"Okay, so you started to chase a man with a knife down the alley, you being unarmed and in the dark, and when you got to the end of the alley he was laying face down?" The uniformed officer glanced at me.
"Yes," I nodded, and then shivered as I saw the darkness in my minds eye.
"You didn't check to see if he was alive, touched the body in any way?"
"No, he was laying there so still I just..." My thoughts were an unorganized mess of fear, hysteria and uncertainty. "When I went down the alley I was just so mad, he attacked that lady and then," I sighed deeply, shaking my head. "By the time I got to the end he was laying there, so still. I didn't expect to catch him, I don't think. I didn't expect for him to be laying down." I'm not really sure what I expected, but I kept that to myself.
"All right, you say you have a ride home, correct?" The officer said, clearly not caring if I did or didn't.
"Yes, officer." I nodded, shivered. The temperature was dropping and the wind was making it that much worse.
"If we have any other questions, we'll contact you. Here's my card in case your parents have any questions."
I had momentarily thought to refuse to answer questions. How would I explain that greedy darkness that had seemed so alive? I had suspected the mugger was dead, and he was indeed; and I had no earthly idea how, but one thing stuck in my mind, and I saw it every time I closed my eyes and tried to calm down. Shadows smoldering from Gideon's eyes.
"Bro, come on. Let's go home man." Joel pulled me away.
Aila drew me into a hug, one I gratefully leaned into. Joel patted my shoulder and we headed back towards Brenda's car. The ride home was a surreal combination of people in the car asking questions, trying to avoid the night's disturbance and simple silence; but the silence was loaded with tension. No one was going to sleep well tonight.
I kept seeing the shadows thickening at the end of the alley, seeing the mugger being smothered, swallowed by a darkness so complete that I'm not sure I can adequately describe it. Country dark is almost like there is nothing else around you, so deep are the shadows, This was like that, except there was this thrumming life that inhabited the shadows, the darkness breathed and hungered. It blotted out all light and consumed, hungrily, the mugger's life.
I felt like I was losing my marbles.
Brenda's shit box pulled up to my house and I climbed out, Joel on my heels. He kissed Aila goodnight and followed me up to my door.
"I'm okay," I whispered as I kept my back to him and stared at the knocker on my door.
"If it's all the same, how about I come in for a minute anyway? I can explain to your folks, so you don't have to."
I didn't want him to come in. I wanted him home, safe in his room with his good parents. I wanted to go to my room as well, lay down and try to sleep. Sleep with my eyes open and the lights on, in case the darkness was still hungry. There was also a large part of me that didn't want him to leave, a selfish part that gibbered in its cage about shadows and encroaching darkness; a darkness not satiated with just one mugger.
I wordlessly unlocked the door, stepping into a dimmed alcove. My mother was out of her chair and on me in an instant, checking for holes and blood likely. My father stood a few feet away, allowing my mother to cluck over me; but his eyes were red and fierce, he'd obviously cried tonight. I felt horrible to have worried them so much, what had I been thinking?
Joel explained events, made me sound heroic I suppose. My father stated his pride in me, and my mother scolded me for the risk. I yawned, couldn't help it. I was so tired, and yet the thought of turning the lights off scared the hell out of me. I assured my parents I was fine, and then to Joel's surprise asked them if he could stay over.
My parents bustled off to get ready for bed, they were clearly exhausted too from worrying about their only child. I turned to Joel who had one eyebrow raised.
"Just let me tell my folks." I nodded as he turned and headed out my door. I kept the door open, watched him as he went from the glow of my house lights to the circle of the street light, and finally to the light from his own home. I stayed in the doorway, waiting for him, dread sat in the pit of my stomach as the minutes ticked by, sour tension building as I waited for his front door to open again.
At long last it did, Joel jogged across the street with an overnight bag in hand and his sleeping bag on his back. We retreated to my room, and got changed for bed.
"You sure know how to liven up an evening," Joel smiled at me.
I didn't reply, but instead cast a worried glance at the darkness pressed up to my windows. I shuddered, a chill running down my spine and closed the blinds.
"Danny, you okay?"
I turned and walked along the window side of my wall to the nightstand, reached down and turned the alarm off so it wouldn't wake me in the morning.
