Annie and the Shadow

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
During a cross-country roadtrip with her best friend, Annie is forced to confront memories she'd long buried all while dealing with a dark passenger.

Submitted: March 30, 2019

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Submitted: March 30, 2019

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Annie and the Shadow

 

Annie sat slumped in the passenger’s seat.  Her right cheek rested firmly in the palm of her hand adorned with black painted finger nails.  Auburn locks of hair draped over half her face soaking in the summer sunlight; shimmering.  Her face contorted and twitched.  She moaned and squirmed in discomfort deep in a dream.

Tyler looked over at Annie with one hand draped over the steering wheel.  The car hit a bump in the road and Annie’s arm slipped off the arm rest of the door causing her to thump her head against the window.

Annie stiffly came to sitting straight up.

“Ow.”  Annie said in monotone.

The shadow sitting in the back seat stared at Annie in judgement in the side mirror of the car.  It rolled its eyes at her before looking back out the window at the passing furrowed fields.

Annie tore her gaze from the shadow to direct attention at Tyler.

“Ha-ha!  I’m sorry.  I should have dodged that one, but I looked over to see how you were doin’.” Tyler said with an attentive demeanor.

“I’m golden.”  Annie said rubbing her head vigorously with one eye closed.

The shadow looked at Annie again, shook its head belittlingly, chuckled quietly, and gazed back out the window.

Tyler nudged Annie’s shoulder with a clenched fist.  “So, you getting excited?  We haven’t seen Frankie and Jenny in ages!”

“Yeah.  It’ll be a good time.”  Annie said while lost in thought.  She was staring into the side mirror back at the shadow.

“Good?  It’ll be fun!  Frankie is always the life of the party!”  Tyler said with enthusiasm.  Annie looked over at Tyler and saw his pristine smile, crew cut, green eyes, and one lanky arm over the wheel.  In her eyes, Tyler was the life of the party.  He made everyone smile anywhere they went together and never at the expense of anyone else in the room.  He was life that she needed to breath deep into her soul.  Life she saw in no one else--something she’d been gripping onto selfishly but didn’t care.  He was the kind of medicine you couldn’t get a prescription for.  Diazepam had nothing on him.

Annie smiled at Tyler.  She crossed her arms, pulled the hood of her black hoodie over her head and looked back at Tyler under the brim.

“Yeah.  You’re right, Ty.  It’ll be a fun time.”  Annie smirked half way.  Her hazel eyes gleamed from the sunlight.

“That’s more like it.”  Tyler nodded overzealously.  “After all, this was your choice for last stop on the way home.”  Tyler finished with a laugh.

Annie spoke under her breath.  “Don’t remind me.” 

Annie didn’t like social situations, even in small sizes.  Hell, she was surprised that she even mustered the courage within herself to take a cross-country road trip.

“I’ll tell you what.  You and Jenny can drink your fruit water while Frankie and I shoot some pool in the man-cave.”  Tyler said.

“Fruit water?  You mean a bottle of Merlot we got from Napa Valley because you insisted we buy it due to its low tannic and high quality body?”  Annie could barely get the last words from her lips without choking on laughter.

“In all seriousness, can you save some of that for me?”  Tyler said with a pouty lip.

“You got it!”  Annie winked back at Tyler.

The shadow sat quietly listening with acuity to the entire conversation Annie had just had with Tyler.  Annie’s mannerisms, her movements, and the way she looked at Tyler, were all being over-analyzed with the utmost scrutiny from the back seat. 

Annie got lost in her thoughts thinking about the viability of her and Tyler ever being together.  Who was she to think she was someone?  Who was she to think she deserved him in her life?  She just dragged him down.  In reality, she was a simple, anxious, klutz of a girl that was one missed-dose shy of losing it.  Her friends never let her live it down.  Her struggles in social situations were usually a part of a joke that she was the punch line to, often leaving her feeling weathered and unwilling to leave her apartment even for a mere grocery run.  But Tyler, when he looked at her, he just saw Annie; her neuroses had no bearing on how he perceived her as a person.

