By Liviu Surugiu
Translated by Raluca Balasa
Nabi is six years old, and I’d say he’s not the sort to fear his own shadow. “Dad, I don’t always have a shadow.”
“That’s normal. When darkness –”
“I don’t think it’s good to stay long without a shadow.”
“Which is why I always tell you to turn off the computer and go out in the sun!” “Dad, but what about the nighttime? What is night?”
“You see, when the Earth spins –”
“I’ve read that night is the planet’s shadow projected in the sky.”
I agreed with him. “That’s right! Anything else?”
“Why doesn’t the sun have a shadow?”
“Why not? Indeed, there’s someone who doesn’t have one!”
“What about sunspots?”
That afternoon, my son kept after me like he was my shadow.
“Nabi, the shadow is normal. Every object, every person has its own shadow.” “Then how come when we were at the circus last week, a man made shadows that didn’t belong to him with his hands? Shadows of mice and cats and dogs, shadows of butterflies, birds and bats?”
I think having two kids would have been easier. They could have spent all day talking to each other. “Like I said, the shadow keeps true to the body’s shape, but if the shape changes…”
“But the shape of his hand was still a hand, Dad, only the position changed!” “Fine, the position, then!”
“So if I adopt a certain position, I could have the shadow of a dinosaur?” “It’s possible… I think.”
“If I have his shadow, can’t I have him too?”
I laugh. “First detach the dinosaur shadow from your little body, then we’ll talk!”
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The next day Nabi calls me into his room.
“I should warn you, I don’t have time for games today,” I begin, but the sentence ends with me gaping at my son.
Nabi stands on the mirror placed in the middle of the rug with a lamp tilted down towards his feet. He mimics walking, and I see the shadow reflected on the opposite wall. The shadow is independent.
“Aaarrh!” he roars, hunching over and taking the form of some antediluvian beast. It could very well be the shadow of a stegosaurus or a triceratops. I think triceratopses are his favourites.
“Ingenious.” I falter. “You have to let me read where you took your inspiration from.”
“From nowhere,” says Nabi nonchalantly. “But Dad, yesterday you promised me that if I showed you this, you’d answer a few more questions.”
“Of course.” I sigh and sit. “Go ahead!”
“I had to stand differently to get that shadow. Couldn’t I have it acting normally?” “Acting… you?!” I wonder incredulously.
“Yeah, but…” Nabi bends over, picking up a tangle of wires. “One!” he exclaims, and another lamp lights up beside the first. The shadow doubles.
“Two!” and another ray appears from the side. Almost a quarter of his masterpiece is obscured.
“Three!” Nabi flicks yet another switch and the last light, opposite the first two, finely carves the rest of the shadow.
Now it is truly the shadow of a triceratops.
“What do you think?” my son mutters, after what seems like hours of calculations. “Where did you get all those lamps?!”
There are sculptors of stone, of wood, of metal. Until now I haven’t told anyone that my son sculpts shadows.
“Dad, come here!” Nabi kidnaps me as soon as I get home. This time I enter the ‘laboratory’ with caution.
“Get up on the mirror!” I hear from the desk. “Don’t worry, it’s made of aluminium. More to the left, like that. Don’t move!”
Then he turns off the light bulb.
“Close your eyes, Dad; I’m going to turn on more lights. And the adjustment will take a few seconds.”
When I open them, only my shadow appears on the projector’s screen.
“Well?” asks Nabi.
“Well?” I mimic, feeling that he’s finally screwed up. “I don’t see anything unusual.
Can I move now?”
“Sure, Dad! Move just your right hand.”
I almost twist my neck in surprise. Still, I continue swinging my right hand – with no results on the screen.
“It’s cut,” my son informs me. “I reconstructed this entire shadow from your head.” “My head?!”
“I mean, first I made sure its shadow would be the only one to appear there:
convergence. Then I enlarged and moulded it, giving it the shape of the whole body: divergence.”
“Tom? What are you doing there?” I hear a shuffle, and almost immediately my wife’s voluminous body appears on the threshold.
“Come here, Mom! Sit down!” Nabi takes her hand.
She looks wide-eyed at us, then shouts when she sees her shadow on the wall. Nabi has turned off several projectors and quickly changed the angles of the others. His mother never looked that good, not even before Nabi was born.
