Universal Constance

The Haunted Shadow

[Grant thou that my soul may come to me from any place wherein it may be. Even if it would tarry, let my soul be brought unto me from any place wherein it may be …

… Let me have possession of my Ba-soul and of my Spirit-soul, and let my word be truth with it, in every place wherein it may be.]

- Egyptian Book of the Dead.


Chapter 1

~

Eon:

Between treetops and the clear blue sky, Constance always imagined fiery energy. It was a beautiful sight and one that could only be fully appreciated while walking.

Today, there was a thin line of static radiating from the blanket of green. It contained small inconsistent dots, reminding her to 'watch the woods.' Unlike the shimmer of a fire, the slow moving dots that buzz around her, had never fully been explained.

About five years ago she asked the family doctor about them. He told her she was very observant and it was 'slight impurities on the inside of her eyeball.' For a moment she reflected on that. It wasn't the best explanation you could give a young teen. Even if it was true. Not that she'd dwell on the doctor's assessment.

It didn't matter if she had back to back classes or a full day's work, Constance loved walking. In her opinion it was the best possible way to unwind after a long stress-filled day.

Classes would always finish at 3:30 in the afternoon. If she hurried from the room and made her way off campus before the crowd, she could map out tomorrow's itinerary. The long quiet walk home would then provide her ample time to drift between school topics and important social issues.

On her back was a large black-leather bag. Long ago she'd worn it in. Now, instinctively balanced, it acted as a second skin. Lining her back in perfect detail. She'd used that same bag for almost a year now. It was the first and best purchase Constance ever made.

The bag contained a daily survival pack she'd meticulously laid out, as always, the night before.

On the bottom, a laptop computer. Small and low quality, it was capable of basic Internet features. All her university assignments' were submitted via e-mail, which freed up time for last minute revision.

A variety of well-known encyclopedic websites were permanently bookmarked and while it wasn't capable of supporting much in the way of software, a handy publishing package came fee with the system.

Sandwiched between the laptop and a change of clothes, was a strong reusable container. On weekdays it shipped a light meal to school and she'd sit quietly on her own while eating.

Constance had very few actual friends; several acquaintances but none she'd socialized with outside of class. Most people she got along with were either several years younger or decades older.

During the weekends the bag transported food in the other direction. Her casual work, at a café on campus, had no problem loading the bag with fast-food to share with her father.

If they had no leftovers, they would load her up with frozen food. Why the manager had taken such a shine to her was a mystery but not one she was willing to investigate in any detail.

In class, she was free to wear whatever clothes were handy. No one took the orientation's recommended uniform too seriously. In fact, at the start of the year when a young man conducted campus tours, he spent more time trying to seduce girls than cover protocol. Most kids thought the system was a joke.

The change of clothes was for work: a black apron, black silk towel, black skin tight leggings and a black long sleeve top.

The owner had chosen a sleeve length suitable for working around ovens in a fast-paced environment. He then slapped a large, fluorescent green logo across the chest. It almost guaranteed older men would never focus on her face.

In large letters the shirt stated “I PUT OUT!” Then under the shop's name, in very fine print, it concluded “your order.” How the slogan remained unchallenged, at a university full of law students and potential activists, was unclear.

Wearing it actually made the job more tolerable. Like a secret agent or a spy she was totally removed from the work.

Step one, taking down her hair, allowed the long crinkly waves to curl around her face. Then the professional stance of 'chest out shoulders back' collapsed forward. No one on the street would remember her as the café girl. Seeing recognition in people's faces wasn't something Constance looked forward to.

Awkwardly stuffed into the bag's top was a pair of shoes, so far they had outlasted the bag. She was quite proud of her effort. By walking barefoot, to university and home, she saved quite a bit of wear-n-tear.

If anyone asked a small speech was prepared, “I'm doing my bit for the environment...” she'd say it in a matter of fact kind of way. That was the plan.

Without shoes, most people struggled to step out onto the grass. Its mix of native prickles stung deep into soft flesh. With feet hardened through a lifetime of neglect, Constance would enjoy the various textures from grass to road.

Along the highway, her mind would drift into autopilot; even before she'd left the campus' grounds. Each step of the walk had been long since memorized. Her feet knew the streets better than any Internet map.

Day one, thanks to free Internet, she'd searched the distance from home to work. It was about five miles. A reasonable walk that would help keep the weight off. It also guaranteed that, before starting domestic duties, she'd spent ample time dwelling on every aspect of work and school.

