The Shadow Thief

Their feet came down on creaking floorboards. Broken glass, from their clumsy break-in, scattered across the floor and crunched under foot. Screeches echoed through the corridor and pierced through Philippa’s body until her blood ran cold.

“Here! In here,” Jensen shouted above the noise and grabbed her arm and yanked her into a room with a large, heavy wooden door and thick, patterned carpet. Whitney stumbled in behind them and slid down the wall.

It wasn’t total reprieve from the noise, but almost.

“So, banshees?” Jensen asked, turning away from the door and looking to Philippa with one eyebrow raised.

Banshees had been her first guess as well, but now that she could gather her wits, hear her own thoughts through the unnatural screaming coming from somewhere inside the house, she wasn’t so sure. “Where’s the stench? The roost,” She asked, sweeping her arm across the room. “Where are the victims? No, it’s something else.”

“Specters are known to howl. Some tribes and gypsy colonies have described it as a kind of singing,” Whitney chimed in, standing and walking over to the other two.

“Sound like singing to you?” Jensen asked, then let out a breath. His exasperation was clear in his expression.”What are we dealing with here?” He wiped his sleeve across his forehead and knelt to the carpet, setting his bag in front of him. He dug out a small, leather-bound journal and flipped through it.

“Look for a history of specters here. Or maybe it’s just a ghost. A really vocal ghost.”

“There’s nothing on this area at all,” Whitney chimed in.

“If it’s a ghost, there’s one way to tell for sure,” Jensen said, stuffing the journal back into his bag and standing.

“We need salt,” Philippa said.

The screeching kept on. The house was alive with it, vibrating under the weight of so many sound waves moving through the spaces and permeating everything with its shiver. Philippa moved toward the door and set her hand on the knob. Jensen rifled through the room, looking for anything worth keeping. She steadied herself and tried to focus. If the screaming got to her head, someone would end up dead.

Whitney reached across a dark, dusty table and fisted a square of old linen from old window coverings. “Here,” he said, ripping the square into small strips with his teeth.

Philippa took two strips from Whitney and watched the two men roll them up and shove them into their ears, then she followed suit and threw him a smile. “Ready?”

“Always,” Jensen said, smiling at her. Even under the dim light, his teeth sparkled.

Whitney broke their gaze. “Take a right. Kitchen’s probably toward the back of the house.”

Philippa stood at the front with Whitney sandwiched between her and Jensen. Whitney had a deep pocketbook and a brain big enough for the three of them, but offered very little in a physical sense. Still, he did his best and always what Philippa asked. She couldn’t ask for much more than that.

Philippa looked back at her guys, always at the ready. Whitney stood with knees slightly bent, ready to move quickly and quietly. Jensen had a knife in one hand, the other balled into a fist. She pumped her own fist, feeling her fingers slide against her sweating palm. How many jobs had they taken now? Hundreds? How many monsters, murderers, ghosts and werewolves? Thousands. Still, every place was a new place, and every sleepless night wallowing around in decrepit, dusty houses offered something different; a new set of fears, insecurities, and unknowns.

Every monster posed its own threat; every fight could be their last.

“Phil,” Jensen said, ripping her from her mind’s machinations, “Ready?”

“Yes. Ready.” Then she opened the door and stepped out into the musty hallway.

They moved as fast as they could through the halls and corridors, creeping toward the back of the house. Or so she hoped. They had no idea where they were going, actually, but had done this enough times to have a general sense about the house’s layout. Sure enough, just as the edge of panic began to lurk in her blood, they found the kitchen. A hull of a kitchen, really. No one had cooked or laughed or gathered in the room for a long time. She barely paused to think of it, though, and began searching.

They ripped open cabinet doors and flung contents out onto the counters. One by one, they searched every crevice. Whitney stepped into a large pantry, disappearing into the black darkness. Jensen begun on the far left side of the room and Philippa on the right. They met in the middle, hip-to-hip.

“There’s no salt in the house,” she said, wiping dust from her hands onto her pants. “This probably won’t end well.”

“What sort of self respecting cook doesn’t have enough salt to preserve a small herd of deer?” Jensen said, scratching his head and looking around the room.

