She had no shadow, which was eerie, but not very noticeable and kind of charming, in a Peter Pan sort of way.
That she made no sound when she moved was somewhat more uncanny. Even in heels on tile, her feet just didn't make any noise. She tried to hide it by whistling or singing wherever she went, but she had this talent for picking up odd undertones and everything she sang sounded oddly dirge-like.
This, I suppose, started the rumors among the other children that she was "undead."
Of course, she wasn't. Awful, superstitious children. I think I would've noticed if my daughter were dead! The adults, for the most part, were pretty understanding. Some people are just different, and we can't hold that against them.
I was unavailable the day the ‘incident' supposedly occurred. It was an off day for me, worst I'd had in years, and I spent most of it with my psychotherapist. Unfortunate coincidence, that. Iris did seem to have a knack for getting into trouble when I wasn't there to help her.
So no one was there when she ran to the house crying for help because her little friend Jimmy got hit by a car. My poor baby, having to watch that kind of scene. Her mother died in a car accident, you know.
But it wasn't Iris' fault that Jimmy got hit by the car. They were riding bikes together, and some nut (probably drunk) came flying down the highway. Hit and run. Nobody even saw the car except Jimmy and Iris. A white Impala, Iris said, like mine. We kept our eyes peeled for a while, but it's a pretty common vehicle, and Iris didn't get a look at the driver.
Anyway, Iris had to go to a stranger's house for help, and she's afraid of strangers, and she was very brave, and I'm very proud of her for doing it. And they called the police, and an ambulance, and Jimmy's parents.
And when they all got to the scene, Jimmy remembered being hit by the car, but he was perfectly fine. Except he didn't have a shadow anymore.
Now, I know it's a little odd that he was around Iris when it happened, but Iris' condition isn't contagious. I spend more time with her than anyone, and I still have a shadow. Ridiculous, the whole idea that losing a shadow could be contagious. If you happened to be around a one-legged man when you lost your leg, you wouldn't think you caught your amputation off him.
The best I can figure, when the car hit Jimmy, his shadow absorbed all the force and broke off him, and that's how he was able to walk away unhurt. Newton's laws, you know. Although, I'll admit we aren't a textbook case.
Well, Jimmy's parents were furious and blamed it all on Iris and said all sorts of cruel things about her being a "vampire witch" and a whole lot of other ridiculous nonsense. Tell me, would a "vampire witch" have run for help? Besides, she was only nine at the time. But that's gratitude for you, isn't it?
Jimmy didn't seem to feel that way. Jimmy and Iris became thick as thieves after that.
Now, it's true Iris and Jimmy had some pyromaniac tendencies, but all children do. And despite all those nasty rumors that came up later, I'm absolutely certain they just bought the candles to play with. They'd never even heard of a séance, and I didn't teach Iris to believe in that kind of nonsense.
And when the barn caught fire, Jonny Turner and his gang were smoking on the barn's backside, and I think there's good reason to believe they were the ones who started the fire. All the children blamed it on Iris and Jimmy just because they were different.
Now Jonny Turner and those other boys, they had their backs up against the barn for quite some time before they noticed the fire--they were high, after all, at the time, but they didn't get half the trouble Iris did, even though she was half their age--and I think they got their shadows burned off by the fire.
Truth is, they were much more respectable after that. They got all clean cut and service-oriented. Word is, because they moved so quiet, they were offered all sorts of criminal jobs, but they weren't even interested. They helped old widows move and volunteered at the graveyard and the animal shelter. They helped rebuild the barn. And they were very nice to Jimmy and Iris after that.
For some reason, once word got around about the Turner boy, people became protective of their shadows. As if you can protect your shadow! Uneducated, small-town people. Honestly, I don't understand why it was such a bad thing to be without a shadow, anyway. It's not like it interfered with the quality of life, except they couldn't make shadow puppets. And I've known lots of people who wished they didn't make sound when they moved.
Some people thought they were all ghosts, but that's ridiculous. When people die, they die. Besides, ghosts don't climb trees or dig graves or eat the last slice of my birthday cake without asking.
And ghosts don't get slivers. Iris and Jimmy had me pulling slivers out of them so often, you'd think they'd have little scars all over. But their skin was perfect, flawless, except the scar above Iris' left ear she got when she fell off the porch as a baby, back when her mother was still around.
I think Iris' mother stole her shadow. She ran off in a big hurry after one of our fights one night and I didn't try to stop her, because honestly, I was a little off that night, and I knew she'd come back after a day or two.
Only this time, she didn't come back. A few days later I saw on the news a pedestrian had been hit by a car and the police were having trouble identifying the body. Well, I went and saw with my own eyes, and it was Iris' mother. I had a long debate with this older couple for the body, who said it was their daughter. Well, I think I know my own wife's body, no matter how smashed up the face was! I took her home and we had a quiet funeral, no viewing.
