The Shadows Haunt Me | Nate Ritchie

It had been five years since I saw the first of them—the shadows that haunt me. It started with seeing them in the corners of my eyes, vague, nonthreatening shapes. As years went by, they encroached further upon my vision, appearing more frequently. Eventually, I could see the daunting, humanoid creatures directly as they lingered among the masses of strangers I encountered each day. On the subway, in the city streets, at the office, outside my apartment, they stalked me everywhere I went, keeping me on edge. I knew someday they would try something. I just didn’t know when.

It took about four years for the shadows to interfere with my ability to function. There were days I became so paranoid about them, I refused to leave my apartment. Sometimes, I wouldn’t go to work on Friday, and I’d stay locked in at home until Monday. I didn’t have a problem going without food for a day or two if it just so happened I hadn’t been to the grocery in weeks. I’d be too paranoid about them trespassing in my home to shower as well. I feel bad for the poor bastards who worked around me when I hadn’t showered in days. 

I also ran up one hell of an electric bill keeping the lights on all night. There were days I’d even leave them on while I was at work so I wouldn’t come home to darkness the shadows could be lingering in. I don’t know why I ever believed artificial light would keep me safe, but that’s what I thought. Still, I was able to live a relatively normal life, albeit one without friends and almost no family, until that fucking dumbass David Dunn finally set me off.

Every morning, every goddamn morning that asshole came over to my desk with his disgusting-smelling coffee reading the funnies. I pretended to laugh once, ONCE, and he took that as an invitation to keep coming by every single morning to read the shit while I tried working. The morning I finally snapped, the shadows were everywhere. I tried to focus on my work, but I could feel their eyes on me. Then, there were all the fucking sounds. David’s annoying voice, the typing, the electrical hum of the computers, the copier, the footsteps, people talking, traffic outside. I had to put up with all that, unable to tune it out, every goddamn day. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I snapped. I snapped, and I turned to shout at David. That’s when I saw he’d become a shadow.

His body had warped into a sharp, distorted, black humanoid mass. Every inch of him looked jagged, like you might cut yourself if you tried to touch him. Every part of him was moving in an aggressively wavy, psychedelic way. His fingers had grown tremendously long like claws, eyes pure white, voice garbled. It didn’t even sound like him. The voice was much deeper, threatening. Horrified, I backed into my desk and screamed. I looked around for help, but all that watched me were shadows. Heart pounding as the shadow that used to be David approached, I shoved him and ran for the exit. I ran far from the building in case they pursued, stopping in a dilapidated alley after several minutes.

Hand on my chest, I struggled to breathe while resting against a concrete wall, trying to cope with what happened. Feeling like I was dying in the rain, whispering all around me, I decided it all had to come to an end. I couldn’t seek medical help. Doctors couldn’t be trusted. They’d have me committed, and if I went in, I’d never come out. The only person I had in my life was my sister, Alicia, but I couldn’t tell her. It would break her heart, not to mention she’d likely push for me to be committed as well.

“It’s for the best,” she’d say. “They’re going to help you.”

No, I could never tell her, and I wasn’t going to end up in a psych ward. It was time to take what money I had, purchase a place in the wilderness, and isolate myself from the rest of the world. I thought I could leave all the madness behind me if I drove far enough. What a fool I was.

I purchased a log cabin up north in a location I won’t disclose. All that matters is it was deep in the woods, far away from any other property. I didn’t think I’d have to worry about anyone coming by. I spent the week prior to moving locked in my apartment until it was time to go. I took what I could fit in my sedan, then drove off, never to return. 

The first three nights at the cabin were nice. No shadows, none of that hustle and bustle of the city, not a soul for miles. For the most part, I didn’t hallucinate. Granted, I was unused to the quiet loneliness of the woods, so I had a hard time sleeping. When I did sleep, my nightmares were quite strange. The first night, I woke up partially buried in a hole in the woods. When I attempted to escape back to my cabin, the animals, the trees, the Earth itself—they were all alive and tried to kill me. The second night, I mistook an innocent tree for a shadow, plunging a knife into its beating heart. God, how it screamed when it died. On the third night, well, all I can remember is a pale woman (my mother?) giving me a baby wrapped in a white blanket before disappearing. The baby was dead. The woods called me to sacred grounds. I buried it.

During the day, not much happened. Occasionally, I heard footsteps or a door opening on its own. I also felt like I was being watched from time to time, causing me to look out all the windows for anything suspicious. I never saw anything but still felt uneasy. I have a strong sense for when eyes are on me. I could definitely feel them at the cabin, yet I couldn’t find the source. By day four, I was dead tired. Thankfully, the cabin was furnished, but the bed was incredibly old and uncomfortable. Combine that with the fact I was used to falling asleep to noise and was experiencing nightmares, it’s easy to see how I was getting no sleep. I felt quite vulnerable at night, too, like someone could invade my new home at any time, the police too far to do anything.