“The cook probably took the salt and left, along with any other valuables this place might have kept,” Whitney said. A cobweb hung across the dollop of black hair that flopped across his forehead. “The house seems to have been looted.”

She nodded, looking absentmindedly around the musty room. “What about in your bag?” She turned to Jensen and pointed at the leather sack.

“Nope,” Jensen shrugged.



The screeching stopped then, and was replaced by ringing in her ears. She yanked the wad of cotton out of her ear and turned her head, searching for movement in the atmosphere.

“Where is-”

“Sh!” She scolded Jensen and turned her head to the other side, waiting. “It knows we’re here,” she whispered.

“Phil, what’s the plan?”

“Strange,” she said, turning in a circle. She placed each foot with intention, testing her weight on the floorboards, trying to make as little noise as possible. “I don’t feel anything.”

“What does that mean?” Jensen asked.

Her patience teetered on the sharp edge in his voice. “It means… not a ghost.” A ghost would cause disturbances in the air, in the electromagnetic fields. Those things could be felt, if one only knew what they were feeling. Pricks on the back of the neck, the little hairs on your arm standing up straight, a cold shiver through your body, ringing in the ears not caused by aural overload. All signs. But there were none. “Strange…”

Jensen sighed and took a few steps towards the door. “We got paid. Why don’t we just go? Leave this piece of junk house to rot where it stands, ghost or specter or whatever be damned.”

“That’s not how this works, and you know it.”

“I don’t see why it can’t. We make our own rules, right? Let’s take the coin and go.”

“Maybe you don’t care, but this is not just my job. This is my reputation and my integrity we’re talking about, J. We can’t just leave, not without a dead monster. I told the Sheriff I’d take care of it.”

“Can’t we at least talk about it outside?”

“Why would we leave? We’re here. We’re staying here until it’s done.”

“Because this disgusting house is grating on my nerves! I just want to fucking leave!”

Philippa spun on her heel to face Jensen, inching closer to him until their noses nearly touched. She stood on her tiptoes and put a finger against his sternum. “What is your problem, hm? You don’t wanna be here, Jensen? Fine. Get the fuck out.”

Whitney slipped in between the two and put both of his hands on Philippa’s shoulders. “Come on. Tensions are high, but we haven’t the time for this, now. We need to figure out what is in here with us. Or all of us should, as you say, get the fuck out.”

“We’re not leaving! Don’t mention it again.”

Jensen laughed, then knocked Whitney away as easy as swatting a lazy fly out of humid, summer air. He landed on the floor with a heavy thud, and scooted back until his back his the wall. He cowered there, looking up at Jensen with shock and fear.

Jensen lunged for Philippa and pushed out of the kitchen and against the wooden banister that ran along a staircase. She smacked against the wood and thought, momentarily, she’d broken in half.

“Don’t kid yourself,” he said, stalking towards her, “You wouldn’t last a second in here without me, you worthless twit.”

She grabbed her diaphragm in hopes that would help her suck in more air. Jensen leapt towards her, reaching out with both of his calloused hands to grab her. She kicked as hard as she could with her right leg just as he reached her and her foot landed square in his stomach. He howled and fell back, stumbling into the fractured stream of moonlight pouring in through the broken window in the hallway. His shadow fell behind him, a creeping and ominous mark on the wooden floor, but kept slithering around him. The dark Jensen-shaped blob rippled like a wave coming in to shore, or like a maid shaking out a bed sheet. An echo rather than perfect harmony.

Realization crashed down on her and she let her back rest against the banister again. Jensen scrambled to his feet and looked at her, hatred burning in his green eyes. They were his eyes, but not his hatred. Jensen’s body now housed some other soul.

They weren’t dealing with a ghost or a specter or a banshee.

A shadow thief had attached itself to Jensen.

She dodged him again as he came in, snarling with sticky strands of saliva sliding down his chin. She fumbled with the sheathed knife at her thigh. “Whitney! You gotta get up, buddy! Need a little help here!”

