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Miranda's Shadow By Kitty Fitzgerald; SATURDAY SHORT STORY.

THERE'S something about shadows. Have you noticed? They have substance but it's different from ours. It comes from another place, some place concurrent but shifty, shifting. I found that out when I was at junior school. There was a girl in my class, an unusual girl, called Miranda. She was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, with her bright burgundy hair and lilac eyes. She had some syndrome or other, can't remember what it was called, but she rarely made eye contact and seldom spoke.

One day, in the playground, a group of us were having a game of chase and I ended up quite close to Miranda, in the corner of the yard where she always retreated from the rest of us. It was a brilliant day, robin's egg sky, not a sliver of a breeze. I don't know why but I looked down at her shadow, facing away from me, just like her. And as I continued to stare, it turned, trembled and started moving away from her body towards mine. I was terrified. Miranda saw my fear, I'm certain of that because she looked at me. For the first time in the eight years she'd been at the school, she actually looked directly at me for more than one second.

That was the starting point for my fascination with shadows. I wanted to know everything about them, like where they came from. I mean, were they there at birth? Mam was pregnant with my sister Charlie at the time and I told her I wanted to be present at the birth. She refused, said I was too young and did a lot of tut-tutting. I couldn't let it go though. I needed to know if a new-born baby had a shadow. So I wore her down by doing loads of internet research and found dozens of reasons why I should be present at the birth.

One, I could help with her breathing exercises; Dad was useless at stuff like that. Two, we were doing a project on childbirth at school (lie). Three, I might not bond with my sister if I wasn't present at the birth... "I said no," Mam cut in. But with a bit of persuasion from Dad - after I promised to wash the car every week for a month - she agreed to let me wait in the corridor and slip inside the delivery room the moment Charlie was in her arms. I have to admit to having second and third thoughts when I heard the mewling and squawking leaking out of the room.

Once I got inside I was ambushed for several minutes by the gurgling, beetroot-faced bundle lying on Mam's chest. Then I checked from every angle in the room, made sure the sun was coming in the window, even put on some lights. Guess what? There wasn't one. No shadow, not even a hint. After that I haunted baby Charlie. First thing in the morning I went on the shadow hunt. After school, every day, I was straight on her case. Mam and Dad just thought I was crazy about my new sister. I could hardly tell them the truth. Want to know what I discovered? Six months old, that's when the shadow truly emerged. It wasn't scientific, obviously; you'd have to set up a huge project and monitor thousands of babies to be able to come to any worthwhile conclusion. However, it confirmed for me what I already suspected: shadows are not integral to the body, they're separate. That's when I began obsessing.

I started with my own shadow. It wasn't impressive; it was too pale, ill-defined and sort of ragged at the edges. Still, it didn't wander or try to run away like others I saw. Later I discovered that often, the shadow a person casts is quite different from the face they put out to the world. They can appear average, conventional, pay-your-billson- time, never-rock-any-boat types, but catch their shadow on a real bright day and it can be jagged, sharp, conflicted. And vice versa, the ones that seem laid back, extrovert and radical, their shadows are sometimes curiously bland. Then there are the shadows which aren't fully connected. If they catch you staring, they often move independently of their bodies. It's awesome. I once saw this guy in Exhibition Park. He had two small kids with him. It was an ultramarine sky and I could clearly see all of their shadows.

At first they seemed fine but when for some reason the guy lost it and started bellowing, the kids' shadows began to shrink and started looking about, as if they wanted to escape. At the same time, the man's began to grow until it was massive and surrounded the children's. I was frightened and at the same time intrigued by what was happening; I couldn't turn away, it was invaluable research. But when the man saw me watching, he shouted: "What're ye looking at?" And his shadow began to leak towards mine, smoothly, like demented lubricant. I ran away, fast. My whole life has been a research project. I'm twenty seven and I run a science-fiction book and film shop in Newcastle called Shadowlands, where I keep a record of all things shady. Hey, remember that fantastic, surprising scene in the film The Third Man? When the light comes on in the window and shows the Harry Lime character hiding in the shadow of a doorway opposite with a cat sitting on his shoes?

That's class. I think Carol Reed knew about shadows. Coppola definitely knows. He showed it in his version of Dracula, the way a shadow can move independently of its owner. If it gave you the shivers watching the film, imagine what it's like to witness it happening in real time. And it's not the sort of thing you can drop into a conversation, is it? Hey, do you know the truth about shadows? That's probably why I'm a loner. I'm not happy about getting close to other people's shadows. You just never know. Anyway, after I saw Coppola's Dracula for the tenth time, I got to thinking about Miranda, about the way her shadow had moved towards me that day in the school playground and started From 37 this whole obsession off. And I knew I had to find her and see her shadow one more time. The internet's a wonderful thing if you know how to use it, and I do. It took me less than half an hour to trace her. When I rang she repeated my name with a question mark: "Callum Delaney?" "I'm sorry, you probably don't remember me... " I began. "Yes, I do," she said. "Callum, the maths genius with the licorice hair. I'm just surprised because I was thinking about you last week, wondering what had happened to you." "Synchronicity," I said. "

