The Shadow Knows
Timmy is lying on his back on the ground in the grass. Staring up. He doesn’t know. He can’t tell. Sometimes It’s there and sometimes It isn’t. The Thing. The Thing that lives on the ground and is stuck to him sometimes. It starts at his feet. But sometimes It spreads way in front of him. Sometimes way out behind him. And sometimes it’s just a kind of a blot or puddle around his feet. And it can do what he does. However he moves, it does it too. And it looks like him, kinda sorta, in a blobby weird way sometimes, and in a very sharp dark way at others. Mostly its a dark smeary-scary-blotted him, there on the ground. That’s stuck to his feet.
When Timmy first saw It, he tried stepping away. But It came with him. He’d pointed at It, thinking he could yell for mom and show It to her. But the Thing copied him and that had scared him bad. So he’d frozen. Stood there, trying not to look at the Thing. Wondering if he’d always had It. If so, how come he’d never seed it before? And, if he was the only one had It. Or had everybody gots one? After a few frozen minutes he got more tired of trying not to move than he was scared of seeing It. So he’d run away without looking back. Went right up to his room. Where he’d spent the afternoon playing with his bird whistles until his mom told him to “STOP -- THAT -- NOISE!” Then he’d played with his Slinky.
Now he’s asking hisself again if having It stuck to him could maybe be because of what he’s done that’s wrong. Like cutting across Mrs. Walden’s lawn. Or pulling down the cookie jar to sneak an extra hermit. Or taking his brother’s yoyo to see if he could make it go. Which he couldn’t. When the string got all tangled he’d just shoved it way underneath his brother’s bed. His brother wasn’t very good with it either, so he prob’ly doesn’t care that it’s gone. But Timmy knows he wasn’t s’posed to play with it. That was a Big Wrong. But it was way long back about a week ago. If that’s what the Thing is all about, stuff he’s done wrong, doesn’t It never forget? ‘Cuz there are other things wrong he’s done since he was borned. And now he’s got this black Thing stuck to his feet.
It’s never there when he’s in the house. But he can’t just stay inside. He’d hate that. And anyway, his mom is always shooing him outside to play nowadays. “Go out. Go out and play while you can,” she says. And that’s ‘cuz this fall, Timmy starts Kindergarten. Yeah, he thinks, feeling proud. But then he thinks of the Thing and loses all his good feelings about starting school. ‘Cuz he’ll be starting school with the black Thing stuck to his feet. Great!
Timmy gets up and stands, gathering himself. Then he jumps as high as he can, pushing forward so he lands a foot or two from where he’d been. But the Thing is right with him. He can see It on the ground.
He shakes his leg, to see if it’ll fall off. But it just sticks itself to the foot he has kept on the ground and, worse, it does the shaking leg thing itself! There on the ground. Timmy can see it spread there, in it’s blackness, looking like a blobby him.
He tries kicking it off. But It just copies him kicking, and is still stuck to the foot on the ground.
Then he puts his hands down flat on the ground and kinda jumps his feet up, to really kick it off of him. But the dang Thing just sticks Itself to his hands instead of his feet!
No matter whether Timmy’s jumping and wiggling or springing up or doing somersaults or jumping jacks or even push ups. Nothing he can think of works. He can’t unstick It, and It won’t unstick Itself. He doesn’t know what It is or why It’s there, stuck to him. And ‘cuz it might be bad or wrong things he’s done, he can’t ask his mom or dad. And he’d never ask his brother! ‘Cuz he’d just tell Timmy horrible things to tease him.
All in all, he thinks he’d better lie down. Where he doesn’t have to see It. And can think some more. First he checks the windows to see if his mom might be looking. She shouldn’t be. Those are the dining room windows, and she doesn’t never go into the dining room in the mornings. But she doesn’t like Timmy to lie on the ground. She says he can catch a cold that way. Timmy doesn’t understand it, ‘cuz colds are in your nose and your throat and maybe your ears, not on the ground. That’d be too scary. But this is one of those things Timmy is refusing to worry about lately.