I turned my head and looked at Joel. The impact of what I saw weighed heavy on me, and as I looked at my best friend I felt that fear in the bottom of my stomach again. I did need him here tonight, but not because I was afraid for me. I was, to be sure, but I was more afraid of what would happen if he were alone in his room.
In the dark.
"You know I love you, right?" I asked.
"Of course, bro. You know I love you too." Joel's brow creased and he sat on the edge of my bed. "Is there something else Danny? Something you need to get off your chest?"
"Yeah," I whispered. Yes Joel, so much I needed to say. But how? How can I tell anyone what I saw? Who would believe me? "Don't call me Danny."
Joel settled into his sleeping bag and I tossed down a pillow. With the light off, and my body under the covers my mind latched onto the tiny bit of light coming through the blinds from the streetlight. Small bands cut across the room, like the bars of a jail. It was apt, really; I felt trapped. No matter how I lay, sleep was not coming quickly.
I heard the whisper of the sleeping bag as Joel struggled in it. Finally the sound of the zipper opening and the thick top of the bag being flopped open.
"It's hot in here." Joel sighed.
I grunted again, eyes locked on the slivers of light.
"Dan, this seems to be hitting you kinda hard. I mean, you didn't see that guy die right? You said it was too dark."
The shadows leapt off the brick walls of the building in the alley, surrounding the running assailant; and then devoured him in inky darkness. Absolute darkness.
"It was too dark," I agreed.
"Can I ask...I mean, I don't mean to sound harsh or anything, but you seem kinda shook up for not having seen anything."
I lay for a moment in silence, thinking about his question. I heard him scratch his head, and then maybe his side or something; the sound of the fabric rustling the only noise in the room.
"I saw something," I whispered.
"What?" Joel shifted, was reaching up to turn on the light on the nightstand. The lamp was supposed to have three bulbs, but two were burnt out so the light was kind of feeble. I rolled away from the window and the bands of light that had disappeared with the switching on of the light. I looked at Joel who sat up in the sleeping bag and looking at me with curiosity.
"What did you see?" He prompted.
I looked away from his face, at the lampshade. I stared at the brightest spot in the off white fabric where the bulb would be.
"It's kind of hard to say. I've never seen anything like it. The more I think about it, the more I doubt what I saw, Joel." I allowed my gaze to return to his face, "But every time I see it in my head, I know what I saw no matter how impossible it might be."
Joel pulled his legs up to his chest and pivoted on his butt so that his back leaned against the wall and he faced me, then stretched his legs halfway so that his knees faced the ceiling. He waited and I glanced once more at the light, not wanting to see his face until I'd said what I saw.
"So the lady, she screamed and I saw him slash at her with the knife. I started to run over to help; I don't think I was going to chase him right then, all I was concentrating on was that she had screamed." I paused and licked my lips, risked a quick glance at his face which was rapt with attention before darting my eyes back to the shade and it's guarded bulb.
"When I saw that lady bleeding I wasn't scared, I was mad. I know it doesn't make much sense, I didn't know her or anything. You always hear about people getting stabbed or killed, but something about this hit me deep. So I turned away from her and started to chase the guy down the alley. He had a good lead, there was no way I'd catch him. I have no idea what I'd do if I did catch him, to be honest. I really had no plan.
"But there I was running down the alley when it happened." I fell silent, playing the scene again in my head. "When I was almost halfway down the alley this guy was almost to the end. That's when it happened."
"He fell over? Like a heart attack or something?"
"I don't know. The alley got really dark all of a sudden, like the dark was attracted to this guy. It homed in, swirled and blocked out all the light so that it seemed like the end of the alley was just...gone." I kept my gaze focused on the lampshade, "it was like the shadows wrapped the mugger up and just swallowed him. Like it made a meal out of him. When the light started to come through from the end of the alley again, he was laying down dead."
I wrenched my eyes away from the light and looked at Joel's face. His brows were up and his eyes wide, no trace of not believing me.
"It sounds like something out of a comic book. You believe me?" I asked. I'm reasonably sure there wasn't a tremor in my voice.
"Well," Joel allowed his brows to drop back in place and a considering look settled across his features. "I can't say the idea of a living darkness sounds all that plausible, but I believe you saw something. I don't know what kind of explanation would cover what you saw, but I believe you saw what you think you saw."