On the morning of day four, I investigated a series of trails behind the cabin leading deeper into the woods. I did so partially out of curiosity, but mostly out of boredom. Plus, I needed some fresh, cold air in my system. I’m not sure how cold it was that winter day but enough to where I could see my breath and put on my thick, dark red, hooded jacket. I thought about taking a weapon, ultimately deciding it unnecessary. I walked for hours among the barren trees and dead leaves before coming across an ancient bench. My frail body exhausted, what I intended to be a short rest on the bench turned into a deep sleep.

When I snapped awake, it was evening, the sun nearly absent from the sky. Shooting up to my feet, I was confused when an old beige coat with dark patches of various material fell off me. It took me a moment to realize someone covered me up with it. What at first felt like a nice gesture quickly disturbed me. Someone had been watching me sleep. They could’ve done anything while I was out. Who was it, I wondered. Who’d be so far out into the woods? 

Paranoid, I jumped at the sound of leaves rustling to my left. I started to think it was just the wind until I heard the same sound behind me. Swiftly turning around, I barely caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure running behind a tree. Suddenly, there were sounds all around me—leaves moving and crunching, twigs snapping, distant whispering. It was difficult to make out what was being said, but a few things I could understand were:

“Hello?”

“I wanna go home.”

“Don’t leave me.”

Sprinting. Something was sprinting toward me. As I turned I saw a shadow rushing me. Raising my arms defensively, I screamed and recoiled in fear, shutting my eyes. I stayed like that for a moment, afraid to open them. Nothing happened, apart from some birds cawing, and I eventually found the courage to look around. Letting out a sigh of relief, I headed home before nightfall. The shadows accosted me the whole way, running behind the trees, standing in twisted positions near the trail and watching me go. I can’t believe I thought I could escape them. After so many years of being haunted, I should’ve known better. Yet the cabin would be safe, I thought, just like the apartment.

I arrived shortly after dark. Slamming the door shut behind me and locking it, I forced the wooden security bar into place. I spent the days prior boarding up the windows, so they weren’t a concern. I figured even if the shadows didn’t appear, it would be good to have a defense against any potential intruders or wild animals. I would’ve preferred the door to have greater protection, but the single bar and the lock would have to do. Panting, I downed a glass of water, then rested on the sofa. I laid there for hours listening. Nothing happened. Once I was about to get up to prepare dinner, however, my heart sank. A light tap, tap, tap, tap, at the front door. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was hearing things again. Rolling off the sofa, I hid myself, listening carefully. Tap, tap, tap, tap. 

“Don’t answer it,” the other voice in my head warned me. “Don’t you dare answer it.”

I listened further. For a while there was no knocking, and I thought I was safe until it started again. This time, it was followed by a woman’s voice.

“I want to go home,” she said.

“Jesus Christ,” I muttered. “What the hell is going on?”

There was a long silence, then slam, the whole door shook. It sounded like someone shoulder charged it full force. I hurried to my bedroom to grab a weapon. The pounding on the door was so fierce, it sounded like it was right in my ear from across the cabin. Near petrified, my legs went weak as I reached under the bed for an axe left by the previous owner, one of a few abandoned tools. By the time I returned to the living room, there was silence until—tap, tap, tap, tap.

“Hello?”

Tap, tap, tap, tap.

“I wanna go home.”

I approached the door, axe raised, ready to cut down any demon who came through. The glass of the kitchen window shattered, causing me to nearly drop my weapon out of surprise. One by one, all of the windows in the cabin busted open, and I ducked down for cover. Through the gaps in the boards, dozens of shadowy hands reached for me.

“Let us in, Isaac! You can’t keep us out forever!” They cried.

“Open the door, coward! Open the fucking door!”

“Six, seven, go to Hell or go to Heaven! What’ll it be, Isaac? Ha ha!”

Terrified, I curled up on the floor, covering my ears as they barked demands and threats. I’m not sure how long it went on, maybe ten or fifteen minutes, before there was silence again. I waited another ten or so before opening my eyes and slowly stumbling to my feet. I believed it was over – then the bar defending the door raised up on its own, the lock turned, and the door flung open. Into my home shambled one of the shadowy horrors.

“I missed you,” it told me, reaching for me with its long, sharp claws. 

“Get away from me, you fucking freak!” I warned it, bearing the axe aggressively. 

It didn’t heed my warning, continuing to advance while whispering things in a language I couldn’t understand. I backed away slowly, then mustered the courage to attack. Shouting, I swung the axe, cutting diagonally down its torso before swinging the weapon back around through its neck, beheading it. When the creature collapsed, I descended upon it, screaming wildly as I chopped and chopped. There was a flash of white. 

