The diner was filled to the brim with society's worst. Hookers and pimps talking noisily while waitresses race to serve their every demand bypassing the thieves and drunks hovering silently over steaming cups of coffee. It seemed anyone who was part of the human race's underbelly or downtrodden by it was here, wasting the hours away.
Outside the black late-night air was cool and still, traffic was nonexistent and nothing seemed to exist beyond the fogged up windows and streetlights just beyond. It was an entire world, a dark twisted universe, condensed into one mass of neon lights, stale coffee and cigarette smoke.
Yet, in the middle of it all, there I was. Taking up a booth with a view of the door, I sat pouring over my notes and collecting my thoughts. A freelance journalist for ten odd years, I was strangely used to these places and to the seedier side of man, it was calming, almost refreshing to be among those less fortunate than I.
However, nothing settled my nerves that night. I was tracking the biggest story of my career and I knew it. Because, if all went well, I was about to break open the secrets of the Shadowline society.
For years I had studied the paranormal including, ghosts, UFOs and everything in between. I'd met a lot of quacks and nut jobs of all varieties, but I'd also tapped into a large network of legitimate reporting. In that network, largely populated by mainstream journalists with a fascination for oddities, I kept hearing a name repeated over and over, “Shadowline”.
It became my obsession and, for nearly four years, it consumed all of my free time, even to the point of building a pseudo shrine in my office of photos and clippings pertaining to its strange tales. It seemed that, in nearly every corner of the globe and as far back as I could study, the society was there, battling invisible threats and waging a silent war.
Through the stories, I learned the name of a local Shadowline representative, Peter Silverton, and pulled every string I could to track him down, eventually nailing him through his cell phone company. I called him up and told him that I knew about the society. To my shock, he barely reacted at all, instead asking if I was a journalist and then scheduling an interview. He suggested the time, I suggested the place.
According to him, he was eager to reminisce some and was tired of holding onto his stories. Still, it seemed too easy. After all, how is a secret society to remain as such when it's members talk freely? It didn't add up.
But I didn't get much time to debate the question. Because, as soon as the thought entered my mind the bell above the door to the diner chimed and he walked in.
It was an eerie moment to say the least. Though people had come and gone the entire time I'd been there, for some reason, everyone dropped what they were doing to turn to the door. Even I, who had previously grown deaf to the chime of the bell, felt compelled to look up when I heard it ring this time. It was as if everyone in the restaurant was captivated by something they couldn't even feel, just some strange instinct that no one could explain.
He stepped into the door calmly, ignoring the dozens of eyes locked directly on him. His footsteps were firm as they echoed through the stilted silence that had fallen across the restaurant. He looked up for a second, glanced around the room and quickly fixed his gaze on me, staring me directly in the eye, without so much as changing his expression.
Quietly, he walked over to me and slowly conversation began to resume in the restaurant. He stopped a few feet in front of me and extended his hand, “Mr. Abbott, I assume,” he said, almost charmingly.
“Yes, but call me Nathanial,” I said meeting his hand for a stiff handshake.
“Then call me Peter,” he said softly.
He slid into the booth opposite of me and offered me a moment to get a good look at him. He was exactly as described in reports, in his late thirties, with slicked back blond hair, piercing blue eyes, dressed completely in black and with with a very calm demeanor about him. It was as if the news articles had come to life.
“Can I get you something to eat,” I offered, “Perhaps something to drink?”
Peter reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, “I'll take a cup of coffee, black, and a glass of ice water.”
I hurriedly flagged down a waitress and placed his order. “Thank you for coming to see me tonight, I appreciate it.”
“The pleasure is mine,” he said removing a cigarette from the pack, “It's not every day I get to talk about my past. We keep few friends in our profession, so we don't get to talk very much.”
I went to speak but the waitress returned with the drinks. I looked up at him as he was lighting his cigarette and somehow felt scared, as if I couldn't speak. I stammered on my words for a moment before working up the courage to ask, “So why did you agree to talk to me? I mean, you're a part of a pretty secret society aren't you?”
Peter took a long drag off the cigarette and tapped it on the edge of the ashtray, “We're no secret society,” he said, “There's plenty of evidence we exist, as I'm sure you know. However, no one believes in us. We're like the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, hidden in plain sight, but just a figment of our collective imagination.”
I shifted uneasy in my seat trying to absorb what he'd said, “But the tooth fairy and Santa Claus aren't real, yet, you are.”
“How are you sure they aren't real?” he said, holding his cigarette loosely in his fingers, “Besides, in my world, the line between real and imaginary is faded at best.”
“Let's move on,” I said trying to get off the subject.
“I agree,” he said setting his cigarette down and leaning forward in the booth, “Because I have a question for you.”
“How long did it take you to track me down? I'm just curious.”
He was toying with me, I just knew it. His attitude, his demeanor, even the way he flicked his cigarette, I knew he was waiting to spring some kind of trap. It's always a bad sign when someone asks the journalist questions. It means the tables are turning and whatever control one has is slipping.
“It took me about four years,” I said trying to keep calm, “I'd been studying the paranormal for much longer, but only honed in on Shadowline recently.”
“I'm impressed,” he said smoothly, “Most would have taken much longer.”
I decided to reclaim the offensive. I didn't know if he had another question, a barrage of them or just the one, but I wasn't going to wait to find out. I thanked him politely and bolted in, “However, there's still much that I don't understand. I've got a lot of questions for you.”
He took a short puff of his cigarette, exhaled softly and set it back down, “That's why I'm here, so ask away,” he said with a soft hand motion.