Strange," she replied. "Are you still a bit spook y?" "Me? I thought it was you that was weird." "No, I was withdrawn with a touch of Asperger's. You were nutty. The way you could do all that mental arithmetic, didn't you realise it freaked everybody out?" "You hardly ever spoke," I retaliated. "Nobody else could get a word in when you were around." She laughed and I suddenly remembered hearing that sound in class one day when I got ten out of ten, yet again, for the maths test. It was like glass chimes rippling in the wind. "What are you up to, Callum? Still solving complex geometrical problems?" "Running a science-fiction film and bookshop called Shadowlands." "Mmm, that figures." When I suggested meeting up she seemed eager. We agreed to have a coffee the following day. "Promise you won't talk algebra all the time?" she said.

"Promise." I stayed late at work, checking in the new stock. My forthcoming meeting with Miranda lingered in my mind the whole time. The strangest thing about it was how relaxed I felt. With homicidal shadows to worry about I'd tended to steer clear of sudden dates. I got a cab to my flat in Tynemouth and planned, in great detail, exactly what I'd wear the following day. In bed I read an article I'd been saving. It was about a young woman with no history of psychiatric problems who was being checked out for epilepsy. When part of her brain - the left temporoparietal junction - was electrically stimulated, she talked about how she had encounters with a 'shadow person'. I'd heard of shadow people before but I'd convinced myself they were just poorly connected shadows. Perhaps I was wrong. It was a sharp, cloudless day with a high sun. We met at the outdoor caf in front of the Theatre Royal and I couldn't resist glancing at her shadow. It was strong, beautifully formed, no jagged edges and completely stable. She caught me looking and smiled.

"You saw it, that day in the playground, didn't you?" she said as we sat down. I was so startled that she remembered I just gave her one of my puzzled looks. "My shadow," she went on. "You saw the way my shadow moved, the way it wasn't really mine. I know you saw it. I'm so glad you got in touch." I came clean with her then; told her about my obsession, why I'd tracked her down, my research on my baby sister, everything. And she told me what I must have known all along. "Sometimes people get the wrong shadows," she said. "The system fails, there's a glitch and a mismatch occurs. That's what happened to me." "How did you find out?" "Out of the corner of my eye, I kept seeing it move and twitch as if it didn't want to be with me." She paused as the coffee arrived. "Who do you get in touch with about something like that?" I asked. She shook her head slowly, her focus on the past. "

I became that quiet, watchful child that you remember, until, when I was thirteen, my mother got pregnant with my brother. And once when we were picking her up from an appointment at the hospital, I suddenly thought: what if someone born around the same time as me got my shadow by mistake?" "What a brilliant idea; it could explain such a lot of the weird shadow activity I've seen." She touched my hand and smiled. "I went to see my doctor and told him I was doing a special study at school and needed to know how many children were born in the same hospital as me on the same day and what their names were. He was very helpful." She dunked her croissant in her coffee and manoeuvred it into her mouth without dribbling a single drop. I was very impressed. "And?" I said as she finished eating. She grinned, cat that got the cream, before checking her watch. "I have to get back to work, so I'll give you the quick version. My shadow was trying to live on a lad who'd been born in the same hospital as me but the day before

. Unfortunately, the shadow I had didn't belong to the boy and he wouldn't listen when I tried to explain the situation to him. He was too unsettled, too angry. So, I just went very close to him, where my shadow recognised me and left his body. My errant shadow had no choice but to go to the lad because my real shadow dislodged it. I'm afraid I never saw him again and often wondered what happened to him." I asked her to repeat it more slowly and she did. I shook my head. "Difficult to believe, but from what I know I'm sure it's true." As we stood up to leave, she took my hand and turned me so that we were side by side with our backs to the sun. And there on the ground were our shadows, dark as tar: hers, lovely and strong, and mine, as always, fragile and blurred at the extremes. I started to pull away but her shadow turned towards mine and merged with it for just a second. I shivered as Miranda turned and kissed me, filling up my whole body with a sort of joy. "I never forgot you, Callum," she said. "Come to dinner at my place this evening."

I was so overwhelmed I couldn't speak. She wrote down her address. "Seven thirty at mine and bring a bottle." As she walked away I was already planning on taking my DVD of The Third Man with me. When I glanced at my shadow again, it had changed. It was rich, clearly defined, deeply embedded in the earth and in me. Kitty Fitzgerald, who lives in North Tyneside, has written four novels, eight theatre plays, four radio dramas for BBC Radio 4, and is an editor, mentor and writing tutor. Her new collection of short stories will be published in 2013. Miranda's Shadow was commissioned by New Writing North on behalf of North Tyneside Council to celebrate the renovation of Tynemouth station. This story is part of a collection, Platform, which will be available at North Tyneside libraries and council offices, and at the official unveiling of the station on June 4. Authors will read from their work on June 26 at Whitley Bay library. For more information, go to www.newwriting
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Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 19, 2012
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