they have to go on. “I’m sorry Marcus, but going by this case we might be able to swing an insanity plea.”
“And then what? I go on stand and tell that family ‘Sorry I murdered John but hey, I’m insane?’ Fuck that, I thought you could help me Doctor Weise.”
“Marcus I’m sorry, I have never in my life dealt with this sort of thing.”
This is not the help he thought the doctor could provide. A nonsense theory that seems to help Weise cope with the shadow, more than himself. Marcus hits a wall of anger, and self-pity. “Man get me out of here, I’m done. Guard!”, he shouts out, “I wanna go to my cell. I’m done with this!”
As the guards rush in to calm Marcus down and take him away, he looks right at Dr. Weise and says, “Don’t you ever come back.”
None of this session is recorded. Reasons are unknown.
5 years later:
Dr. Weise is older now, too old to do what he will be doing on this day. He straightens his tie, and puts on his jacket. He gazes mournfully in the mirror at his pale face, and the wrinkles around his eyes. His white hair is almost gone. He sees the blue veins in his neck and hands, like rivers or roads on some pale old dried up map. Today will be tragic.
Today is the state scheduled execution of one Marcus Strahan. Weise retired after that confrontation with Mr. Strahan. He lives alone, always repeating that crazy theory in his head. He is always checking to see if he has a shadow when he goes outside. He was never the same after that last session, and today he hopes to gain some closure.
It is a dark room, filled with people in funeral attire: Judges, lawyers, and the district attorney are present. He notices two young women, age fourteen or so in front. They are both sobbing mournfully, and he knows they are the neighbor’s daughters. They are here to watch the lethal injection of the crazy man, the one who had killed their father. Weise feels sorrow, for this family, and at the same time for Marcus.
The curtains open and Weise can see Marcus being walked in. His orange jumpsuit is ragged, and his beard and dreadlocks show years of neglect. They strap him down with ease … like he is willing and ready to get this over with. He is, for the shadow was also there in prison with him. For five long years on death row he lived with it, in every reflection, and every light the doors produced on the prison floor. The shadow was even there in the water when his cell block flooded. Marcus is ready to end it all.
After hooking up the necessary tubes and needles, they raise him up for the crowd. Weise almost cries immediately at the sight. At this time Marcus sees the shadow man through the reflection of the window, on the wall behind him. He rolls his eyes and speaks, “It’s over, and I win.” Just then the pumps begin to push the poisons into his arms. He laughs, and yells as loud as he can, “It’s Over! And I WIN!” This sends a wave of mixed emotions coursing through the crowd.
As his consciousness fades he notices the shadow, but this time it was no reflection. This time it is right there in front of him. While moving towards him it begins to fade away. Marcus is captivated at the thought he outlived the shadow man.
At 3:12 pm Marcus Strahan dies with a smile on his face.
In the crowd Dr. Weise can take no more. He lets out one whispered phrase, “I am sorry.” He stands up, puts on his hat, and makes his way to the door. He opens it for the two young women, who are still sobbing for their father. He is so relieved to get out of there, and get some fresh air. It feels as though an extreme weight has been lifted from his being.
He looks at the sky with sad eyes. “Good luck Marcus,” he says, and begins to walk to his car. The sun is warm, and comforting on his back. He pulls the car key from his coat and puts it in the door. He then stands there for what must be eternity. He is amazed and terrified. On the ground in front of him, right where it definitely should be, he has no shadow.
Credit: Sean O’Morrison