Evander, it seemed, was looking for love in all the wrong places. The last place he ever expected to find his soulmate was hidden away in a shadow dimension.
At first, it wasn’t much to look at. Just a neon-looking, wireframe-like version of the city he’d spent his entire life in, Athens.
The shadow dimension was… empty, at first glance. But the more he visited the more he found interesting things to do. For example, after comparing a few city blocks with their real-life counterpart, he came to the conclusion that things were different around here. It took him a while to see the way they were different, but he kept exploring and it happened eventually.
He was on a building that simply wasn’t there in the real world. That alone gave him lots to think about. He took the stairs. What was he stepping on? There really was nothing there, he had checked and double-checked. Just an empty plot of land, definitely not the three-story building he was climbing on. So, if this was a shadow dimension, what was this building a shadow of?
He checked the floors one by one, they were simple flats, though they seemed a couple of decades old. It wasn’t easy to distinguish things in the Shadow, things were very distorted. But a few clues here and there made him certain that the building was from the 80s. Condemned, perhaps? Evander didn’t know where to look for such information, city records perhaps. Though he didn’t know where to start looking. He just took the stairs to the next floor. He explored that one as well, it was nondescript in general, the same, empty feeling as the rest.
And then he got to the third floor, where he found his prize.
To this day, he had no idea why, but he knocked on the door. He hadn’t knocked on the ones before, choosing to just walk inside pushing through the unlocked doors, but something made him think this was the right thing to do. He knocked, and he heard shuffling coming from inside the topmost apartment. He waited, then knocked again.
“Who is it?” a girl asked through the door.
Evander could tell she was peeking through the eye-hole. “I-I’m Evander. Just looking around, really.”
“What’s the helmet for?” she asked.
“It’s uh… I need it to travel around in the shadow dimension.”
“The what now?” she asked, sounding genuinely surprised.
“Um… This,” he waved his hand around. “The Shadow, that’s what I call it.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Doesn’t this world seem weird to you?”
“You look weird to me.”
“No,” he chuckled, “I’m talking about the walls, being like, intangible. And the lighting, it seems it’s inverted or something. The sun shouldn’t be red, you know that, right?”
The door opened and there was a girl there, close to his age. She looked at him with a frown, he found her attractive. Though he could tell there was definitely something off about her. But who was he to judge people from the Shadow? She was the first one he’d ever met in the Shadow, and for all he knew, he was the weird one and they were the normal ones around here. She had a very cute frown on her eyebrows. “You know, you’re right. I hadn’t noticed that before. But now that you’ve pointed it out, it is weird.”
“Wait, you’re not a native from the Shadow?”
She sighed. “What the fuck is this Shadow you’re talking about?”
“This. All of this. This building we’re standing on, it’s not even here in the real world. It was condemned or something.”
“Or something,” she mocked his tone of voice. “Sure, whatever. What do you want?”
“I’m just exploring,” he said, trying to look non-threatening. He realised it was a very hard thing to do when he was wearing an opaque bike helmet, his way into the Shadow. “It’s interesting.”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I’m Christina. But call me Chris.””
“Sure, Chris. How long have you been here?”
She looked confused. “I’m not sure. I’ve definitely been here quite a few years now…”
“You can’t remember? How’s that possible?”
Now she looked genuinely confused.
“You know what, nevermind. It doesn’t really matter anyway. Can I come inside? I’d love to have a chat with you.”
She eyed him top to bottom and bit her lip. “I’d like some company, sure. But keep your hands to yourself, this is an invitation to coffee, not anything more,” she warned him, pointing a finger at him.
She stepped to the side and he got inside. He looked around, the place looked like a hand-me-down from a family in the eighties to an orphaned daughter. He could tell by the electronics and the decorations that were definitely not something a girl her age would buy, but she’d also added posters of rock bands, clothes everywhere, an ironing board that was practically a closet with all the clothes piled up on it, and other clues.
“I, uh, didn’t expect company. It’s a mess, sorry,” she said, picking up a couple of items in a hurry.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine. I’m a slob too,” Evander said.
Chris turned to him. “Are you calling me a slob?”
“N-No,” he stuttered.
“I’m messing with you!” Chris said but carried on trying to pick up a few things. She threw them out of sight in the next room. “Please, sit down.”
Evander sat down on the couch. “It’s nice actually,” he said, looking around.
“I can’t even tell if you’re smiling under that helmet. Are you messing with me, Evander?” she squinted at him.
“No. And yeah, I understand completely, but I can’t take it off. If I do, I’ll go back to the real world. And at this moment, I’m three stories up in the air. That won’t be good for me.”
