Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
“Hello, my old friend,” Griffin said aloud as he stared out the window at the dark spot. It had been at least two decades since he had seen the shadow-man. A moment later, Julie came into the bedroom and stood next to Griffin at the large bay-window.
“Holy crap,” she exclaimed, “Is that him? Is that the shadow-man?” Griffin simply nodded next to her. “Baby, I’m just utterly amazed. I can’t believe you grew up with that creepy-ass thing outside your window. We gotta put this on Facebook.” She left the room for a moment and Griffin sighed. Was he really about to live in this room again? Julie returned a moment later, cell phone in hand, camera at the ready.
“Open the window for me, babe. I want to get a good shot of that thing.” Griffin complied with his wife’s request, rotating the small metal handle at the base of the window. Julie leaned out as far as she could without making it dangerous and proceeded to take several pictures of the dark spot, both with and without the flash. A few minutes later, she was sitting on Griffin’s childhood bed and scrolling through the shots, cursing excessively as she did. There was no doubt that Griffin loved her to pieces but she did have the mouth of a sailor from time to time.
“You can’t see him in any of these shots! This is horrible. How much did we pay for these damn phones again?” Griffin put his hand on her shoulder and tried to console her.
“Sorry sweetheart, it just doesn’t show up in pictures. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
“Hmmph,” she responded, “Screw that. We’re digging the expensive camera out of its box tomorrow and I’m getting a picture of that thing. I think it’s in one of the ones in the study; where we put all the electronics.” Practically their entire existence was packed away in a box somewhere in that old house.
They were in the process of moving into Griffin’s childhood home. He had spent the first seventeen years of his life in the very room they would be sleeping in that night. It was a beautiful, Victorian-era home; the kind that just weren’t made anymore. It had four bedrooms but his parents had converted one into an office and one into a sewing room for his mother so there were really only two choices of where to sleep and it just didn’t feel right sleeping in his parent’s old bedroom; probably never would.
His father, who made a substantial living as a heart surgeon, could do nothing for his own health, however, and died a year before from lung cancer. His mother passed on six months after that, most likely from a broken heart. Griffin gave some consideration to selling the property but Julie was having none of it. “You would hate yourself if you let anyone else move in here,” she had said, and she was right. Discovering that Julie was pregnant two months ago, was the main reason opted out of their loft in the city for the slower life of rural living.
The “yard”, if you could call it that, was nearly four acres in all, but the highlight of the entire property was the enormous Oak tree that sat directly behind the house. The house had been there for nearly a century and the tree much, much longer than that. One couldn’t tell how exactly how old it was without cutting it down and counting the rings but Griffin imagined five or six hundred years wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. That’s where the shadow-man lived.
There was a bare patch facing Griffin’s bedroom window; a bare-patch which, at night, became the dark spot. When one looked out that window at that angle the shadows of the dark spot came together to create a perfect, humanoid silhouette crouching on a branch. It only happened after dark, but there was something about the combination of the back porch lights and the light from the work-shed that filtered through the leaves creating the perfectly disturbing image.
There were even two dots of light where eyes should be and a small line that could easily represented an uneven smile. Griffin was around six when he first noticed the spooky image and, although he knew full well it was just a trick of the light and shadow even at that age, his young, fertile imagination took ahold of it and ran. The non-existent details of the shadow-man were filled in at night by a young Griffin’s dreams.
With thick, leathery skin that looked like oil poured into a human mold, it had no nose or ears; only eyes and large lip-splitting grin defined by sharply-pointed, pearlescent teeth. It would slink into his window at night to terrorize in a variety of ways from crouching on a young Griffin’s chest and watching him struggle to breath as he slept, to crawling up the walls and ceiling where it would hiss at the terrified child though its barbed teeth.
These were, of course, only nightmares but the effect they had on his psyche growing up was significant. To say his formative years were troubling would have been an understatement. Once he reached high-school, however, Griffin had matured enough to realize the paranoia was of his own doing and the majority of his dreams became about girls, but the shadow-man never left him completely, popping by once every couple of weeks just to say ‘hi’.
He remembered standing in that same spot his last night in the house before he left for Johns Hopkins Medical School. He remembered looking at the shadow-man for what he thought was going to be the last time and thinking, I will never see you again and I will not miss you. He was half right at least.
“I guess I was wrong about that one,” he muttered to himself.
“Whassat?” Julie mumbled back, still scouring over her pictures of the dark spot. She just couldn’t figure out why she only see branches and leaves and a bare spot, especially in the pictures where she used the flash, instead of the menacing silhouette she could clearly see with her eyes. Straining, she tried to figure out what parts of the tree contributed to the illusion.
“Nothing…just talking to myself,” he answered. Julie threw her phone down on the bed in frustration.