Often, back when the walk was new, people would slow down and offer her a lift. The offer was both tempting and annoying. Daily news acted as a constant reminder that kids would go permanently missing.

Soon enough she'd worked out how to hold herself, to avoid the unwanted attention. Also, by taking a few off-road shortcuts, she'd eliminated a good portion of the traffic.

Then, as a solid pace settled in, her thoughts began to drift. Internally a whole world would open up.

“Beeep!” The horn of a car shot her back to the real world. Losing those strange thoughts of alternate realities. It was probably the most frustrating part of her day and could take minutes to get back to the original line of thinking.

There was a definite rhythm to the walk. She called it 'the dance of the traffic lights.' A few quick stops, a long straight and back to a few quick stops. At the start there were two sets of lights.

One with a walkway she could trust:

It always went her way.

The other set took time:

Look at the lights, step back a little, walk up to it again, avoid eye contact with drivers, until eventually... Lights forced traffic to grind to a full stop. At that moment she'd have to race across the road, as quickly as possible.

It was the only part of her journey that could ruin everything. If a small piece of fresh accident-glass found its way into the cracks of her toes? The remaining trip would be constant stinging.

With that portion of the trip survived, a short walk to the highway's corner was just long enough for internal decision making. 'What will I think about today?' The question quickly scrolled through dozens of interesting topics.

Towards the weekend she'd dwell on the day's events, each one mentally winding her up until she could focus on nothing outside of the living moment.

'Why didn't I get a good tip from that old lady?'

'I've seen that math's equation three times now and I still gave the wrong answer. I'll go over it.'

'How many steps are there between those two trees? More or less than the last two?'

Monday and Tuesday consisted of more philosophical questions, as was her major.

Having no real idea what she wanted to do with her life, an art's degree seemed to be the ideal choice. It allowed her ample opportunity to build an impressive résumé. One which could be applied to several professions, when she'd worked out what she really wanted.

For the last few months Constance had been studying 'free will vs determinism.' It was a struggle to break away from a seemingly instinctive prejudice towards free will. Her father offered little to no support. Raising school topics at home had historically caused nothing but heated debate.

Today was not a typical Tuesday. She'd woken with a mild case of paralysis, caused by lying on both hands. The pins and needles seemed to take all morning to clear up and her day's outlook was completely tainted.

Rather than follow the musings of her dream to a self-gratifying end, she'd been forced to focus on more physical matters. The whole experience had given her a mild headache. Not even popping three pills could help shake off her temples' dull throb.

Throughout the day it grew progressively worse, eventually blocking out the lecture's core topics and leaving her no wiser after a very long sleepy group lesson.

Good solid sleep was something she valued above almost anything. Even today's fresh burn from the ovens, over the lunch shift, could be blamed on the distraction. Originally she wasn't employed to work the short shifts but recently they just seemed to constantly need her, even for one hour lunches.

Now, while rubbing the small burn, she stood at the lights and waited. Like old friends, two voices resounded from the back of her mind. While she knew they represented her own internal doubts, they would debate almost any topic for the full length of her journey.

Long ago Constance determined they represented her own positive and negative opinions. She labeled the slightly deeper voice as an evil influence and the more feminine one as good. It wasn't a hard and fast rule. On occasions they would appear to switch roles as her mind sank deeper into random mysteries.

Recently a man had endeared himself as a regular to the café. Today they would debate the 'mystery man.'

'He's obviously been a regular there for some time.' It was the deeper voice that began their conversation.

'I think he's your perfect match. His eyes and the corners of his lips seem to match perfectly with what you're thinking.' Now, that thought made Constance tingle slightly. The feeling was mainly in her arms as she listened to the high pitched thought. 'He gets you.'

“Yeah.” She breathed out with the whisper. How embarrassing it would be for someone to see her lips move while she talked to herself.

The deeper voice tried to dominate the debate using practical reasoning. It would often win this way. 'He's older than you and always makes sure you're the one who serves him. It's called Stalker!' Today she thought him the grounding voice of realism.

'Don't listen to him! The way you dress he probably thinks you're his age. Oh, and he's timing the service because he wants to talk with you.' When it came to romance she always argued well. 'How else is he going to build up the courage to ask you out? Men are shy.'

“I should have...” Constance corrected herself before she revealed openly her inner wants.

It was the deeper voice that supported her decision to stop talking. 'No! You couldn't. It wasn't good timing and when he said 'no' you would have looked a fool.'

Earlier in the day the stranger had suggested she could charge him for two coffees. “One for now and one for her when she went on break.”

