Monday, October 19, 2009

Halloween Short: Shadow of a Doubt

(I readily admit that, although I put the timer on for 15 minutes to do these shorts each day, this one actually took me 9 minutes to write. I kind of knew who the guy would be and what he'd think about the situation. I hope to do some more from now until Halloween that cover some of the most talked about and interesting scary aspects of the world of the supernatural.)

Pushing away from his desk and standing up slowly, stretching out his aching back, Jack groaned with the first steps until his muscles warmed up and his joints became limber. Fourteen-hour shifts weren’t helping his body or his disposition, but were decidedly making his wallet thicker.

He wandered into the kitchen and opened the fridge to stare at the same five ingredients as if something might have miraculously appeared since noon. Jack slammed it shut and turned, catching a dark movement out of the corner of his eye. He startled and stepped back. His eyes fixed on the perfectly neat room. Everything had been newly washed down that very morning before he started with his work in a ritual he looked forward to. His life was orderly and everything perfectly aligned so that it was under control. The line of nostalgic oatmeal tins gleaned on the shelf along the wall. The table and chairs were all tucked in tightly in the dining area. Each placemat was perfectly parallel with each chair. He shook his head and rubbed his tired eyes and picked up the phone to order some Chinese.

The recliner and the television beckoned him, but Jack knew he had two more hours’ of work to do before he could enjoy his relaxation. A strong work ethic was the impression he gave most people. The truth was, it was his OCD nature. He had an order to do things and everything had to be finished before he could go onto the next thing. In fact, he was perhaps the world’s worst multitasker because he became panicked if he didn’t close one item before opening another. It was why he was an ideal taxman. And, it was definitely his season this early April.

He did have to wait until the deliveryman arrived, so he laid out the money neatly with the exact change and tip on the counter next to the door and sat down in the recliner with a sigh. He’d been sitting all day, but this was different. As he kicked his feet up on the footrest, he smiled with pleasure. It completely supported his lumbar region and with a flick of the switch, it could warm up and massage him, too. It was a splurge but he justified it as a way to avoid taking Aleve nonstop all day.

Jack’s eyes flickered open. He had the distinct feeling of something about to happen. His fingers clenched the arms of the chair where he’d laid out dish cloths to protect the fabric from wear and tear. He tilted his head. Perhaps it was the deliveryman. No, the clock showed only 10 minutes had gone by. Still, something felt different in the room. Little hairs on his neck and arms began to rise with the intense feeling of being watched.

He leaned his head back, catching something dark before the television set. Swinging his head to the right, Jack froze in place as he watched something short glide behind the TV set. He looked up at the ceiling light and around the room, waiting for some explanation of a shadow that might have fallen. It made not sense. The damn thing looked 3’ tall and human shaped, but without detail, and dark, completely midnight black.
Heart pounding, he got up from the chair and paced between the kitchen and the living room. He rubbed his tired eyes yet again and took a deep breath.

Damned computer screen! It’s killing my vision. It’s a wonder I’m not blind.

Thankfully the pounding at the door reminded Jack of the tasks at hand. He checked his timer watch. He had five minutes to eat and get back to work. It wasn’t until the gawky teen walked away and Jack opened the bag that he realized he forgot to ask for soy sauce. He hated egg rolls without soy sauce!

Putting out a plate, napkin, fork, and knife beside a new glass of water, Jack sat down alone at his table in the same spot he always sat. He often rotated the chairs so he wouldn’t wear down just the one. No one visited. No one ate over. He wasn’t the entertaining type. When he was feeling a bit daring, he’d sit in a different position facing the wall of antique cars prints or perhaps towards the television and actually watch a show while he ate, a practice he always abhorred. His minister father taught him from a young age to engage in serious conversation and deep thought during suppertime. Of course, here was no one to talk with, but often times he read the paper or an informative book. His mind had come to associate evening meals with seeking knowledge.

Halfway through his beef and green peppers, Jack closed the carton, wiped the edges neatly and double ziplocked it so the refrigerator wouldn’t smell.

Slamming the door shut, he turned to leave the kitchen when his eyes focused immediately on the dark thing in front of the sink. It was the same height as the row of oak cabinets, but it appeared to be in profile, at least it was just a slender shape until it turned and what must have been its head and stopped. In only a few seconds’ time Jack felt a chill rush through him, sweat beading on his lip, heart pounding, and an overwhelming sense of doom rushing through his body from his toes up to his lips that were tingling. As if realizing it had been seen, the thing swooshed away as if it were on a guide wire being yanked.

