Eleven-year-old Rudy and his mother moved to a new town far away from the city and the suburbs. Sunfield Vale was cold, quiet, and home to an ancient horror. Rudy, feeling alone and helpless, discovered this horror, but was unprepared for the events that followed – and which changed his life forever.
Tags: short story, short fiction, horror, fiction, thriller, creepy, dark, horror flash fiction, haunted forest, family discord, loneliness, monster legend
|Author||Michael K. Trott|
|Publication Date||June 18, 2017|
|BCRS ratings?Learn more|
The Shadow Named Simon
By Michael K. Trott
Published by Smashwords
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anything real is entirely coincidental.
The Shadow Named Simon.
It was my eleventh birthday two days earlier and dad had missed it. We were already in the car when he came back home. He said he had a reason and that he had done his best to call us, but Mom said it had happened before and that she was sick of the excuses.I opened my eyes and woke from a dream of darkness. Not a dreamless sleep but one entirely filled with shadows. Mom hadn’t tried to wake me since I fell asleep and she hadn’t said a word at all since we left. It was a long drive from home, my real home. I wondered how much further we had to go.
Eventually I saw a sign outside that read: “Welcome to Sunfield Vale”. I imagined the place to be a tiny village with houses made from wooden logs where everyone knew everyone. I hated the idea of living there.
“We’re here, Rudy. Our new home,” said Mom. This isn’t home, I thought, though I knew better than to voice my opinions. It was so cold I could see my breath in the air.
The town wasn’t as bad as I imagined, but it wasn’t far off. There were more people than I expected and it was modern enough to offer some comfort. Of all the places in the world, I had no idea why Mom chose to move to Sunfield Vale. She was no logger, like everyone else in this town, and I certainly didn’t want to grow up to be one.
We drove along a cracked and beaten road covered with mud and fragments of wood to a small house on the edge of town. The car pulled in under the carport and I leapt out. My legs started to hurt all of sudden and I figured it was because I was in the car for so long.
The house was a faded yellow and was in need of maintenance here and there, but otherwise it was half decent. A cold wind blew. It was loud in my ears but not loud enough to disguise the scratching that I could hear at the same time. I jumped, as if the source of the sound was on my shoulder. I turned around to see the vast range of trees that looked like barbed spears grouped together to ward off the rest of the world. They seemed to radiate some sort of primal power as they swayed slightly in the wind and one of them creaked in the distance. I hadn’t expected anything so immense in such a quaint little town, but I could do little else than stare at them open-mouthed.
“Rudy, let’s go inside. Get your bag, okay? And put a jacket on, it’s freezing.” My mother’s voice startled me but my focus turned back to the wall of trees. We really were on the edge of town and there was nothing between the house and the forest, save for a vacant square of pavement big enough to put another house on. At least we only had neighbors on one side of us.
Sunfield Vale was littered with old 2018 New Year posters, despite it being April. The whole town had an easy-going, sometimes lazy, feel about it. Mom told me the people worked hard at the mills but otherwise seemed to care little for much else. It was such a quiet place that even the odd dog bark was enough to draw all your attention.
I supposed it was the cold that made everyone so quiet and everything so grey. Even the blue sky became a part of the memory of home, the one I already missed.
Mom was making hotdogs for dinner, but I couldn’t wait to ask any longer. “Why did we leave? And why isn’t dad going to be with us?”
“I told you before, Rudy. Your father wants to live alone. He loves you, okay?”
“Does he love you?”
“No, Rudy, he doesn’t. Is there anything else you want to ask me to make me more upset? Now go to your room and wait until dinner is ready.” Hurt, I stormed out of the kitchen and pulled back my bedroom door, ready to slam it. But I didn’t. I just closed it gently.
Looking around my new room, I couldn’t force a feeling of contentment. It wasn’t my room no matter what Mom said. The walls were like bars on a prison cell, the window was too small, and there was too much empty space. It wasn’t my room.
My real room had everything I needed; a bed, a desk, a nightstand with a lamp, a small bookshelf, and a closet for my clothes. This room was grey and dull like the rest of this town, and it held me down with an invisible weight and threatened to keep me here forever.
