The boy who was afraid of his own shadow

An original fable by Yvonne Aburrow

Tim was a boy who was afraid of his own shadow. It followed him around all the time, and it never said anything. It grew bigger and smaller seemingly at random. Sometimes Tim shouted “GO AWAY!” but it still clung tenaciously to his feet.

Only when everything was dark all around him did the shadow finally disappear, but then the whole room was full of shadows: the shadow of the tree outside the window, coming through the curtains – sometimes because of the strange orange glow of the street lamp, sometimes because of the pale blue moonlight. Then there was the shadow that lived under the bed, which seemed to move of its own accord, and the shadow behind the wardrobe that loomed up the wall.

One day, Tim was out for a walk. It was a cloudy day, so his shadow was only a watery fuzzy thing, and Tim felt that perhaps it was not so dangerous today. He asked it why it always followed him, but it still remained obstinately silent.

Tim wandered aimlessly through the forest, filling his pockets with pebbles and interesting-looking twigs. A blackbird sat on a branch and sang its liquid song. Tim came to a path he did not know. There was an old woman standing very still in the middle of a glade. She was gazing up at the canopy of leaves and the tracery of twigs above her. She held out her hand, and a small bird came to land on it. Tim watched as the bird fed from her hand. After a while, it flew away.

“How did you do that?” he asked.

“I was very very quiet, both inside and out,” said the woman. She turned to look at Tim, her long white hair swinging like a curtain to reveal her bright blue eyes.

“Quiet on the inside?” asked Tim.

“Yes. Perhaps no-one has shown you how to do that,” she suggested.

“No, they haven’t.”

“Just breathe,” said the woman.

“Is that it?” asked Tim.

“No, but it is the beginning.”

“The beginning of what?” asked Tim.

“Of not being afraid,” said the woman.

“How did you know I was afraid?” asked Tim.

“Most people are,” said the woman.

“Of what?” asked Tim.

“Their own darkness,” said the woman.

“Is that like being afraid of your shadow?” asked Tim.

“Very much like that, yes,” said the woman. “Is that what you are afraid of?”

Tim decided to trust the woman. She seemed friendly, and there was something bird-like about her. Tim had always liked birds, especially robins with their bright eyes.

“Yes, I am.”

The woman did not laugh at him, as other grown-ups had. She just looked at him intently with her head on one side.

After a silence, she said, “You need to make friends with it.”

“How do I do that when it won’t talk to me?” he asked.

“How do you make friends with other children?” asked the woman.

“By playing with them,” said Tim.

“Exactly,” said the woman.

Just then, the sun came out from behind the clouds, and there were both Tim’s shadow and the old woman’s, stretched out across the grass of the glade. The old woman crouched down and made the shape of a hare with her shadow. Tim laughed.

“It’s a hare,” he said.

“Yes. Your turn,” said the old woman.

Tim made the shape of a cat with his shadow. He had to assume such a contorted pose to do this that he collapsed in giggles.

“I think that was a cat,” laughed the woman.

“For a minute, anyway,” said Tim.

Next they played tag with their shadows. Each of them took it in turns to be “It”, and the other one had to chase them and try to step on their shadow.

“Still afraid of your shadow?” asked the woman eventually.

“No, it’s like a friend now,” said Tim.

“Exactly,” said the woman. “We all have darkness inside us, anyway – it is dark inside your body.” [1]

“So it is,” said Tim. “I never thought of that.”

Tim said goodbye to the woman, and walked home, whistling. He decided to call his shadow Tom.

That night when he went to bed, he wasn’t afraid of the shadows in the moonlight any more, because he knew that Tom was there to look after him.




[1] I am indebted to Crow for the observation that it is dark inside your body.

A note on names – Tim means ‘fear’ and Tom means ‘twin’ (and the story is not based on anyone I know called Tim or Tom). Other than that, I will let you work out the meanings of this fable for yourself.