No Feeling is Final
By Isabelle Bernard
Elaine pulls at a loose string on her sweater as she stares at the ceiling. Her backpack sits at the door, and her shoes rest beside her bed. Her room is silent as if it were holding its breath, waiting for her to make the first move. She glances to the far corner, and her eyes find the trifold waiting for her, a familiar shadow beside it.
Unlike the average shadows Elaine sees, this particular one doesn’t have any object near to cause it. It just appeared one day.
Feeling a small wave of dizziness, Elaine silently wishes she could vanish into thin air. That does not happen, and she begins to hear the distant rattling of keys down the hall, a sign that her sister, Laura, is becoming impatient.
Only eight hours until spring break, she reminds herself. If she can survive the presentation, she can come home and spend the next day alone. Her family will be out of the house on a Zipline Adventure, something on her sister’s Before College bucket list.
Determined, she springs out of bed and strides to the corner. As she gets closer, Elaine begins to feel her heart race. Grasping the trifold, she feels a lump rise in her throat as her hand comes within inches of the shadow beside it. Fear, hurt, and embarrassment radiate off this darkness, and Elaine tightens her grip on the trifold to stop her hands from shaking.
There’s a reason she avoids these.
Shaking her head, she backs away from the shadow and leaves her room. The shadow silently trails her, or rather the trifold, all the way to her sister’s car.
“So what’s the project about?” Laura asks.
“I don’t know.” Elaine can’t focus while the shadow is behind her.
Laura glances at her from the driver’s seat. “You don’t know?”
“I don’t remember,” Elaine says.
“It’s in your lap.”
“It’s not important.”
“Okay then.” Laura parks the car outside of the school. “Good luck.”
Taking a deep breath, Elaine crosses the parking lot and enters her school, which seems particularly unsettling today.
Elaine bounces her leg and stares at the familiar shadow, completely ignoring the classmate sharing their project. With the lights dimmed, the shadow is barely noticeable, but Elaine still diligently stares. She almost doesn’t hear the teacher call on her. It’s her turn.
She stands and walks to the front of the classroom, trifold in hand. Yet again, with each step, the shadow’s impact on her worsens. She feels her heart beating fast. Carefully, she places the trifold on a stand and prepares herself for the presentation.
Her gaze meets expecting eyes and bored faces. She clears her throat, trying to ignore the shadow’s increasing presence, only to end up feeling more claustrophobic. Her classmates are still waiting for her to speak. She wonders if they can also see the figure looming behind her.
Elaine looks back to the index cards in her hand. Quietly, she begins to read them out loud. Elaine doesn’t even want to attempt to get through this while keeping eye contact with her audience. Knowing, however, that it is a part of her grade, she looks back up.
Unprepared, she starts stumbling through her sentences and feels her face begin to warm. She returns to her index cards, a long pause stretching out as she tries to find her place again. It’s hard for her to concentrate with this shadow so close. It would be breathing down her neck if it could.
It seems to thrive on her amounting embarrassment, now encircling her almost fully, save for an open spot to let her classmates stare through.
Elaine searches through her index cards, desperately looking for where she left off, completely lost. The dark figure causes her heart to race and hands to shake, and she fumbles with the cards until they all fall to the floor.
Like a dam breaking, she feels the shadow figure flooding her, triggered by her mistakes. The symptoms of fear and embarrassment she felt from it earlier are nothing compared to its effect now. A wave of nausea overcomes her, and suddenly the lights are too bright. She tries to hold back tears.
Elaine feels a lump rising in her throat and attempts to conjure up a spontaneous ending to her presentation, which has barely begun in the first place. Her face gets increasingly warm, and she lets her teacher know she’s leaving to put the trifold in her locker. Leaving no time for a response, she pushes open the wooden classroom door and rushes into the hall.
The bathroom, a suddenly warm and welcome place, is empty when Elaine shoves open the door. She turns into the second stall and locks it. Letting her trifold fall to the floor, she places both hands on the grimy stall wall. Elaine then places the entirety of her forearms on the wall and closes her eyes. A silent tear breaks through her hold.
Opening her eyes again, she looks to the trifold disregarded on the floor. Its shadow no longer accompanies it, and yet Elaine feels so much worse.
It’s inside of me, Elaine thinks to herself. I’m stuck with it forever.
She has avoided these shadows for so long that negative feelings this harsh are foreign to her. Feeling like a failure, Elaine drops her head again and begins to cry.
When the bell finally rings, Elaine grabs her belongings and briskly walks to the door. Since she was in the bathroom, she has a faster escape route than the rest of the students, and the hallway is empty when she arrives.
She eyes the glass doors leading to the outside, the light at the end of her tunnel.
She rams through the doors and into the fresh air. A breeze brushes against her, and it seems to take some of Elaine’s troubles away. She pauses for a moment and feels the cool air drying her tears and easing the knot in her stomach. Relaxed and relieved, she accidentally lets go of her trifold and turns to pick it up.