Dinner was a sad affair, and no amount of chillidogs could ignite a moment happiness. We ate without speaking. I was angry at my mother for saying what she said and for tearing me away from home to live in Sunfield Vale, the forgotten town with a contrary name for a place so cold and grey.
I went to bed that night with a plan. Mom said goodnight, but I pretended to be asleep. She waited for a moment and then softly shut the door. At first, I felt I was being cruel and wanted to call for her. But then I remembered where I was.
I stood and waited behind my bedroom door, already wearing my jacket. Mom walked past my door and went into her bedroom. Anger surged through me in a way I’d never felt before. I left the house and didn’t look back, uncaring of Mom’s feelings. For once, I was going to do what I wanted to do. I hated being there, and I refused to learn to like it.
It was dark and quickly getting darker. I didn’t want to be near anyone, so I decided to walk along the tree line. But it was too intriguing, too inviting, to stay away any longer. The surrounding trees loomed over me and swayed rhythmically in the wind. The bright moon could not pierce through the thick branches and it made the forest icy cold. I folded my arms across my chest in hope of warming my lungs, but to no avail. I ventured further into the forest and walked among trees that were taller than giants, older than time, stronger than any man. Then I shivered and started to feel anxious. I couldn’t see the town and didn’t know which way was home. I walked too far too quickly. I was lost.
I stood still for a moment to look around. That’s when I suddenly heard the silence, a horrid lack of sound. There was no wind, no creaking of the trees, no birds. I could feel the silence and its weight as if it were a pair of eyes watching me. It felt heavy, and I felt sad that such silence could exist.
It was frightening, though I hated to admit it. But I was alone. Again and again, I spun around in an attempt to find my way, but all I saw were endless trees and their thick low-hanging branches veiling the outside world.
Then I felt a sharp wind. I turned. Something wasn’t right. I let out a slow breath.
I finally made myself take a step forward though I was lost and confused. I knew I had to go somewhere to try and escape. I tried to tip-toe on the dirt floor to dull the sound. To my horror the footsteps were louder. I felt a shiver down my spine and I stopped walking, but I could still hear footsteps, as well as my pounding heart. I was not alone. I started to run and weaved through the trees, ducking under branches and jumping over roots.
I had never run so fast and I was so happy and relieved to see that tiny yellow house on the edge of the forest. I was exhausted, but I did my best to keep moving as fast as I could. Just before I opened the front door, I looked to the trees behind me. Then I saw it, a creature with glowing red eyes standing on the edge of the forest, watching me before retreating into its woodland domain.
It was following me, and it almost caught me. It was so close. I could have died. It could have murdered me. It looked like smoke, but I could see its long claws. They could easily rip a man apart. White, knife-like teeth poked through its cloudy form like the bent forelegs of a spider, ready to attack. It was a nightmare incarnate.
I opened the front door and raced upstairs. Barging through her bedroom door, I woke Mom up. I told her all about what happened in the forest and described the monster. She told me I was too old to tell such stories. She also said she’d come up with a punishment for running away like I did.
Later that night, I laid in bed thinking about the monster. I got up and pulled back the curtain and opened the window. There was a fierce wind outside that shook the whole town, but at times I could have sworn I heard someone crying.
When I woke from a poor night’s sleep I again told my mother what happened in the forest. “Well,” she said, “just stay out of there, okay? I don’t want you getting hurt or lost. Please, just don’t go in there and everything will be fine.” She gave me a hug and we left for my new school. She didn’t punish me either.
The school was a single hall and all the students formed only one class. The older kids sat at the back and the younger ones at the front. Throughout the day the teacher, Mrs. Mills, made sure everyone was working hard. I figured these were all the children in town and the only friends I could possibly have.
My mind turned to the forest, as did my eyes. Mrs. Mills told me again and again not to stare out the window, but I couldn’t help it. I felt that strange cold feeling I had felt in the forest when the monster first found me and I knew it was looking at me, through the trees and through the town. It was staring at me, waiting for night to fall so it could hunt me again.
During lunch, I finally spoke to the other students. “You live in that old yellow house, huh?” asked Jessie, a girl my age wearing a dirty skirt under a puffy blue jacket. “Have you seen it yet?”
“Seen what?” I asked, quickly glancing over my shoulder.
“The Shadow Man,” said Jessie, “He eats kids that go past the trees and makes adults disappear.”
