It Stood In The Shadows

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

It happened again.

I’ve never vomited so much in the twenty years that I have been alive. Sure, I might have been sickly child–the result of a weak immune system following the potentially risky pregnancy of a drug addict–but I had been doing better in the past couple years. The migraines had been gone for so long. The worst I got was some sneezing and sniffles.

Why do things have to be different now that I’m away from home?

There was a knock on the bathroom door. “Mylène? You okay?”

I took two steadying breaths, willing my sore, aching body to cooperate long enough for me to get through a conversation with my boyfriend. “Y-Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Okay…” Santiago hesitated. “I need to get ready for work.”

I sighed and pushed myself off the ground, closing the lid to avoid seeing the mess I made in the toilet bowl. “O-Okay. Give me a second.”

This is what happens when there’s only one bathroom in the whole damn house, I grumbled internally, annoyed. I flushed the toilet and washed my hands. “You can come in now.”

Santiago opened the door, squeezed in, and shut it behind him. He threw me a glance in the mirror; I lowered my gaze from his cerulean eyes, embarrassed. I was disgusted with myself, with my weak body and its unattractive side effects.

Would he have flown me out here had he known I was this fragile? I wondered as I began brushing my teeth. My own chocolate eyes were brimming with fresh tears. I peeked up and caught a good look at my reflection. I was hideous; my thick brown curls were a mess of frizz and bedhead, their usual volume and shine nowhere in sight. These locks framed a face I could barely recognize–my normally tawny complexion had paled, its color reminding me of old forgotten lace that has yellowed with age. Deep, dark valleys were set beneath my eyes, though they weren’t entirely new. Just worse.

I rinsed my toothbrush and let my eyes flit back up to the mirror to see Santiago, but he had already undressed and stepped into the shower without a word. I set the toothbrush back in its place and finished rinsing my face. All I wanted to do was lay in bed and get some sleep.

Easier said than done.

I was already back in bed and browsing Netflix when Santiago emerged from the restroom, dressed and ready for work. He came into our bedroom–a small dwelling with no closet and barely any space to walk between the California king mattress, the black wooden dresser to match the bed frame, and the low glass entertainment center. Santiago swiped his keys and wallet from the messy, crowded dresser and left without a word, quietly shutting the door behind him.

Leaving me alone again.

I wish I wasn’t like this, I sighed, unconsciously rubbing my belly. I couldn’t feel any movement inside, but I knew it was there. The creation that I was pressured into keeping. The parasite that I was both protective over and terrified of. I didn’t think of the term, didn’t want to–I just wanted everything to go back to normal.

What was normal?

I thought back on my life before–my sad, miserable existence. My memories were filled with manipulative people and lies. My own family hated me, and I hated them too.

I wiped my tears and resumed browsing. Since I had spent the last few months too sick to work, I had seen most of the titles displayed to me. Eventually, I just shut off the Xbox and the television.

Forget it. I settled into my spot on the right half of the bed, defeated. My body instinctively rolled onto my left side so as to face away from the mirror, curling up.

The window above our bed was covered by cheap white curtains that didn’t block out any light. It was still early; the rays of the rising sun had only just begun to warm the glass, spilling golden beams into the otherwise dark room. By noon, that little window would have the entire bedroom illuminated. The house was empty, save for myself and Rogelio, Santiago’s father, and he couldn’t stand the house being cold. My days were spent confined to our room, wearing a tank top and underwear, the blankets tossed to the furthest corner of the bed. I grew up in a more tropical state, so air conditioning was a huge part of my upbringing.

That and having two bathrooms, I whined again, even though I knew it was a lie. There were definitely times when I lived in a home with only one bathroom. Particularly while living with my father–

Don’t think about that! I forced my eyes shut and whimpered. My hands were balled into tight fists and pressed against my chest. My heart was beating fast, and after a moment or two I had it more or less back to its usual rhythm. I took a few steadying breaths, begging my aching muscles to relax. Most did not comply.

I’m okay now, I reminded myself. I was states away, and I was creating a life with Santiago. I’m okay now. I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay…

I repeated the mantra, allowing the words to echo in my mind, and in time I drifted off to the soundless lullaby.

⚝──⭒─⭑─⭒──⚝

When I opened my eyes, the room was dark. It took my eyes a few seconds to adjust, to understand what was going on.

There’s no way I slept through the entire day.

What little light trickled in through the window was dim, as if obscured by clouds. Thunder rumbled in the distance, and it was then that I realized that something wasn’t right.

Where am I?

I was still in the same bedroom, but I was no longer laying on the mattress. From the second I had woken up, I was on the floor, crouched by Santiago’s side of the bed. His side of the room was virtually inaccessible unless you climbed onto the bed–a long, sturdy slab of the wall jutted out in a makeshift shelf, complete with a long bar running its length. The bar was used to hang clothes, so both of us had our wardrobe over that entire side of the room.

And me? I was, for some reason, crouched underneath Santiago’s jerseys and hoodies. I couldn’t feel anything–not the pain of my knees pressed against the hardwood bed frame to steady me, nor the piercing ache of my muscles that would normally occur. My fingers were gripping the bed’s edge, and I couldn’t even feel that. What I could do was see–and I saw that someone was laying in my bed, curled up on my spot.

What the hell?

