It all started back in middle school when I found a way to slip out the basement window without setting off an alarm. It gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, and sure there were a few times when I would sneak over to a girls house so we could clumsily paw each other for a bit, but what I really loved to do was just go out for a walk. For the first few weeks I wandered aimlessly through my neighborhood, stopping at the park or the community pool when the older kids weren’t “swimming” after hours. Eventually this grew boring and I started staying in more nights out of the week.
Then one night I found the golf course and I was back out in full force. It belonged to the country club down the road, but was still within easy walking distance of my house. It was dark, the trees blocked the wind, and best of all it was totally empty after hours. The members only used the club house and their private pool, and the older kids were too put off by the security to go there. I was free to wander wherever I liked through the sprawling fields and paths I only had to dodge the occasional security guard mounted on a half charged golf cart which was a small price to pay.
For a year, I went out to the golf course at least once a month, even if there was snow on the ground. By the time I was in high school, I knew the place like the back of my hand. Sometimes I brought friends out to one of the little manmade lakes and we’d drink shitty wine bought from one of our friend’s older sister. Other times I brought whoever I was dating out to go star gazing. I even lost my virginity in the little building behind the 7th green. I can say with all certainty that the golf course was my favorite place on the planet.
Things started to get weird on night halfway through July after my junior year. I was out particularly late that night, around four in the morning or somewhere close to that, slowly making my way up a hill near the back. I was sure I was alone when I arrived. I knew I was alone when I stopped to take a piss. No one but me would be out this late, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched or followed. I kept hearing footsteps slightly off rhythm from my own and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end every time I passed through a patch of moonlight. Twice I came across lines of footprints through the dewy grass but they were gone after a blink.
Being thoroughly spooked, I decided to wrap up my stroll and make for the homestead. When I turned, I saw it. A silhouette stood at the bottom of the path. The figure was next to featureless, a smooth black human shape, but I could still feel it staring straight at me. The temperature of the air dropped sharply as it took a step toward me. The shadows around it began to bend and follow the thing as it strode in my direction. Every foot closed between us blinked out the stars above until the sky was nearly black. When the shadow reached the foot of the hill, clouds blew in and blotted out the full moon in a single moment.
I turned and ran. As fast as I could. As far as I could.
The next thing I clearly remember was the sun rising. I was on the far end of town, by the train tracks. They were almost ten miles from my house. My legs were killing me and my heart was still racing, but the light flooding the world around me went a long way toward calming me down. I still didn’t have any clue what had happened, but I chalked it up to insomnia hallucinations combined with the stress of trying to quit smoking. The walk back across town took forever since I was careful to give the golf course a wide breadth. The rest of the month I stayed inside, pulled the blinds on all the windows I passed, and thank the gods nothing out of the ordinary happened.
By the end of August, I was feeling antsy spending so many nights indoors after having spent so much of my life with the option of wandering about the world while everyone slept. After a half dozen long sessions of staring at myself in the bathroom mirror mumbling reassurances, I convinced myself that the dark thing was a terrible dream and the night was still benevolent. It’s still my friend, I said over and over again. When I finally did manage to go outside after dark, I was on edge even going in small circles around the block, but nothing happened. Despite my mounting courage, I didn’t dare go back to the golf course.
After a few more timid outings, I became comfortable enough to visit a few of the places I used to frequent before I discovered the golf course. The pool was still a cruising spot for people from my school but I never quite fit in with that particular crowd, so I stuck to the park most nights. People passed through there more often than I was used to after my many hours of solitude, but they never looked twice at me. It was nice to feel almost alone again.
And then one night I was sitting on a swing, enjoying the last smoke before I would have to bribe someone to buy me another pack when I felt it again. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. My heart beat jumped to my ears when I head hear disembodied footsteps behind me. Panicking, I sprinted out of the park as quickly as possible and onto the street toward my house when I saw it again, not even 100 yards down the road. It was the same black outline, staring straight at me. All of the sudden my legs were lead. I tried to shout but my voice didn’t make a sound. The rest of the world was just as silent as my voice, even the sound of far off cars was gone from the air.
I turned my head to see if there were any houses I could run to, but all of the windows up and down the block were dark. Behind the glass I could see shadows moving, but they weren’t the people who lived in the houses. They were more silhouette figures like the one at the end of the road. They were watching the two of us. When the shadow man took a step, all the others began to whisper like the wind passing through a thicket of trees.
Again, the lights of the world began to blink out as it moved. The streetlights flickered and died as it passed. Its gait was faster this time, more determined. I stumbled backwards as best I could, but the darkness was thick as water. It slowed every movement and blurred the world around me. Without knowing how it got there, a branch was suddenly clasped in my hands and the shadow man was bearing down on m. The cold was overwhelming, the air in my lungs froze, my teeth chattered like jackhammers, and my hands stiffened around my weapon. The thing leaned in, only inches away from my face, and a gash opened into a twisted mess of razor sharp teeth and fangs.