“Yeah, that’s why none of the loggers go in there,” said her twin brother Willy, his face and clothes a little less dirty than his sister’s.
“Yeah, okay. I’ve seen it. What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a demon.”
“No, it’s not,” said Jessie, “it’s half-demon. Its mother was a witch who died giving birth to it. That’s why it eats kids. It’s angry it’s so ugly.”
I asked what would happen to me and Jessie said, with a big smile, “You’re gonna get eaten!”
It wasn’t long before I learned that the whole town knew about the monster in the forest. The legend of the Shadow Man had existed for years. I told Mrs. Mills about how it attacked me, but she ignored my pleas for help. When Mom came to pick me up I wrapped my arms around her waist.
“It’s going to eat me,” I said while fighting back tears, “I went into its forest and now it wants to eat me, like all the other kids.” She held me and whispered words of comfort. Mrs. Mills waved us back into the now empty school hall.
“I am worried,” said Mrs. Mills, “that Rudy is upset about some of the town’s history that he’s apparently learned. In fact, he was asking everyone about it all day.”
“What was he so concerned with?”
“Some years ago, there was an incident in the forest next to your house. People went missing, children actually. They were never found.”
“That’s horrible. What was the incident?”
“There was a… criminal who was run out of town and chased through the forest. The whole town went in there and it’s a very confusing place to be. It’s no wonder so many children got lost, especially with all the excitement going on.”
When we arrived home, I fell onto the couch and held a pillow close to my chest, squeezing. I told Mom I wanted to go home, to our real home, and be with dad. I told her I would die if we stayed here, that I didn’t want to die so far from home.
“I’m sorry, Rudy, we can’t go anywhere. I don’t have enough money to move again, and I can’t go back to your father. Besides, I have a good job that I can’t just quit.” She cupped my face with her warm hands and said, “He doesn’t deserve to be your father.” She sat on the floor next to the couch and stayed with me until I fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up in my bed when Mom called me for breakfast. After eating, I told Mom I would walk to school. She told me to be good and then left for work. I locked the door to the house, and turned to the forest. I was alone in this, as always, no one would help me. The kids at school couldn’t help me and the adults wouldn’t listen. I would go into the forest and stop the monster myself.
I didn’t want to go into the forest alone but Jessie said that the monster kills adults outright and I didn’t want my Mom to die. So, armed with a torch and a baseball bat from my closet, I entered the dark forest.
I felt that powerful silence again, weighing me down. It was morning but it might as well have been night. I turned on the torch and walked further in. Eventually, I heard a harsh wind blow. And then I heard the footsteps. My heart throbbed so hard against my ribcage it hurt my chest. I was heaving for air but couldn’t fill my lungs. Sleepiness coursed through me like a wave and threatened to make me faint. My hand was white as snow as I squeezed the handle of the bat, but I couldn’t feel it in my hand. A cold tear tingled my skin as it ran down my face.
“I know you’re here.” The footsteps stopped following. “I know what you are, what you do,” I said. Clawed hands held my shoulders gently. They spread like the legs of a spider over my chest and neck, white and sharp. They nearly froze my arms off as if the monster were made of ice. I tried to run, to turn and swing at the monster with my bat, but I couldn’t move.
My stomach became like stone and all feeling in my legs had gone. My eyes began to shut as sleepiness began to take over. I would faint and never wake up. Then all of a sudden, I didn’t feel scared or sad or angry. I knew I was going to die, but I felt nothing.
“Don’t go.” The monster’s smooth voice was only slightly louder than a whisper, and pleasant, though undoubtedly non-human.
“Are you going to eat me?” I asked hesitantly as I started to feel scared again. Thin muscular arms sheathed in shiny black flesh wrapped around my body as it pulled me closer to it. I closed my eyes and waited for a mouth to engulf me. However, the monster only held me and swayed softly.
“Don’t go. I am so alone.”
I was so confused, and now so afraid.
“Don’t look at me. I don’t want you to run.”
“I want to see you.” I couldn’t believe I had said that.
“Promise not to run?”
“I promise.” The monster let go of me and I turned to face it. There stood the creature I saw on the edge of the forest that first night. Tall and wreathed in shadow, black flesh and almost skeletal, with sharp teeth and red eyes like a cat. It truly was a nightmare that stood before me. I wanted to hit it, or break my promise and run. The monster blocked its face with its hands and shook its head.
