“Shadow Company” by Mary Alexandra Agner

“Shadow Company” by Mary Alexandra Agner

Relax, she says. As if I couldn’t see myself out of the corner of each of my eyes, drawing out away from my own body, splayed on the ground behind me. She says it’s my shadows, one for each sun in the sky, but I know better.

We have been two days vacationing on Kepler-16b, named for some old dead guy back on Earth, and I cannot stop twitching. The bedroom at night is never dark enough, a multitude of shadows falling from the art, the curtains, the stairs, the corners of the room as they cut through the lightpaths of the windows. I watch them watching me. I wait for them to move.

She says I need more sleep, that it’s just my mind playing games, but the pools of darkness do follow me, their edges sharpening in my direction as I walk around the room. Only at noon, in the resort’s glass-domed restaurant, do I breathe freely. I nap here and she laughs at me, stroking me awake until I startle and, feeling better for the sleep, feel my body tingling in response to hers. She slides her hand from my shoulder to my elbow, thumb reaching out to touch my breast, slyly, even with all the other people in the room.

She wants to pull me into the darkness, away from the eyes, away from the clear outlines, the differentiations. I cannot stop her but it isn’t excitement that speeds my heart. Her growing shadows have left her for a moment, straining towards me while she searches for the nearest exit, smile still on her lips, anticipating.

When she sleeps, exhausted after all her effort, I put on my suit and exit the resort. Down to the plains, to the rock fields with educational signs, art and science, down to the slippery dust in which the shadows spawn.

In the afternoon suns, they surround me. They quiver. I watch them shrug off the stones which cast them and turn towards me. I gulp recycled air. My own muscles tighten but my shadows do not move. I think they, too, are afraid.

I sacrifice them. In the moments when the dark things of this world devour my shadows, I unstrip the suit’s connector, pull it over my head, and inhale.

Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. Her poetry, science nonfiction, and stories have appeared in Interfictions, Sky & Telescope, and Shenandoah, respectively. She can be found online at www.pantoum.org.