Shadow the Dog

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Alison was lonely. She had no brothers or sisters, and her dog Pete had recently run away. Alison would stand against the wooden fence in her garden and look into the fields beyond, hoping to see Pete come running back. It had been two months since she’d seen him. Finally, she let go of the fence and gave up hope.

It was hardly ever sunny where Alison lived, but on a rare sunny day, she noticed something strange. As she walked along the grass, her shadow didn’t have the shape of her body. It was smaller, and it moved even when Alison didn’t move. It had large ears and four paws, as well as a tail, which wagged as fast as the blades of a helicopter. Alison twisted and turned many times to see if its shape would change, but it always looked like a dog.

“I’m befuddled!” she shouted, using her new favourite word.

She ran around the garden to see if the shadow changed. Nothing was different except for the fact that it moved quicker to keep up with her. Alison bent down to touch it. It didn’t feel like a dog, but it certainly moved like one.

“I’m going to give you a name!” she shouted, as Alison always preferred shouting to speaking quietly. “I’m going to call youuuuu…” Since Alison didn’t have a great imagination, it took her some time to finish the sentence. She settled for the most obvious choice: “Shadow!” she shouted, “I’ll call you Shadow the dog!”

That evening, she played with Shadow until the sun went down. However, with the disappearance of the sun came the disappearance of Shadow. Alison stood in the darkness and rubbed the tear that ran down her cheek. That evening was the most fun she’d had since Pete had run away.

When Alison awoke the next morning, she turned on the light and stood in her bedroom. She didn’t think she would ever see Shadow the dog again, but there he was. He barked and panted, which surprised Alison, as he hadn’t made any noises the day before. She took his barking as a sign that he wanted to go outside.

The only trouble was, it was dark and rainy. When she stood outside and looked behind her, she realised Shadow was gone. Again, she was lonely, so lonely she didn’t even realise she was getting wet in the rain.

When she got inside, she felt a tugging at her clothes.

“Of course!” she shouted and looked behind her. “I turned on the light, so now you’re here, in the kitchen!” She bent down to hug Shadow. Her arms went right through him. “Oh well,” she said, “a shadow dog is better than no dog. But I really wish you were a real dog, so I could hug you and kiss you and feed you and…do whatever things a dog owner should do.”

Shadow tugged harder at her clothes. Alison became frightened, until she realised Shadow was just trying to get her wet clothes off. And that was a good idea. After all, she thought, she could catch a cold. And Alison was already afraid of getting sick, as her mother had been sick for the last few days, and this made her mother very grumpy. In fact, Alison could hear her getting sick in the bathroom right now.

When her mother came into the kitchen, Alison had no clothes on.

“Alison!” her mother shouted, as she also liked shouting. “What happened to all your lovely clothes?”

“Shadow pulled them off me,” said Alison.

“Shadow? Who’s Shadow?”

“My shadow,” said Alison.

“No, I mean who is Shadow?”

“Oh,” said Alison, “I didn’t explain. Shadow’s my new dog!”

“A new dog? And it tore off all your clothes?” said her mother, her face frowning with worry. “I don’t think you should be around such a dangerous dog.”

“No,” said Alison, “you don’t understand. Shadow helped me to take off my clothes because they were wet after I went outside. Look, he’s a nice dog,” she said, pointing to Shadow.

“Hmmm.” Her mother looked closely. “Your own shadow is your dog?”

“Yes!” said Alison.

“It does look like a dog. How strange.” Her mother stood straighter and said in a harsh tone: “Even so, I don’t like the sound of a dog that takes your clothes off, even if it is just a shadow. I forbid you to play with it.”

“You forbid me to play with my own shadow?”

“Now that you say it like that, it does sound ridiculous,” her mother reconsidered. “Nonetheless,” she added, “I’ve already forbidden it, so I can’t unforbid it now. Stay away from your shadow in future, please.”

“How?” asked Alison.

“I don’t know,” her mother replied, picking up her car keys. “Maybe you should just stay in the dark,” she said and left.

Alison fell asleep at the top of the stairs. She knew that the stairs were probably the most dangerous part of a house, but she was so upset at losing Shadow that she’d forgotten this. And now, as she woke, she found herself tumbling. First, her knee hit a step, then her back. Her shoulder hit a lower step, and her head hit another. The worst part would be when she hit the bottom. She tried to put her hands over her head, but she tumbled so fast that she couldn’t. And just as she was about to hit the bottom really hard, she stopped.

She could feel something pulling on her clothes, so she looked behind. There was Shadow, on the second-last step, holding her cardigan with his mouth.