Chris raised her chin, and then nodded a few times. “I see. You’re an interesting person. Sure, let’s chat. I’m bored anyway.” She went into the kitchen, making some clattering noises.
Evander spoke louder. “What do you do? Studying at the uni, I assume?”
“Yeah… Supposed to be doing that. But I haven’t been there for quite some time. I’ve missed so many classes, lost track by now.”
“It’s okay. No judgment from me. And what is it that you study?”
“Psychology. But I suck at it,” she said, bringing two glasses of different kinds.
Evander accepted one, but he couldn’t drink anyway. She didn’t seem to mind.
She drank the coffee, Evander assumed it was supposed to be frappe, cold coffee, but all he saw was wireframe waves and bubbles on the surface. It was psychedelic, to say the least.
“Why do you say that?” Evander asked.
“Well, for starters, you look like a serial killer and yet I’ve invited you for coffee in my house.”
“Would you have told me if you really were?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Good answer,” she squinted at him.
Their conversations became even more exotic after that. Evander left the apartment and got to the ground floor before taking off the helmet. Sure as anything, he looked back to see an empty lot. Still, he came around the next day, he had asked and her answer was cryptic. ‘Knock and you shall see if I’m in the mood.’
He did come round the same time, and he knocked, and she opened the door. He noticed that the place was slightly more presentable, but not by much. They had another tantalising conversation, hours passed, and he left again.
The next day, he apologised for not being able to bring anything, she told him he was being silly, and that she had everything she wanted here.
Evander realised that Chris had a gigantic blind spot about things. She considered the inconsistencies when he pointed them out to her, but when he didn’t, she just glossed over them. For example, she never left her apartment, as far as he could tell. She was being vague but he could tell she was a shut-in. A shut-in that lived in a house that clearly wasn’t hers, in a shadow dimension on top of a condemned building that was absent in the real world. And she always had coffee, though just for her, and she always had leftover pizza to eat, but she never ordered and it was always yesterday’s order. He confronted her about it and her answers were vague, she assured him she was ordering pizza every day. So he spent an entire day staking out the Shadow building and he wasn’t surprised when no pizza deliveries were made.
The shadow world was vacant, except for Chris. He hadn’t explored everything yet, this was a capital city after all, but he thought if he located inconsistencies in buildings such as this he might find more people living there.
He shared his theory with Chris and she just said he was silly. He asked her to come out with him and help him explore, but she refused and came up with excuses.
He didn’t press the point any longer. He told to himself that he didn’t want to bother her any more, but the truth was that he liked her, and he wanted her to like him. Trying to shatter the world of your wannabe girlfriend is not in any article in men’s magazines.
Evander just kept visiting Chris and they chatted about everything and anything.
One thing led to another and they made out one day.
It wasn’t exactly making out since he couldn’t take his helmet off, but they managed it somehow. It was mostly her doing the kissing and he gave back by gently caressing her body all over, seeing where it made her shudder and respond best. He mapped her body the same way he mapped the Shadow city, bit by bit, meticulously.
The next time they made out he made her orgasm with just his fingers.
They had sex after that. Evander was worried because she had no condoms and he couldn’t bring any with him, but he decided to just ‘fuck it’ and have sex with Chris.
It was as awkward as any first time as a couple. He had the helmet on and that complicated things, but where there’s a will there’s a way. They practised a lot of times after that and it became a daily thing.
After a month or so, they’d just hang out and have sex some days, others they just watched movies on the VCR. Yes, Evander was certain Shadow was from the 80s, it was easy to pinpoint from the movies. Chris simply ignored his comments about the real world moving on.
Evander thought that that wasn’t healthy for him. Okay, she was trapped in a shadow dimension, perhaps even all by herself, he still hadn’t found anyone else and to be honest, he was having too much fun here to go out and explore by himself.
But he knew it wasn’t normal. However he could see that day by day he was sinking into the delusion. He was avoiding topics of conversation that would make Chris clam up or react badly. They even had a fight one day when Evander wanted to drag her out of the apartment and just go for a walk around the block. She slapped him that day, nearly took off his helmet. That was a close call.
So Evander didn’t try that again. His normal life was tough and bland, just pointless work in a restaurant cleaning up the massive amounts of dishes for no real pay, and then he’d just visit her and lose himself in her arms, and quite often, between her legs.
Chris was amazing, if you ignored the glaring problems. She was funny, naughty when she needed to be, supportive when he told her about his troubles at work, she beamed at him every time she showed up. She was the best girlfriend Evander ever had. And he was never a ladies-man, but he did have a couple of them. None even compared to Chris, he found himself imagining their life together, growing old.