“Don’t look at me,” it pleaded.
“Who are you?”
It doesn’t answer me. “Do you live in the forest all by yourself?” It nods its head and points to a spot further into darkness.
“I can show you my house if you like?”
I nodded. The monster led me by the hand through the trees. Its grip was so cold it hurt, but I followed in silence. We came to a makeshift graveyard with four graves. The headstones were tree trunks crafted to resemble eerily real-looking children. Past the graves was a broken old house smothered in plant life, so much so it was almost impossible to see as it blended into its surroundings.
“Wait. What are these?” I asked, pointing to the graves.
“At first, I thought they wanted to see me, but when they did they ran. I tried to help them, but they hated me. The monster points to one of the graves. “He fell on the spike of a tree while he ran. He died in my arms as I held him. I thought if I held him tighter he would stop screaming.” He pointed to the next one. “She died at the sight of me.” It points to the last one. “And he died because I left him alone in the forest. I was so afraid he would perish as the others did so I let him be. But he got lost and couldn’t find his way out.”
“What were they doing in here?”
“Lots of people were here, chasing a man, he died too. He was bad and scary. I didn’t want to talk to him.”
I remembered Mrs. Mills telling my mother about the criminal who was run out of town years ago. “You buried them?”
“I only wanted to be their friend. As I want to be yours, but I scared you out of the forest. I was so sad, but then you came back. Why did you come back?”
I told him how I planned to destroy it because I feared it wanted to eat me. The monster pleaded its case of innocence, and I believed it despite what I tried to tell myself. It saw the bat in my hand and I threw it aside. He led me into the overgrown house.
We sat on the floor and talked for hours. He asked for my name and I told him, but when I asked for his he said he didn’t have one, or that he had forgotten it. We decided his new name would be Simon. He said he had lived in the forest all his life, or, again, at least as long as he could remember. He told me that one time he tried to leave the forest, but people attacked him and chased him back in. After that, he decided he wouldn’t try to leave again.
After spending the whole day with Simon, I learned that he was nothing to be feared. Even though he looked scary, I didn’t think he was a threat to anyone. I no longer feared Simon, yet I still felt anxious when I thought about my mom and the kids at school.
Simon led me out of the forest and I said goodbye with the promise that I would return the next day. I hadn’t thought about the punishment I would receive from Mom when I returned. It was later than I thought too, and I should have been home from school.
Mom was waiting for me in the living room and yelled at me after I lied about where I’d been all day. I planned not to mention to forest at all, but after being yelled at for so long I felt I had no choice but to tell the truth. So, I told her about Simon, the mysterious creature living in a broken house in the middle of the forest.
Mom was quiet. She shook her head and looked away. Not much else was said before she sent me to bed early, right after an early supper.
The next day I went into the forest without a bat or a torch. A little ways in, Simon was waiting for me and took my hand. The cold from his shiny black skin that quivered in shadows didn’t feel so cold anymore. Suddenly, he stopped. “What is it?” I asked.
“Someone is following us.”
I turned around and saw my mother standing there, open-mouthed. Her eyes were not on me despite calling out to her. She stared at the tall monster beside me. She was shaking horribly and her eyes started to water. Simon moved closer to her with a raised hand. It was so huge it blotted out the little sun that managed to shine through the trees. Terrified, she fell to the ground.
Instinctively, I leaped forward and tried to catch her, but I was too slow. I dropped to my knees beside her and sank a little into the wet earth. Simon began to retreat into the woods, shrouded in black mist.
“Don’t go,” I pleaded, “she’s my Mom. She won’t hurt you, I promise.”
Simon carried her to his house and laid her on the dust covered floorboards. We waited for her to wake up, talking quietly until she did. She sat up and scanned the barren room until she met Simon’s red cat-like eyes. She sprang to her feet and urged me to come over to her.
“Don’t be scared. It’s just Simon.”
“Get away from that thing, Rudy. Right now!”
Simon covered his face with his hands.
“He’s not a thing, he’s my friend.”
Simon looked at me and smiled, his pointed teeth spread across his face. I told Mom Simon’s story and eventually she relaxed a little. I put her hand in Simon’s and she brushed his long, spiked fingers trembling at their sharpness and their chill.
