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Ever since I was tiny, I have had an overactive imagination. My mum always told me this was a gift, although I have found it an utter nuisance… What came with this (which has proved to be the most inconvenient of all) is my tendency to get scared often and also to seek out the things that made me most frightened. My most prominent memory of this in my childhood was a character who (and I honestly can’t remember exactly) I think I called the Shadow Man.
It all started when I was about 7 or 8, and I happened to be in another classroom at school. I can’t remember why, all I can recall were the decorations on the large window panes. They were rudimentary cut-outs of stick figures in black cartridge paper with a series of spikes for hands, feet and hair. The oddest thing about these little characters was their eyes. There were eye shapes, jagged-y and crude, cut out of the faces and behind them a piece of red cellophane had been stuck -like the sort of stuff see-through sweet rappers are made of- so that when the sun shone through the windows their eyes were illuminated. I know this doesn’t sound particularly scary, but it is the founding of a truly terrifying image.
Some time later I was staying at my grandparents house. It was a little cottage on the corner of a road next to a church with a sprawling graveyard, which I have to say, was rather picturesque. I was sat in the guest room (my room) bouncing on the bed when suddenly I felt a weird feeling creep over me, like somebody had poured a bucket of icy water over my head and extinguished my childish playfulness. I felt very afraid and sat, completely paralyzed, on the edge of the bed. Once my head stopped swimming and my heart had stopped pounding I realized I could hear the reassuring clicking of my grandfather typing, and the hum of the computer in the office across the tiny hall. I slipped silently out of my room and to the office door which, to my confusion, was closed. It was never closed. I peered through the gap at the hinge (it was an old house with thin, wooden doors with many cracks and crevices) and what I saw made me stop. I had been planning to burst in and ask Grandpa if he wanted some biscuits from downstairs, but something seemed off. There was a man sitting at the desk, but I couldn’t make any of his features out. It was like he was made of fog, wispy and intangible, but his long, smokey fingers brushed the keys nonetheless. He was making the reassuring click. At once at felt sort of angry. Who was this man? And why was he here, using MY grandfather’s computer?! I pulled the latch on the door and stomped in, ready to shout at this intruder… But the room was empty. There was a low whirr as the computer shut down, the little blue light on the monitor flashing as the systems switched off.
But I could still hear the click.
It was definitely the keys, and I was SURE there had been somebody in the room, I could feel their presence like you can any person who is close to you. I fled downstairs. I mean I really ran, straight into the kitchen where my grandmother was cooking, and stayed there.
I didn’t feel that presence again until what must have been a couple of years later:
I had a nightmare.
There was a boy, a boy made of black smoke who I saw in my house. He had a long, dark blade which glinted in the dim light of my dream, glinted while he killed my family. I ran away. As fast as I could, screaming and panting and sobbing. Big huge sobs with tears flooding my face. The nightmare went on, and each person who helped me, each person who took me in was killed. I kept running. Just running and running for what seemed like hours until suddenly I screamed “STOP!”. I spun around, and sure enough, he was there. I was a stubborn, rude child and my personality had kicked in at this point. It had had enough.
“WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?!” I demanded.
And just like that, I woke up.
Again, there was a long period of time before I felt that fear again. This time I was thirteen and in a scouts group. Mondays and Wednesdays, from 7 till 9, I was in the Scouts building located at the end of a long driveway in a village near where I lived. We would have a break in the middle of each night where me and the older kids would walk down to the petrol station and buy snacks. This required us to walk across a long field besides the woods. In the dark.
We would, of course, try to scare each other. That night it was particularly dark and we had run out of traditional ghost stories by the time we got to the petrol station so on the way back I told the story about the Shadow Man at my grandmothers house. Just as I finished telling it, we passed through the gate that led to field, which was a little bridge with ditches on each side. As I walked through the gate, something caught my leg. I yelped as I fell down into the ditch, my hands clawing at the dirt, dislodging rocks and earth which proceeded to fall on me. One of the rocks was huge, heavy and landed flat bang on my chest. I choked and spluttered as many hands reached down to pull me out of the ditch. I was crying and gasping, I was badly winded and for a second I thought I had broken a rib. Then I started to feel afraid, the wrong kind of afraid, and I took a deep breath against the pain and stood up. At my urgent request, we hurried across the field and back to the lights of the Scout building. I never spoke of the terrible feeling that washed over me. All I knew was that I had walked across that bridge dozens of times in the dark, and there wasn’t a branch or rock or anything that obstructed the path. I never told them I felt something pull my ankle…
I quit the club soon after that, but that incident wasn’t the only reason. One night my mum drove me down the long, bumpy driveway and as we passed the trees I felt more frightened of the shadows than I ever had before. I could see shapes, twisting, smokey shapes writing between the shadowed trunks. This terror increased the further down the drive we got, until we reached the building beyond. It was completely dark, no light to be seen. Now I should have mentioned, sometimes they can’t do the Scouts meeting and the building would stay locked up, but there was something very eerie about this time. My mum pulled up and started frowning
“Do you think we are early?” She said, turning to me. I was completely white and could barely utter my plea to get out of here. My chest burned, i couldn’t breathe. My mind went racing back to that night, laying in the cold ditch with a giant rock on my chest feeling like I was lost in the shadows for hours before my friends pulled me out. I felt constricted.
“Honestly, I think we are just early, hon” she said, going for the handle of the door, “look I think I can see a note on the doorstep, I’ll just go check…”
“NO! STAY IN THE CAR!” I shrieked, bursting into tears. I told my mum I had this horrible feeling of foreboding, and I just really wanted to leave. She drove all the way home without saying a word. The whole journey all I could think about were the twisting shadows which lurked beyond the light of the car. But I felt safe, in the car with my mum. When we got home she made me a hot chocolate and knelt down in front of me.
“Look, you could have told me if you felt bad okay? Sometimes, and not always when your scared, but sometimes you just know when somewhere isn’t safe. But your fine now, okay?”
This was the last time I felt like that, for now at least, but there was one more thing (Sorry, I’ll shut up soon…) I found an old book of children’s poetry on a shelf in my room and while I was flicking through it I found a poem titled ‘Nightmare’.
I can’t remember the whole thing but it goes something like this:
“I check behind the door, and under my bed.
I close my eyes and count to ten
I turn my pillow over three times…
But still you come.
Your long fingers scraping against each other…
The Scratch Man
Oh no! I said his name! Mummy I can’t sleep!”
The reason I included this is because there was a picture with the poem.
In the picture was a shadow.
The shadow of a man, with long, spiky fingers.
And long spiky hair…
Credit To: Papaver