I swung the branch as hard as I could but it passed right through the monster.
All my attack accomplished was a momentary pause as fibers of darkness sewed together, but in the moment it took to restructure itself the night became clear and the street lights flicked back on. I turned and ran again, but I could hear it behind me. It was running and the others were whispering. The air shook with black fury as I sprinted toward the pool full of other kids. The fence was easy to vault, but then I tripped head long into the water. When I surfaced, the shadow noise was replaced by cheers as the other kids dove in all around me.
I didn’t dare go out alone at night for the rest of the summer, but it wasn’t that hard considering I became an instant favorite at the near constant after hours pool party. There were times where I missed being alone, but the second shadow attack and half plastered girls in bikinis convinced me to stay with company whenever the sun went down. There were a few times, looking out my window or driving home, when I thought I saw the Shadow Man standing in the shadows or slowly walking down the road, but I dismissed these as my nerves getting to me.
School starting made everything easier. I didn’t even mind the mountains of work that came with being a senior when I compared it with the stress and paranoia of the previous summer. A college acceptance letter arrived early in the year, I began dating a beautiful girl, and the drama teacher cast me as a principal role. Everything was going so well that the two attacks got shuffled to the back of my mind and filed as ‘over and done with’. When the time came, the play went off without many complications and everyone sped off to the cast party immediately except for my girlfriend and me. The two of us were kissing in the corner when she finally decided it was time to head out, but I still had my costume to deal with so I sent her ahead.
And then, for the first time in months, I was alone again.
All of my muscles tensed and my ears pricked up to catch any hint of other footsteps as I put all of my costumes pieces back on the rolling rack, but the school was silent. When I turned the corner or the hallway that leads to the parking lot, I thought I was home free. But sure enough there stood the Shadow Man, staring at me with a snarling toothy grin. One by one, three blood red eyes peeled open on its face and the whispering wind swept through the hallway as the others filed through classroom doors and down the stair cases until it was one long shadow lined lane between the monster and me.
For a long minute we stood our ground. I wasn’t going to balk this time. I decided on the spot it was time to put an end to this. I wouldn’t flinch, I wouldn’t run, I wouldn’t let the fear control me anymore. As usual, the shadow took its first step forward and the temperature dropped to freezing. This time, however, I took a step forward too. All around us the audience of shadows ceased their incessant whispers. The world was deathly quiet as the two of us matched each other step for step, the shadows bending behind the thing and the light somehow gathering at my back. In the middle we met face to face, as close as we had been the night of the second standoff. The breath seeping between its fangs was just as cold as I remembered.
Through the cloying silence, the faint sound of a clock ticked of second after second. After what felt like a lifetime of unmoving tension, I thought for one brief and glorious moment that I had won. The Shadow Man was as unmoving as a statue and the darkness was clearing away. I could turn around and walk away and there wasn’t a thing it could do. But just as I was about to enact my exit, the jagged cage of teeth in front of me began to slide open and my heart was gripped by an icy hand. Its mouth gaped like a snake’s unhinged jaw, and inside its mouth swirled a whirlpool of crimson, purple, and black forming tortured faces that grimaced in pain and faded horrendously.
Without any inhale it let out a screech that shook the windows and pushed back the black veil of silhouettes around us. In the noise I could hear the howling of animals caught in snares and chewing through their own legs and the screeching of an axe being sharpened after a slaughter. The screams of mothers and children dying in each other’s arms mixed with the shrieking of a victim being flayed alive. As each sound wound its way out of the knot of fear and death contained within the Shadow Man’s maw it dug a claw into my brain like a jagged ice pick and pulled outward. When I couldn’t take anymore, I let the Shadow Man’s teeth bury themselves in my neck. The others flooded in and engulfed me in the darkness. I let it take me and fill me.
Finally I was alone in silence with no fear…
When my eyes opened again, I was looking at a blank white ceiling. All around doctors rushed from bed to bed, tending people and checking monitors. I wanted to get up and ask someone why I was there, but my body wouldn’t move no matter how hard I tried. My tongue was a cold slug in my mouth and my neck burned in a line from ear to ear. When a doctor finally did get around to me, she told me that I had hung myself and that I was very lucky a janitor found me before I died. As I laid that bed and tried to piece together the previous night, I saw it again, with its fiery eyes and buzz saw grin, standing in the hallway. I blinked and it was at my bed side.
“I’m not done with you,” the Shadow Man whispered in my ear.