Two hung his coat on the coat hook, watching as his shadow did the same. He wondered, not for the first time, what his shadow’s coat might feel like. Would the cloth have texture? He and his shadow did their dancing match-step down the hall to the kitchen, where they twirled and stretched through the making of dinner. Again he wondered whether his shadow enjoyed the flavors they had sizzled together in the pan. He resolved to ask Three in the morning.
Three kept the annoying habit of speaking on his phone through any conversation, and was doing so the next morning when Two caught up with him in the elevator.
“Yes?” Three asked, frowning at Two when he repeated his question. Three shook his head and pointed to his earpiece. “Sure, fine,” he said, and added toward Two, “sorry, what was that?”
“I asked if you ever wonder what sort of life your shadow leads,” Two repeated. “Do you think he tastes food, or his clothing feels soft, or rough?”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Three, shaking his head at Two to indicate that he was replying to something on the phone. “You’ll have to repeat that.” To Two, he added, “you have to stop obsessing over your shadow. We all have them, and they haven’t caused anybody any bother.”
Two was about to argue that not everybody has them, but the elevator opened and Three stepped out, laughing at something the person in his ear had said. Two let the elevator doors slide shut and resolved to speak with One. It had been One who’d asked about his shadow in the first place.
One was a singular sort of fellow. He mostly kept to himself, and a person was usually lucky to get a yes or no out of him in terms of conversation. Two had to search the building for him, as One never seemed to do the same job twice and you could never say where he’d turn up next. This time he was painting the stairwell.
“Hiya One,” Two called. “Hey there. I wondered if you’d asked anyone else about their shadows, and what they’d said about it.”
“Nope,” One replied.
Two wondered how the paint was going to look when it was done. As far as he could tell, One was applying it differently with every stroke.
“And you still have no shadow?” Two asked, though he could see plainly that no shadow danced at One’s feet. “No shadow at all?”
One just shrugged.
“Well,” Two said after a long silence, “good talking to you. Nice chat.”
“Yep,” One agreed, filling his brush with paint and spearing the wall with it.
Two stopped at the door.
“And you’re the only one in the world with no shadow,” he checked.
One stopped and considered.
“No,” he said.
“Who else?” asked Two. “Who is it?”
“Oh,” One said, picking up a paint roller and making a long, squiggly line of paint on a new wall.
“Oh,” repeated Two, pushing through the door. He’d heard of Oh before, but most spoke of him as if he were myth. “Oh. Hmm.”
It took Two some time to get through the maze of secretaries to gain an appointment with Oh, but finally he rode the elevator to the bottom level and stepped into Oh’s office. No frames broke the solid planes of Oh’s walls and no furniture cluttered the width of the floor. Oh stood at the center of the room, awaiting Two with a smile. After a bit of silence, Two decided to jump straight to his questions.
“I came to find out what you know about shadows,” he blurted. “You and One are the only people I know who don’t have a shadow and I want to know why. And what do shadows experience? Do they taste, and feel?”
Oh smiled at Two in a kindly way. “One was here before you,” he said. “It is good to ask such questions. Tell me, Two, what do you think?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t be here asking the questions,” said Two. “I came down here to ask you questions because I don’t know the answers.”
“What do any of us know?” asked Oh. “Is our knowledge a certainty beyond thought, or is our thinking all we know?”
Two frowned. He’d heard stories about people coming away different after meeting Oh, and he was beginning to see why. It was rumored that spending too much time around Oh was bad for the health, and he had some suspicions why that might be as well.
“I don’t know about any of that,” he muttered. “You’ve got me there, Oh, can’t say I know.”
“This honesty will help,” Oh said, nodding with approval. “I say go forward with this in your heart and you’ll find what you seek.”
Two nodded, taking a couple of steps toward the elevator. He hadn’t understood much of what Oh had said, but the part about going forward seemed like a good cue to leave.
“Well, thanks,” he said. “It’s been a real pleasure. Thanks a bunch.”
Oh smiled at him again, and his eyes held understanding.
“You and your shadow are essential to each other,” he said, “though of opposite natures. What you would ask it, it would not know how to answer. And what it might answer, you would not think to ask.”
Two was relieved when the elevator doors slid shut and the floors began to climb.
“Well, old shadow,” he said, checking to make sure his shadow still clung to his feet. It sat in a gray puddle under his shoes. “My my, old shadow, what a conversation I’ve just had. There I went asking about how you experience the world and I came away unsure about my own experience of the world.”
He whistled and allowed himself a chuckle.
“Your experience and my experience. I wonder what your shadowy experience was down there, talking to a man without a shadow. Probably unsettling. Hmm,” he muttered, giving into another whistle. “Unsettling for me, too. I guess in this one thing, our experience was probably pretty much the same.”
He sighed, watching as his shadow’s puddle swelled and retreated with its own sigh. They weren’t so different really. Not where it mattered. He and his shadow waltzed home and hung their coats on the coat hook, looking forward to their dinner dance and the meal beyond.
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Please help support this indie author by telling your friends about this short story blog and buying W. C. McClure’s books http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!