He walked past a group of his coworkers who were sitting around a large round table, their laptops all open in front of them, which was the preferred method of getting work done. In a group, never alone. They were all laughing as one of them shared photos of their cat on the office chat box. A woman looked up from her computer at her coworkers and said, “And this one is of my cat sitting in a box!” with a roar of laughter from the group in reply.
Leaning in to one of his coworker's computer, he investigated the picture of the cat. It looked apathetic, staring up blankly at the camera, sitting in a normal cat position, but in a box. The look on Julian's face was similar to the look on the cat's. “That's not funny,” he stated blankly. Everyone stopped laughing and looked up at him. Nervousness flickered across their gaze. They all looked at each other, fear in a few of their postures. Then one chirped up, “Well, to each their own!” follow by more giggles and relieved smiles.
Julian continued over to his Papasan chair, which was a solitary bowl where only he, and he alone could fit. He worked without the small permanent smile on his face that all the commuters on the street had while they walked, that all the billboards showed of models smiling and laughing as big as they can manage. Julian wasn't like everyone else. He valued productivity first, happiness second. Intellect over humor. Self awareness over social interaction.
The specialized advertisements on the edge of his social networking page said, “Affordable Happiness Rehab—Get That Smile Back TODAY!” Another told him, “Control Your Thoughts—Don't Let Them Control You. Free Anti-Depressants!” As he scrolled through his News Feed, he saw that no one posted about a loved one's disappearance anymore. Reading such posts created negative thoughts in the minds of readers, which spread like an infection.
At home, Julian's apartment was painted in neutral colors such as beige and subtle greens instead of the neons and pastels everyone else was so fond of. The TV was filled with comedies of all varieties, but he flipped from channel to channel apathetically. He wasn't really watching.
The lights flickered in his apartment. A shadow slowly crept out of his living room instead his bedroom, and he thought at the last second it turned to stare at him—or rather, into him. It had no real shape—it was always changing, but he always recognized it. Julian tried to ignore it, but he felt adrenaline release into his system. His heart beat faster, his toes and fingers tingled with fear. His neutral lips began curling into a frown.
The TV shouted at him, “Alone tonight? Don't be! Go out with friends! Keep yourself positive!” Julian flipped off the TV to black. The advertisements always told you what to do—never what not to do. They were too scared to mention fear, sadness, depression, and the consequences of it.
Julian got up from his chair and walked towards his bedroom. What are you doing? he thought. Negativity bred on negativity. He knew that. Get out. Stop the cycle. But nothing was truly funny. What made others happy just seemed trivial and childish to him. Julian had never really fit in, and what made him happy was different from others: accomplishments, solitude, the outdoors, poetry, introspection, catharsis.
Ever since childhood, Julian had been different. He'd cause other children to become bored, angry, or scared. This in turn led to other parents becoming scared of him breeding unhappiness in their children, and even his parents to become scared of him. They were able to keep up their pleasant charade for a number of years, but over time, they were consumed by their unhappiness, their fear... their thoughts.
But a deep curiosity pushed him forward. Step by step his heart pumped louder until he was sure this it was audible beyond his chest. More lights flickered until one by one they started to turn off. His television sputtered to life and flickered between white noise and black. His frown deepened. Julian knew to turn away, but he had to see what the manifestation of his negativity looked like. He put a hand on the edge of his bedroom door, took a deep shaking pause, and walked into the doorway.
His eyes scanned the black room. The last thing he saw was The Shadow mid-leap. He didn't even have time to scream as it enveloped him, and consumed him.
Julian Blackwood became another number in a list of disappearances that no one would ever hear about, talk about, or even acknowledge lest they risk the same fate. In a world where thoughts became reality, no one felt safe.