She asked a lot of questions, many of which Simon could not answer. Then she spotted the graves outside his house. She walked between the wooden tombstones that Simon had carved. He told her the sad story he told me the day before. At first, it looked as if she was about to run away, but instead she ran her fingers down one of the carvings, then wiped away a tear.
We spent the whole day in the forest, Simon, Mom, and me. Again, I promised to return to see my new friend without being asked to. I had no idea the next day would be so different.
I went to school in the morning but planned to leave during the lunch break so I could head into the forest. Jessie said she thought I had been eaten because I hadn’t been at school. I told her about Simon and how he wasn’t the monster they thought him to be. I knew I shouldn’t have said anything, but I didn’t want them to hate him. She wanted to know more about Simon, but lunchtime had arrived and so I left school.
Simon showed me more of the forest and we played hide and seek. We didn’t play for long though because it wasn’t fair, he could move about the forest like mist. He would melt into the shadow of a rock or a tree and I would get lost. He thought that was funny, and even though I kept losing I did too. We stood on the edge of the forest about to say our goodbyes when Simon looked around urgently.
“I think I should go. I think someone is watching us. Will you come and play with me again tomorrow?”
I nodded, and then he hurried back into the forest.
Later that night I was having roast beef for dinner. Mom asked me how school was, and how my time with Simon went. I was surprised that she knew I had left school and thought I would be in trouble, but instead she was happy. Then there was a knock at the front door. Mom answered it.
“Hello, is Rudy home?” said Jessie, standing beside her logger father.
“I’m sorry to trouble you at this hour,” her father said, “but my daughter says there was a suspicious man speaking with your son by the forest today, during school hours.”
“It was a monster, daddy, not a man.” There was a long private discussion between my mother and Jessie’s father. Jessie and I were sitting together in the living room while the adults were in the kitchen. Jessie tried to pry answers out of me, but I didn’t say a word.
“Fine then,” she said, “I guess I’ll just have to go find the monster myself!” and she ran out the door.
“Wait!” I cried, and followed close behind. I saw her disappear amongst the trees, cloaked in nighttime. I followed her into the forest, though I wasn’t sure which way she went. I called out for Simon, running blindly. I heard Mom and Jessie’s father yelling out and calling us back.
Simon emerged from the darkness in front of me. “Rudy, what should I do?”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly. Once again, the forest became a place of fear. A twig snapped behind me and I turned to see Jessie, staring open-mouthed at Simon. She screamed and screamed. Her father, huffing and puffing, found her, found me, and found Simon. His eyes widened and then he picked up his daughter and ran.
“Hide, Simon. I’ll find you soon,” I said.
Simon grabbed my arm before I could leave. “Please, don’t go. Don’t leave me.”
I assured him it would be okay, all he had to do was hide, and he was good at that.
I sat by my bedroom window and watched the townspeople searching the forest for Simon, their torches trying and failing to pierce the thick night. Jessie’s father had summoned everyone to find what they called The Shadow Man. It was a manhunt for something that was not a man. Suddenly, I could hear lots of shouting and the blast of a shotgun.
A huge gust of wind erupted and shook the house. The lights flickered and the wood creaked violently. More people were coming from town. They were armed with guns and axes and dogs. They entered the forest.
Another shotgun blast pierced the wind. “Don’t! No!” I cried, but no one could hear me. I put my coat on over my pyjamas and slipped my boots on. I rushed down the stairs and almost tripped over my own feet as I ran for the forest.
“Rudy! Come back!” Mom called. I could hear her running behind me, but I ignored her.
Inside the forest, I jumped over a large tree root and suddenly became aware of the barking, sniffing dogs scattered throughout the forest. Weaving between trees and beams of flashlight, I carefully made my way to Simon’s house. The wooden tombstones guided me in the right direction. And it was within his dilapidated home, the only place he could ever hide or feel some sense of safety, that I found my friend sitting on the floor.
He held the middle of his chest. What looked like shiny black tree sap ran slowly down his body, and somehow I knew it was his blood. His eyes steamed the way ice does when too close to a fire.
“Simon!” I held him for a moment before I realized I might have been hurting him.