“Well, one thing’s for sure,” she sighed. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to sleep in here with that damn thing outside the window. I mean…geez…I don’t know how you did it as a kid; thing’s effen’ scary.”
Griffin smiled. “You get used to him.” Julie shook her head emphatically.
“Oh hell no…and don’t call it a ‘him’. Tomorrow you have put up a flood light or something. Got it?” Griffin continued to smile. “And tonight you hold me real close. You got it, Griff?” Griffin sat on the bed next to his pregnant wife and held her tightly.
“I won’t let him get you tonight,” he whispered in her ear while in the embrace; the teasing resulting in a smack on the arm.
The next morning, Griffin rose before Julie which wasn’t uncommon. Most days he was at the hospital before she awoke to the automatic coffee makers aroma. Since he was on-leave for the move he could have slept in with her if he had wanted…and maybe he did, but internal clocks can be difficult to re-set, especially his; he was a creature of habit. They had a lot on the agenda for the day anyway. The biggest of which was to move the lion’s share of his parent’s possessions to the sizable attic and basement.
There were some things that could be sold and some things that could be given away but, much like the house itself, most would be too hard to part with. That didn’t mean the stuff needed to stay where it was, however. Griffin was adamant when they decided to make the move that the house be the home of Griffin and Julie Masters and not that of Ben and Mary Masters. It wouldn’t have been fair to either of them to try and make a life in a home surrounded by the possessions and memories of someone else’s life; even if it were his parents.
Julie, who was a bit of an aspiring decorator, was so excited for the opportunity to redecorate the immense estate anyway…who was he to take that away from her? He loved his wife so much. Even as she slept with no makeup and a bird’s nest on her head, she was the loveliest thing Griffin had ever seen. Turning from her, he looked out the window at the oak tree and the bare spot.
How many times had he looked at that spot during the day just trying to piece together what it was he was seeing at night? What knob, which branch, what series of leaves contributed to the eerie figment that appeared at night? A greater percentage of his childhood was spent studying that bare spot than he cared to admit; even to himself and here he was, twenty years later, doing the same damn thing.
After his coffee, but before Julie woke, Griffin left for the local hardware store to get a flood-light for the back of the house and had it mounted by lunch. When the sun finally went down they discovered just how well it worked as it lit up the entire back-yard like Wrigley Field. There was absolutely no risk of the shadow-man’s return with it on, however, there was a very high possibility that neither of them would be able to sleep again. It was so bright that it filled the bedroom and half the hallway.
“I guess I won’t need a lamp to read in bed anymore,” Julie had joked but still ended up sending him out to shut it off. “I guess the shadow-man wins again,” she continued to kid as he came back to bed but he found he wasn’t able to laugh with her. It was such a stupid thing to even be concerned with…but he was. He was a renowned doctor, for Pete’s sake; there were so many crucial things that he needed to worry about but now that the shadow-man was back in his thoughts, he refused to leave. The only saving grace to that was that he had yet to appear in Griffin’s dreams again.
Several days passed before the shadow-man came up in conversation again. Mostly because they had so much to keep busy in the unpacking process, but also due in part to Julie having stacked the bay-window full of boxes and obscuring the view out. When they were finally removed and she saw the dark spot again, Julie jumped into action with the recently found Pentax 645D digital camera, which ran around ten thousand dollars when Griffin had gotten it for his wife the Christmas before last.
Similar to her current decorating aspirations, amateur photography was her passion at that time. If Griffin were being honest, there was really very little his wife couldn’t do; it was just hard to keep her focused on any one thing for an extended period of time. She had an innate ability to master her passions very quickly and then become bored with them as was common with people who shared her very high I.Q. That was, of course, one of the many things he loved about her.
She managed to snap a hand-full of pictures before the front door-bell rang out drawing her attention away from the task. It was the closest neighbors of thirty years who came to welcome Griffin back to the area with crumb-cake as well as to meet the wife of the lanky teen they remembered being so introverted. It turned into a lovely evening with the McMillian’s sharing a few embarrassing stories from Griffin’s youth but mostly just reminiscing his parents. They had become very close to Ben and Mary over the years and their death hit them probably the hardest.
“They are just so sweet,” Julie had said later that night in bed. “I wanted to scoop them up and put them in my pocket.” Griffin nodded in agreement. “Did you see the way he kept, holding her had?” She cozied up and put her head on his chest. “Are you going to hold my hand like that when we’re their age?” He took her hand and turned it over in his own.
“So much that people will think we’re glued together.” It was, as usual, the perfect answer. It had been a wonderful day and the topic of the shadow-man hadn’t come up at all; Griffin hadn’t given him a single moment’s thought…until Julie’s last words before drifting away to unconsciousness.
“Decorative lights…” It was so soft he barely heard her.
“Huh?” he prompted. “Lights?”
“Yea…” she was slipping fast, eyes already closed. “Lights…for the tree…damn shadow dude,” and then she was out.
