Shadow Puppet (Flash Fiction)

If you’re looking for something profound and spooky that you can share with your friends back home, I can’t offer you that. I can only tell you what happened, what little I know, and from there we’ll take up the thread together.

This thing … this, whatever it is, I don’t even think you could call it a man … I started seeing it about a year before my wife died. It scared the hell out of me the first time, when it walked into our bedroom, slow and smooth like it belonged. I guess it was about three in the morning, one of those times when you wake up and feel so exhausted you don’t even want to look at the clock. Because no matter how much time you have left to sleep, it won’t feel like near enough.

When it walked in, this tall, thin man-shaped thing that looked like it was made of shadows, a jolt of adrenaline-laced fear shot through my body. My wife, Ellie, slept peacefully beside me, oblivious to the intruder. I both envied and hated her for that, as if somehow she had chosen for me to be the one who was awake and watchful and terrified.

This thing, this Shadow Man, walked to the foot of the bed and seemed to consider us for a moment.  In truth, I have no idea. It had no face. How can you know what a shadow is thinking?

I watched it and felt it watching me, and I wanted nothing more than to roll over and pretend this thing I saw was a trick of the mind, a half-formed dream being broadcast by a brain that was not quite awake. That plan appealed to me, so I closed my eyes and turned my face toward my wife when I felt the weight of the Shadow Man on the mattress.

I shouted Ellie’s name and shook her awake, but by then, the Shadow Man was gone. For her part, Ellie was kind and patient. I think she chalked the whole thing up to a nightmare, and if she thought anything else, she didn’t let on. The frustration would come later, the regret too.

The Shadow Man became a regular presence after that, visiting more nights than not. Sometimes it was a quick in and out, almost as if he’d walk in, remember he’d forgotten something in another room, and then leave. Other times, he’d stand near the far wall and watch us.

Occasionally he’d sit on the edge of the bed, and I’d feel the weight of him again. That small act of physical force made it impossible to pretend he was a dream, and I would silently hope and pray he’d go away. Neither worked.

The worst nights though were when he would study Ellie. Standing silently on her side of the bed, he’d crouch and lean in close. Ellie’s soft breathing would send small ripples of movement across what should have been the Shadow Man’s face. He would turn to me, as if to share some insight about the woman who slept between us, but whatever the message, it was not received. At least not in those days.

Eventually I figured out that Ellie being awake kept the Shadow Man at bay. It got to where I’d give her a nudge at the first sign of movement. It really started to piss her off, but I would sleep like a baby after that.

It was a victory, for me at least, but it was short lived. I think the Shadow Man figured out what was what, and he found a way to get to Ellie. She started having her own trouble sleeping, and she’d spend most hours of the day and night wandering our house like a zombie.

Ellie had always been an early to bed, early to rise kind of girl, and even when she was long into her fight with insomnia, she’d still be in bed by eight, hoping the old routines would finally win out.

Instead, she’d spend hours rolling over in quiet frustration. She’d sigh in aggravation or turn her face away and cry. But inevitably she’d get out of bed, put on a robe, and walk the house until day break.

It must have been a bitter and lonely existence for her, and I’d like to tell you that some nights I sat up with her. That I provided at least some bit of comfort to this woman whom I had loved. If I could not grant her sleep, then at least I could offer companionship and commiseration.

But I did none of those things. I am a small man, in heart if not in stature, and I greedily took my rest as my wife played sentinel.

It was the doctors who eventually gave Ellie what she needed. They said her mind was a machine fueled by worry and worn by fatigue, and they gave her pills to help her sleep and still more to get her through the days. Ellie had already been a long way from right, and I don’t think she was ever coming back.

It was no way to live. The Shadow Man taught me that. And who was I to sit back and watch her suffer.

Deep in the night, with the Shadow Man watching from the corner, I smothered Ellie with a pillow. She fought me, but not too hard. In the end, I think it was what she wanted.

Now as we sit here together, I can see the questions in your eyes. I know I scare you, and that you want to believe this is just a story. Something said around the campfire to give you a little thrill before I send you off to sleep.

But understand this: the Shadow Man has plans for me. He brought me here, just as he brought you too. And for me, this is not the end.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

5 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.