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Shadows

The old fashioned bell on the shop door announced another customer and the florist raised her eyes briefly to smile. She was intent on wrapping the bunch of flowers on the counter and she bent straight back to the task. She barely registered the man who had entered.

A snikt sound made her pause suddenly. She had enjoyed enough action movies to recognise the sound of a slide being pulled backwards, then released, to cock a semi-automatic handgun. She slowly straightened up.

The customer standing at the counter, waiting for his flowers to be wrapped, didn’t turn around. He had a resigned expression on his face. “So you finally caught up with me?” he said.

“Yes,” replied the gunman. He raised the gun and fired three times into the man’s back. The man slumped forward onto the counter and slid slowly onto the floor.

The florist didn’t move. She stood, eyes wide, waiting.

The gunman stepped forward and put the gun on the counter. “Miss,” he said, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

She didn’t move.

“Miss,” he said, louder this time, “MISS.”

Her eyes refocused on him and tears began to well up. She was terrified. “Yes.”

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he repeated. He pointed at the gun and stepped back from the counter. “See. I’ve put the gun down.”

“You’re not going to hurt me?”

“That’s right,” he said gently, “but I want you to do something for me. I want you to call the police.”

Detective Brown lifted the evidence bag containing the hand gun and dropped it back onto the table. “Glock 17. Nice kit.” He flicked the file sitting next to the gun open and shut; it was surprisingly thin for a murder investigation. “What have we got?”

Detective Walker shrugged. “Not much. Victim’s name is Mark Peterson, 46 years old. We only know that from a notebook we found in his pocket. He didn’t have any ID. If he is Peterson he seems to have dropped off the grid as a teenager: no criminal record, no tax records, nothing. The last thing we can find is from the local university which has Mark Peterson as a Physics major in the mid-80’s. It would put him in the right age bracket.”

“Any family?”

“Well, that Peterson’s mother is called Susan. She lives nearby. Father’s name was Frank. He had terminal lung cancer six years ago.”

“What about our shooter?”

Walker smiled ruefully. “We know even less about him. No ID either and he’s not talking, except to say he freely admits killing Peterson. Called him by name too. Oh, and he says his name is Frank.”

“Same as the father?”

“Yes. Except this Frank is about twenty-five,” said Walker. “He clearly knows more than he’s telling though. He’s probably taunting us by using the father’s name.”

“Anything else?”

“Depends on how weird you want things.” He picked the file from the table and flicked it open. “The hospital report says that Peterson was resuscitated a number of times before he died. This despite bullets through his heart, spine and a lung.”

“How many times?” asked Brown.

“The report says ‘numerous’. He was shot around 2 pm; time of death is recorded as 3 am the next morning.”

Brown shook his head. “Why can’t we have a straightforward murder for a change?”

“No such thing,” replied Walker. “What do you want to do?”

Brown stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I think we’ll let Frank stew for awhile. As much as I’d like to avoid it, the first thing we have to do is tell Mrs Peterson that somebody has killed her boy.”

Mrs Peterson insisted on making a pot of tea before getting down to business. She set cups in front of the detectives and poured the drinks before sitting down herself. “I expect you’ve brought bad news,” she said. “Is it about Mark?”

Brown nodded. “I’m sorry to have to tell you that your son has been killed.”

“It’s for the best really,” she said, but there were tears in her eyes. “He was always troubled by the shadows. He wasn’t a happy soul.”

“Did he have hallucinations?”

“Heaven’s, no. What a strange question to ask.”

Brown put his cup and saucer on the table. “I just thought when you said he was troubled by shadows …”

“The shadows were from other dimensions,” she explained, “people, objects, places.”

Walker raised his eyebrows and coughed. “Other dimensions?”

Mrs Peterson smiled. “You may scoff; everybody does initially. Mark started to see the shadows as a child, but he didn’t realise their significance until much later. There are many dimensions, many other realities. Mark realised they aren’t parallel to our universe; they all overlap.”

