#094 GENGAR

WILLIAM HOFFACKER

 

“Under a full moon, this Pokémon likes to mimic the shadows of people and laugh at their fright.” – Pokédex

 

  I think my shadow is haunted. The more I look over my shoulder, the louder I hear the laughter of someone who isn’t there. Jagged white smiles hang on the edges of my peripheral vision like the dead cells that float by the surface of my eyeballs, the ones I always see but can never focus on, as they hover like microscopic ghosts. My shadow lingers beside me even when all the lights are out; when I shut my eyelids, I can feel it looming.

 

  I have installed metal bars on my bedroom window. The neighbors must think I need the bars for protection from the outside world, but the danger has already crept inside. I like the bars for the shadows they cast. On long summer afternoons I stand with my back to the window, sunlight crisping my neck and shoulders, and behold my shadow inside a prison. What a clever trap, I think. What a clever man. But a ghost is much more cunning. I have not slept since the clouds appeared and blanketed the sky.

 

  This house, like every house, is haunted by those who died within its walls, or on its land, or near enough. Walls everywhere are heavy with ghosts, held up by mourning. Human ghosts love walls, flock to buildings, need a confined space to go on not-living, or else their ethereal beings would stretch all across the earth, the universe, in this reality and the next. Animal ghosts haunt the woods, blend together, become a collective—all dead wolves, for example, comprising an eternal entity known (to us) as “Wolf.” All nations have ghosts that span the lengths between their borders. These are the easiest of all ghosts to ignore.

 

  My own ghost, my shadow-hitchhiker, my schaden-freuder, hasn’t always been with me, but I cannot remember a time before him. I feel him most in the light of a full moon. I wonder if he is a wolf spirit that has broken off from the pack, or perhaps a hyena. I wonder what I did to attract his malice. I wonder if he is actually a she. I wonder if I invented him, wonder what that means for the difference between imaginary and real, if he simply sprang forth from my head like Athena out of Zeus. I wonder if he will kill me someday, or drive me insane. I wonder if this is what it feels like to have a doppelganger.

 

  Maybe we two form one compound word. Maybe he changes my meaning, and I his. Maybe the queasy feeling when my shadow seems to follow just a little out of step is the feeling that a text might have on being translated into another language, when it is twisted beyond recognition. Maybe the sun will not come out tomorrow. Maybe the nausea will never stop churning. I hear his laughter bounce off the walls of my skull, and it sounds like a tape of my breathing played backwards.

 

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