At the time she'd brushed it off quickly and closed the sale. Now, looking back, she wanted nothing more than to accept the extra tip. Tell him when break time was and hope he hung around.

'Tomorrow act casual. Tell him you've been flat out and you're glad a break is in fifteen min. That's his in. If he misses that he's crazy!' The inner voice was sounding more motherly by the second.

The deeper voice seemed to echo outward from her bones, washing depression over her in its wake. 'It'll cost you your job and for what? It'll be just like Tim, the loser.' Memories of that magical month gave her mixed emotions.

It had been the greatest of feelings. He was fabulous and her heart still burnt for him. Until one day when he stood with his friends and laughed at her, making those stupid sounds and actions. “Didn't even do any...” Sometimes it was just so hard not to speak out loud.

A mixture of memories and debate had heated her ears and for several minutes she just wanted to think of nothing. The muscles in her arms tightened, squeezing her knuckles white. There had to be a stick around that she could swing at things.

Still walking along the highway, on a heavily cracked footpath, her eyes began scanning the area. Moments later they locked on the perfect stick. Smooth as a walking stick, with a natural hook at one end and a jagged point at the other. Perfect for poking holes in the dirt and flicking stones out of the hard ground.

'That's it, you don't need to listen to us voices, just flick pebbles. Tomorrow you'll be fine and he'll be there again. You'll see.' For the remainder of her walk that one thought would drift in and out of her conscious mind. Constance was only half convinced the thoughts were her own.

Imagined energy from the stick soaked into her hand. It became an extension of her body, a living entity with its own desires. Constance instinctively knew where the stick had originated, deep in the woods.

There was a moment, not every day, when she would look into the deep trees along her path's edge. In that one area the bush was thick. She couldn't see anything in there but more trees.

A smile pulled down on the corners of her lips. It really was an impressive stick she'd found. If someone else had found it, could they have resisted its pull? Her mind wandered back to the woods and she was drawn to look in. Sometimes, when she stared long enough, her eyes would lose focus and something instinctive pulled at her stomach.

Today was one of those days. 'I bet something extraordinary is in there. I bet you could be lost in that forest forever.' There was no way to determine if the voice was deep or feminine.

Should she be listening to the voice that told her to go in or struggle against the feeling of belonging? Without shoes on, the decision was already made.

Every day so much depended on her constant efforts. What would her father do? Without the added income and supplemented meals, how would he get by? Sure, it would be fine, and when she came out of the woods years from now, people would be amazed at how she'd changed. Changed how?

'It's your,' “imagination.” Once again, the decision to not lose herself in the deep woods was made. In reality she knew the area was only a few hundred feet wide but the pull was so strong, she became convinced that somehow it was far deeper.

It was the depth. What if she was able to look back, into the ancient past of those woods? What secrets, mind-boggling events, beautiful creatures, what would she see? To remain facing the thicket her body turned, until finally she was walking backward.

An ancient past formed in her mind. Hundreds of years ago, that may have been a sacred place for the locals. A hundred thousand years ago, what walked in that area? What walked in the same place she was in, a million years ago? Giant lizards? What kind of life did they have; what did they think about?

Back then this area would have stretched out in every direction, some of those trees may have belonged to that vast expanse. If only she could see a doorway, a thin line in space allowing her to slip into that ancient past.

The distance between her and the woods slowly grew, the feeling in her chest began to subside. With a shrug, the event was pushed into her personal past. “I watch way too much television. There is nothing special in there, there is nothing special in me.”

With a quick two-step she was facing forward again, snapped from the pleasant distraction and focused once more on home. 'Time flies when you're on autopilot.' The positive feminine thought pointed out how close to home she had come.

Now, just across the road and about five houses on the left, she would be home. A shower, a drink, a book. The sun was still out and perhaps she could finish that long boring 'Theistic philosophy' chapter. How many times had it put her to sleep already?

The most hypnotic words ever written echoed in her mind, “Theism, from the Greek theos: God. The word itself was first used by Ralph blah blah blah...” Why they dedicated a full term to this topic was beyond her.

'Again those two men.' Constance struggled to avoid eye contact with either one. Just across the road was an alley running between two houses. It was narrow and very poorly lit at night.

Standing on one side was a young man watering flowers in his garden, those roses were spectacular. Once and only once, she'd fallen into a conversation with him. He fixated on small bugs that didn't know whose garden they were messing with. It was a mistake she wouldn't make again.

