Read Time: 7 mins | Horror | Serialized Fiction | Part One
It was here again. This was now the second night in a row it was stirring. That presence I had felt and heard as a child. The one my mother had said only existed in my head, but she had lied. She never knew that one night I saw her praying over my bed as I pretended to sleep. Uttering feverish words while she held a bible in one hand, and the other, lifted towards the ceiling. It was reassuring at least, but it didn’t stop the visits.
It had been the night of my fifth birthday, at least that’s the first encounter I could recall. The shadow that moved, that I heard move, and saw move. I had gripped the edges of my bed tightly and held my breath, afraid that it would see me, afraid that it had come to take me away. But it had just walked through the wall, exiting to the cemetery behind our home. I’ve never been able to sleep properly since then. My mother said it was just my imagination, perhaps I had eaten too much birthday cake. My brother, who I shared the room with, took the opportunity to make every night that week a hellish playground, partly to terrify me, but also in his own big brotherly way, to show me that there was nothing to be afraid of. But he was wrong.
Three weeks later, just as the lights went off, I heard it again. A chilly wind rushed up my arm as it walked by, and I closed my eyes and gasped. I had startled it, so it lingered, sniffing the air like deer when startled. Its presence was heavy, hovering above my bed. It had heard me. Then it left, through the walls, like the last time, to the graveyard. This time I ran to my parents’ room. This time she listened and prayed with me. I spent the night there, snuggled between two adults, who didn’t seem in the least concerned that the shadows moved in our home.
The following night, I could not sleep. The scratching on the inside of the walls my mother had said were mice scurrying around, was determined. Something, or someone was trying to escape. I wet my bed for the first time that night, too scared to move. There was the same chill, a physical tingling in my fingertips as I watched it emerge. This time, whatever it was, had picked up my scent. I wanted to scream but my lips were sealed shut by an unseen hand. If it was just a shadow, then I felt it, and it saw me. It leaned over me, eyes that held a fire so bright it warmed my face and made my eyes fill with water. I tried in vain to wriggle free, a futile struggle with a force so powerful that I was quickly running out of breath. I tried to scream, but no sound came out. My heart pounded, it felt like it was ready to burst. Then, just at the point of blacking out, when the sounds of my heartbeat were fading, it released me.
There was the impression of a hand pressed over my mouth the next morning, like the lines that form on your face when you sleep with your face pressed against something. The next night was when I saw my mother praying at the side of my bed.
Years of counseling had done nothing. I had accepted that it was real, even though I told the very expensive psychologist that it must have been my overactive imagination. But since I returned to this home two days ago, it was here. I had settled back in my parents’ home, bequeathed to me after my mother had joined my father in the afterlife. My wife and I thought the move made sense, as the seminary I was about to attend was only a few miles from the place. It needed little renovating, as my father had meticulously cared for the property in his retirement.
My writing desk I had placed in the baby’s room. My son, all but 6 months, was still trying to crawl in his crib. He would keep me company most nights as I sat preparing sermons for Sunday meetings. He slept, curled up to one side of the crib, his chunky arms wrapped around his blanket, a thumb in his mouth. His mother insisted that I take it out once he fell asleep, but almost instinctively it would recoil right back between his lips.
The presence was still here. I could feel it, a familiarity nurtured over the years like how someone who suffers from asthma knows when an attack is imminent. I knew when this presence was near, as the hair on my neck would bristle, and my ears would burn. But why now? I ignored the shadow as it walked past my desk and through the walls. It still terrifies me. I glance at the crucifix on the wall; a blessed assurance I convinced myself, or was it?
Over the intervening years since my first encounter as a child, several occurrences convinced me that this home must have been some sort of portal for the underworld. A pitstop for lost souls if you’re into that sort of thing. My religious mother, God bless her soul, had always insisted it was my imagination, and eventually, to stop her from worry as I went off to college, I agreed with her. Her picture above my desk still had that concerned, disapproving, righteous look that always rebuked me.
I never told her about the time, while preparing for my SATs, that I saw my neighbor’s house on fire. Huge flames engulfed the place, and my neighbor was just there, sitting on his porch, unperturbed. I had awakened my grandfather in a panic, ready to go to help put out the fire. But he held my wrist and told me very calmly to return to my bed and mind my own business. I couldn’t understand it. When I returned to my desk, the house was untouched. My neighbor was still on his porch, smiling, awaiting the sunrise.
Tonight, I looked over at the neighbor’s house. It had new tenants as old Mrs. Theodore had been moved into a nursing home, and her husband had long since died.
My son stirred in his crib and started struggling. I reckoned he was having a bad dream. Then he started crying. I picked him up so that he wouldn’t wake his mother, and he felt warm to the touch. Perhaps I would need to adjust the thermostat, as the little man seemed quite agitated the last couple of nights. He went back to sleep, his head buried against my chest. As I laid him down, I heard the scratching.
My heart stopped, and I instinctively pulled the blanket over my son. I refused to acknowledge the presence that I could now feel, loitering, waiting. I was a grown man, this was silly. I turned around hoping it wasn’t there.
It spoke. Oh God it spoke. I fell over backwards, a cold sweat and a churning in my stomach. With a wave of its hand, I was placed in my chair. This was not real. I glanced at my son, then at the creature; the shadow that spoke.
“Suffer the little children.” It was calm and gentle. Its eyes followed my gaze to my son.
“What, who are you?” I still could not move from my chair, I was rigid, restrained by the same power that bound my mouth as a child. It wasn’t fear that held me, but a force that pressed against me like the G-forces you feel on a rollercoaster ride.
“Not tonight. Come to the Cathedral tomorrow morning. This is not a request.”
It walked through the walls, and immediately I felt the force release me. I knelt and prayed every prayer I could remember. My nightmares, all the worst fears of my childhood, were indeed very real.
I lifted my son and went upstairs, my wife was still asleep, unaware that the house had just been intruded. Or perhaps, we were the ones intruding? How would I explain to her that I had just been invited to church by a shadow? Oh God, I was rationalizing with my nightmares. Maybe I was schizoid. Maybe I had just dosed off and had a bad dream. Yeah, that was it. I had been dreaming. I sat down on the bed next to my wife and cradled my son. I needed daylight. In the daytime, I didn’t see any shadows.
Leave a Reply