The Sylum Portal © 2016 Dana Berry
As Jack maneuvered through the crowded sidewalk, he caught a glimpse of the shadowy figure who had been stalking him for months. He ducked behind a newsstand to get a better look at it. The shadow transformed into a man and was leaning against a brick wall across the street, the collar of his black trench coat raised to conceal his dark face. Jack tried to make eye contact with the man, but the glacial wind sank its teeth into his eyeballs, forcing a blink. One blink—and the Shadow Man was gone.
He hailed a taxi and looked around once more, but neither the man nor his shadow were in sight. After giving the driver the address to his girlfriend’s apartment, he leaned his head back against the headrest. Fear from seeing the Shadow Man clearly for the first time still pulsed in his ears as he struggled to keep the tiny bubble, which was forming in front of him, from growing any larger. The last thing he needed today was to create a portal. He cupped his hand around the bubble to shield it from the taxi-driver’s rear-view mirrored stares. Fortunately, this time, the glowing sphere hovering in front of him became no larger than a marble before dissipating.
He took a deep breath and exhaled, slowing the palpitations still knocking against his chest, then pulled a velvet box from his pocket and opened it, rubbing his thumb across the diamond ring inside. Being stalked wasn’t the only thing that had Jack on edge today. Last night, when he called Cadence to invite her to the symphony, he feared she might guess his intentions.
“The Symphony—of course I’ll go. I’ve been wanting to do something fancy all year.”
“Then you’ll be needing a fancy dress,” Jack said over his cell phone. “Maybe the gold one you were admiring last week.”
Through his phone, he heard muffled shuffling and a few high-pitched squeaks. He could almost picture Cadence doing a happy-dance.
“You bought those tickets just to see me in that dress, didn’t you?”
“It’s a good-looking dress.”
Tonight’s proposal had been a long time coming, and he was fairly certain he had pulled off making it a surprise.
Suddenly, the cab squealed to a stop, lurching Jack forward.
“What’s going on?” he asked the cab driver.
The driver honked the horn repeatedly. “Some idiot is standing in the middle of the street.”
Jack looked up. The Shadow Man was standing in front of the taxi’s hood. As the driver laid on the horn, he slowly walked around to the back seat and got in.
Jack heard the man’s thoughts. We need to talk.
“Cab’s occupied,” the driver said. “Get out.”
With his stalker now seated right next to him, another more imposing jolt of fear coursed through Jack. He scrambled out of the taxi and ran down an alleyway, faintly hearing the taxi-driver’s protests for him to stop above the horns and motors behind him.
Stupid, he thought as he took in the grime and graffiti of his surroundings. It was not an alleyway he wanted to walk down in his best suit. Jack decided he might have been safer in the cab. Besides, had he not bolted he might have at least found out who the guy was and why he’d been following him off and on for the past three months—ever since the portal formations began. After all, the Shadow Man had just communicated with Jack through his thoughts, so he obviously knew Jack could hear them. Never before had Jack met someone else who could hear thoughts like he did—maybe the man had answers about his other abilities too. Now that the portal formations were becoming more difficult to control, he needed answers and had to take the risk. Jack turned around to make his way back to the busy road, but a tatted group of thugs was walking toward him, scowling and smiling.
“You lost, white boy?” a bald-headed man with a tattooed neck called out.
“Naw, he’s just here to sell us insurance,” joked another who was smiling the most unfriendly smile Jack had ever seen. The men laughed as they swaggered closer.
“I don’t want any trouble, fellas,” Jack said, slowly backing away.
“Looks like you was running from it,” the smiling one said.
He took a few more steps backward. “Bad cab ride—that’s all. I’m just trying to get home.”
“That’s a nice watch,” said the bald one, folding his hands together and rubbing his knuckles. “I bet you got a fat wallet to go with it.”
For a lingering moment, Jack looked at them, and they glared back at him.
Jack made a break for it, and the gang chased after him. He turned a corner, slammed into a tall chain-linked fence, and started climbing. The gang quickly caught up to him, grasping at his feet.
The Shadow Man rounded the corner just as the tallest thug grabbed Jack’s ankle and tugged. The panic subsided and calm washed over Jack as adrenaline transformed into action. He looked down and saw his stalker yanking the tattooed men off the fence in slow-motion. The hands grasping at his body now reached for him as if they were moving through water as he made time slow down to about half-speed. Jack freed himself from their clutches and scaled the fence, ripping his overcoat. His cell phone slipped out and crashed onto the pavement below.
After hopping the fence, he ran, and a glowing bubble formed and hovered in front of him until it became a full-sized portal. The portal led to his favorite place—Cadence’s living room. Time resumed its normal pace. On the other side of the fence, the Shadow Man battled the thugs. After drop-kicking the last man standing, he looked straight at Jack, his chest rising and falling with winded breaths. For the first time, Jack made direct eye contact with him but was unable to make out any of his thoughts. In fact, the Shadow Man had the quietest mind he had ever encountered. He reached into his coat pocket to make sure the engagement ring was still there. Got it. Then he looked back once more before exiting through the portal. The man was gone, having left squirming, groaning bodies in his wake.
“I know this gift is still new for you, Jackson. But I thought we agreed you would use the door,” Cadence said as she yanked a towel off her head and vigorously dried her shoulder-length brown hair.
“Where were you?” she asked looking past Jack into the portal. “It looks like an alleyway.”
The portal dissipated behind Jack.
“I saw him again today. Downtown,” he said.
“The Shadow Man?” she asked.
He nodded. “He actually got into my cab. I got out and ran into an alley. Then some guys tried to rob me, and I dropped my phone scaling a fence.”
“What?” Cadence’s eyes widened with worry as she rushed over to him. “Are you okay?”
“My head hurts, but I’m all right,” he said as he pulled her in for a kiss, “and I refuse to let this ruin our plans.”
“Thank God you weren’t hurt,” she said as she kissed his forehead and gently patted his dark, slightly unkempt hair back in place. “You look a mess. Completely understandable since you just ran for your life and escaped through a self-generated portal. There should be some hot water left if you want to shower. Then we can stop and get you another phone before we head to the concert.”
“We don’t have time for that,” he said. “We’re already running late.”
“Late? It’s not even four o’clock yet.”
“What are you talking about? It can’t be,” he said, noticing the daylight escaping the edges of her living room curtains. It should be getting dark by now. He looked down at his watch. 3:29pm. Then he reached for his cell phone, but remembered it was in pieces on the pavement—except it wasn’t in pieces— it was right there in his pocket. He took out his phone and again checked the time. 3:30pm, January 15th, 2016. Cadence was right. It was half past three, but he had gotten off work at six o’clock.
“I thought you said you dropped your phone,” Cadence said.
He took off his coat and whipped it around, checking for the rip. “The tear—it’s gone.”
The gray velvet box fell out of his overcoat pocket and popped open on the carpet in front of Cadence’s feet.