I looked back at the light. I was partially relieved that he hadn't called me crazy, but also kind of annoyed that I wasn't being taken at face value. I couldn't be taken at face value because shadows can't do that. Right?
Joel yawned. I did also after a moment, a deep weariness settling into my body.
"Why don't we get some sleep, we can kind of analyze it in the morning. Maybe make some sense of it." He swung his legs back over the sleeping bag and stretched, letting out another enormous yawn. "G'night Danny," he mumbled as he put his head on the pillow.
"Night Joel," I whispered as I reached for the light. I hesitated, and then decided to leave it. I was tired enough to sleep with the light on.
I lay in the darkness, eyes drifting slowly closed, and then I would start awake for some reason and start the process all over again. Eventually, I did sleep. I dreamed of Gideon, his eyes smoking, smoldering and his body seeming to be poised; crackling with power.
I woke in the late morning, disturbed by Joel getting up. I glanced at the bedside clock which read ten twenty seven. I heard Joel pad down the hall to the bathroom and I lay in silence, willing the cobwebs of sleep from my mind, from my eyes. I yawned deeply, stretched and then sat up enough to open the nearest set of blinds. Morning sunlight bathed the room, and I lay back and took comfort from it. Joel returned and sat on the edge of the bed.
"How you feeling?"
I took a moment to take stock before answering, "I feel okay." I glanced at him and he yawned.
"That floor is hard, next time I'm gonna make you share the bed."
"Well, you can go back and tell Aila I slept in your arms. Then, she'll be all kinds of horny," I snorted. I sat up and rolled out of bed as Joel chuckled. Stretching once more I headed to the bathroom myself, took care of my morning ablutions and headed back to find Joel tugging on his shoes.
"I'm gonna head home and shower, get changed. Call me later, okay?" I nodded to him. He grabbed his shoulder bag and headed for the door. I reached out and touched his arm, stilling him. He looked at me, met my eyes.
"Thanks." I gave him just that one word, but it was layered with more than simple thanks. Gratitude, love was mixed there in heavy doses. He merely nodded, messed my hair and left. I sat on my bed and sighed, deciding a shower was probably a good idea.
Once I made it to the table, my folks kindly didn't bring the previous night up, really. I brooded on it in the daylight where sentient shadows seemed childish. Still, it preyed on me the rest of the weekend.
I spent Sunday in a bit of a daze, I hadn't slept well the night before. Joel stopped by in the afternoon and we went over everything I remembered from the night before. He actually had me lay down, relax and tell the story again, describing everything as I watched the movie reel in my head.
We agreed that it sounded too fantastical to be believed, but the ideas we came up with to explain things were pretty lame.
"Maybe the streetlight went out when you were about halfway down the alley? That happens sometimes; it's always creepy when you're driving or walking by and they just go out at that exact moment." Joel offered. I nodded as I thought that over, then started to shake my head.
"When that happens the light takes a while to recover, it's on but very dim compared to its normal brightness. This streetlight was bright like it would be, normally." We fell into contemplative silence. This was actually productive, I felt like we were doing something instead of just worrying about whatever I had seen.
Joel left in the early evening, his family took Sunday dinner pretty seriously. They weren't religious, but his mom said Sunday dinner had been the one night her family had always gathered, since it was virtually the only day everyone wouldn't have to work. She liked the tradition.
I surfed the net that night, trying to find some kind of link for the shadows I'd witnessed and possible meanings. The only sites I really seemed to find pointed me towards religious sites and their take on the occult and darkness. I sat back in frustration, all the things I had found were kind of general. As I tilted my head back and looked at the ceiling I realized if religions had opinions on darkness and such, the information I might be looking for could be had with specific questions to someone who was very religious, the right kind of religious.
Monday morning came bright and early, sunlight spilling through my windows and across the room, banishing shadows to the smallest reaches of the room. I had done little else but obsess over what I had seen, and though my rational mind railed against it there was no doubt in my heart of hearts.
