The Shadow
by maritza montañez

I visited my dad and was so angry with his delirium. When we started talking, he told me he was being followed, that the devil had slammed into his car, and that he couldn’t shake him. He said that he drove off the road, left his car, and knew that whatever had gotten him was just evil. I asked how he knew it was evil, and what he’d seen, but he couldn’t tell me anything. When I left, I decided that was it. We could be done now, and no one even needed to know about that particular meeting on that particular day.

I drove to my mom’s home carefully, reminding myself that cop cars hide along the highway—at the edges of orchards and alongside quiet dairies— just waiting for opportunities to swoop in, out of the fog. Walnut Road was so quiet and long, and I just wanted to get into the next town with proper lights and gas stations as fast as I could, without drawing attention to myself. I turned the radio up, and then the shadow hit me.

I hit the brakes and immediately felt that someone was outside. And then inside. And then on my skin.

Not a body, but an inky darkness. Whatever slammed into my car and slid up my window. My shoulders and back went cold.

Someone was here.

I scratched at my skin and wiped at my face, as if trying to get rid of sweat but nothing helped. I searched for that darkness, for a physical trace of it, but couldn’t find it.

I drove the rest of the route slowly, still shaking.

When I got home, my mom saidI looked sick. I tried to tell her something happened, but got nauseous. I got sick. I vomited again and again, every time I tried to speak. My mom decided it was empacho, which just meant something was stuck in my stomach, like a more determined version of food poisoning. The fastest solution was to go to a healer I hadn’t seen since I was six, though I didn’t want to see her now. But my mom insisted. It was Christmas, and I couldn’t even think of a way to fight.

I changed into old sweats in my room, in the tiny doorway, hiding myself from the creepy crucifix on my bedroom wall, and then my mom drove me back through the fog toward Modesto.

Pascuala’s niece let us in and gave me a spoonful of olive oil. I drank it and watched the glow of red Christmas lights blink across the home’s nativity scene. My mom spoke with the niece, admired Pascuala’s birds, and laughed. My energy kept fading and I wanted to tell everyone something was wrong.

After half an hour, Pascuala came out of the bedroom and called me in.

“You were tiny when I last saw you,” she said. My mom laughed with her.

I wanted to say it had been years, that I was tiny because I was young and dying, that I didn’t want to be tiny now, but I worried I’d vomit and--more and more--I felt wholly exhausted.

Pascuala waved me into her room and onto the towel on the floor. She pulled my shirt up away from my belly and kneaded my belly like it was dough. I saw that she was speaking but couldn’t hear her and couldn’t read her lips. I wanted to swat her arms away but my own seemed to have melted into the floor. I was so tired. Pascuala pressed my forehead down, grinding the back of my head into the towel and the carpet beneath it. My breath slowed.

I woke up on the same floor, surrounded by blinking red Christmas lights. I still feel exhausted. I still feel cold. And I see two red eyes, constant even while the Christmas lights continue. Two red eyes, gleaming, not bloodshot but truly red in the iris. Two red and knowing eyes. As my own eyes adjust to the darkness, I see the face form around them and slowly realize it’s this room’s crucifix, staring down at me. I want to go home. I try to sit up, to roll over, to press my fingers into the floor, and I can’t do any of it. I taste bile when I try to call for help, and just picture my dad, wiping at his skin, telling me about the devil, certain he was right.

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