11. The Shadow People
It had started out as a joke. Had he read about The Shadow People somewhere or had somebody said something to him? Neil couldn't remember. However, they seemed very real when they turned up in his life. It was always "they" or "them". When he started to try and explain who they were and how he knew that they were watching him, antagonising him, he struggled to put things into words. It was such a strong feeling, being stalked by them, but yet it was something that could not easily be expressed to people who had never felt so persecuted.
Neil had grown immensely frustrated, first with Lara, then with concerned family members and later with his doctors and other healthcare professionals. He quickly figured out that he couldn't very well say "The Shadow People are out to get me" without being locked up in a mental institution for the rest of his days, but he remained convinced that there were very real malevolent forces that were targeting him. It was difficult for him to try and explain things to people, when he himself saw that The Shadow People had just melted away in the cold light of day.
Earlier in the year, Neil began to believe that Lara was becoming hostile towards him and he started to become afraid and mistrustful of her. He started locking himself in the bathroom. Then he started barricading himself in rooms. He even locked the doors to the house. Lara's parents had come to help her to move out for a short time, to look after her while the couple was going through this crisis. Neil was convinced that they were all conspiring against him. When his doctor and his own parents showed up at the house at the behest of Lara, Neil felt totally besieged and betrayed.
The involvement of the police at times meant that Neil often imagined officers kicking the door down and dragging him away against his will. The escalating crisis had meant that the police were concerned about Neil's welfare. He knew the police had been looking for him and trying to get in contact whenever he went missing, but his very worst fear - apprehension by the long arm of the law - never actually happened. However, Neil was sure that he saw blue flashing lights outside his house and he could hear police officers communicating with each other via their radios.
As the crisis dragged on, everybody seemed to be antagonising him even though he wanted to be left alone. He wanted to be isolated in privacy, barricaded in a safe cocoon. Lying in the bedroom, he thought he could hear his mother speaking to somebody on the street outside. He heard car and van doors slamming and boots that sounded like the police force about to mount an assault on his home. Pretty soon the front door would be battered off its hinges and somebody would shout "POLICE! STAY WHERE YOU ARE". Then, he heard the TV in the lounge turn on. The TV wasn't tuned in to any channel and he could hear the hiss of static roaring out from the loudspeaker.
It took a long time to build up the nerve to go and investigate the TV, because Neil was sure that the police were going to storm the house at any moment. He crept down the stairs. He thought he could see people moving around on the porch outside, through the frosted glass above the front door. They would surely break the front door down at any moment. Growing impatient, he made his way to the door of the snug. He could hear the TV hissing with static quite loudly now. Stepping into the room, he looked at the TV screen. It was black. There was no sound of static anymore. He switched it off at the wall just to be sure.
Having returned to the relative safety of the bedroom, he heard the radio in the kitchen start to blare out static hiss. Entering the kitchen, the radio seemed to be off but it was still crackling and hissing. He turned it off at the wall and there was a kind of popping noise and the hiss stopped.
Later, the TV started up again. He knew that was impossible because he'd switched it off at the wall. The sound was unmistakable though. He wandered around the bedroom, trying to figure out precisely where the sound was coming from. It was definitely the TV in the snug. Creeping down the stairs and into the room, the TV was silent and there was no red standby light glimmering in the darkness. Who the hell was playing tricks on him? Neil was certain that the TV had definitely been turned on a moment before he came into the room. He unplugged it from the wall so that it was impossible for any power to flow down the cable. He assumed that the socket switch must be faulty.
The radio started hissing with static and Neil rushed to the kitchen to unplug it. This was becoming hard to explain. It had to be somebody playing tricks on him.
That was how The Shadow People slowly entered his life. They would come when he was tired and it was dark. He knew they existed because he could hear them whispering to each other, he could see them moving around as his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he watched the faintest light dancing on the walls, on the curtains, underneath doors, through cracks. Neil didn't dare throw open a door or switch on a light, because he was worried that other people were watching too. What if the police were there, waiting to make their move? What if his neighbours happened to be looking at that particular moment and saw him wild-eyed and sleep deprived, acting strangely?
Neil crept around the darkened house. All the curtains and blinds were pulled closed. Sometimes, he didn't know whether it was early morning or late evening. He didn't know what day it was. During daylight hours everything seemed a little more normal and he relaxed. Sometimes he would doze for a few hours. Daytime was confusing, because many of the threats seemed to have vanished. The police had given up and gone home. The Shadow People had disappeared. His persecutors seemed to know when he was at his most vulnerable.
Using his expertise as a CCTV engineer, Neil rigged up cameras to watch the front of the house and the back garden. The cameras had night vision, which gave blurry monochrome images in low light conditions. Watching the monitor screen intently for hours on end, Neil never saw anything that conclusively showed evidence of any untoward activity. He set up motion sensitive triggers and recorded video footage 24 hours a day. The only thing he captured was the postman delivering letters. This gave him little comfort. Instead, he wondered if The Shadow People had gotten more sneaky. Perhaps they had figured out a way to get into his house without needing to come in the front or back door.
Venturing into the attic, Neil knew that there were gaps into the attics of the terraced houses on either side. For hours, Neil crawled around in the roof. He spied into his own house through gaps around the lighting fixtures in the ceiling. He looked down through the hatch and imagined that he could escape the police if they broke in, by hiding up in the attic.
Covered in dust and fibreglass insulation, he finally descended down the ladder from the attic. The town and the street were too "hot". There were so many noises of human activity around him and people knew exactly where to find him. If he truly wanted privacy and to avoid being found, he would have to come up with an escape plan. Neil started to imagine how he could slip away and find some remote corner of the world where Lara, family, police and The Shadow People wouldn't be able to track him down and harass him.
Having a few good meals, getting some sleep, thoroughly washing and putting on clean clothes, Neil was in good shape for the journey down to the caravan. He looked after himself better than he had been doing for weeks, if not months. It was important to look as presentable as possible if he wasn't going to draw attention to himself when he ventured out into public.
When he was well rested and well fed, The Shadow People retreated, but it was important that he put his plan into action so that they wouldn't bother him when he was vulnerable. He knew that his fears of being dragged out of his safe space by the police, or persecuted by The Shadow People, would diminish whenever he slept, ate and took his medication, but those things conflicted with other strong forces that were driving him.
It had taken patience to execute his escape plan. As soon as he was freed from the clutches of psychiatrists, police and The Shadow People, he was sure that his life would be amazing. It had been exhausting, fighting the forces that conspired against him and living in constant fear.
At first, living in the caravan had been everything he'd hoped for. For about a fortnight, his plan had slotted into place perfectly. Then, everything had slowly crumbled. All his well laid plans seemed to fall to pieces and he felt as persecuted and afraid as he ever had done before.
When wind and rain lashed the aluminium skin of the caravan and the branches of the surrounding trees brushed the walls and the roof, Neil found the noises soothing, but soon he started to hear things that sounded like dog walkers, horse riders and nosey neighbours, all intent on discovering his private hideaway. Every trip out for supplies brought worries that he was leading people back to his secret sanctuary.
Now, he felt just as besieged as ever, but also dangerously isolated given the precariousness of his life and his survival prospects. The Shadow People would let him rot and die in that caravan, knowing they had successfully hounded him to his death. Nobody else would ever understand what had driven him into his current situation.