“Oh, Shadow, you saved me! Thank you so much!” she said.

Alison was still at the bottom of the stairs when her mother returned.

“Alison! What are you doing there?” she shouted, then looked at Shadow. “Is that dog responsible for this? Did he push you down the stairs?”

Alison tried to reply, but her mother wouldn’t listen:

“Shoo!” said her mother, kicking Shadow, who fled away. “I told you not to play with that strange dog,” she said to Alison. “If you don’t do as I say, I’ll turn off all the lights in this house and forbid you to go outside. Then, you’ll have no shadow to play with. You understand?”

Alison nodded her head. She was too upset to utter any words. After all, her mother had found her at the bottom of the stairs and didn’t seem too worried whether Alison was okay. She was more interested in giving out and scaring Shadow away. Alison reminded herself that her mother was sick, and that everyone gets grumpy when they’re sick.

Over the next week, Alison tried to avoid Shadow. But making sure you don’t have a shadow is a difficult task! She would be outside on a cloudy day, but then the sun would emerge from behind a cloud, and Shadow would appear. Each time, Alison ran to a darker place. Sometimes, she hid in her closet until she guessed it wasn’t sunny anymore.

Whenever Shadow appeared, Alison could smell him. It was the strong, stale smell that only a dog could have. She also noticed that food was going missing around the house. Her mother had started buying more things when she went shopping, and yet there was less food left. Shadow must have been eating it, thought Alison, and she hoped her mother would never find out.

On one particular day, Shadow appeared behind Alison as she was reading in the garden. She smelled him, then turned around. She forgot to run into the house, because she realised Shadow was different. She looked closer. He seemed more real, less like a shadow. She reached out and felt him. He had hair.

“Wow! You’re even more like a real dog,” said Alison. “I bet my mother will like you better now that she sees you’re not just a shadow.”

Although Shadow seemed more like a real dog, he still had the colour of a shadow. Every part of him was black. He was so hairy that Alison couldn’t see his eyes. She wondered how he was able to see.

Her mother opened the kitchen window and called Alison. She went inside.

“Look, mother, Shadow came back as a real dog – a really real one!”

Her mother turned her head, puzzled. Alison looked behind herself. Shadow was no longer with her.

“I don’t know what you’ve been doing with that dog,” said her mother, “or even whether it’s a real dog at all, but I have to tell you about something that certainly is very real. Or at least it will be soon.”

“Oh?” Alison thought her mother was speaking in a strange way. It wasn’t normal for her to say things that made Alison wonder. Usually, the things her mother said meant that Alison had to do something – or to stop doing something – and quickly.

“Feel my tummy,” said her mother.

Alison felt it. She got a fright, as it seemed as though something moved inside it.

“Don’t be afraid,” said her mother. “What’s inside me is better than any new dog. It’s a baby. And when she’s born, you’ll have a new sister. What do you think of that?”

Alison didn’t know what to think. She never thought about having a sister or a brother.

“Are you sure it isn’t something else?” said Alison.

“Something else?” her mother repeated, smiling. “Like what?”

“Hmmm. Maybe something you ate that came alive in your belly?”

Her mother laughed harder than she had in a long time.

“Oh, Alison, I wish I had half the imagination you have,” she said. “I think you’re going to enjoy spending time with your new sister. And you’ll forget all about your dog friend.”

Alison began to walk away. She was too sad about losing Shadow to be excited about having a sister. Her mother called her back.

“Hey, honey,” she said to Alison, “I’m sorry that I’ve been so grumpy lately. It’s just that when you have a baby inside you, it makes you act a bit funny. And I’ve been so hungry that I’ve eaten practically everything in the house. Being hungry makes everyone a little grumpy, doesn’t it?”

Alison nodded.

“Even you get grumpy when you’re hungry,” said her mother. “But I promise I’ll be nicer from now on, okay?”

Alison looked into her mother’s face.

“Okay,” she said.

“Do you feel better now?” her mother asked.

Alison nodded and went outside. She looked up. A huge cloud was passing slowly across the sky. As the sun came out from behind it, Alison looked at her shadow. It had the shape of a girl. And that was the shape it took every day from then on. It seemed as if Shadow the dog had left her. She was lonely for a while, but she didn’t mind so much once her baby sister was born. And after all, her sister crawled just like a dog! But even when her sister began walking on two legs, Alison didn’t forget about Shadow. In fact, she thought about him every time the sun came out or a light was turned on in a room.

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- Total nr. of readings: 1,672 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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