“Mrs Peterson, I …,” began Detective Brown, but she banged her cup down with a clatter on the saucer to quieten him.

“I know what you’re about to say. Please don’t patronize me.” She went to a keepsake box on the mantelpiece and lifted out a lighter. “Mark used to hate that his father smoked, but his first shadow exchange brought this back.” She handed it to Brown. “Looks like a normal lighter, doesn’t it?”

Brown felt its surface then passed the lighter to Walker. “It is a normal lighter, Mrs Peterson.”

“Try it,” she suggested.

Walker flicked it open and worked the wheel with his thumb. A perfect sphere of orange flame rose from the housing on a thin column of blue gas. “Wow.”

“Have you ever seen a flame like that?” she asked, then shook her head. “Of course not. Mark took his father’s lighter and exchanged it for its twin in an overlapping dimension. Physically, it looks the same as Frank’s lighter, but it isn’t from this universe.”

“What do you mean by exchanging it?”

Mrs Peterson sat back in her armchair and reached for her cup of tea. “There has to be a balance of energy, detective. Didn’t they teach you that in school? Mark brought this lighter from another dimension and exchanged Frank’s lighter to maintain that balance.”

Walker closed the lighter and placed in on the table in front of him. “So what did Mark do with this … gift of his?”

“He tried to avoid using it because of the consequences. He thought of it as a curse more than a gift. Do you remember that young boy who was hit by a truck a decade ago? Where a passerby touched him and brought him back to life?”

Brown nodded. “I remember. It was in all the newspapers and national TV. A genuine miracle, everybody said.”

“But do you remember the interviews with his mother? She thought the passerby must have been an angel to bring her son back to life, even if he did turn left-handed.”

Walker clicked his fingers. “That’s right. His mother said it was a small price to pay for having her son returned to her. I remember seeing a broadcast from the hospital and the doctors thought his left-handedness was due to the trauma of the accident.”

“But it was really because it was the child’s twin from another universe,” she said.

“And the boy who was actually in the accident?”

“Is in the other universe,” said Brown, “presumably still dead.”

“Very good, detective,” said Mrs Peterson. “That was the first time Mark realised he could exchange people as well as objects. It scared him so he left home shortly afterwards and travelled around the world. He never did escape the shadows though.”

“And when was the last time you saw him?”

“He used to come visit every few years,” she explained, “but he never stayed long. He was too scared of Frank.”

“Your husband?”

“No. Shadow Frank.”

“Excuse me, who?”

“Was it not Frank who killed him?” she asked.

Brown straightened up in his chair. “We have a man in custody who says his name is Frank, but this man is in his early 20’s. He isn’t your husband.”

“I know that,” she said, “my poor Frank is no doubt dead by now. And I never got to say goodbye properly.” Her eyes began to well with tears again. “It was terrible to watch him get sicker and sicker with cancer. He was in hospital, almost at the end, when Mark came back home to visit. Mark loved his father dearly and couldn’t stand the thought of losing him so decided to exchange him with a healthy shadow. He wasn’t thinking clearly. Bringing a child through is one thing; he was young enough to adapt to this universe and probably didn’t even realise anything had changed. But bringing through a man is different. A man has his own life, with memories and experiences that are subtly different from his shadow twin. To make things worse, shadow Frank was fifty years younger than my Frank. Maybe that was because all of the close matches in other dimensions were also dying from cancer. In any case, we could never have a life together and shadow Frank had lost the life he had in his own universe.” Mrs Peterson wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. “Mark ran away after that and shadow Frank went after him. I stayed here alone having lost everything.” She sobbed.

Walker leaned against the car and shook his head. “How are we going to write this one up? he asked.

Brown shrugged. “Simple. We say we have no clear motive, but we have the killer and he has confessed. Shadow Frank is going to jail for a very long time. Open and shut case.”

Walker hooked a thumb back towards the house. “Do you think she will be alright?”

“Probably not in this universe, but hopefully somewhere there is a happy shadow of Mrs Peterson living a life of family bliss.”

“Amen to that.”

Fiction


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