But how healthy was all this? She was delusional about the reality of her dimension, and she simply ignored his comments about the real world. She drank her ever-replenishing coffee and ate her ever-replenishing leftover pizza.
Could he live like this, if it was possible?
Evander realised that yes, he could.
But he needed to wake her up first. He got there on the apartment one day and he knocked on the door, ready to get inside.
“Don’t come in,” Chris said.
“Why not? Come on, baby, I wanna see you.”
“No… Don’t, please.”
“What’s up? It’s okay, you can tell me.”
She said nothing. She only opened the door slowly, then turned to the side. She revealed a rather big belly.
Evander was speechless.
“I can’t see your fucking face, dammit. Speak up, Evander.”
“I-I don’t know what to say. Is it mine?”
She slapped his chest. “Of course it’s yours, dummy! We’ve been fucking for like months now.”
“I… uh, see. I didn’t even think we could conceive, being from different universes.”
She scoffed at his comment. “You’re really weird, you know that? What are we gonna do?”
“Get in, jeez,” Chris said and pulled him inside the apartment.
They figured out exactly zero things. Chris refused to go to a doctor, even if Evander could find such a thing in the Shadow. She didn’t know how many months pregnant she was, and she didn’t cough up any ideas about how do deliver the baby in this apartment since she refused to leave it.
They had a fight, and Evander stormed off.
Evander knocked back on Chris’ door after a couple of weeks. He hadn’t visited Shadow at all, and he had spent a few nights drinking with his buddies. He even got lucky with a drunk girl at some joint but he stopped after fooling around for a bit, she was willing but he didn’t go through with it.
What was the point?
This whole life was empty. For him, this was the wireframe dimension, and for all he knew, he was the one being in denial.
His job sucked, his pay barely covered his expenses. There were no prospects for him, and his friends really were just buddies from work that were in the same lame condition he was. There was nothing for him to look for.
He finished his shift, because his father taught him to always do his job no matter what, and he put on the helmet.
He visited the Shadow and went straight for Chris’ apartment.
He jumped the stairs two-by-two and slammed his palm on her door.
“What?” she snapped at him through the door. “Leave, Evander. Do everyone a favour and leave.”
“I’m back, baby. I’m sorry.”
There was a long silence. He waited. He had made up his mind, he wasn’t going to leave again. She opened the door and glared at him, angrily. “Three weeks? You’re in deep shit, you know that?”
“Yes, baby, I know. I’m so sorry, but now I’m committed, 100%. I swear,” he begged, falling on his knees. He touched his cheek on her belly, it was growing nicely. He tried to ignore the fact that the baby had a steady diet of stale pizza.
She touched his helmet as if to ruffle his hair, and softened up her body posture. “Alright, you big dummy. I believe you. You’re not out of the woods yet, but you deserve a chance.”
“Thank you,” he said and have her a big hug.
After he let her go, she stepped back inside the apartment and looked away, expecting him to follow after her just like any other time.
Evander stood in place, and she turned around, curious. “What’s up?”
“I’m gonna take it off.”
Chris frowned for a second, then got it. She wasn’t stupid. On the contrary, she was very sharp. She simply had a glaring blind-spot for basic inconsistencies of reality, but hey, no girl was perfect after all. She stepped close to him and hugged him tight, pressing the helmet down on his head as if it was gonna float off. “No. Won’t that hurt you? Kill you? I don’t want that.”
“I don’t know, to be honest,” Evander said, holding her hand inside his own. “But I have to try. No, actually, I have to make a choice.”
Chris was crying now, tears of inverted colours shone on her cheeks. “I don’t want to lose you, Evander.”
“Me neither,” he said, trying to calm her down. “But what other way is there? Think about it.”
She scratched her chin. “And I’ll get to finally see your face?”
“Yeah,” Evander chuckled. “That’s a benefit I didn’t even consider. At least I hope it is.”
She laughed bitterly. “It is.” Chris breathed in deeply for a while, trying to calm her breathing down. “Okay, I guess.”
“I’m doing it,” he said, holding the side of his helmet.
She held her breath, covering her mouth.
Evander decided to just be done with it. If he was gonna fall to his death, so be it. He pulled the helmet off.
Chris’ face lit up when she met his eyes.
Evander let the helmet fall on the floor with a thud. And then it went through the floor, even though the thud was definitely there. It was probably gone for good, but what was most important, Evander was still there.
Chris jumped in his arms and he held her up, her legs wrapped around his waist. She kept kissing him again and again, he needed to come up for air at least ten times. She kept kissing him and staring at his face and facial features and touching him and then kissing him again.
Evander kicked the door shut behind him and carried his Shadow baby-mama to the bedroom.