Still, my fear had lessened. After all it wasn't like the shadows had eaten a good person's life away; that guy had robbed, hit and stabbed a woman. If it hadn't been for chance, perhaps, he'd have stabbed her mortally. This new idea seated and flourished in my mind, and the more I thought of it the better it sounded. Maybe Gideon was some kind of superhero? I winced. Wow, that sounded completely lame.
I watched Gideon at every opportunity, looked for any outward sign of villainous intent or shining gallantry. Right, like I knew what the hell to look for. I sighed to myself towards the end of the school day realizing I really had no idea what the fuck I was talking about. I sat behind Gideon in History, three seats diagonally back and to the right. Mr. Lorenzo liked to call on Gideon because he always had solid answers, and he stated them with a certain amount of authority.
Not loudly, but his tone certainly made it sound like he knew what he was talking about. I watched him as he sat, and Mr. Lorenzo lectured. I studied his movements as he wrote, a southpaw it would seem, the notes copied to his notebook quickly. His grip on the pen was relaxed, not like Joel who grabbed his writing implements with the zeal of an assassin trying to strangulate the offending pen or pencil. His face was a picture of calm, a relaxed detachment as he copied to the page; unlike myself who stuck the tip of my tongue from my mouth when I was concentrating. He didn't look like he was concentrating at all.
His dark hair trembled slightly as his body shifted in the chair, one long strand uncurled and dangled into his face. He absently raised his hand and tucked the hair back behind his ear. His posture was relaxed, leaning over the desk and his dark eyes radiated calm, cool and...oh shit, I was staring into his chocolate eyes, losing myself and forgetting I was supposed to be watching him. At some point in all of that I realized on a conscious level that if I was staring into his eyes as he was looking at me!
I averted my eyes and looked down at my notebook, blank of course since the whole period had been spent studying Gideon. I fiddled with my pencil, and slowly raised my eyes and glanced at Gideon. He had turned back towards the front of the room, but now his body had adjusted and he was writing with his right hand, his back now turned to me.
"I heard you slept with my boyfriend and didn't even take pictures for me!" Aila pouted, falling into step beside me.
"He has to give you something to hope for. What will you have left if all your fantasies come true?" I muttered without thought.
"Well, there is some truth to that, but if you think about it, the ultimate fantasy would be..."
"Don't say it!" I covered my ears and walked forward while the sound of her muted laughter made its way to my eardrum.
I uncovered my ears a few feet away and reached for the combination on my locker.
"What gives? You still upset about Saturday?" She leaned next to my locker as the final bell of the day sounded.
"What makes you ask that?" I muttered as I reset my combination with three spins and tried it again.
"Well, I've been watching you today and you have been very quiet for one," she held a finger up.
"Like I'm usually noisy as hell?" I snorted and twisted the knob again to reset my locker, damn thing wouldn't open.
"For two I called you Danny and you didn't correct me," she held up a second finger.
"Yeah, because correcting you has worked so well in the past."
"Number three is you're trying to open the locker next to yours, so you are definitely distracted."
I looked up at the locker number and sure enough, I was in the wrong spot. I frowned at her and moved over one space to my locker and began to work the combination.
"I'm distracted because you're trying to fill my head with three way sex involving you and my best friend."
"Wait, I'm your best friend."
"You know what I mean," I muttered as my locker finally surrendered and I dumped the books in my hand, grabbed my backpack and tossed the books I'd need for homework inside.
"I'm just worried, Daniel." She said it so softly I almost didn't hear it. I stood up and closed my locker, facing her light blue eyes.
"I appreciate it, Aila, but I'm fine. Lets go, we'll miss the bus."
She gave a hesitant smile, then nodded and we both headed for the bus. "Seriously though, no pictures?" she pooched out her bottom lip.
We had to run for the bus, my locker malfunction had cost us precious minutes and the ghouls that drive bus have a schedule to keep. She sat with Joel and I spied a seat open next to Seth Robichaud, who lived a few blocks away from us. Seth's family was hyper religious, and in fact had home schooled Seth until he couldn't pass required knowledge tests the state sets for standards. In spite of that, Seth was surprisingly cool. After we had met several times he told me he'd never seen a real gay person and thought there'd be some mark of the devil on me or something. He was so sincere I couldn't laugh, I just felt sorry for him.
"Hey Seth," I greeted him.
