Shadows Where They Died

I can see where people died.

No, no, it’s not what you’d think. No zombies with blood all over them, staring at me, hungry for revenge. I just see shadows, blurry and frozen – on streets, sidewalks, hospital room floors.

And that’s why I was dreading visiting Grandma.

The car pulled out of the driveway. I stared out the window, dread sinking into my heart, as Mom prepped me for the visit. “Grandma’s been taking it well, but still – don’t bring him up until she does, okay?”

I nodded.

A month ago, Grandpa had fallen down the stairs. Within minutes, he passed away. I’d already pictured his shadow a million times: long and dark, sitting at the base of the stairs.

And it would be different this time.

Because I’d be able to fill in the details. Imagine his tall, thin body there on the floor as he gasped for breath. Imagine his brown eyes, wide with terror. His thin, wrinkled lips – that were always smiling – open in a silent scream.

My mom turned on to Euler Street.

You’ll be okay, I thought. Remember the one you saw on Valley Road? It was a little one, near the gutter, blending in perfectly with the dappled shadows from the leaves above. You knew it belonged to Macy. But after a few days, you didn’t think about it anymore. You were okay.

But I didn’t know her as well as I knew Grandpa.

The car pulled into the driveway. We got out and knocked on the door.

Thump. Thump.

Soft rustles came from inside, and soon enough, Grandma was swinging open the door. “Hi, Elena,” she said with a smile, wrapping me in a hug. “I made some cookies, if you want some!”

As we stepped into the foyer, I tried to keep my gaze glued to Grandma’s face.

I tried my best.

But I couldn’t. Before I could stop myself, my eyes darted to the floor.

And that’s when I saw it –

Or, rather, didn’t see it.

The stairs and the entire surrounding area were empty. The floor glistened from rays of sun coming through the windows; the carpeting on the stairs was its bright and cheerful green.

Not a single shadow was out of place.

And so, I had a great time. “Grandma!” I said, through a mouthful of cookie. “We’re doing paintings of fruit in art class, and Mrs. Stein said mine was one of the best…” I bubbled over with excitement. The dread faded away; it was replaced with warm, happy feelings.

That was before I went upstairs.

Grandma was in the downstairs bathroom, when I suddenly needed to go. “Go use the one upstairs,” Mom said. Then she added, laughing: “Just don’t touch the bath bombs next to the tub. You know she guards those things with her life.”

I climbed the stairs, fearlessly; they creaked and groaned in response. I walked over to the master bedroom, and with a confident tug, pulled open the door.

I froze.

There, on the right side of the bed – just a shade darker than the shadows from the fluttering curtains – was a long, thin shadow.

I backed away.

No, no, no…

I immediately pictured Grandpa. Lying there, gasping for breath, dying on the bed. The din of scraping chairs and footsteps wafted up from the kitchen; but it was all silence to me, as I stared at the shadow.

And then a thought entered my head.

If he died in the bed…

He didn’t die falling down the stairs.

With shuddering breaths, I forced myself to step into the room. “Grandpa,” I whispered, the tears rushing through my face, burning my eyes. “Grandpa, what happened to you?”

I don’t know how long I’d been sitting on the bed, with my hand curled around the roundish part of the shadow cast on the pillow, when the door creaked open.

I looked up.

Grandma stared at me. The smile was gone from her face.

“Oh – uh, I was just –” I stuttered.

“You see it too,” she said. Something like panic flashed in her eyes.

“What – you mean, you –”

She shut the door behind her. Click.

Then she sat down on the bed next to me, her face frozen and cold.

“And now you know what I did.”

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