She stared out the window at the passing wheat fields.  The bland Midwestern countryside lent to her anxiety of travelling.  Her thoughts switched course:  What if she had to pee as soon as they got on the road?  She could never bring herself to ask for an unscheduled restroom break; could she?  What would they do if they broke down?  Where was the nearest gas station?  Do they have enough food?  Blankets?  What about a spare tire?  She felt the sudden urge to ask to pull over so she could look in the trunk.

“Ah!  Here’s our exit!  And, right on schedule.  We need gas.  And munchies!”

Tyler pulled into the nearest gas station.  Annie let air out of her lungs in relief.  A ‘Pff’ came from the back seat as the shadow raised an eyebrow at her.

Tyler got out of the car and began filling the tank.  Annie reached for the door and pulled the handle lazily.  She put one foot adorned with a Chuck Taylor outside the car and slipped on small pebbles.  Her leg slid as far outward as it could go.  The only thing holding her up was her grip on the door.  The shadow in the back seat silently laughed holding its hand over its mouth.  Annie peered back through the side window at the shadow with her legs still spread.  Annie’s cheeks flushed red.  Tyler turned his attention away from the gas pump’s digital readout toward Annie.

“Whoa! You alright?  Ha-ha!  You need a hand?”

“No. Nope.  I’m good.  Just slipped.”  Annie readjusted her stance and sprang out of the car slamming the door.

Annie scuttled into the convenience store rubbing her groin through the pockets of her hoodie.  She grabbed the restroom keys from the clerk and made her way back outside and into the women’s restroom.  She ambled toward the nearest sink.  The flickering fluorescent lights reveal crusted human excrement, food wrappers, and dirty diapers among the lavatory.  She grimaced at the sight.  She stood in front of the mirror staring at her pale face peering from beneath a black hood.  The shadow stood behind her in silence; unmoving.

Annie removed a switch-blade knife from her back pocket.  She withdrew the blade with a button press.  She ran her thin, pale fingers along the blade gently.

“You’re really going to do that now?”  The shadow asked with a deep giggle.  “You really suck at just about everything you do.  Even at this.  You know that, right?”

Annie stared at herself in the mirror holding the knife.  With each flicker of the light, the blade gleamed close to her chest.

“Fuck you.”  Annie said aloud, staring at the shadow in the mirror.

“Everything okay out there?”  A voice echoed from behind one of the stalls.

Annie looked to bottom of the stalls in the mirror to see a pair of feet tapping the soiled floor.

Annie sheathed the knife’s blade and slid it into her back pocket.  She spun quickly toward the exit and shoved open the restroom door.  She hastily made her way back to the car.  Gravel crunched under her shoes violently.  She whipped open the car door, fell into the seat, and slammed the door.

Tyler shot a surprised look at her as he hesitantly and delicately placed a sour cream and onion potato chip on his tongue.  He crunched down slowly without breaking his stare.  Annie was silent.

“You…okay, doll?”  Tyler asked, breaking the silence.

“Yeah, just antsy from the long ride I guess.”

Tyler threw the half-empty chip bag onto the dash. “Alrighty, let’s hit it.”

The shadow stared at Annie in the side mirror from the back seat.  Annie didn’t bother staring back.

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Dust pillowed off the car as it came to halt in the driveway.  Frankie and Jenny were waiting by the front door for Tyler and Annie’s arrival.

“I think you need a car wash, Ty!”  Jenny laughed.

“Yeah, it’s been a long trip!”  Tyler chuckled.

Tyler grabbed a brown paper bag filled with liquor and snacks from the back seat.  The shadow watched his every move, occasionally looking into his eyes inquisitively.

Annie leapt out of the car with a big smile.  She bombarded Jenny with a tight hug.

“Well it’s good to see you, too!”  Jenny laughed and smiled big.

As Annie let go of Jenny she hesitantly turned to Frankie and gave him a greeting with a very brief ass-out hug.  She quickly stepped back toward Tyler.  Her arm bumped the grocery bag in Tyler’s arms causing some items to fall out.  A seltzer bottle began to roll down the driveway.