"Hi Daniel, how's it going?" Seth smiled. His face was pretty broken out, and his skin shone with the excess oils puberty gifts us with.
"Wiped out, long day, and a long weekend before that," I replied as I leaned back and sighed.
"I read about it in the library today; that must have been frightening."
"Yeah, it was too weird, way out of my comfort zone."
"Still, that was pretty brave; maybe even noble, chasing down the thief," Seth commented.
"It was stupid, I didn't even think about what I would do if I caught him." I glanced at him and he laughed a little. We rode in silence for a minute, I was turning over in my mind how to bring the subject up again so I could segue into questions about the darkness.
"That's weird how he died, all of a sudden. You didn't see him clutch his chest or do anything?" Seth was surprisingly relaxed about the whole thing, almost clinical.
"No, nothing. One minute he was running and the next," my words trailed off as I saw the shadows reach, bend, consume. "The next he was laying down, dead."
Seth fell silent, so long that I thought the conversation was over. Suddenly he spoke again, in a near whisper.
"Did you see him fall down?"
I turned to look at Seth, a very intense expression on his face.
"No, it was too dark." I replied.
"So he fell and you didn't see it? It was dark and then, he was dead?" Seth's face was a mask, perspiration on his brow the only thing betraying his discomfiture.
Seth leaned back and looked out the window. I couldn't help but think he was hiding something, that all of this made some sense to him. I decided to take a risk.
"It looked like the shadows in the alley..." I paused to try and choose my words carefully, "Like they smothered him, and when the shadows were gone he was dead." I looked intensely at Seth.
"What does that mean?" I whispered.
"I guess that depends on what you believe," Seth replied and turned to look out the window.
"I'm not really sure what to believe, or what to think," I looked away from him and studied the back of the seat in front of me intently. "I've gone all the way from totally fucking evil to superhero. After all, it was a thief who died; someone that hurt someone else, just a bit more and they'd have killed that woman."
The bus slowed and the front doors opened to let someone off. Conversation went on around us, unaware of the very odd exchange happening in their midst. Seth continued his silence as the bus's doors closed and the diesel growled, urging the mass of the bus forward again. The engine shifted tones as the transmission kicked into the next gear, and the bus jerked its occupants.
The silence between them seemed to take on weight, an uncomfortable physical presence. I wanted to break the silence, to ask Seth for his thoughts, but it seemed to me like he was still deciding what to say, processing the story I had told as it were. The bus lurched to a stop, air brakes hissing, and then sounding like a horn as they were released and we moved forward through an intersection.
"It sounds like there was a warlock there." Seth said to the window.
My head whipped around to look at him, but all I got was a three quarters profile turned away from me.
"Did you say a warlock?"
The bus slowed down and braked to a stop once more, the doors slapping open and Seth stood up.
"Walk with me," he intoned as he hoisted his bag and pushed past me and into the aisle. I glanced around quickly, almost furtively, and headed down the aisle. A final glance back and I saw Joel and Aila sucking face, so they wouldn't miss me. I stepped off the bus and fell into step with Seth, curiosity winning out over common sense and a desire in the back of my mind to forget any of this happened.
"Do you believe in God?" Seth asked.
"No," I replied. Seth smiled.
"My parents would say that's proof gays are evil, you know."
"I don't think one goes with the other," I replied. Where was he going with this?
"My parents raised me pretty strictly, you know, very biblical. I do believe in God, but I'm a little shaky on some of the details." Seth set a slow pace and I matched him as I listened to his comments. I decided since I was already off the bus I could indulge whatever he wanted to say...my house was still about a twenty minute walk away.
"Well, the Bible very clearly says that gays are an abomination, but...you don't seem all that abominable."
"Um, thanks?" I shot him a curious look and he laughed.
"Believe it or not my parents worst fear was that if I left the house I'd question my faith, and...their worst fears were realized. A gay guy, no less, has made me a questioner."
"I don't understand." I didn't understand. Oh, I said that.
"My parents said that gays were evil, hell bound and would never tolerate a child of God like myself. They told me that I'd be tempted by sin, alcohol and drugs, sins of the flesh...homosexual temptation."
"Hey I never," I started to protest.
