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Lee Pletzers
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shadowlands.jpg
Art by Brian Beardsley

Shadow Lands

 

 

Lee Pletzers

 

 

Jack Gaines awakes with a start. The nightmare is fresh in his mind. Sweat covers his face, hands and legs, and his hair is drenched.

Under the sheets, his body trembles.

“Babe, what’s wrong?” Anne sits up on her elbows. She looks at the clock and lays back down. “It’s three in the morning. It was just a bad dream. . . .” Her voice trails off.  

 Jack shuts his eyes. The pounding in his chest subsides; his erratic gulps of air become a steady flow and he starts to relax.

He lays on his back, stares at the ceiling, listening to his wife’s steady breathing. He feels like blocking her nose, suffocating the bitch.

The memory of the dinnertime fight surfaces. He works long hours. Was it too much to expect a non-working wife to have some food on the table? Whoops, appears she’s already eaten with her friends. That was his fault? What the fuck? And whose money paid for that fucking dinner? Anne chucked her wine glass at him. Jack dodged it easily, and then slapped her. And that was that.

He looks over at his wife, snoring softly, and shakes his head. He truly loves her, but she is so self-fucking-centered . . . The thoughts dwindle off.

Sleep is impossible. He stands up. He pulls off his damp boxers, grabs an old T-shirt off the floor, and wipes his face and chest dry.

As he pulls a side curtain open, light seeps into the dark room from nearby streetlights. It isn’t much but he’s able to make out vague shapes. He moves sleep-slow to the clothes chest. The top drawer is stuck and he jimmies it an inch or two before it slides free. He sees dark mountains, a red river, fire dancing in a forest. He slams the drawer shut.

“Jesus.” Jack slaps his cheeks a few times to wake up. A nervous laugh escapes. Taking several deep breaths, telling himself not to be stupid, he slowly pulls the drawer open.

Something large and black shoots towards his face, and dodges him at the last second. He falls back in surprise, arms flailing in wide circles.

Whatever it is, it’s huge. Long wings, sharp-looking beak, smooth as silk. . . . skin? Eyes: small perfect circles, bright green, reflected in the streetlights washing the room.

Impossible.

Black leathery wings snap around him. He dips sideways, avoiding contact and bangs into the drawer, rousing a hundred more things into the room. The sound of beating wings, deafening. Their cries like tires screaming against tar seal.

Silence. Sudden. Think and heavy.

The soft whisper of his wife’s breathing.

He stops.

Nothing is there.

The room is empty.

Dream memories come rushing in. The shadows, the sound—a cry of pain, the heat, the smell. All so terrifyingly real. All so fake. All figments of horror movies and books imagined into a sleepy reality.

His legs are shaky. Drawing courage, Jack looks into the drawer. There’s nothing in the drawer except his clothes and newspaper lining.

He pulls on boxers, jeans from the bottom drawer, and a long-sleeved shirt. He opens the bedroom door and glances back, seeing his wife in peaceful sleep. “Lucky,” he whispers.

Jump her now! She won’t win this fight!  Smash her nose; a couple of quick punches should knock her out. She won’t feel that long kitchen knife cutting—

Jack shakes his head. He closes and rubs his eyes. What the hell is going on?  

Playing like a movie against his eyelids, he watches a separate version of himself jump on the bed. A knee on each side of Anne’s body, he draws back his fist and slam, slam, SLAM. Her nose smashes open, the skin. Blood is everywhere.

Unable to open his eyes and break free of the nightmare, he watches “Shadow Man” turn. This Jack’s face is twisted in madness, scrunched up in anger, but his eyes are aglow with pleasure. He looks happy.

“Who are you?” Jake nearly whimpers. Tears flood his eyes.

Movie-Jack looks at him, a twisted smile on his lips. “I’m what you could be. I’m the shadow in your soul. I’m the ‘Shadow Man.’”

Shadow Man struggles off the body. Movie Anne’s blood drips off his skinned knuckles. He staggers to the bedroom door.

He passes Jack and heads to the kitchen, returning with the seven-inch knife.

He pulls the bedspread down and climbs on top of Movie Anne, cuts her thin nightgown. A clean cut all the way to the top. The knife is sharp. The cut has left a thin line of blood from her pelvis to her throat.

Jack wants to look away. He doesn’t want to witness this craziness.

Yet, he is frozen by morbid curiosity.

Shadow Man has his jeans down around his thighs, a whiter than white ass pumped up and down. He’s having sex at the same time he is drawing the knife across Anne’s chest, splitting her small, but firm breasts. He lifts her onto him and pulls her body up so she is riding him.

Anne opens her eyes. They are unfocused at first, but quickly clear. She sees her blood. The pain surfaces and registers. Her scream is high-pitched and agonizing.

Shadow Man laughs. He leans back, swings forward and slams the knife into her chest. He rips it out and repeats the action three more times, and shivers as her limp body falls off him.

Jack tries to move. He trips on his own feet and tumbles backwards into the hallway.

He realizes his eyes are open, not shut as he’d thought. This nightmare—he’s living it.

Black shadows scream from the bedroom. They fly at him, hundreds of them— attacking, diving, striking, drawing blood. Jack swings madly, trying his best to fight them off, his shirt is ripped by hooked talons, and he can feel blood dribbling down his cheek.

“Stop,” Shadow Man commands. All motion ceases. “Look at what you did,” he says.

Jack shakes his head. “N-Not me, you sick fuck.” His eyes burn as understanding takes hold. A torrent of tears rains down and bumps off his quivering chin.  

Shadow Man smiles. “You did. It’s beautiful work. Don’t be shy.” He’s right and he knows it. Shrugging, he adds: “You wanted this.” The smile is hideous: black teeth, cracked lips. His eyes burning coals.

The shadows hover in the air near the ceiling. Some circle, ready for attack.

“What’s that?” Shadow Man points to Jack’s hand.

Jack stares numb at the bloody knife. It slips from his loosened grip. The point jabs into the wooden floor.

Shadow Man fades and morphs into an oblong-shaped shadow. The blackness wavers in the air. A point forms at the tip and it shoots forward, slamming Jack against the wall. Sudden agonized screams rips the silence of the house.

Jack feels his chest pull open, the rib cage stretches wide. Looking down, near unconsciousness, he sees the shadow push into him. The black things in the air swoop down. Fear shuts his eyes, but he can feel them enter and fly under his skin.

Fear and pain vanish as if they never existed and he suddenly feels calm and…happy. Content.  

He checks his reflection in the hallway mirror, smiles. Spying the knife, he bends down, pulls it out of the floor.

He unlocks the door, opens it, and looks out across the street.

A small brick cottage surrounded by a white fence grabs his attention. The Morris family lives there. Their son is a loud, rude snob. And next to them, an old couple. The man is okay but his rumor-spreading wife needs a lesson in keeping her mouth shut.

This whole street is filled with people needing a visit from the Shadow Man.  

 

 

 

This native New Zealander lives to write. Lee is the author of several speculative fiction novels (Speculative fiction covers a group of fiction genres that speculate about worlds that are unlike the real world in various important ways. In these contexts, it generally includes science fiction, fantasy, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, alternate history, and magic realism), short stories and chapbooks and the editor of seven anthologies (all horror) and he is the New Zealand Rep for the International Order of Horror Professionals.

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