On the other side of the alleyway, not two meters away, sat an old man. He was dirty in both mind and body, clearly homeless and always nursing a black-leather bag. If she didn't hurry, he'd make lewd remarks and perhaps start to stand. 'Then what?'

'They don't even see each other!' The motherly thought popped in for a quick visit.

The deep reply disliked both men and could completely understand them not liking each other. 'They don't want to see each other. They probably hate each other.'

Fast steps carried her past the potential hazard and within moments she found herself standing at the front door. On most days it was worth turning the door handle before inserting her key. Today her father had locked it before going out, she knew that and sighed heavily while fumbling about in her pocket.

Home. An awesome place full of comforts and safe from critical onlookers. Here she could drink non-decaf and have donuts without people asking if she was 'worried about getting fat as she got older?' At this moment, however, there was a memory peg waiting for her at the door.

Constance liked to program herself with small memory pegs. She would focus on an item, one that was visible when entering a room, then tell it everything that needed to be remembered. Without fail, she'd recall the important details. It was a fantastic skill, especially considering exams had always been in the same room as her study.

Right now the most important thing in the room was the time. A pattern seemed to be emerging which she feared wasn't part of her active imagination. It was 3:25 in the afternoon. She double checked it against the fake, gold, and diamond wrist-watch, her father had picked up as a birthday present.

Over the past few months, this had happened on more than one occasion. Somehow, she'd managed to get home from school a whole five minutes before leaving.

The first time it was assumed she was mistaken. Most likely she'd left school half an hour early. At school the next day no one seemed to care and the lecturer didn't comment, not that he'd notice; too in love with his own voice.

A few days later she'd arrived at school a full hour early. Again it was probably her mistake, in all likelihood, a clock being set wrong or something. It didn't really matter, she liked the time it gave her for thinking without distraction.

This was about the tenth time, it certainly hadn't been a full dozen but was well over six or seven and now, looking at the clock, she wished she'd kept closer count. There was no doubt in her mind that today, when she left that class room, it was 3:30 PM.

Very slowly the second hand ticked over, each jump of the needle appeared to be on time. “Again?” 'I've got a problem if I believe this is real.' Even in the sanctuary of home she dare not think out loud. The thought of what was going on forced her head to shake back and forth.

“So I'm trying to tell myself, am I still at school? Wish I owned a mobile then I could txt myself.” The simple joke helped push her, from the doorway and into the kitchen. “Coffee won't make itself.”

With the kettle on, Constance had the chance to pace. Slowly her excessive clothes changed into a sloppy house ensemble. “People can't do this, who would believe me?” Her pace quickened as the kettle rumbled louder.

“How can I prove it? I don't even know a pattern, I just leave and get here.” She looked again at the watch on her wrist. Was it possible she'd been reading the hour or minute hands wrong?

'3:30 looks a lot like...' Memories of what she'd been doing, at that time, flooded back to her.

On the wall, in the class room, was a large clock. Watching it tick over had been an intentional action. 'Everyone in the class stood and walked out.'

“Was it a group thing I've missed?” Again she shook a silent no.

'This has happened too many times for it to be a mistake. No one in class ever says anything about you leaving early.' The deep voice made sense as it echoed from the back of her mind.

'Tea and a nice lay down out back, would be better than coffee' in the for front was a softer spoken suggestion. For once the two didn't seem to be arguing, just focused on different issues.

She poured some tea. “Why can't you both just get along?” With Mr. Dowr 'Dad' at work she could talk openly to the voices. Ever since he drove her mother away, he'd earned the title 'Mr.' If she was really upset she'd call him Harry.

'It's probably something to do with the gravity in the local area.' Reasonably, the male voice tried to justify their observations.

'No, a secret government experiment is happening, we're the focus of it.' This was a stretch, even for the more imaginative feminine thought.

“That's just crazy. So I'm supposed to believe, everything is some sort of secret experiment and I'm in the middle of it?” Constance considered the idea more seriously than it deserved.

'Hmm, it does make a little sense, they could be messing with our watch. Magnets!' Again the male voice strove for a simple explanation.

'Go get one from the fridge and we'll check.' Constance obeyed the voice and sat at the table with a small, silver magnet, stuck on the watch's frame.

'Nothing's happening and that makes sense. If the government was going to perform secret tests, would it be for magnets? No, they have a time machine.' The voices in her mind battled over conflicting solutions to the problem.

Until a solution is reached she'd leave the magnet attached. Perhaps if she monitored it over the next few hours, there would be a variance.

“Maybe? Is it that section of trees?” A connection between the daydreams of an ancient forest and her slip through time was beginning to form. Constance walked to the window and looked out, back towards her journey home.