"I know, I know," he held up a placating hand. "That's what I'm saying. Other people were nice to my face, and then made fun of me for being a Jesus freak behind my back. Others made fun of me to my face or in the halls where they could be safe in the sea of other people that would laugh at their ridiculing me." He smiled at me a bit embarrassed, "So when you were friendly to me I really thought you were going to try and tempt me, just like my parents said. But all you ever were was nice, you never picked on me or, just as important, tried to make me like you.
"I guess to make a long story short, you accepted me as I was and only asked I do the same in return." He wiped his palms on his pants as we strolled. I remained mute to this observation. I thought his parents were whacked, but Seth had always seemed all right.
"But my point is, the more I thought about the absolute teachings and the world I saw around me; the more I saw shades of gray. If my parents were right you'd have tried to take me to a gay bar, get me drunk and shooting up heroin before making me the bottom in a gay gang bang."
"What?" I said far too loudly.
"Hey," he shrugged, "they were wrong. Made me wonder what else they were wrong about. So I did what I always do, I pray.
"Lots of people scoff at prayer, and I have to admit when you talk about it rationally it doesn't make sense that God has time to talk to everyone about all our little problems. But, it is a great tool for reflecting and thinking, and so I've done a lot of that."
"Okay, but..." I was still a little confused as to where this was going.
"I know, probably confusing to you. My point is I'll tell you what I think, but that doesn't mean it's strictly true, okay?"
"That makes sense, I guess."
"Sorcery, magic all that occult stuff is ridiculed by society but shunned by most of the mainstream church as Satanic, and especially so by the beliefs of my family. A Warlock is, by definition, a dark wizard, a male witch...something close to a Necromancer. The main point is Christianity, Catholicism says that they are completely evil. Exodus 22:18 says you shall not suffer a witch to live, depending on the translation."
"So what I'm seeing is evil? What I witnessed?"
"Well, slow down," Seth held a hand up. "Don't forget, this is the same document that says you are an abomination and going to burn in one of the rings of hell, right?"
"Um, yeah, good point."
"So what it means, outside of theology, is that you might have encountered a magical being of some kind. If they can control shadows or work in darkness then that would make them a Warlock, implicitly evil by their association with dark instead of light. If you believe in that sort of thing."
"If you had asked me last week..." I muttered.
"Yeah, well, six months ago I thought you could melt my skin and damn me to hell. You know, you grow." He smiled sheepishly.
"About that...you seem like you're completely okay with me, which does seem kind of unusual?"
"Well," Seth shrugged, "I believed what my parents said, and then when I got out of the house I discovered things weren't exactly what they said. I had a real crisis about it, if you want me to be honest. I spent a lot of time in my room praying and not telling my parents what I thought. To me asking my parents would have been like drinking the poison Kool Aid and then going back to the jug for answers."
I snorted and he smiled at me before his faced smoothed out into seriousness.
"I feel that, deep at the core, God is there for me. Maybe his message gets distorted through other people's interpretations, but I do believe. The other things, the things that seem like hate, like what they say about gays; I find that hard to believe now. I don't think the God I believe in hates anyone, at least not for something like that."
"That's one way to look at it." I replied dumbly.
"For me, it's the only way. But listen," he turned to face me as we stopped. He placed a hand on my shoulder, a bit tentative; maybe he still thought there was a chance I really could melt his skin off. "The Bible says a lot against magic, there might be some truth to it. If there is truth to it, then it's dangerous. I wouldn't go investigating too deeply, or at all, otherwise the darkness may make you its next meal."
He smiled at me and crossed the street to a well kept house, one in which the curtains were drawn but the ones in a the large window in the front twitched, as if someone had just been there. I felt sorry for Seth as he walked up the few steps to his door and it opened before he arrived, a severe if plain looking woman glaring at him, and at me.
No one should have to go home to that.
My talk with Seth had given me a lot to think about. The one thing I struggled with was the idea Gideon might be evil, a murderer. It didn't fit with my idea of him as the laid back guy with the bedroom eyes that I often wished I had the courage to speak to, to know him. The one thing that stood out to me was that I needed more information, but now I had some potential facts to investigate. I headed home with the idea of surfing the net and gathering information on warlocks.
Feedback welcome at dabeagle at dabeagle dot com Find more stories by me and other authors at dabeagle dot com