Hurriedly I threw open my note book and turned it to a clean page. I plucked my pen from underneath the scattered pages on the table and held it firmly against the paper my hand, practically shaking under the pressure.
“Well, the first thing, I guess, is that I don't really understand what the Shadowline society is. I mean, I've read all kinds of stories about you guys but, honestly, I have no clue what it is that you do.”
Peter sat up in his chair, took a long drag of his cigarette before snuffing it out in the ashtray. He then turned to his coffee, taking a short sip of it as he hunched over the table. “I see,” he said softly, clearly searching for the right words.
I started to apologize for my ignorance, but before I could speak up, Peter shifted and said, “Well, in order to understand what the Shadowline Society does, you have to understand what the Shadowline is and that's a bit involved I'm afraid.”
I nestled back into my seat and tried to mask my disappointment. He didn't seem like someone to trouble himself with details, much less long explanations. It was a shock when he continued.
“It's difficult to explain because the three dimensional world you see is an illusion. The universe is, truthfully, much more complicated and is divided into two separate, but equally important halves. The first half is the physical world, it's the things we see, touch, feel taste. It's all of the stars and planets in the universe and every blade of grass on the ground.”
“It's the world we live in,” I chimed in, trying to be helpful.
He raised is hand to silence me and made a motion to indicate I was getting ahead of him, “The other world, is the world of energy. Even though it could include almost any kind of energy, for the purpose of this discussion, we'll just say it includes living energy, often called Chi. It's what separates the living from, well,” he tapped the table twice with his knuckle, “the inert.”
“I see,” I said trying to keep up, “and both realms occupy the same, what we would call three dimensional space.”
Peter nodded his head softly, “Simplistic, but very accurate. However, the picture we're concerned with, the bigger one, operates a lot like this glass,” he said pulling his water glass from the side and putting it in the center of the table.
I gave him a puzzled look and he threw back an annoyed expression. He dropped a finger into the ice water and flattened his other hand out, holding it just outside the glass, “This glass has two very different worlds, one of water and one of air. They are separated by a wall, the glass itself,” he said running his finger along the rim.
“The Shadowline works like the glass, separating the two worlds. However, for life to exist, there must be both energy and matter in the same place.”
I sat up and leaned in to the glass, excited by the dialog, “But if the two are kept separate by this Shadowline, how can they ever meet?”
Without saying a word he dragged a finger from his dry hand along the outside of the glass and held it up to show me that it was wet from condensation on the glass' exterior. “Much as with this glass, the two worlds have a minute amount of the other trapped in them. Inside this glass are tiny air bubbles left behind from when it was empty and the air has a certain amount of water inside it naturally. In both cases, these masses, for whatever reason, condense to the barrier around them, creating droplets, air bubbles and even life.”
I sank back into my seat and tried to take it all in. I was never much of one for philosophy or physics, I was just expecting to talk to a ghost chaser like myself, not get an explanation on the origins of life, “So we're just a cosmic accident?” I asked timidly.
“We don't get into religion,” he said firmly. “Whether this is part of a divine plan or just a coincidence, well, that's up to you. But it's important to note that, unlike this glass, the Shadowline is flexible. Anything you do on one side has ripples that effect the other. Perhaps a balloon would have been a better analogy. But I had to work with what I have on hand.”
“I understand,” I said exhaling sharply. I ran my fingers through my hair and quickly realized that I was out of my league. I tried to think of an intelligent question but kept firing blanks. “So life exists on both sides of the Shadowline.”
“Defintely,” he said without any hesitation, apparently excited that I was still interested, “Creatures live in both worlds, physical beings with only a minor amount of energy and energy creatures with only some physical properties. Both exist.”
“So, what does this have to do with you?” I asked, trying desperately to get the conversation back on track.
He leaned back in his seat and took another sip from his coffee. He toyed briefly with his cigarettes before deciding to wait and sliding them back into his pocket, “As a member of the Shadowline Society, my job is to protect the Shadowline.”
“Many creatures, including those on both sides of the line, want to break through to the other side. The logic is that, for example, if a human could tap into this entire universe of energy, he or she would have unlimited power. However, the logic is quite flawed because, if anyone succeed, it would tear the Shadowline, rendering it useless.”
“And what does that mean.”
He slid forward in his chair and leaned across the table, pressing his face as close to mine as he could do so comfortably, “It means that life as we know it would end. Either a new universe would be created or the one we have now would simply be destroyed. Either way, that is not a risk we can take. The death of every living creature in the universe is not an acceptable outcome, no matter what happens afterward.”
The gravity of it all finally hit me. I dropped my eyes to the table top and began dwelling on the situation at hand. I was either dealing with a lunatic or, perhaps, the most important person alive. I glanced down at my notes, looking at the various incidents I'd recorded with his name attached to them.
There was an eerie pattern to them. Everywhere he went, he walked into the worst hauntings imaginable and, in front of credible witnesses, consistently put an end to them. It was too much to ignore. But there he sat, three feet away from me, talking about the end of the world and how he and his group were the only things stopping it from happening. He seemed ripe for a padded room and a straitjacket, but he looked as calm and rational as anyone else.
My mind quickly began to gnaw on the problem. I couldn't tell who was sane anymore. Everything seemed crazy. I even began questioning myself and the urge to leave grew stronger and stronger with ever breath I took.
But when I looked up, Peter was leaning forward and looking directly at me. He met my eyes calmly and said, “You don't have to believe me, all you have to do is listen. The stories will speak for themselves.”
It was as if he'd read my mind. It was all I could do to mutter “Ok” before grabbing my pad again.
“So, where shall we start?” he asked leaning back into his seat, trying to get comfortable.
“At the beginning, definitely at the beginning,” I said back.