Amara had decided before she'd fully reached adolescence that everything in life had a reason. Every aspect of existence, she had concluded, would eventually be explained by Science - and in a simple manner.
Unfortunately, that was not how the Universe worked. Yes, there were rules. And yes, cause and effect was a well-established one. However the Universe wasn't particularly well behaved and as such rules were broken infuriatingly often. But one could not simply dismiss an anomaly as an exception to the rule, as the rule could be incorrect in the first place. It was far easier to accept that the Universe had made a little cock up rather than that your whole theory that you'd been working on for most of your adult life was actually rubbish.
Amara turned her head away from the approaching church. She had begun taking up walks as a way of venting frustration. The most effective way of releasing anger was shouting at Rayan daily, but his patience was wearing a little thin. Plus she had to admit shooting a loaded gun at his feet was going a little too far. But she didn't particularly enjoy the walking. It felt "wishy washy" - like churches, like religion. Amara certainly wasn't the spiritual type.
Last night something had happened that had set her on edge. One thing she hated more than anything else was uncertainty (probably one reason why she had such an aversion to Christians). Last night, from about 6pm to 9pm, had been an uncertainty.
She remembered eating dinner - a salty and watery ready meal picked up from the corner shop (Rayan had opted to forgo an evening meal in favour of Mars bars and chocolate milkshakes). She could recall shoving her plate in the dishwasher and walking to her office to do a final once-over of today's radiation data. Then... nothing.
Somewhat reassuringly, she couldn't put it down to her own mental failings, as Rayan had experienced the "amnesia" too. He'd just started on his third chocolate milkshake when it happened. He didn't recall anything until 3 hours later, waking up soaked in warm milkshake that he'd spilled over him when he was... sleeping???
It was the shadow man. Amara thought to herself as she ambled past the shop windows of the town centre. She looked like she was observing the window displays with avid interest, but she was in her own world, consumed by intense thought. He came to us yesterday, because he knows we're looking for him.
The second part was almost definitely true. The shadow man was arguably the most intelligent man in all of creation. He'd have cottoned on to the fact two humans were searching for him by now. But why would he come? Why would he be interested in them?
She should probably be scared, but she wasn't. She was excited.
Amara worried about a lot of things, but they were everyday worries; Are we going to keep up with the mortgage payments? Is that a grey hair I saw the other day when I checked myself in the mirror? Should the pipes be making that funny noise every time the heating clicks on? She didn't worry much about her own life. If anything, it was danger that gave her life. It was what drove her on. The feeling of adrenaline pumping through her body was second to none. It was wild, savage, ferocious and almost sexual. She'd tried skydiving, parachuting, bungee jumping, BASE jumping... but none of them were enough. That was why, she reasoned, she'd started hunting the shadow man. It was the ultimate thrill. And you played the game of hide and seek until you were dead, because you had no chance of winning.
Losing usually bothered Amara, but not losing to the shadow man. She just wanted to get closer to beating him than anyone else had done. As long as she could remember she'd been competitive. The youngest child of three, overshadowed by her two elder brothers, Amara had one goal when she was young - beat her brothers, be the best sibling... show her father that she wasn't just the accident child.
Her brothers were working at the same IT company down south. They were quite close for brothers. Amara thought it was probably because they couldn't take her on their own, so they had to team up. Although it was a big-headed thought, it was pretty accurate. Though they didn't like to admit it, the brothers were intimidated by their younger sister, as older siblings often are. They act big and hard and scary, but really they're petrified of being inferior. They're supposed to be the better kid, because they're older. It's okay for little kids to act up and be stupid, it's what they do. But if you're the oldest you've got responsibility. You're meant to show the little ones how it's done. If you don't do it right, you've not just fucked up your own future but you've fucked the rest of the kids too.
Her brothers still held a little resentment of her in their hearts, but it was cold hate and had almost disappeared with the distance and lack of communication between the family. They'd never been close, and over the years the family had fragmented over the country. There weren't family gatherings, not even at Christmas. Of course, Amara didn't celebrate Christmas. Too religious. Too wishy washy. A waste of time.
She looked away from the window display she'd gazed at for a good five minutes or more without taking an inch of it in. Ah, a display of cheap ornaments and candles. Just what I've always wanted...
She strode into the centre of town, her pace quickening as thoughts of the night before raced through her head. She could literally remember nothing in that 3 hour period. It wasn't like she had blacked out or slept in that time, because she didn't remember drifting off, or more oddly, waking up. It was just 6pm and then it was 9pm. 3 hours had somehow... evaporated.
Except time doesn't do that. Time tended to be okay. Lots of things in the Universe went funny, but time was linear (unless you were whizzing about at the speed of light, but she was sure if she'd have been travelling at those speeds she'd at least have chucked up her dinner).
Could the shadow man alter time? Possibly. But it would be an effort. He wouldn't just decide to delete 3 hours from two people's lives like that. There had to be a reason...
She originally thought they'd both somehow been drugged, but she'd done blood tests on them both and they'd been fine. She'd tested the radiation levels to see if there were any traces of the shadow man's presence (she thought of radiation as his "footprints") but they'd all come back normal. It just didn't make sense.
Well it did. Things always made sense. They only appeared not to if you didn't understand.
Amara grunted and went to her favourite coffee stand and bought a drink. It was her favourite for one reason - the coffee was scolding hot. It didn't taste particularly nice, but it was better than the lukewarm drinks served up at the coffee shops. Yes, they could give you cream and fancy spices, but they didn't seem to be able to manage to make it hot.
She had to stop herself from draining the cup. She took a few sips, the liquid feeling like it was peeling her throat as she swallowed. It hit her stomach and made her shiver a little. She was stressed out. Was the shadow man simply fucking with them? Around her people went about their business - buying food, looking at clothes, calling people on their mobiles. Normal life. Although she hated mediocrity, sometimes she longed for its simplicity. These people didn't spend their time vaulting fences in the middle of the night chasing a patch of singed grass...
The problem was, once you knew about the shadow man you couldn't forget him. He was one of those nagging thoughts always in the back of your mind. You couldn't put him to rest. You had to find him. Or at least, that was the case for Amara.
She guessed she was addicted. But perhaps that was okay - thinking about the shadow man all the time certainly deterred other thoughts. It was a distraction, maybe even a coping mechanism, from the things that troubled her. Amara's cold front and calculated attitude was not something she'd been born with. It had been sculpted over time as a result of years of neglect, hardship and pain. Amara wasn't a heartless person, she was a sad one.
Standing up quickly and binning the rest of the coffee, Amara pulled herself out of her thoughts. Emotions shouldn't be on her radar. They clouded things. They messed things up.
"Thanks Rich," she said to the coffee man. It was unusual for her to speak to him, but they were on first name terms. After all, she bought a lot of coffee. She was probably his best customer.
"No problem, as always. Something bugging you?" he asked tentatively.
Amara shook her head and stepped into the throng of people bustling past, getting swept forwards into the town centre. She went with it, and for the next two hours she pretended she was a normal member of the general public. She bought a new t-shirt and a pair of black jeans. She did some food shopping at the supermarket. Then she walked home.
Behind her, as she closed the door to the bungalow, a shadow moved.