Only, she’ll yell if she sees him and he wants to be able to lie down to have another think. Maybe his mom has already seed him, but just hasn’t said anything about it. Maybe it’s looks okay -- what he’s been doing. Like he’s just playing. So if she did see him doing that, she wouldn’t be looking out again to check. He doesn’t think so, but can’t be sure. This is when Timmy wishes he had some of what his mother likes to have. ‘Time For Herself.’ Timmy’d like some Time For Hisself, ‘cuz he could use it right now.
He decides to give up worrying and just lie down. He’s trying to figure out something he doesn’t even know anything about. Something bigger and tougher than words or grownups or what he should or shouldn’t do. He really wants to figure it out. By hisself. So he’s gotta keep thinking. Or well, maybe not, Timmy realizes. Maybe instead he can just keep -- well, playing. Ackshully, it could be a pretty neat way of learning how to figure this out. Just playing. Hmmm. ‘Playing.’ Timmy likes the idea. But he suddenly thinks, no. Not ‘playing.‘ --- ‘Playing around’! That’s what his brother always says. That he’s ‘playing around.’ Like when he scares Timmy so Timmy lets out a yell, his brother will say he’s just ‘playing around.’
Timmy thinks there are way better words for when his brother is doing than that. But what hisself is doing? Right now, in trying to figure out the Thing ? -- Now that’s really ‘playing around.’ Those are the right words, he thinks. ‘Cuz mostly right now he realizes, he really wants to play around. Make the Thing do silly stuff. Kick and wiggle and shake. ‘Cuz he has just did that. And it’s way fun, he thinks. Way fun, to make something DO ‘xactly what you do. Oh, yeah, make it do what you WANT it to do! Playing around and making the Thing do stuff he wants it to do. But there’s still his main puzzlement. Which is why theThing’s even there. And where it is when it’s gone. ‘
Timmy looks up and sees the puffs of white cloud, floating along overhead. He remembers once when he was in the car and the sun’s light had kept going on and off. Timmy’d asked his dad if the sun’s battries had went bad. His dad had said, “What!? What!?” Like he always does when Timmy asks something Big. Then he laughed. But not the way he laughs when Timmy does something his dad calls ‘pee’coo’ler.’ Like he does when he laughs and says, “You’re just a little kid. Don’t worry so much.”
Which is kinda nice, ‘cuz Timmy knows he’s just a little kid, and mostly that’s a swell thing. Outside of adult words and stuff. His brother calls him that, too. Says Timmy’s only a little kid. Then musses up Timmy’s hair. Which is okay too. The little kid part. Not the hair part. The hair part makes Timmy cross. But he doesn’t mind his dad or his brother saying that. That he’s just a little kid and not to worry so much.
But when it got unsunny, the car went darker. That’s what he was asking about. It wasn’t worrying him, he told his dad - he was just curious. So his dad said to look at the clouds. When Timmy was frowning and looking all around, his dad had pointed at the sky and said, “Those puffy white things up there.” He said those are clouds. That sail across the sky. That sometimes they get in front of the sun. And then the sun’s light can’t get out. It’s blocked, his dad said. Like at night when the shades are down to block the light so people outside can’t look in.
Timmy didn’t exactly follow the words, but he remembers he’d been playing outside once when it was getting dark and how it’d been fun to see the living room all lit up, but then his mom pulled the shades and everything had went dark. So Timmy had watched the clouds and he saw how they did that. Got in front of the sun. What doesn’t move. And how when the clouds had sailed past, the sun’s light had come out from being blocked. ‘Blocked.’ Another new thing to Timmy. He hasn’t thought about it since, ‘cuz he did understood his dad. But ‘blocked’ is a pretty cool word. A pretty cool thing, too. Weird, sorta. Humpf. Maybe he’ll think about it tonight.
Right now he’s watching the clouds. They’re like ships, sailing across the sky. It looks like fun up there, sailing. Being able to ‘block’ the sun. Pretty big stuff, being able to shut off the sun’s light. He stares at the sky, watching the clouds sail. He wonders if the sun has anything to do with the Thing. The Thing on the ground. That sticks to Timmy. It’s only there when the sun’s light is on. When it’s way cloudy or rainy or dark, the Thing is never there. At least, he doesn’t think so.