Tell me, if there are ghosts, why couldn't she come back to haunt me?
Anyway, over the next couple years, a few more people lost their shadows, and people started saying we had an epidemic on our hands, and they were pulling their children out of school and moving out of town. I don't know what they were afraid of, I really don't. All the folks with missing shadows were perfectly decent folks, really. And if people were turning into ghosts, how come there were still so many deaths in the city? Why, Turner's gang ended up spending every Saturday one summer up at the graveyard digging plots for all those old widows they'd helped move. Broke their hearts, I think, to do it. Helping someone like that makes you love them.
But I guess some big shot magazine heard about our little "epidemic," because they sent in this reporter--Gabriel Faust, the very same--and Gabriel started taking photographs all over the city, and he interviewed Iris about her life and took a lot of pictures of her and said she was a very beautiful girl. He was a real gentleman, and he gave me a picture of her that I always keep in my wallet.
And he noticed an odd thing that made it impossible for him to publish his story: in photographs, the people did have shadows.
He was still interested in us, though, and he asked for a list of names of all the people who'd lost their shadow living in the city. We spent some time rounding up names before we realized Iris was friends with all the shadowless people--they had their own little club of sorts to escape all the folks in town who discriminated against them--and we got a count of 276 people.
By this time about half of them, including the Turner boy and his friends, had left the city to find their way in the world. And Gabriel wanted to interview every one of them.
Well, he came back kind of puzzled. See, he couldn't find any of them, even though Jonny Turner was writing home to his parents every week and we knew he was in South Belmont working at the post office while he went to school. But when Gabriel went to South Belmont, he couldn't find Jonny. And he couldn't find any evidence that Jonny had ever been there. This gave the Turners a right lot of concern and they wrote to Jonny begging him to come home. We all thought there must be some terrible mischief going on.
But Jonny came right on home and he was perfectly fine, and he had pay stubs proving he'd been working in South Belmont at the post office, and transcripts from the college there.
Well, Gabriel Faust sure must have felt silly, but I guess he still wanted his interview. He invited Jonny and a few other kids to a drive-in out in Springtown and they all rode out in his car together. Well, he crashed right on the border of town. Hit a big tree. Lots of cars hit there, because the road isn't very well banked and it gets slick in the rain, and it was raining that night. Kind of an unexpected storm--Gabriel was the type to check the forecast.
He spent that night in the hospital, and next day, we found out he'd lost his shadow, too, but he was doing just fine otherwise. He was worried about some things, though. Kept talking about multiple dimensions and the Bermuda triangle. Ridiculous; we don't live anywhere near Bermuda.
After that, he left the city to go back to his magazine, but a few months later he came back.
And we were all very confused when he came back, because he had a shadow again.
Nobody else got back their shadow after they lost it. He wouldn't tell us how he got his back. But he wanted to be around Iris constantly after he came back. It frightened me a little. I knew him fairly well, but I started worrying he was some kind of pedophile. Iris had grown up into a very pretty young lady, and since she'd grown up without a mother, she was naive about a lot of things I didn't know how to talk about.
So I talked to Iris about the things she and Gabriel talked about. Turns out, he was making her awfully jealous--taunting her with all the things a person with a shadow can do that a person without a shadow can't do. I can't imagine the list was very long, but something on it--Iris wouldn't be specific--had her in tears. Cruel, cruel man! But she said he told her a way she could get her shadow back, the same way he had done. She wouldn't tell me how; she said it was a big secret. And I was very scared for her and gave her a long lecture about the birds and bees and such, and she scoffed and said it didn't have anything to do with any of that, and I was relieved, but I warned her to be careful around Gabriel.
Anyway, that night I was off again, so off I didn't even have the sense to call my psychotherapist. And the next morning--this morning--when I came to my senses, I realized Iris had never come home.
So I went out looking for her straightaway, of course, asking all around about her, but everyone just looked at me like I was crazy. So I went looking for the other shadowless folks, because they always keep tabs on each other, and I went to the graveyard, because Jimmy's old enough now he likes to dig at the cemetery.
Well, I got up there, and I realized the graveyard was bigger. And I looked at the new graves, the ones that hadn't been there before and there were Jonny Turner's and little Jimmy's and all the other shadowless folks, 275 of them! And they looked old, and worn, and they all had the same scripture on their graves, from Ecclesiastes: "Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive."
But there was no grave for Iris.
And I turned around, and there was Gabriel Faust, looking at me so concerned, like he was worried about me, and I yelled at him and fought him, but I was frenzied and he beat me. And now all the folks here in the town say I'm crazy, say I never had a daughter, but I tell you, it was Gabriel Faust! Gabriel Faust took my daughter! He did something to all those poor shadowless folks, and he took my daughter! And I have proof! The picture! The picture he gave me! The picture here, in my wallet!