“Sorry, Ty!”  She scrambled to pick up the items, scurrying and crouching to fetch each one. 

“How you been, Annie?”  Frankie smiled as he watched her playing pick-up.

“Oh, fine.  The usual.  Just enjoying the road-trip.  Needed to get out.”  Annie said with little care in her voice.

“Right on.”  Frankie raised his eyebrows, nodded his head, and darted a half-smile. It was the type of smile that had the capability to surmise that you were nothing more than what was on the surface.

Tyler set the bag of goodies down on the kitchen counter.  Jen began pouring two glasses of wine.  She handed one to Annie and took a sip from the other.  Before Annie took a sip from her long-stemmed glass, she looked at Tyler and smiled overzealously.  She handed him the glass.  She watched him take a couple sips.  He handed it back.  The shadow watched their every exchange.  “Thanks, doll.  Tannins and acidity are on point.  Good body.”  Tyler nodded his head, straight-faced.  Annie giggled.

The shadow stood across the island from Annie stuffed between Jenny and Frankie.  It crossed its arms and rolled it eyes after watching Annie’s obvious affinity for Tyler.

“You drink that chick stuff, Ty?”  Frankie laughed with one eye-brow raised.  “Let me get you a beer, dude.”  He made a move for the garage door.

“I’ll get them for you guys.  Be right back!”  Annie set her glass down and quickly strode to the door leading to the garage.  She stepped outside and closed the door quietly.  As she walked toward the refrigerator she tripped over pairs of boots and shoes nearly falling onto the hood of Frankie’s Camaro.  She righted herself quickly hoping no one would hear the commotion; she stood frozen to listen.  She reached for the refrigerator door handle after a moment and opened it.  Bright light hit her retinas as she grabbed two cold bottles of beer and set them on top of the fridge.  She closed the door.  Her hands began to tremble at the thought of going back inside.  She groped inside her hoodie pocket--a rattling sound came from within.  She pulled out a vial of medication, popped a small white pill into her mouth, opened one of the beers, and swallowed down the jagged pharmaceutical.  The liquor that hit her tongue was soothing.  She stood for a moment with her eyes closed waiting for the drug to begin running through her blood stream.  She grabbed both beers from atop the fridge when Frankie opened the door to the house and stepped through to the garage.

“You’re starting the party without us?”  Frankie looked at the opened beer bottle in Annie’s hand and smiled that smile.

Frankie closed the door slowly behind him.  He made a slow, assertive approach to Annie.  She backed up against the refrigerator.  The cold door added to the chill on her spine.

“What do you need, Frankie?  I could bring it to you guys.”  Annie felt her heartrate increase.

“You know what I want Annie.  I haven’t seen you in a while.  We had fun back then, eh?”  Frankie stood within arms-reach of Annie.  The cold beer bottles burned Annie’s palms.  The formation of tears on her eyelids sparkled from the overhead light.

Frankie lowered his voice.  “It won’t be long until they come looking for us, but we can get in a little fun.”  He began to kiss Annie’s neck lightly leading into a more aggressive demeanor.  He pawed at her chest with his right hand and gripped her arm with his left hand causing the scar trails on her forearm to contort and crinkle.

The shadow stood quietly next to them.  It watched each move of Frankie’s hands intently, crouching down to where he gripped Annie’s forearm, then standing slowly as Frankie brought his grip up to the back of Annie’s head.  Her auburn locks tousled through his fingers.  Annie turned her head slightly to look at the shadow.  It shook its head and giggled at the sight of tears falling from her eyelids; taunting her for her lack of self-worth.

Annie could hear footsteps in the house.  The muffled sound of speech came through the walls.

“Please stop, Frankie.”  Annie whispered with a quavering voice.

The shadow crossed its arms tightly and looked at Annie begrudgingly.  It was taken aback at her boldness to speak out.  But, even though Annie despised Frankie, she didn’t want to risk ruining any friendships by getting caught.  She couldn’t bear the thought of being the cause of ruining a marriage or Tyler losing a friend.