“Dammit,” Griffin muttered. He had almost made it to a state of sleep without the shadow-man invading his mind and now, albeit unintentionally, Julie had placed him front and center just as he would be entering the dream-theatre. He tried desperately to push his thoughts elsewhere: his patients, the move, even the sweetness of the McMillians; but to no avail. The shadow-man just kept pushing his way in.
Falling into a deep REM-state, Griffin found himself face to face with the demon; although his was the face of a ten-year-old Griffin and not his current stature. They were seated across from one another on the floor, the creature crouching while he sat Indian-style. This was a new scenario. The shadow-man was making no aggressive moves, only smiling its unsettling smile and in a moment of odd lucidity, Griffin seemed to realize that he was in a dream. The revelation emboldened him to reach his hand out toward the shadow-man. Perhaps making contact would be the key to overcoming the psychological power this thing had held over him for so long.
The shadow-man reached one gnarled hand out as well and their fingers were only inches apart; Griffin felt unafraid. For the first time ever, he felt like he had some degree of control over the situation. It was his mind after all; shouldn’t he be the one directing the action?
“What do you want from me?” Dream-Griffin asked; completely calm. “Why won’t you just leave me alone?” For the first time that he could remember, the shadow-man made a noise other than its hiss. It was a disturbing, physically nauseating screech somewhere between nails on a chalkboard and a dental drill. It started small and began to grow louder and louder to the point where Griffin had to cover his ears with his hands, but even then it penetrated…right into his brain. He began to scream as well and just as the shriek reached a crescendo, and Griffin thought he could take no more, the shadow-man leapt from his spot onto the floor onto the young boy’s chest, knocking him backwards.
Adult Griffin shot upright in bed, knocking Julie from his chest in the process. She mumbled something incoherently and rolled to her side. Griffin was soaked with sweat. The dream seemed like a minute or two at most but the alarm-clock glowing bedside said differently. It was five in the morning and, although still dark outside, he was more than ready to start the day. He rose, gave the dark spot a disdainful glance and headed towards the shower. Lowe’s would be open in few hours and he was ready to do some shopping for decorative tree-lights.
Being the first person in the store was convenient, if not a little surreal, but he had no idea what he was looking or really. This was Julie’s area of expertise and he had really only received a half-conscious suggestion to work with. Christmas tree lights were probably not what she had in mind, but then again…who knows? He ended up settling on…everything. The final bill was just under two grand as he purchased every possibility for lighting as tree, and some things that weren’t intended for that purpose but which may have been made to work. Julie could make the final decision.
He could tell from her expression that his walking in the door with six large Lowe’s bags as Julie sat at the kitchen table with her coffee, was a bit of an overwhelming start to her day.
“Okay…” she said, feigning sarcastic indifference, “this makes perfect sense.”
“You said you wanted tree lights.” He dumped the bags on the kitchen table before her. “So, here you go.”
“So…how many trees were we planning to light up?” He laughed.
“You pick and what we don’t use, I’ll take back.” Julie started sorting through the various packages and shook her head.
“Geez…being away from work is absolutely killing you…isn’t it?” Griffin chuckled in agreement. It was better that she thought that rather than the fact that he might be slipping back into a childhood psychosis. His profession brought him close to all number of neurosis and he knew well the power of the mind. Unfortunately, these were things he hadn’t been trained to treat; things that usually got referred to a different branch of medicine entirely. Not that he was ready to go that route for himself just yet. It was only a nightmare, after all, and he wasn’t a child anymore.
Julie ended up deciding on a thirty-dollar set of cordless electric candles that could be placed strategically around the tree and then lit via a remote control. “You can probably get these up in a couple hours,” she said, “don’t you think?” Griffin skeptically admitted that it might take a bit longer and by the time the sun went down a little after seven, he had proven it to be the case. Highly motivated and armed with hammer, nails and a forty-foot ladder, Griffin was more than a little disappointed at only getting three into the tree before the lack of light made the endeavor too dangerous to continue.
Leaving the ladder leaning onto the oak, Griffin called it quits for the night and decided to take a short walk around the property. There was a well-worn path towards the edge of the yard that a young Griffin had walked at least a thousand times, but not for a few decades. It brought back memories of summer nights and catching fireflies and it was where he was in a deep state of reminiscence when Julie’s distant cry broke through his entrancement.
“Griffffiiin!” The panic in her voice was evident even at his distance and Griffin broke into a sprint. “Griff! Where are you!? Griffin…hurry!” Adrenaline fueled, he made it the back door in just under a minute.
“Julie!” he screamed.
“In here,” she called back from the living room and he hurried to her; finding her on the couch hunched over her laptop. Griffin wasn’t sure what he expected to find but, fortunately, this was not it. Her voice had scared him so badly, his initial reaction, he was ashamed to admit to himself, was one of anger. That was the type of scream that should only be reserved for mortality-impacting situations.