By the time I came to, it was day again, and when I’d come to face what I’d done, I ran outside, vomiting profusely off the front steps. “It can’t be real,” I thought. “It can’t possibly be real.” But it was. When I walked back into the cabin, there was no denying the truth. What I killed was no shadow. It was my sister, poor Alicia, cut to pieces like an animal, her blood all over my clothes. In shock, I was frozen in place. It took me a while to process what I’d done. When it fully hit me, I fell to my knees, weeping over her dismembered corpse. This time, my world went black, and I could only see in color again after hearing my name called by her voice

“Isaac!” Alicia exclaimed happily, startling me upon stepping into the cabin.

“Alicia?” I responded, surprised as she ran up and hugged me.

Reflexively, I pushed her away.

“What’s the matter? Aren’t you happy to see me?”

“Alicia… it, it can’t be. I-”

I looked over my shoulder. The corpse was gone, yet the blood was still all over me.

“Is everything okay? That’s not your blood all over you, is it? Must be an animal’s, right?”

“I don’t understand. How are you here right now? You were just-”

“It wasn’t easy finding you, but you’re my brother, Isaac” she explained, her body becoming staticky and distorted. “I’m always going to find you. I’ll always be here for you. There’s nowhere you can go I won’t be. Now, how about that hug?”

Something wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to accept the alternative, that I murdered my sister. I went in for the hug.

“You know, there’s something that’s been on my mind lately,” she told me.

“What’s that?”

“You deserve to die, too!” She barked, stabbing me in the back.

Grunting, I shoved her away as she dislodged the knife. Viciously, she slashed at me over and over while I scurried for the axe. She cut me at least half a dozen times before I managed to swing at her stomach, hacking her open. The profusely bleeding wound deep, she collapsed to the floor. I stood over her, hand on my back, breathing heavily. Her head snapped toward me.

“You’re going to die, Isaac. You’ll pay for what you did to me.”

“I’m sorry!” I proclaimed, crying. “I didn’t mean it! I’d take it back if I could! I’m sorry, Alicia! I’m sorry!”

“Sorry?” She thundered, struggling to stand up. “You carved me up like a piece of fucking meat, and all you’ve got to say is you’re sorry! You think you can murder me, and I’ll just forgive you? I’ll kill you, Isaac!”

I didn’t want to do it, but I had no choice. Before she could come at me with the knife, I charged her, axe raised. Swinging downward, I buried the blade deep into her skull. Retracting it as she fell to the floor, I hacked away at her again and again. When the deed was done, I went to my knees, weeping for her all over again. In the hour I spent recovering, my wounds healed, and I felt no pain, leaving me to wonder if the injuries she inflicted were real at all, if she’d even been real. Real or not, her corpse was still there. After deliberation over whether I should hide the body and clean the mess or turn myself in, I decided, in case she was really dead, I had to hand myself over to the authorities. Misunderstanding or not, she was my sister, and I killed her. She deserved a proper burial, for people to know what happened to her, and I deserved whatever punishment awaited me.

“Isaac!” Alicia, covered in blood, called from the porch as I approached the car.

It wasn’t over.

“Stay back,” I warned her.

When I turned and saw the axe in her hands, my body turned cold.

“You weren’t planning on leaving me, were you?” She questioned, head twitching to the side as she advanced toward me. “You’d never do something cruel to me, would you?”

I planned on rushing to the car, only to realize I left the key in the cabin. So, I did the only thing I could and ran into the woods. Infuriated, she shrieked with rage, begging me not to leave her. Hours later, a thick-bearded woodsman in a beige coat found me curled up in a ball and shivering, partially buried in a hole. He must’ve gone back to the bench and collected the coat, and he placed it over me as I laid on the forest floor in fear. I don’t remember much of what happened after. I was questioned by the police, yet I recall little about the process. 

It took months just to become fully aware I was committed to a psychiatric hospital, and I’m still not fairly certain why. Whether Alicia is alive, whether I hallucinated her murder, I don’t know. All I know is the shadows continue to haunt me, and I fear Alicia may come for me and take her revenge. That, and I know I will never leave. All I can do is sit here and rot, wondering whether she or the shadows will kill me. Sometimes, I wish they would.

Nate Ritchie is a creative writing graduate student and craftsman. Nate has had several articles published by The Borgen Project while working for the organization as a journalist intern. He has also had a poem published in Xavier University’s The Clocktower Review. His favorite genres to write are horror and humor. He is particularly fond of speculative fiction as well. When crafting, his favorite materials to work with are black leather, essential oils, and wood.

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