Patty was on a paleo diet. She scooped a gluten-free pancake mix onto the griddle, a combination of eggs, peanut butter, and baking soda. The reviews said it was good, but with the internet, who could tell if the reviews were real. Jamie Kenesen, who gave it five stars, was from Denver, Colorado. It was probably a made up name. Kenesen, not Jamie, so she searched the internet for this random reviewer and planned to search countless other reviewers. 150 reviews. She entered Jamie’s name and right away an obituary from last week popped up. Patty read it and then called the funeral home.
“Is it true that Jamie Kenesen passed away?”
The man on the other side of the phone confirmed it and sent his condolences. Patty didn’t bother to tell him that she was fact checking. Her therapist said she was paranoid, but she wasn’t. She knew she wasn’t, even if she had to confirm the truth all the time. That was called not believing what you read, being educated and informed, not paranoid.
Of course she was afraid of her next door neighbor, but for good reason. She called her neighbor the “Whosie-Whatsit” because it was just a shadow. It was always just a shadow in a window. She had never seen its face.
“Why don’t you go over and introduce yourself,” said the therapist.
She shivered in response before she could hold back her reaction.
“This is why you are here, Patty. You think you see things that aren’t actually there. You think your neighbor is out to get you. Rid yourself of this fear. Just knock on the door.”
Patty stared down at the pancakes. They sizzled against the heat of the range. She wore protective glasses on her eyes so that she wouldn’t accidentally go blind. She imagined oil just popping up and hitting her square in the cornea. Life was full of random accidents.
She glanced out the window at her neighbor’s house. The shadow had risen in its bedroom,, the morning sun now half way up into the sky. The shadow was a weird shape. It was not human. That much she knew.
She looked down at the pancakes again and thought, What if this recipe is poison? Too much baking soda. Can one overdose on baking soda? She picked up the skillet and threw it in the sink. She couldn’t risk it. She poured water on the food, jumping back for fear the oil would set her hair on fire.
Then she shut off the range and looked back at the house next door. The shadow was in the kitchen now.
Ten minutes later, she was pacing around the house, muttering to herself. She tripped over the cat, hit her head on the banister, and burst into hysterical laughter. It was then that everything became clear.
She decided she would try the pancakes first. That would be the first risk. She took the soggy pancakes out of the sink and plopped them on a plate. Then she poured some chocolate syrup on them and ate the bloated non-bread substance in small bites. It was surprisingly delicious.
Then she threw off her eye-wear and charged to the front door. She opened it, her whole body convulsing, and marched over to the other house.
She rang the bell and saw a shadow appear. And that was all she saw. A shadow with a yellow glow. It smiled and she smiled back crookedly.
The shadow opened the door and she entered, now dizzy and sweating. Something told her to run, but she continued inward until the shadow encompassed her and discard her soul against the wall. She was now a shadow. She was yellow, while shadow of next door became part of her body and sighed. It seemed to sigh.
It waved goodbye. She waved back at her body as it left, the front door slamming shut.
Then she shifted over to the kitchen window and stared out. The little boy at the house on the other side of the neighbor shivered from his bedroom window and closed the curtain. Scaredy cat, she thought, feeling as if she had finally overcome her fears.
She closed the curtain to the kitchen as well. She had no need to be seen. She had become the Whosie-Whatsit that wasn’t and that was just fine by her.
But what she didn’t know was that by succumbing to her paranoia, she was about to discover terror far greater than anything she could imagine – the inability to leave, the definition of being stuck. There’s nothing as terrifying than being locked up with your own fears. That’s why all Whosie-Whatsits find their way back from the shadows.
She would eventually open up that curtain and look through the window. She would become the shadow next door.
And she would seek out the boy across the way, knowing how he shivered when he saw her, how he shivered still in his bed, and how he was unable to sleep, to find peace in the thought of night and its endless, lonely stars.
Kristina England resides in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her fiction and poetry are published or forthcoming in Gargoyle, Linguistic Erosion, Parody, The Story Shack, Undertow Tanka, and other journals. Her first flash fiction chapbook, Stanley Stanley’s Investigative Services and Other Mysteries, was published by Poet’s Haven Press in September 2014.
Image by Emily Elisabeth Photography