I watched her closely, trying my damnedest to recognize her. Her dark hair was spilled over my purple pillowcase, her pale rose lips parted slightly as she breathed deeply. My black spaghetti-strap top covered her torso, stretching over her engorged abdominals. My underwear hugged her wide hips and disappeared between thick thighs.

I took a deep breath in, and watched as she did the same.

Is that… Me?

As if triggered by my thoughts, I felt me return back to my body. I felt more like myself; the pillow against the left side of my face, my chest rising and falling as I breathed. I couldn’t open my eyes–it was like they were glued shut, or maybe I was too afraid to open them. Worried about what I might find peering over the opposite end of the bed.

My mind seemed to flit between the two, granting me this conclusion: the me on the bed had all but sight, and the me at the edge shared only my sight and emotions. She was there to see what I couldn’t, to show me what was about to happen.

A chill fell over us as thunder sounded again, closer than before. The dim light was fading, either pulling farther away or being extinguished.

Or maybe we’re being pulled away, we thought in conjunction.

Then something happened that my bedridden body had not expected–something that my detached presence had anticipated.

The door opened.

Shadows crept in, scaling the walls and slithering across the ceiling.

He took a step in.

Who is that? My body asked.

My mental presence shook her head, panicked. I-I don’t–

He took another step in.

And another.

Another.

My mental presence could see him out of her peripheral, but she did not know what to make of him. A black substance had covered the intruder from head to toe, reminding her of bubbling tar. It oozed off of him, but made no sound as it poured onto the floor. The viscous material created more specters like the ones covering the white walls, flooding the room with shadows.

It was suffocating.

My body was breathing fast, on the verge of hyperventilating. Get out, get out, get out, get out…

He took another step. He was rounding the bed to approach her side.

My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening. His hair was sticking out, unkempt, defying the sticky substance manifested by his body. His face was shroud in darkness, denying us a proper view of his face. The mirror attached to the dresser provided no answers, as it was inexplicably painted black.

My mind’s eyes widened. He’s making the room darker.

Wind battered the window, bringing rain and leaves with it. The storm was now a constant, thunderous cacophony. Whispers reached our ears, and my mind could discern no speakers aside from the shadows that boxed us in. Their words were unintelligible taunts and jeers.

Get out get out get out get out–

My mind couldn’t concentrate–there was too much going on between the loud storm, the numerous whispers, and the man in shadows encroaching on our space. He was standing behind my body. I watched as my head shook back and forth frantically.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no–

He lifted an oily hand until it hovered over my shaking mass.

“Wake up!” My mind tried to shout. The sound was practically inaudible, drowned out by the surrounding noise. “Wake up, now!”

My mind felt my body trying to jerk awake. I could feel the presence standing behind me. I could feel my eyes watching from across the bed. I could feel the thousands of piercing stares around us, eager for…

What? What do you want?

“Wake up!” I shouted again, hoping to be heard at least once. “Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up–”

We felt his hand brush against our right arm. Nausea caused our stomach to lurch, but fear kept everything at bay. I thought the head would pop off my body with how hard it jerked back and forth.

“WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP!”

He began to slowly bend forward, lowering his face to mine.

NO! My body shrieked. My eyes were still shut, but my mind showed it all to me anyway. GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT–!

His face was nearly halfway down to mine. The room around us seemed to fade out of existence. All that seemed to remain were us, the man, and his shadows.

My head felt light. My chest and throat were tight. My heart pounded within its cage, pleading with my mind and body–RUN! GET UP! LEAVE!

I saw my lips quiver. I heard something I hadn’t heard the entire time–it was soft, strained, and overpowered by everything else, but it was still there.

My voice.

“No,” my body murmured. The word was spoken under my breath, but my mind took advantage of this amazing feat.

“WAKE UP!”

He was closer than ever before. His head was turned to the side, so as to press his cheek against mine. I dreaded the thought of boiling tar on my skin, encasing my body.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” My whispers persisted, still unheard to all but me. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no…”

I felt his torso press against my back and shoulder, sucking me into his murky depths. I felt his face just a hair’s breadth away, too close for comfort. He had me trapped between him and the bed–there was no escaping this.

“WAKE UP, PLEASE!” My mind cried out.

Lightning struck outside the window, filling the room with light for a brief moment. My mind, still crouched at the opposite side of the bed, saw his face.

She screamed at the top of her lungs.

So did I, forcing my eyes open just as the bedroom door shut.

There was no one else in the room–no other ‘me’ crouched beside the bed, or man standing behind me, or shadows snaking across the walls and ceiling. In fact, there was no storm outside; sunlight bathed my bare legs and the surrounding mattress, practically unfiltered by the thin drapes. I shot a look over my shoulder and caught my reflection in the mirror, confirming that it, too, was back to normal.

There is no normal for you, a voice whispered deep inside. Seeing things, getting sick–that is your normal. You don’t get to live a peaceful life.

I curled myself back into a ball and hugged my belly as the tears began to stream from my eyes.

Please, don’t ever let me see that face again.

Short Story

Natasha Penn View All →

Mommy of two ☆ Witch without a coven ☆ Founder of the Sisters of the Shadows ☆ Professor of Charms & Incantations I & II and supervisor of The Arcane Citizen, a student-run newsletter for the Academy of Occult Arts ☆ My web series are now available at https://vocal.media/authors/natasha-penn ☆ https://linktr.ee/nattypenn for all social/support links
☆ Avatar by @oveikeii on Twitter/IG ☆

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