What lore did she have tucked away about the shadow thief? Borne of a slain demon, if she remembered correctly. Whether that was truth or not, she couldn’t say. She’d certainly never seen one and had never known anyone who had. The lack of knowledge didn’t bother her. That she and Whitney had no idea how to kill it, or how to detach it from Jensen worried her more.

Jensen laughed again as they danced slow circles around each other. “You gonna cut me?”

“If I have to,” she said, yanking at the knife. “WHITNEY!”

“Phil!” He called back, from the kitchen.

Jensen didn’t flinch or look towards the kitchen. He didn’t seem to notice or care about Whitney at all. She didn’t dare look past him, though. If she gave him a second, he would lunge at her.

“Whitney,” she put her hands out to block Jensen from strangling her, “I think it’s a shadow thief!” Jensen’s eyes had gone black, the sign of possession. Demonic possessions were messy and took some time to stick. Demons themselves were bulls in a china shop. A shadow thief was only the essence of a demon; a shadow of the creature it once was. This possession, if it could be called that, had been quick and quiet. And he was strong. Much stronger than before.

“But… I never… I mean, I thought… How can you be sure?” Whitney asked from the doorway.

“I can’t,” she heaved, pushing Jensen toward the kitchen, dodging his blows.

“You can’t fight me forever. I snap that neck! I drink that blood!”

“Philippa! Toward the pantry!” Whitney ran beside her and helped push Jensen’s flailing body. He smacked and scratched their faces and arms, but moved macking and scratching at their faces and arms, but he moved backward anyway, right into the pantry doorway.

“Push! Push!” Philippa cried. Her hands, soaked with the sweat of effort and fear, slipped from Jensen’s bare arm. All three of them fell. Jensen landed on top of her and wrapped his hands around her neck. She could hear Whitney clambering nearby but couldn’t cry out. Blood vessels and muscle fibers fractured beneath Jensen’s hands. She clawed at his fingers and arms, begging him to stop in shallow gasps.

Bright specks swam before her vision. Her face tingled with numbness creeping across her skin. Years of memories buzzed by and she tried to catch one, to hold on to something good while darkness took over.

Sounds muffled, then faded away.

The chaos around her all seemed fine and well, now.

She stopped grappling with Jensen and let her hands fall to her sides.

Her fingers twitched and felt the knife finally came free. It slid through his skin and into his stomach with little effort, though her arms shook from lack of oxygen. She pushed it further, hearing the hiss of death and dribble of sticky blood. His hands loosened around her neck at the same time a considerable heaviness filled his body, still on top of hers. The weight pressed against her and then his body slipped to the floor at her side.

“Oh God. He’s dead.” She forced the words through her crushed throat.

“Philippa, what’s going on! I can’t see anything!”

“He’s dead. I killed him.”

“The shadow?”

“Jensen!” She croaked.

A silent minute passed before Whitney’s familiar shape filled the open doorway. “What about the shadow, Philippa?”

“I think… I think it’s gone. I dont-”

Thick, rancid air filled her nose and mouth and before she could stop herself from inhaling, her lungs and belly are full of the smoke. The cloud of blackness swarmed around her until all she can do is writhe in pain on the floor beside Jensen’s dead body.


“Help!” She choked, squirming on the ground.

“Get up! Come out, get out!”

She crawled toward the doorway. She could barely push herself to standing and made it only a few steps before she fell onto the dingy kitchen floor. Moving across the threshold was like rain washing away the filth, though. The smoke peeled away from her body and she drew in a full, deep breath of clean air.

“What happened? What’s going on?”

“It attacked me! I couldn’t breath. Smoke filled my lungs. It was crushing me.”

“Can you feel it now?”

“When I came out it left me. I think it’s gone.”

Whitney stepped over her and stood at the doorway. “Not gone,” he said. “Hear that?”

She could. A slight hissing sound. Like air being pushed through a small space.

“It’s stuck in there,” Whitney said.

“With Jensen,” she pulled Whitney beside her and spoke into his ear.

“It’s not Jensen anymore, Phil.” He paused for a second, then put a hand on her forehead. “We need to go,” he whispered.