“Wonderful!” she exclaims, tapping her slim waist. In reality, she weighs a hundred kilograms.
After dinner, the ordeal begins again.
“Dad, I detached the shadow. Now will you help me make bodies in its shape and likeness?”
I choke. “In its shape and… don’t speak nonsense.”
“Dad, in its likeness!”
I grow angry. “And out of what, pray tell, are you going to make the bodies?
Plasticine?” I’m going over the top, so I soften it a little. “How are you going to make a body from a shadow? Tell me, Nabi.”
In fact, I fear that he will.
But he manages it the very next day.
Nabi begins the lecture. “The shadow is the force field that compensates for the light coming from the opposite side of an object.”
“I agree with you up to this point.” I sit. “Take your finger out of your nose.”
“But other shadows exist too. The shadow of infrared rays, which precedes the object being examined this way. The X-rays’ shadow, which appears in the object. If we admit that there’s such a thing as bioenergy, that means it too has a shadow.”
“What are you getting at?” I’m walking on eggshells. “Mom has two bioshadows.”
“And why, pray tell?” I ask angrily.
“Because she’s pregnant, Dad!”
Thank goodness for Nabi, or my wife, at her size, would have never felt what was going on in that stomach of hers. I immediately take her to a doctor we haven’t seen in a long time.
I don’t have the patience to wait for her.
This time I barge uninvited into Nabi’s room. I think I take him by surprise, but the noises coming from there demand my attention, since they sound like a child’s cries – a baby’s, I mean.
“Nabi, what’s going on here?” I look around. “Where’s that noise coming from?” “From there.” He points with tears in his eyes.
An embryo’s shadow pulses on the wall.
“It’s my brother’s,” he whispers. “In a few minutes the doctor will cut him with scissors.”
I don’t know how I manage to make a phone call so quickly. In a quarter hour my wife gets out of the cab, stunned, frightened, but happy.
“Tom, my love!” She embraces me, or crushes me in her arms. “What possessed you?”
“Don’t get too worked up.” I manage to escape. “Listen, I’m rather hungry. Why don’t you make some devilled eggs?”
“With lots of mayonnaise?” she calls from the kitchen. “Right!” And I barrel into Nabi’s room.
“I wasn’t trying to,” he tries to calm me. “But I was scared.” “Okay. In any case, you needed a little brother.”
“A sister, actually.”
“How the hell do you know?”
“Tom, the eggs are ready!”
They’ve been ready since yesterday.
“Dad.” My son stops me. “Mom won’t give birth to a normal baby.”
Either tired, resigned, defeated or a little of all three, I listen.
“I think it’s my fault, with my experiments. The truth is that she’s going to make me a little sister exactly how I most wanted.”
I do a double-take. It can’t be, unless…
“She’ll be a dinosaur, a female triceratops!” Nabi kisses me and bolts toward the kitchen.
The transformation must be permanently routed through the PC connected to the home network.
Every shadow has been monitored and positioned in this way to favour the events.
Seen on the screen, the shadow-world of our home seems like the most authentic Jurassic landscape.
For a while I hoped Nabi would be wrong. I say hoped because there were already some things I could no longer doubt. My hopes vanished abruptly, however, when the doctor told us after the first ultrasound that we would have a deformed daughter.
“It’s too late for an abortion,” he added.
And in any case, I thought, better a dinosaur for Nabi than a child with malformations. The truth is that if any woman on the planet had to bear a dinosaur, that could only have been my wife.
Though still I hope this won’t be the case.
In the morning, in darkness, we take Woopy out grazing.
The Truth About Woopy got The Prize of the Romanian Science Fiction Association, ARSFAN 1995 and Finalist story in the Grand Prix du Court – Short Edition, France, 2019.
Photo: Imagen de Free-Photos en Pixabay
Romanian writer and screenwriter, making his US debut with “The Choice” in ”Galaxy’s Edge by Mike Resnick Magazine” (and just sold a new story to ”Cirsova Magazine”).
His first story appeared in “JSF Magazine” in 1994.
He has published seven books in Romania over the past seven years and has won twenty-seven awards (like HBO Screenplay Contest). He has received four awards abroad (USA) at „Writers of the Future”, is finalist in Grand Prix du Court at Short Edition France, and in the last five months has published in USA, France, Spain, Hungary, Germany and Estonia.
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