“I’m sorry, I’ve not seen him”
That was the fifth person in a row that had no idea where he had gone, where he was, or where he might be going. I’d been searching for him for so long I almost forget what he looks like. If it wasn’t for the photograph I’d have no idea. Everyone so far knew Jake, but they hadn’t seen him in almost as long as I had. They were worried, but my concern was something else. Mine went beyond worry and into fear. I remember when we were kids, me and Jake would spend those long summer days- summer days were always long as a kid, and every day the sun shined- going to the park. Humberlain Park, named for some Lord or something. We’d play on the large spider frame, climb to the top, then go down to the brook to catch sticklebacks. This was always followed by a journey into the woods- well, the nature reserve.
I remember one day, we were out minding our own business when we met one of Jake’s bullies skulking around with his ragtag bunch of thugs. You know the type, the ones that provided the evolutionary missing link between apes and man. If Creationists saw them, they’d be an instant science convert. I heard and felt the punch myself as Jake recoiled. No explanation, no reason. He was just there. His jaw still clicks to this day. We spent the rest of the day in Jake’s room playing video games, avoiding any chance of bumping into his tormentors.
The last time I actually saw Jake was several years ago. He was always out, meeting people, doing things. He ran lecture groups, put on shows, took tour groups around the city. Always out, always talking, doing something. But over time he became invisible, a ghost. He drifted away and I stopped hearing from him. He was gone. I don’t know what took him, he used to talk about this creature hiding behind every corner. A darkness, like a spectre of death. The reaper himself followed.
He once told me a story, how he was lying in bed one night and this shadow grew from beneath. Eventually engulfing the entire room in darkness, a beast with fangs dripping with slime and saliva. Something conjured from anyones darkest nightmare but this was solid. It pounced, snarling and fangs flashing and pinned Jake to the bed. He couldn’t even struggle. Couldn’t let out even a whimper. And it held him there for days, letting him out only to piss and shit. I asked him if it scared him- but it didn’t. It sapped him of every ounce of strength. When it eventually faded away Jake said he was always certain that it would come for him again, as if it’s true purpose wasn’t revealed then.
Now many people don’t believe in ghosts, Jake was one of them, but experiencing something like that can change your perspective. It was like he was haunted by it. It was some time ago that Jake went missing. I knew it was the spectre that took him, but it left no clues as to where he’d gone. Well I say no clue, but there was a glimmer. Something otherworldly had taken him. From time to time I’d look in the mirror and catch a glimpse of him, only fleetingly, as if something was holding him in there. Trapping him in the glass. Behind him, as he smiled at me, was the spectre and before I had a chance to call his name the beast snatched him away again. Dragging him back to whatever hell he was keeping Jake in. It was at that moment I knew I had to find him. Find wherever the monster had taken him to.
I packed a bag, some pop, some sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and a potion that gave strength and confidence in your quest, and went on my way. At first the quest seemed to be leading me somewhere, the first person I spoke to recalled seeing him not long ago, but had no idea where he’d gone to now. Some people said they saw him with the shadow, others didn’t believe in the shadow, others just didn’t see it at all. It was stealthy like that.
I looked everywhere that Jake used to visit, spoke to the people he loved, and spent years seeking him out. The longer the journey, the further he seemed to disappear. I quickly ran out of the pop – cherry flavoured Pepsi if you must know- and started on the only other liquid I had. The potion. I’m not sure how it happened, but with every sip it seemed Jake was taking another step further and further away. I looked up from my perch and saw him in the distance. Just over the hill where I sat. Springing to my feet I launched into a sprint, running made me thirsty, the potion made me thirsty, but potion was all I had. And with every step I took, every swig, Jake moved yet another two steps away. He was always just within reach, but also so far away. In the end, after years of running, years of hydrating with the wrong hydration I had to rest.
I slept for God knows how long. A deep and dreamless sleep. When I eventually woke I found myself in a place I’d never ventured. Jake’s world. The potion had done its duty.
The world that I found myself in was one of violent fire and quakes. Jake had been here, how had he survived it? I was burning up, but Jake, who also now seemed to be in the distance, looked so calm, always so cool and protected from the elements. I soon realised it was the shadow. The shadow that snatched him was protecting him. The danger and damage of this savage netherworld I found myself in had been kept at bay because of the shadow that haunted him. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the dangerous beast he’d thought, but a protective barrier. But even a safe prison is still a prison. I staggered to my feet, dizzy and numbed after years of using the potion that brought me here, and took up the sprint. I ran faster, I had to catch him, had to save him from whatever that shadow beast was. Twenty feet away, fifteen, ten, five… I ran. I hit a barrier. Some sort of forced field- I was so close, I could touch him.
I raised my right hand, he his left and we pressed our palms against each others. The shadow wasn’t just a shadow any more, it spread all the way back, enveloping the world around Jake. I tried to scream his name but nothing came out. He screamed back, I heard the same nothing. I looked behind me and saw… nothing. The shadow had passed through the barrier and was now covering the land around me. I stared at Jake and he stared back, neither of us knew what to make of the other. I’d spent so long searching for him I didn’t know what to do now I’d found him. Had I found him? The barrier between us kept us both apart. The shadow began to rumble, almost as if screaming in anger. This was my only chance, I lifted the potion bottle and brought it crashing down on the barrier, reality around me began to quake as the invisible barrier shattered into a million pieces, crashing down around us and the darkness on both sides merged together trapping us in this space. The shattered barrier lay at our feet as we stared at a broken image of one another.
There was a shout from behind me, somewhere in the distance. Someone was calling out, they were calling for Jake. There was a crack and suddenly light engulfed us both, a bright shining flash and I could see again.
“What the hell was that?”
I turned around and found my housemate standing at the bathroom door, looking from me to the shattered mirror on the floor. The empty bottle of wine on the tiles.
“For fucks sake Jake, this has to stop”.
She slammed the door, going back to her room. All I could do is turn back to what remained of the mirror, caught a glimpse of Jake, the one I remembered looking back at me. The shadow hanging behind him still.