“We can’t leave without him.”

“We have to leave because of him. There’s nothing more we can do. It’s too dangerous.”

“I can’t just leave him!”

She crawled over to the pantry doorway and put a hand in the space where a door used to sit. “The threshold,” she said. The smoke lingered there, just behind the invisible door that the verge created. “It can’t pass through doorways.”

“Unless attached to a host,” Whitney added.

She moved forward and leaned inside the room. “I have to pull him out.”

“It will kill you!”

Philippa reached into the pantry, feeling around the floor for Jensen. Her hand came down on his and the smoke wrapped around her arm and face, around Jensen. Her arm tingled and burned from the thing seeping into her pores. She leaned closer and breathed it in again, but before she could go any further Whitney grabbed around her waist and yanked her and Jensen from the room. His body slid across the floor, a lifeless mass in front of them.

Philippa crawled over his body and grabbed the bag from around his body. She dug in the soft leather pouch and pulled out a blood red candle and a nub of chalk.  “Draw a pentagram on the floor,” she instructed, then lit the candle, dripping the red wax onto the wood floor beside Jensen’s face.

Whitney knelt beside her, grabbing her arm and pleading with her. “Philippa, no! We can’t.”

“Please just do as I say, Whitney!”

She pressed the candle into the pool of hardening wax so that it stood up on it’s own, the moved over to the pentagram that Whitney, finally, crudely scrawled into the wood floor.

“Philippa. I can’t let you do this. You know how dangerous it is.”

“Cast a protection spell on yourself or leave. But, Whitney, so help me, you will get out of my way.”

“I will miss him, too,” he said softly.

Hot tears rolled down her cheeks, but she kept moving, preparing for the incantation that she promised she’d never speak. “I can bring him back. We won’t have to miss him.”


“Get away, Whitney! Move!”

He moved away, disappearing into the shadows against the wall. He mumbled to himself. Though she didn’t hear the words exactly, she knew the protection spell he used. He’d have to protect only himself. She would be vulnerable to the consequences of necromancy, but she had to try.

Jensen’s face danced with the shadows of the candle flame, and the pentagram seemed to glow with the waxing moonlight shining through the window on the far side of the room. She knelt before the pentagram and put her palms facing upward on her knees, then let her eyes flutter closed.

“Mortuos cujus tempora transierunt da ei unum ultimum depraehendo hoc obiectum i largiri cum animo tuo Novit iter tuum et auxilio Dei ad hoc volo ut fiat mihi.”

The screeching began again. Philippa droned on, repeating the phrase over and over, quickening the words each time she ran through them. The room started to spin and the darkness reached around her, wrapping them in dark magic.

Whitney had disappeared on the other side of the madness. If this worked, and they all made it out in one piece, she would owe him… Well, she’d owe him her life. She did, several times over, already.

Jensen’s eyes fluttered. She could have imagined the movement, it was so fast and slight. But then his eyes opened wide. His back arched in an unnatural posture as he gasped for air and flailed on the floor in front of her. She tried to take his head in her hands, to tell him it would all be okay, but she stopped herself. His arm came down on the candle and the flame went out. The screeching stopped, too.

Slowly the room morphed back and stood still. The moon had traveled across the sky and left the window. Just darkness and the slow, low hissing of the monster stuck in the pantry filled the space.

“Jensen?” Whitney spoke first.

He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. His hand flew to this throat and he looked between Whitney and Philippa with wide eyes.

“It’s okay, now, J. Don’t try to speak,” Philippa said.

A single tear trailed down Jensen’s cheek. Then he nodded.

“We need to go,” Whitney said, putting a hand under Jensen’s elbow.

Philippa stood too and followed them through the house to the door. She looked behind them before they stepped into the cool, night air. “What about the shadow?” Leaving the house with a monster trapped inside was unbearable, but not too unbearable. She’d brought Jensen back from the dead. Leaving his dead body here would have done her in. She’d never not finished the job, though, and with something so unknown and so dangerous… Well, she could only hope the monster would never find it’s way back to her again. As unlikely as it seemed, she knew the truth was more ominous.

These things always found her.

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