When she stands up, she finds herself facing the doors. Greeting her gaze is the shadow, once again, standing at the threshold of the school. Elaine stumbles backward and goes into a panic, not wanting to relive the past hour. She feels the need to run and get as far away as possible. However, to her surprise, the shadow dissolves into the air around her and gets gently carried away by the breeze.
Mouth agape, Elaine stares at the empty spot where the shadow once hovered. She sees no sign of any darkness. It’s only a doorway. As if the shadow was never there.
Its disappearance, however, now cleared Elaine’s line of sight, and she could see classmates beginning to come down the hall. Confused but oddly relieved, Elaine gathers herself and goes to find her sister's car.
“How’d it go?” Laura asks, moving to put the trifold on the backseats.
Elaine sighs, “Not great.”
The two girls are silent for a moment.
“Hey,” Laura says, beginning to maneuver the car out of the parking lot. “So, you remember how we’re going to that zip line park tomorrow?”
“I think you should come.”
Elaine shakes her head. “No thanks.”
“It’ll be fun!”
Laura frowns. “Well, you’re coming anyway. Mom told me to tell you.”
Elaine’s eyes widen. She doesn’t need to see the new shadow to know that it’s there. This one reeks of fear and a faint throbbing pain. Elaine tries not to imagine what that would mean for her at a zipline park. She’s not ready to deal with another one of these.
However, she remembers watching the old one disappear a few minutes ago. Although unsure what that means, it does grant her hope. But not much. She still doesn’t understand the rules these figures follow. “Elaine?”
She snaps back to reality. “Huh?”
“I guess.” She shrugs.
“Good. Pack sunscreen.”
Elaine did end up packing sunscreen, and she eyes the brightly colored bottle, music blasting in her ears. She makes no effort to join the conversation her family is having around her and turns to look out the window. She feels uneasy, leaving her back turned to the new shadow, but tries to focus on her music instead.
The new shadowy figure had been waiting in the car since Elaine’s conversation with her sister, and its quiet inevitability has plagued her thoughts since. Even with the old shadow gone, she still could not sleep well knowing the new one was outside. Luckily, there was a decent amount of distance between Elaine and the shadow when she was home, and she had thought of all the ways she could beg to be left there so she wouldn’t have to get any closer. That, of course, didn’t work, so she tries her best to ignore the claustrophobia she feels when sitting so close to it now. She wills the car to go faster so she can get the day done.
Elaine gulps, eyeing the ground far beneath her. She shifts her weight from foot to foot as she watches her mother and sister get ready to go down the zipline. They’re both smiling and cracking jokes with the employee.
Elaine turns to the shadow a few feet from her, standing like a guard in front of the ziplines. She then glances at the area around her, seemingly decorated with similar dark figures. The soft light peeking through the trees does nothing to combat the shadows.
She hears a cheer and watches as her sister and mother go down the zipline and the worker signals for her to step up. Both her and her father get in position and wait for their turn. Elaine is standing directly next to the shadow and begins to panic. Her father turns to her, and she attempts to fake a smile.
Eventually, it is her turn, and she waits for her father to finish getting strapped in. She closes her eyes and tries to swallow the lump in her throat. Without warning, the ground disappears beneath her feet. She opens her eyes to find herself sailing through the air, level with the treetops. The wind caresses her face, and she breathes in deeply. All the trees are a beautiful green, their heights rising and falling with the uneven landscape. Spots of wildflowers blur together in colorful groups of whites, purples, and yellows. Clouds lazily sail through the sky.
She takes in the stunning view and feels a smile stretch across her face.
She eventually comes to a stop, allowing an employee to remove her from the harness. Out of breath, she shakes her legs and smiles at her father. As he moves to get off the platform, Elaine remembers her shadowy follower. Turning, she looks up to the beginning of the zipline. A barely noticeable, dark spot seems to fizzle out.
Elaine looks down at her hands and does a mental check. She feels fine.
Elaine gazes at the shadows ahead of her, dotting her path throughout the park. Perhaps the fears that came with these shadows were just a suggestion, after all. Maybe the threat of something wrong happening isn’t a promise. Something good can happen instead. Elaine considers this, thinking of the past years she has spent holed up at home. No extreme bad days, but no fantastic ones either. Still remembering the zipline, she longs for that feeling again. However, that feeling never appeared when she was at home, and she doesn’t like the thought of continuously leaving her comfort zone. She’d have to take the bad days with the good. After experiencing the non-permanence of a bad day, she finds that it might be worth it. However, she’s not used to taking risks. She questions whether she can handle this. She questions if she wants to.
The answer comes easy to her. Breaking out into a wide grin once again, Elaine decidedly joins her family along the path to the rest of the park. With her head held high, she takes confident strides past a new shadow waiting to greet her and already feels their power over her slipping away.