“What the hell, Jules?” He tried not to let the irritation come through. “You scared the shit outta me.” She looked up from the screen to his face and the anxiety came flooding back. Griffin could not remember ever seeing that look on his wife’s face. Drained of color and full of creased lines he had never seen before, the fear-induced expression made his neck-hair stand on end.
All she could utter was, “Look,” as she pointed to the computer screen. Griffin joined her on the couch and for a moment wasn’t sure what he was seeing. Was this some kind of horror website or something? And then it hit him…he knew exactly what he was looking it and all the air left his lungs. It was a picture of the shadow-man in the dark spot. The uber-expensive digital camera not only captured the image previously only available to the naked eye, but it had enhanced the appearance significantly.
It was there, in the dark spot, in perfect clarity with details only seen before in Griffin’s night terrors. Crouching on the branch, as it always seemed to be, its legs could be seen easily; its arms, chest, elbows, shoulders, neck and torso all plainly evident. This was no trick of the eyes or shadowy illusion; this was clearly the image of a real creature, sitting in the tree outside their bedroom window.
They sat there in silence, for several long minutes, staring at the image; struggling to wrap their minds around it. While working it through, Griffin came to a realization that made something in his mind snap and brought him into action. If this damn thing was real then so was all the shit it had put him through growing up! Anger overcame the paralytic fear and he ran to his father’s gun cabinet in the upstairs office, grateful they hadn’t hauled it to the attic yet.
After grabbing his father’s Benelli double-barrel shotgun and a tactical flashlight, Griffin started to head back downstairs; taking a quick look from the hallway and through his bedroom window at the shadow-man, crouching where he always was. As he headed outside, Griffin was aware that his behavior was that of a paranoid, delusional psychotic, but if that was the case…then Julie was too. She was in the kitchen and made no effort to stop him when she saw the shotgun; worry etched on her face. She reached one hand out towards him, her eyes telling him to be careful, while her mouth remained unable to move.
Outside, he got in the only space, right up next to the house, which provided any type of ground view of the dark spot. It was an uncomfortable angle and he had to strain his neck to see anything at all but there was…something. It was too hard to tell; it could be a trick of the eyes but Griffin could swear he could make out the edges of two knees poking out and possibly the top its head. He had never tried to look for the thing from this angle before and even if he had he wouldn’t have been able to see anything from a child’s height.
Griffin snapped the tac-light into a plastic fixture attached to the top of the gun and leveled the instrument on the dark spot. He turned the light on, flooding the tree with illumination, and any semblance of the creature he might have thought he saw before was gone. Just an empty branch and a bare spot. Turning the light off brought back the small bit of it again. He screamed at the tree, his voice unbridled hatred.
“Get the hell out of my tree you bastard or I will blow you out!” Griffin wasn’t sure what to expect from that other than a small sense of catharsis, but what he didn’t expect was that it would…move. Despite Julie’s pictures, there was something in the back of his mind that refused to believe that the shadow-man was real. It was just so outside of his realm of reality that he still expected it to be unusual optics combined with extreme paranoia.
When the shadow-man’s head leaned forward and made eye contact with Griffin’s, all of that was out the window. Griffin flipped the light back on…nothing. He was still a little remiss to fire; the last thing he wanted was to blow a sleeping squirrel or bird’s nest out of the tree. They gave to PETA for goodness’s sake. The light was extinguished again.
It was fully leaning over now almost fully exposed, its sharp little teeth grinning at him. As soon as it began hissing the horrible dream-hiss, Griffin fired the first shot. The painful, high-pitched squeal from the night before echoed out into the night air unexpectedly and the shock of it combined with the weapon’s recoil sent Griffin falling backwards to his pants. There was a deep thud of something large falling to the ground several feet in front of him.
Griffin fumbled with the gun for a moment and then switched the light back on, scanning the area. He got quickly to his feet and flipped the light back off. It was there writhing on the ground and when it knew it was being seen again it began its hissing. Griffin leveled the gun again and was about to fire the second shell when he heard Julie calling out from behind him and turned for a split-second.
“Griff?” She was scared. “Are you okay?”
When he turned his attention back to the shadow-man it was gone and no combination of turning the light on and off brought it back into view. There were, however, thick, black drops on the ground around the old oak. Blood? Maybe he had killed it. For the first time in longer than he could remember, Griffin did feel a sense of relief concerning the apparition; not that it mattered in the long run.
That, and for every night after, the dark spot only looked like a dark spot. It really wasn’t even that dark as one could see a small patch of the night sky shining through the center of it. That was irrelevant for Griffin and Julie, however, and the house was sold a month after. They would be raising their new child in the city after all.
Credit: Shannon Higdon
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