Mentally she traced over the events. “A doorway.”

'You're right, if it's not a door it could be an area of effect. The closer you get the more you step backward through time.' Feelings from that living moment crept back into her stomach, both voices seemed to speak as one. She needed to go back there tomorrow, walk through the woods.

As she stood by the window, dust danced in a sunbeam. Light glowed in the air and sunk deep into her shoulder. “Enough, where's that book?” A desire to be lazing outside and soaking in the afternoon rays overpowered her crazy thoughts of time travel.

“Theistic evolution...” She spoke aloud while thumbing through the book. “Right next to the invisible chapter on pink unicorns.” Her tone sounded out just how frustrating the subject was.

While the topic's content didn't seem overly complicated the chapter itself was painfully long and repetitive.

“Several of the larger religious...”

Regaining her place on the page was exhausting enough. By the time she was outside, laying in the sun, her eyelids were already heavy.

'How do you suppose it's done?' The question popped into her mind from nowhere.

“Maybe it's a rip, or a fold or something.” She shrugged an answer to the thought. Talking to herself was something most people would frown on but who was there to question her sanity?

'A ripple? What if you find it? What if you find the spot that opens up to other times?' The voice in her mind continued feeding her ideas.

“Hmm” a smile formed and the book was cast aside. “What would I do if I could travel through time?” Her eyes scrolled backward and gently closed, just enough for the insides of her lids to glow red. The sun was just so refreshing.

'Imagine what you would do.' Now the voice in her mind was clearly that of the man, he helped her explore ideas.

“Perhaps I would travel to the past. See all the amazing things in ancient times. Bring ancient artifacts back here and sell them.” The plan seemed fool proof.

Then the soft spoken thought ruined her ideas, 'the past is dangerous, full of wars and suffering. You could catch a disease or get stabbed.' The risk drew her back to reality.

'I could visit the future. Find out all the science breakthroughs, learn what business' will be worth a fortune. Bring that information back here and use it.' She nodded and smiled to herself at the idea.

It solved all her problems in one simple step. “I would be rich and famous, I'd have everything I wanted.”

'What would be the point?' It was a good question for the earthy male voice to echo into her day dream.

“True.” She reached for a sip of tea and considered how dull life would become. Shame, that feminine thought had such good ideas.

'If I had everything and always knew the future,' “how could I really say I'd accomplished anything?” The idea of extreme time travel was losing its luster.

'Maybe a few short trips?' The deep thought, suggested one final application to their new found wonder.

It was a question both voices in Constance's mind wanted an answer for. 'Yes, how could you use it for short trips? What could you gain?' The opposing thoughts agreed so rarely that it made her think slowly and carefully.

“I'd definitely go back to this morning. When that man offered me coffee. Tell myself to say yes.” She grinned from ear to ear at the idea of having a coffee with him.

'Take your time, you'd end up hurrying things. You want it to be right with him don't you?' She breathed deeply and thought about a romantic relationship, growing between the two of them.

“Maybe I could just step through till tomorrow afternoon and ask myself if there was anything I'd change. You know, small things.” Now, for wanting more than the average person was allowed, guilt began consuming her.

Mr. Dower's car pulled into the driveway, for now the daydreams would come to a subtle end. It would be as though she'd never spoken with herself. Slowly her eyes opened.

For a few moments, sparks of light raced past her eyes and with deep breaths she could feel energy flooding her arms and legs. It was time to get up, her... “Mr. Dowr” would need coffee and dinner, he wasn't going to feed himself.

It was a struggle standing. Sometimes if she got up too quickly, a dizzy spell would push her back down. Then, she'd feel stupid for a while and stagger about watching her feet. Did a shadow vanish from the corner of her right eye?

There was definitely movement, something had darted across the fence line which separated her home from next door. It could have been a cat, that or a squirrel. No, Constance knew what it was.

She'd seen that shape dart out of view several times. It wasn't some mysterious shadow, like the ones she saw in her room. Nor was it a small harmless animal. This was an animal much larger and potentially very harmful.

While Constance had been laying in the sun, talking quietly to herself, the old creepy man from next door watched. She looked at her hands and walked inside. One hand shook from the experience, the other clung to a book she'd only read in class.

Read next: Dark System 3
Leon Gower
Leon Gower

Born, February 1972 in Whyalla, Australia

His writing incorporates a life time of personal experience in dealing with a world of poorly explained phenomenon. Short artistic work or full length novels, Leon's well weaved stories are engaging.

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