I turned quickly, and my shadow moved also. But there was another shadow beside mine and it did not move. Looking around, I could see the shadow of the tree, extending from its base. I could see the shadow of the streetlamp, its long skinny form folding over the curb and up onto the sidewalk. But the other shadow, the peculiar one, seemed connected to nothing. Disconcerted, I took a few steps and looked back. Again I saw my shadow and right beside it, another, darker than mine, denser. Ominous.
A chill crept over my skin that had nothing to do with the crisp fall weather. All around me, the autumn sun shone, casting its honeyed light onto the red, golden and brown leaves that skittered past like mischievous rats. The breeze died suddenly leaving behind an empty stillness. Yet, just beneath the hum of distant traffic on the boulevard, I detected a rustling sound as the mysterious shadow shifted. My heart beat so hard against my chest, I could feel it in my throat. I ran.
A few blocks away, my house beckoned. Home. Safe and warm and familiar. Glancing over my shoulder as I ran, I could see the odd shadow was staying with me, dogging my steps. Slamming into my house, I leaned against the door breathless and thrumming with adrenaline.
My parents were still at work and I remembered my younger brother, Alex, would be at his friend’s house for after school games and snacks. With dread, I lowered my eyes to the floor but saw no shadow. Relief made me weak.
Was I losing my mind? I half convinced myself I had imagined the incident, given in to unreasonable fear. Panicked. When my breathing slowed, I tossed my books onto the table and dug in the refrigerator for a snack.
As I crunched my veggies and dip in front of the TV, I recalled the previous weekend. It was just a harmless little experiment with the Ouija board at a pre-Halloween slumber party. Could that have anything to do with the shadow? Had I inadvertently opened a gateway to another dimension? I would have to call my friend, Carrie, and see if she noticed anything odd. As I determined to do this, I thought I heard a rustling sound in the house with me. I stopped chewing and listened. The sound stopped also, but just a fraction of a second after my crunching. The hair raised on the back of my head with a tingle, like bony fingers trailing over my scalp. The television suddenly switched off. Without moving my head, I cast my eyes downward. A thick black shadow lay across the carpet at my feet like the yawning portal to some dark underworld.
Shrieking, I tossed my plate in the air and ran from the room. As my feet pounded on the stairs, I thought I heard a sibilant rustling behind me. Too afraid to stop, I dashed into my bedroom and slammed the door behind me. Looking down, I saw the shadow creep under the door, entering my room like an ink stain spreading at my feet.
“What do you want?” I screamed, standing on my toes to avoid the dark smudge on the floor. I backed away and crawled onto my bed. Pulling the covers over my head, I huddled with eyes closed, shaking from fright. I stayed that way until I heard my parents come home.
When my parents’ voices, mingled with that of my younger brother, filtered up the stairs, I threw off the blankets and ran as if pursued down to the kitchen.
“Angie, what’s wrong? You’re pale as a sheet!” My mom put her hand to my forehead, and I wrapped my arms around her. This was unusual behavior on my part as I felt myself too grown up for hugs anymore.
“Something followed me home!” I cried into my mother’s lilac-scented shoulder.
“Who was it?” my father demanded. He took a step toward the door.
“Not a who,” I whispered. “A thing! A shadow!”
“Oh, honey,” Mother soothed. “Shadows are nothing to be afraid of.”
“You’re afraid of a shadow?” Alex mocked, a grin plastered on his freckled face. “What a chicken!”
His smile faded as a dark shape stepped into the doorway, blocking the light from the dining room. Cold malice radiated from its rustling form. “Oh, no,” Alex said, his voice shaky. He backed into my father’s legs and leaned against them for comfort.
“What?” Dad asked, looking around. Mom appeared to be equally baffled.
My brother’s eyes met mine and we knew. Without words, understanding passed between us. Whatever this was, only he and I could discern it. And it meant to do us harm.
Outside, ragged autumn clouds suddenly obscured the late afternoon sun and gusts of icy wind slithered around the house, whistling past the kitchen window like passing ghosts. The spidery naked fingers of leafless trees rubbed against each other with diabolical delight. In the doorway, the malevolent shadow trembled and rustled in response. The moment stretched out as Alex and I stood frozen with trepidation.
Evil had come to visit. And it intended to stay.