“Leave me alone, ” the old man muttered as he puttered around the small room. He tried to turn his back from the shade that continued to stare at him. He decided to look out the window with the hope that by ignoring it, it would go away.
The outside world was thick with white fog. He couldn’t see anything worth looking at, but he continued to stare into the blankness rather than turn around. He closed his eyes and began to hum an old tune, something from his childhood. His body swayed to the imaginary rhythm.
He stayed lost in the song for a while, always hoping in the back of his mind that the shade would be gone eventually.
The song ended in his head, so he opened his eyes to look out the window. The fog still remained. He shrugged and slowly turned around. The shade was still there, but it had moved. It had settled like a pile of dirty sheets in the corner. It’s sides slowly rose and fell as it breathed. The burning eyes followed his every move.
He walked over to a chair and dusted the seat before sitting down. He refused to make eye contact with the shade. He noticed a wrinkle in his pants and sat for several minutes fingering the fold, trying to restore smoothness to the material.
The old man looked up to see that the shade had resettled in the shape of a person in the chair across the small room. It turned its head slightly and spoke in a deep, gravelly voice.
“Mr. Holt, how are you feeling today?”
Mr. Holt eyed the shade a moment, seeing wisps of smoke break away and go drifting upwards. Maybe if he spoke to it and played along, it would go away.
“I’m fine. A little tired. Didn’t sleep too good last night, but then most people my age don’t sleep too good.” Mr. Holt eyed the shade for a moment to see if it would try to swallow him whole. It remained in the chair. It appeared to be writing something but there was no paper that he could see.
The shade spoke again, “I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Holt. Do you know what day it is?”
Mr. Holt looked suspiciously at the shade, sucking on his gums before answering.
“It’s February 10, 1954. My wife is at the store picking up groceries. Why do you want to know?” The shade looked up, the burning eyes seeming to brighten a moment, then looked down and continued the odd writing movements.
“I see. Well, thank you for your time.” The shade quietly hovered up from the chair and floated across the room to the door. Suddenly, it stopped a moment and turned back. “Do you know where you are or how long you’ve been here?”
Mr. Holt shrugged as if he wasn’t quite sure. There were times this tiny room looked like his living room, sometimes like his bedroom. The window never showed anything but thick fog. The shade nodded once, and left the room through the door. Mr. Holt stared a the spot where it had been for a new more seconds, making sure it wouldn’t reappear to torment him anymore. When it remained gone, he eased his head back and closed his eyes. Soon, he was snoring.
Outside the door, Dr. Shuler peered through a two-way mirror, watching the sad man napping. He shook his head, not sure what else he could do. This man was living the same day 30 years ago, looking out imaginary windows in a padded room on the psych wing of the hospital. When asked to draw a picture of the doctor, Mr. Holt would only use black and red crayons, drawing something akin to a demon. He would move around the tiny room, lay in the floor to sleep. It was as if a part of his memory had been removed. And there was nothing Dr. Shuler could do.