The footsteps grew louder.  Annie pushed her shoulder into Frankie’s chest.

“Frankie, please stop.” 

Her pulse thudded in her extremities.  The shadow, still quiet, brought two dark fingertips to her neck to feel her fear.  It closed it eyes in satisfaction of Annie’s dread.  “You’re pathetic.  I love it.”  The shadow said with a deep, throaty whisper.

As Annie nudged Frankie once more with her shoulder, the door flung open startling them both.  Annie dropped the beer bottles on the floor.  Shattered glass lied in puddles of foam.  Annie ducked under Frankie’s arm after his attention was torn.  She darted inside the house.  Tyler let go of the door knob quickly yielding to Annie’s haste.  He watched her grab her things from the kitchen and run out the front door.

Frankie was still for a moment then turned his head slightly.  His eyes met with Tyler’s glare.

“What’s this, Frankie?”  Tyler asked concernedly, furrowing his eyebrows.

“Looks like spilled beer to me.”  Frankie shot a half-smile at Tyler.

“We gotta go.”  Tyler turned and walked into the kitchen.  He grabbed what he could and stuffed it into the emptied brown grocery bag on the kitchen island.  Jenny came downstairs quickly to address the commotion.

“Hey, where you going?”  Jenny asked in a confused tone. 

“Heading home.” Tyler said without turning his attention to Jenny.

“You just got here.”

“You can direct your concerns to your husband.”  Tyler slipped on his shoes and slammed the front door as he left.

Annie sat in the passenger’s seat of Tyler’s car.  She wore a dead stare with mascara bleeding down her cheeks.  Tyler threw the grocery bag in the back seat and got in the car.  The shadow leaned around passenger’s seat to peer at Annie.  It watched a cloudy tear drop roll to the corner of Annie’s mouth with the utmost engrossment.

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“I think it’s time you gave me some answers, Annie.  You haven’t said a word since we left.”

Annie’s voice cracked as she finally pushed a word out of her throat.

“What?”  She continued to stare out the window without directing her attention to Tyler.  She was hoping the questions would subside and things would go back to normal.

Tyler’s frustration grew.  “What do you mean what?  I asked you what that was all about.  What happened between you and Frankie in the garage?”

Annie spoke quietly.  “Pull over, please.”

“Why?  Are you okay?”  Tyler pushed back Annie’s hair and saw she was pale.

Tyler pulled into a rest stop that overlooked a quarry.  Before he could stop the car Annie opened the door and ran into the restrooms.  Tyler parked the car and sat in silence thinking on the events that transpired over the past hour.  Missed calls and voicemails poured into his and Annie’s cell phones, but he paid no mind.

Annie emerged from the women’s bathroom several minutes later with her arms folded.  Tyler watched her lumbering as the sun made her hair shimmer.  The bright sun light made her squint.  She pulled her hood over her head.  Tyler tried not to smile. 

Annie began walking toward the car, but redirected her walk toward a lookout point next to the building.  Tyler got out of the car and casually jogged toward her.

“Where you going, kiddo?  You don’t look too good.”

Annie put her hands on the railing next to a looking glass.  Tyler slowed his jog as he approached her.

“Will you please talk to me, Annie?  We’ve known each other our whole lives.  You can talk to me about anything.  I really mean it.”

Annie turned to Tyler.  She looked up at him with somber eyes.  Her lips began to quiver.

“Please don’t make me talk about it.”  She barely got the words out.

“Hey, okay.  It’s alright.  Take a breath.”  Tyler held out his arms and Annie fell into them.  She buried her face in his chest and she began to sob.

“We’ll talk about it when you’re ready.”  Tyler rubbed the back of Annie’s head.

The sounds of cars passing on the expressway interrupted the silence around them.

“I’m going to assume this isn’t the first time this has happened.”  Tyler said.

Annie stepped back with her arms crossed.  She turned to view a vista of hawks circling in the sky.  She looked for anything that would cover up the memories spilling into her synapses; memories that reminded her of how much she hated who she was.  How uncomfortable she was in her own skin.  Leading a life she was no longer attached to.

