My Shadow's Shadow

By Kris Neri
He violated me first with his eyes; small, lash-less eyes, not-quite-human in their unblinking intensity. He
looked at me like he wanted to strip away my clothes, my skin and rip out my heart. Like he could…and
would. Dear God.
At first, I considered it a coincidence that we kept turning up in the same places.  Sure, it was creepy the
way he slipped in and out without making a sound. But there was no law against it and coincidences do
happen.
Though not all the time.
I began to worry when I saw how he looked at me and realized what he was thinking. He was a tall man,
whom I wouldn't be able to outrun, with wispy hair the color of a field mouse and skin so blue-gray, I
thought he must live in a coffin when he wasn't stalking me. And always, those flat, unrelenting eyes
kept me in their sights.
The eyes…it was always those eyes.
Sometimes I just felt his stare boring into me through the hairs that rose on the back of my neck. Or I'd
smell that pine-scented cologne he always wore. When I first caught a whiff of it, it made me think of
Christmas trees and tranquil walks in the woods. Those things would never mean the same to me since
that smell became the invasive gas that locked my muscles in fear.
Not that I had anything to run from—yet. For now, he seemed content to stare.  But later…who could
say?
Why had he singled me out for this jarring campaign? Maybe he thought it was glamorous that I worked
as a make-up artist for a Hollywood studio. Though you would have to squint to see glamour in this
place; a studio that churned out grade ‘B’ horror pictures on a postage stamp-sized back lot.  
Not that I was complaining. I loved doing make-up and this place let me stretch to my limit. I made
things happen that most people didn't want to think about. We had a tiny open field, that when shot at
the right angle almost looked like a farm and a remote-controlled threshing machine that appeared to
chase a victim as if it has a mind of its own. Creating the after-effects of that was my favorite.
He sure hadn't singled me out because of my looks. In the words of my make-up mentor, my face was
the "perfect blank canvas", which was another way of saying I was plain.
Who was I kidding? He picked me because he thought I'd crumple easily. I was...meek. I knew I should
be more assertive, but no, that wasn't true. I didn't think I should be more assertive. I feared what
could happen if I ever let that part of me out. We keep tigers in cages, don't we?
He chose his target well. My nerves were jagged glass that ripped me raw. The tiger cage within me
shrank to its smallest ever, while fear iced over every inch. I was lost and I knew it.
Still, when I caught sight of myself in a mirror, I felt ashamed. Hunched over like some pathetic creature
anticipating the next blow. But what could I expect? He'd been waiting outside the dry cleaners when I
stopped there after work and I caught a whiff of his pine scent in the supermarket.
I raced home. I knew he’d always know where to find me, but I couldn't let him catch up with me there.
Not where I lived. I snatched a package addressed to me from the shelf above the mailboxes at my
apartment building and grabbed the elevator just before the doors closed. Only when I locked the door
to my apartment behind me, did I feel safe, though even I could hear the tremor in my relieved sigh.
I couldn't imagine what was in the package; I hadn't ordered anything. There wasn't even a return
address. Funny, but all it contained was a Bruce Springsteen CD, broken in pieces. I owned that CD. I
would put it on sometimes and pretend I had the confident power of ‘The Boss’. Not that it could ever
happen.
An odd feeling spread over me. I tentatively approached my CD rack. My Springsteen CD box was right
where it should be. I popped the case open. There was a CD in there, but it was by some artist I didn't
know. My whole body shook. That was my Springsteen CD that came in the mail. He had been here,
violating the one place where I felt protected.
I played the CD. In the first track, the singer moaned about everlasting evergreens. Evergreens? What
was he trying to say? That his fascination with me would never end? That we'd be together forever? I
couldn't bear it.
I took the package to the police station.
"So what if he looks at you?" the desk sergeant said. "Maybe he wants to ask you out."
"He doesn't look at me that way. He looks like…"
I didn't finish the thought in the face of the sergeant's knowing smirk. If the people sworn to protect me
wouldn't, what could I do? I felt like slamming the door when I left the police station, but naturally, I
didn't.
I didn't close my eyes that night. I hurried to work the next morning. But I found my locker door open,
when I knew I'd locked it the night before. None of the extra clothes I kept in the locker were there now.
The only thing hanging from its hook was a rope—tied like a noose. But that was my jump rope, the one
I used at home to exercise. I recognized the spot where the rope was frayed.
Tears blinded me as I raced to the studio security chief's office.
"But how could he have gotten onto the lot?" he demanded. "You know I have guards posted around
the clock."
What I knew was his guards drank their meals at the corner bar. How could I have deluded myself into
feeling safe there?
"Honey, I bet you tied that noose yourself," he continued. "Is there a fella somewhere on the lot you
want to notice you?"
This time I did slam the door. It wasn't fair. When would they take his threats seriously?
I headed for the parking lot. My car door was locked, but on the seat was a small cardboard pine tree,
the scented kind people use to freshen their cars. I flung the vile thing away for me. For the first time in
my life, I didn't meet a crisis with tears, but with anger. The tiger broke from its cage and conquered new
territory within me.