Not thinking isn’t so good. Once, his milk spilled ‘cuz he was kinda rolling his glass around. His grandma got cross and when he started to say that he hadn’t thought, he din’t even get to say ‘it would do that,’ ‘cuz she’d come right at him, saying that no, he most certainly hadn’t thought! That’s why his milk slopped! Thinking. He mostly duz a lot of thinking. Like now. Only he knows what she meant. He hadn’t been thinking then. Just playing around. ‘Playing around’! There it was again. ‘Playing around’ and ‘blocked.’ Wow!
Timmy shakes his head. Since he’s lying flat on his back on the ground, his head only rolls back and forth. He shakes it again. It rolls back and forth again. Which makes him giggle. He rolls his head ‘till he feels dizzy. Which makes him laugh hard because when he gets dizzy from spinning he falls down. But now he can’t fall down ‘cuz he already IS down! He giggles so much he wants his bare feet so his toes can giggle. But he knows if he takes his shoes and socks off his mom is SURE to look out and see him! Then he’s back thinking about the black Thing.
Suddenly he does something strange. He sits up and looks for the Thing. There it is, puddled around him. He moves his arm way out -- it does the same thing -- and slowly brings his hand down -- it moves with him -- to where his hand is touching the Thing-hand. They’re touching each other. And then he pats at It! He can’t believe he’s done that, so he does it again. Nothing awful happens. Timmy feels half like when he finds something crawling on him and half like when something makes him the happiest he can be. The Thing didn’t do anything to him.
Timmy sits and stares at his hand. Sitting right there. Right there on top of the Thing. He strokes It and It strokes back. Or maybe it’s just his hand on the grass, but it’s like they pat each other. It’s like the Thing touches him. Touches back. When they’re both on the ground. But sticks to his hand when he lifts it. He wonders if he’s like a cloud that blocks the sun. If that’s what makes the black puddled Thing on the ground. If Timmy makes it. Because HE’S blocked the sun. Is that it? He’s a cloud-like thing that blocks the sun? Wait - do clouds have those black things? Timmy stares up. There are a fleet of cloud ships in the sky. Timmy watches but he can’t tell.
And then something catches his eye. And when he looks he sees something dark move across his hand. His heart feels like it’s bouncing. But nothing’s there. Only those little birds that fly in a bunch. Like a piece of cloth. All stitched together. They’re swooping over his head. Then they all come down. Like a blanket they land together. Start pecking at the grass and the garden beds. He loves watching them. If you're upstairs you don’t even see them ‘till they suddenly fly off.
Like now. There they go swooping off all together. Moving like they’re one thing. Veering around. Oh, Timmy see now. A big crow is chasing them. And Timmy sees something else. He sees they each have a dark spot moving beneath them, on the ground. And there they go, right over Timmy, a passing darkness over his hand as it sits there, flat on the ground. Timmy is frozen, this time in wonder and fascination with what he’s seeing. Then the large - very large, crow lands on the ground by the bird bath.
Timmy sees it has a black blob-Thing underneath it, that moves that same as the crow when it strut-waddles about, picking in the grass, here and there, always returning to fix a beady eye on Timmy. Who doesn’t move a hair. Then, with a harsh squawking screech, the crow takes off, flying low before rapidly gaining height and speed to land high up on the roof’s edge, watching Timmy. Who gets to his feet, ready to race for the house.
But stops. Why should he run away? He’s just figured the Thing out. And it’s nothing to be afraid of. Everything has a black Thing. He bets if he called his mom out here - and the sun stayed out - she’d have one. So would his dad. And his brother. Everybody. Not just him. Timmy lies back down again, this time to watch the cloud ships go sailing by, wrapped in a cloud of his own - a cloud of contentment. He’s figured it out. Now he can just play. Or lie here. Think about it. Wonder now what the Thing is called. Because if everything and everybody has one, it gots to have a name.
That night, at dinner, he asks, and his mom says it’s called a shadow. ‘Shadow.’ Nice word, Timmy thinks. But just then his brother grabs Timmy by the nose and makes this stoopid hollow laugh and says, “The Shadow Knows.” And his mom tells his brother to stop it, while his dad kinda stifles a laugh, and Timmy wonders now what is THAT all about?