“I know why you wanted to go on this trip.  You wanted to say goodbye to everyone.  It makes sense now.”  Tyler paused briefly.  “I’m just glad I was the final goodbye.”  Sadness crept into Tyler’s chest.  “Give me your hand.”

Annie looked Tyler in the eyes.  She stretched out an open palm.

“The other one.”

Annie shook her head in reluctance and unfurled her other palm.  Tyler slowly slid the sleeve of her sweatshirt upward to reveal the scar trails on her wrist.  He ran his fingertips over the embossed flesh.

“You’re good at hiding these.  I noticed them in the car when you were sleeping.  What’s their stories?”

Annie looked away and spoke. “The lighter one was just curiosity on my part.  A little dance with death.”  She paused briefly. “The second one, well, that one was meant for permanence.  College friend found me in the bath tub.”  Annie paused again and looked away.  “I did my best to keep it from everyone I could.  Especially you.”

Tyler stood in silence, mouth agape.

Annie began to pull her hands away, but Tyler gripped down on them.  He pulled her close, put his hand to her pale face and planted a sensual kiss on her quivering lips.  She leaned into him as tears began streaming from her tightly closed eye lids.

Tyler pulled away and opened his eyes to view Annie grinning through sadness.

“I think that was long overdue.  What do you think?”  Tyler said with a smile.

Annie darted in for another kiss and stepped back quickly.  She beamed at Tyler from under her hood.  She waited for the sadness to sink back in, but nothing came.  The feeling of smallness and irrelevance slowly became fleeting in the back of her mind.

“I have no delusions of being able to fix you.  You can’t be fixed.  But, I can try to be your medicine…if you let me.”  Tyler said as he reached out his hand to wipe tears from Annie’s cheek.  “You may only want me in small doses though.”  They both chuckled.

“Let me see that knife you like carrying around so much.”  Tyler paused.  Annie looked away coyly.  “Yes, I know you have it.  I saw it in the back seat at one point…amongst your issue #31 of Sandman and issue #1 of The Crow.” 

Tyler raised his eyebrows.  Annie rolled her eyes back at him.

Annie grabbed the switch-blade knife from her hoodie pocket and handed it to Tyler.  Her hand shook from the sight of it.

Tyler gripped Annie’s hand.  “You’ve always had me, and you always will.  I’m not going anywhere.  No matter how hard things get, I’ll be here for you.”  Tyler said with sincerity.  His eyes welled at the thought of the pain Annie had been carrying with her.

A smile returned to the downtrodden display that clung to Annie’s face.  She bit her lip in admiration.

Tyler glanced down at the knife in his hand.

“I think it’s time we chucked this thing, huh?”  He waited for a response from Annie.  She nodded her head slowly.

“On the count of three.”  Tyler raised the knife in the air. “One…two…”

Before Tyler finished his countdown, Annie grabbed the knife from Tyler’s grip and hurled it into the quarry below.

Annie stood resolute with her arms stiffly at her sides.  “Damn, that felt good.”

Tyler smiled.  He motioned with his head toward the car.  “Let’s go home.”

A brief moment of silence sat between the two of them.  They walked slowly back toward the car.

“You know…you really should bag and board those comics.”

Annie stopped in her tracks. 

“Really?  That’s what you have to say right now?”  She glared at Tyler playfully.

“Race you to the car!”  Tyler began to sprint.  Annie followed suit.

They both whipped open their doors and flopped into their seats giggling.

“I’d say your hair smells good, but now’s probably not the right time.”  Tyler said laughing.

“Ha-ha!  Thanks.”  Annie pecked Tyler on the cheek.  She could barely break her gaze from him.

Annie closed her door as she continued to relish in conversation with Tyler.  The shadow didn’t enter the back seat, but rather watched from outside the car as they drove away. 

Annie leaned on the center console toward Tyler.  She stared into her side mirror at the shadow standing outside the car.  The shadow gazed back at Annie solemnly until it disappeared into the stark exhaust plume left in the car’s wake of departure.


© Copyright 2019 Ryan K. Mallegni. All rights reserved.

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