*
Over the next few days, waiting devastated my shattered nerves. He didn't leave any more surprises. I
knew he was waiting, but for once, so was I. If anyone wondered why I continued to wear the same
clothes day-after-day, or why I jumped at any excuse to leave the sound stage, they didn't ask.
Torrential rain hit the next day, with winds so strong they could blow a dog onto the next block. Yet
even in that weather, I offered to run an errand for my boss. Before I'd gone five yards, the rain soaked
my thin, cotton jacket and plastered my hair to my eyes. I stopped to brush it aside and he grabbed me
from behind. For all my painstaking preparation, he took me by surprise. The storm had a lot to answer
for. I would never have heard him, not with his stealthy approach. But I would have been warned by the
smell of his pine-scented cologne, had the rain not dampened the odor and the wind not been blowing
the other way.
He pinned my arms to my sides. Panic rose in my throat like bile. But his grip kept slipping. The driving
rain didn't help him, either. I jabbed my elbow into his side.  He grunted, but quickly tightened his grasp.
Why didn't my jacket separate? I had made it myself in the best tradition of the breakaway clothing
stuntmen wore. Perhaps the rain turned the tacky substance I'd used to attach the seams into
permanent glue.
I hesitated before implementing the next part of my plan. If I couldn't break free, I was risking my life.
But my chances weren't any better with him. I had no choice. I reached into my pocket of my jeans and
hit the remote. Even in that howling wind, I heard the threshing machine start up.  
Fear immobilized me, giving him the chance to tighten his grip. I knew what that thresher would do to a
person; I'd approximated it often enough with make-up. I couldn't bear to live like that. If I lived. The
sound of the thresher scraping against the pavement brought me out of my stupor. I jerked with all my
might.
The sections of the jacket finally separated. I jumped from the thresher's path. He didn't.

*

He didn't die…that would have been too easy. But he won't be stalking anyone ever again.
When the police arrived, they asked me if he was the one who had been following me. I said he was, but
I refused to press changes against him. If they couldn't be there for me at the beginning, I didn't need
them at the end.
They did look into his background. He'd been fired from many jobs during his miserable life, including one
as a security guard at my studio. Apparently, our crackerjack security chief slipped up and allowed him to
keep his security badge. After that, he worked for a cosmetics company about to launch a new pine-
scented cologne. They'd let him go when a large quantity was stolen. Still later, he'd been a locksmith.
With that history, he wasn't able to collect a dime from the studio, even though he was hurt on their
property. Not like me. Because the owner hoped to sell the property to one of the big studios, he
compensated me handsomely for keeping my mouth shut.
My leisure has been wonderful. No, I haven't given up my beloved make-up work; I apply it to my own
perfect blank canvas now. I've got a thousand faces. And he'll see every one of them.
I like the wrinkle I've added to the game he taught me. I don't announce my presence with an
overpowering smell. I don't haunt him with the same ghastly face. I like that when I approach he thinks
that's a stranger looking at him—until he sees my eyes.
The eyes. It's always those eyes.
He doesn't move too well anymore. But wherever he goes, to the newsstand where he was lucky to find
work, the physical therapist, his shabby apartment building, I'll be there, shadowing my shadow, for as
long as it amuses me. I'm The Boss now. My tiger rules. Why had I ever feared this power?
For now, I'm content to stare. But later…who can say?
After all, we'll be together forever.