I helped him to his feet. Mom gasped when she saw us, and we both looked at her. She was a little out of breath from chasing after me, but I was glad to see that she didn’t get lost in the forest. She clasped my hand and one of Simon’s talons and comforted us both.
I looked outside and saw the townspeople coming towards Simon’s house. Jessie led the pack and pointed, and her father reloaded his shotgun.
“Simon,” Mom said, “you have to do something you won’t like. You are going to have to scare them away.”
“But they will hurt me.” He looked to me for guidance. I felt so helpless and weak because no matter what I decided to do I would be safe and Simon would not.
“No, they won’t,” she said, “they will run, but only if you look serious about it. You have to really pretend as best you can. Otherwise…”
I couldn’t say anything, and it hurt not being able to. But Simon could see the pain on my face. He stepped forward to face the door.
“What are we going to do? We have to help him!” I cried.
Mom held me close but said nothing.
A moment later, Jessie’s father kicked down the door. Simon leaped forward and roared, baring his fangs. Only his red cat-eyes burned in the darkness that enveloped him. He spread his claws and swatted an axe from a man’s hand. The man fell backwards and began to crawl away. The others jumped back and some were already running out of the house. One man swung at Simon with a homemade club. Simon swiped sideways with his claws and reduced the weapon to splinters. Then he turned into a great black mist, more shadow and wind than living being, and began blowing through the house like a contained tornado knocking people to their feet.
I watched as people swirled around in the air, trying to fight against the wind. Simon had become a cloud of shadow floating through the house, his red eyes blazing like fire. Those who fell out of the tornado quickly escaped. Someone even jumped through the window.
Jessie’s father held onto her with one hand and aimed his shotgun with the other. He emptied one barrel at Simon but it didn’t seem to hurt him. Those fiery eyes fixed themselves on Jessie’s father.
But he still had one more barrel loaded. He lifted his gun a little higher towards Simon’s eyes and fired. One eye disappeared like a fire going out in the darkness, and the other one slowly followed as the wind died down.
The cloud of shadow faded into nothingness and Simon’s tall, lean body fell to the floor. What looked like tree sap covered most of his face and he struggled to breathe.
Jessie hid behind her father as he loaded his gun once more.
“No!” I screamed as I fell to my knees beside my only friend. The shotgun barrel loomed over me, scarier than Simon ever was. “Simon…” I said.
He seemed to smile at me before his eye slowly turned black and his haggard breathing stopped. I put my hand on his chest and was sure he felt warmer than his usual icy self. I looked up to Jessie’s father and then to her. They had taken my friend from me. They weren’t trying to hide how scared they were, but they still had the air of victory about them.
“Rudy, let’s go.” Mom helped me to my feet and led me to the door. I stopped and looked back once more at the pair of murderers, and then one last time at Simon.
The townspeople cheered and cheered as a roaring fire burnt Simon’s house to the ground. Mom helped me into the car then she climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine.
“Where are we going?” I said, though it wasn’t really a question as much as protest to leaving.
“Home. There’s nothing for us here.”
“What about Simon?”
“He’s… He’s gone, Rudy. I know he was your friend, but we shouldn’t stay here.”
We drove past the Now Leaving Sunfield Vale sign and I thought about how Simon smiled just before he left. Just before he died. I would never know exactly why he smiled, but I wondered if it was because he would no longer be hated, feared, hunted, or afraid. I found some comfort in that, but my best and only friend was still dead, murdered for no reason other than he was assumed to be dangerous even though he wasn’t.
From that moment, driving away from Sunfield Vale, I decided I would never hate anyone. I would give everyone a chance to be a friend if they offered that chance to me, no matter what they looked like.
The morning had come slowly. I wiped tears instead of sleep from my eyes. Standing in front of my window, looking at the familiar street from my old bedroom, I wasn’t as happy as I should have been.
I felt a chill. “Simon?” I gasped. I turned and looked all around my room. But I was alone. The chill had gone and all I could feel was the warmth of the morning sun on my back.
“Simon? Where are you?”
“I heard you crying last night. Were you crying for me?”
“Yes,” I nearly shouted, “Where are you?”
I looked down at the floor, at the shadow of my body cast upon the floor by the morning sun. My shadow shimmered like black smoke and two red cat-like eyes beamed brightly. I smiled, and for the first time I cried tears of joy.