Jack exhaled only to realize he was hyperventilating. His head swam, his face tingled, his hands were clenched and soaking wet with perspiration. He crept to the edge of the kitchen where it met the dining area. He perched himself in what he felt was the safety of the doorway and leaned forward, peering into the living room. While his eyes searched the distances, he gasped as he realized in the foreground on the edge where the dining room met the living room, something peered back at him from around the corner. The little thing, its head 3’ off the ground, appeared to be sneaking a look back at him as he was doing with it.

There were no features, only the sense of a head’s shape. It was absolutely devoid of any light properties and absolutely solid-looking. It darted its head back from behind the wall.

That jolted Jack from his daze. This was his house! The creature was the intruder, not him! Jack leapt out into the living room. Near the front door, the dark little shape swooshed again and disappeared into the air right near the door but not through it.

Jack raced around his home, flicking on every light. His watch timer went off. He looked at the reminder feeling anger at the insistent pull that his schedule had on him. He tore the watch off and dropped it in the dish near the door where he kept his change. It clinked. He’d never in all his eight years of owning it ever treated it so carelessly.

Everything was whitewashed now in the bright lighting. He raced through his mind trying to remember what he thought when it happened, all the explanations he’d gone through. It wasn’t a shadow. That was for sure. It was damned short! It seemed to have startled when it realized he’d seen it and then darted off.

That’s a good sign, at least it realizes I’m bigger, so it must see me as more of a threat, right?

Everything that ever happened in his life had formed Jack’s extensive list of how to do things. His thrifty mother who wasn’t allowed an allowance learned to make everything in their home last forever. She had managed to find things and reuse them, stretch the life out of a pair of jeans. His father had demanded to see his schedule each day. Any deviation from it was a sign of hedonism. The lack of items in his refrigerator kept him from binge eating and kept his health in check. The work schedule allowed him to work from home and not fall into the tendency to become a slacker. Every day was the same. Everything remained the same. No new challenges presented themselves. And now, this intruder in his territory like some unwanted stray pet…

Why, already it had him missing his start time for work and dumping his watch in the bowl with the change! Heading back to his home office and pulling out his chair, Jack sat back down, but his eyes kept wandering to the hallway. Was it possible? Had the little upset in his usual evening plans somehow stimulated his curiosity? Was he actually pining for the creature to come back and interrupt his schedule?

Jack shook his head and turned back to his computer screen, but not before keeping the corner of his eye on the doorway in hopeful anticipation that for the first time in nine years of living in his condo, he might actually have life within the walls. Something with no agendas, schedules, guidelines, or rigidity. It could come and go as it pleased, anytime, anywhere, for any reason.

Lucky bastard!


  1. That is such a great way to do these Autumnforest-with things,subjects.people you are reminded of with the actual paranormal research!! If I miss any of these I will come back to them later-this week is kind of messed up out of the gate (just stuff with my soc security case-paperwork etc) Man -tho I am amazed -you timed all of these for a max 15 mins and wrote this one in 9?? incredible!! best to you as always and I hope your week is off to a better start than mine;-)

  2. Poor Dev;
    It's just not fair that anyone should treat you with anything but the respect you've earned. I get the distinct feeling it'll all work out in the end, it's just such an ass pain to get there, but then we never appreciate how nice and quiet life can be except those moment when it's disrupted (like today'd story). I hope to post one tomorrow about fear of sleeping alone or the one about the incubus. Not sure yet... Hmm... I hope to cover a lot of subjects from traditional hauntings to residual, from beasts and creatures to myths and legends. Of course, I only have 12 more to write! I can't explain why writing shorts is so fast for me, but I usually think about the subject during the day. All I need is the character. Once I know who it's happening to, I know where to go with what happens. For me, character and setting are everything. Plot comes from that. Maybe I'll piece together well edited versions of these things for a 31-days of halloween book some day, but that's after the 3 novels that are about to be done... I can't wait until all I have to do is write and no more daily job grind. :-)

  3. wow! this is also really good! especially for 9 minutes!!

  4. Thanks Libby;
    I find if I dictate them and then type them up, they come out better.

  5. I have to admit that I have a bit of OCD but not as much as Mike. I finally got my laptop up and running again, for now, and had to catch up on reading my favorite blogs. You have been busy. I am enjoying your Halloween short stories. I can't imagine what it would be like in your head, lol. Lots of stuff going on in there. Keep up the stories, love them!

  6. Hey Julie;
    Thanks. Yeah, actually my head is pretty empty until I decide to do something and then it's extremely focused. The same way with doing psychic readings. I can turn it on and off at will. In fact, most of my friends think I'm a screwball ditz. :-)