J. Allen Wolfrum is a fiction author and former Marine based in San Diego, California.

 

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Replaced by Shadows

Replaced by Shadows

There are no humans in my world, I walk among shadows. The humans faded into shadows five years ago. A meteor didn't collide with the earth, there was no flu pandemic, and artificial intelligence robots did not turn the human race into batteries. If one of those scenarios happened, Bruce Willis, Dustin Hoffman, or Keanu Reeves would be there to save us.

When the first shadows replaced humans I tried to discuss the situation with friends, family, co-workers, and anyone else who would listen. My concerns were dismissed with the shrug of a shoulder, as if they didn’t see the shadows taking over.

In the beginning there was no pattern in the humans that were replaced by shadows. It seemed random, one day it was the man standing in line next to me at the grocery store, then a woman at the coffee shop, and so it went, every day more shadows crept into my life. The shadows are not ghosts, I see them as humans, they act like humans, but I can only see them in a faded black and gray.

The most disturbing characteristic of the shadows is that their faces show no emotion. A face with no emotion seems innocuous on the surface. When you tell a joke or share good news, there is no smile from the shadow. Set aside the other human emotions, just imagine a world with no smiles, it quickly becomes a very lonely place.

On several occasions I tried confronting the shadows. I asked questions such as, I know this sounds strange but I see you in black and white, do you see me in black and white? I don’t see any emotion on your face, can you smile? Or frown? Do you see me in black and white? I’m smiling right now, do you see it?

I quickly realized that the shadows believe they are human beings. I also learned that if you press the issue too far, the police are likely to become involved. I found it quite awkward to explain to a police officer why I was asking someone if they saw me in black and white. I feared that I might be taken to a mental institution for evaluation so I stopped asking questions and accepted the existence of shadows.

 

Yesterday was the first time in several years that a feeling of hope entered my life. A hope that the shadows will disappear and humans will return. The day started with breakfast at Lestat’s Coffee House, just like every other morning. Despite the name, Lestat’s is a delightful, bright, and happy place to start the day.

I walked up to the counter, “good morning, Claire. I’ll have the usual.”

“Avocado toast with a fried egg on top and a large dark roast drip?” Claire asked with no emotion.

I smiled and nodded. “You got it. Thanks Claire”

“You’re welcome, Mr. James. Coffee will be just a minute.”

Claire hustled behind the counter to get the drip coffee started before taking the next customer’s order. Make no mistake, Claire is a shadow, her face shows no emotion and she appears in black and white.

I waited patiently at the end of the counter for my coffee. I read the chalkboard of daily specials to pass the time. Each evening near closing time, one of the baristas would erase the chalkboard and replace it with the specials for the next day. Some baristas would add their own artistic touch to the chalkboard by drawing flowers, trees, or some other light hearted landscape on the edge of the chalkboard. I admired the artwork from last night’s barista, a desert landscape of bright green cactus, red rocks, and roadrunners.

“Mr. James, you’re drip coffee is ready,” Claire said.

I grabbed my coffee off the counter. Claire was on to her next task before I could thank her. I turned and scanned the room of black and white shadows for an empty seat.

On second glance, I spotted a woman with an odd looking machine on her table. I walked in her direction and stopped at the empty chair across the table from her, “excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?”

She nodded. “If you don’t mind the noise, you’re welcome to join me.” The woman slapped the metal arm to the left and the machine responded with a loud ding.

I pulled out the chair and sat down. Not wanting to point out the obvious, I stayed silent and did not comment on her use of a typewriter. I had grown used to the strangeness of dealing with the shadows, but the sight of a woman using a typewriter in public was completely foreign to me. I looked around at the other shadows in the coffee shop, their eyes were buried in screens, there was no conversation, each was in their own world.

The click-clack of the keys on the typewriter stopped for a moment and I mustered the courage to ask a question. “Why do you use a typewriter instead of a computer? Isn’t it easier to make corrections on a computer?”

The woman raised her eyes above the paper and looked at me. “I don’t believe we’ve met. My name is Sarah.” She extended her hand across the table.

I reached over the table and shook hands with her. I felt my cheeks flush. Since the shadows took over, I had made a habit of keeping to myself and my conversational skills declined. “I’m so sorry. How rude of me. I’m Ryan James.”

“Nice to meet you Ryan. You’re right, fixing mistakes is much easier on a modern computer. I use a typewriter because I want to feel the words as I type them.”

My embarrassment turned to curiosity. “What do you mean by feeling the words as you type them?”

“Ryan, have you ever used a typewriter?”

“No. We always had a computer in the house. I’ve only seen them in antique shops and old movies.”

Sarah nodded. “Hmm. The connection between myself, the muse, and the story gets lost when I use a computer. It’s more about the distractions that come along with the computer, not the keyboard itself.”

I took a moment to reply. “I believe that I experienced a similar phenomena when I used to read the print newspaper. After they quit distributing them about five years ago, I stopped keeping up with the news, seems too impersonal. I wish they would start printing the papers again.”

“Yeah, I think you’ve got the idea. I feel the same about paperback books, fortunately those are still around.”

I didn’t believe my eyes. I closed them, counted to five, and opened them again. I saw the same thing, Sarah now wore a yellow shirt; the rest was back and gray but the shirt was in vivid yellow. I stopped breathing and frantically looked around the room. All shadows, no people, only Sarah’s shirt appeared in color.

I swallowed and struggled to regain a normal breathing pattern. My past encounters with shadows and the police stopped me from asking Sarah about the color of her shirt. My brain scrambled frantically for a method to find out whether Sarah was human.

I finally stopped on a question about her writing. “What are you writing about?”

Sarah paused and looked down at her typewriter for a moment. “I don’t think I should talk about it.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to cause any problems.”

“It’s okay. Stories are all about made up things anyway.”

“I’m writing a story about shadows.”

I smiled.

Sarah smiled back.

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