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Living Shadow

Maybe the fear of the dark isn't as childish as you thought.

By Daniel BradburyPublished 6 months ago Updated 2 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - January 2024

There's a kind of darkness that belongs to Illinois. If you ever find yourself a little east of the Mississippi river on a night in late autumn, you might see it then. If you're on a road that's outside one of those fragile halos of electric light and civilization (and let's be frank, that accounts for most roads in Illinois) you'll probably get to watch it close in around your car: a cool, viscous absence of light that's not so much black as it is gray. Like the color has been sucked out of everything.

If you're the type who likes to rationalize things you might be tempted to write it off as rust belt melancholy: that unique flavor of spiritual decay that tends to move in when blue collar jobs move out. If you're more in tune with your gut, maybe it will register as some eerie feeling in the back of your mind, inspiring you to push the gas pedal just a little further down than you normally would. If you're smart, you'll turn your car around and come back in the morning.

I can already hear what you're thinking. "So it gets dark and creepy out in the boonies, so what? Don't be so dramatic." I suppose you can be forgiven for that. We live in a country where you're taught not to believe the fire is hot until you've stuck your hand in it, doubly so with anything outside the domain of science. Plus, you've never seen what it can do. I had my first encounter with the darkness when I was seven years old.

Around where I live, there's a kind of unspoken understanding about the way things are in the fall. Kids go trick or treating in the afternoon. Businesses close at sunset, even the big chains. Doors and windows get locked at six p.m. It's hard to understand those rules when you're seven, especially when nobody will give you a straight answer as to why they're observed in the first place. All I could ever get out of my parents was "It isn't safe out there after dark" or some variation thereof. To a rebellious kid their answers to my questions started to feel less like warnings and more like challenges. I was brave, tough, and smarter than most seven year old kids. What could be out there that I couldn't handle? I made up my mind to find out.

I filled a backpack with all of the things I thought I might need as I went to explore my town's empty streets: a flashlight, some band-aids, a coil of rope from the garage and a bread knife from the kitchen. At the time the knife was longer than my forearm, making it feel like a sword when I held it in my hand. I was also going to take the family dog, Huff, with me when I went. As a golden retriever he may not have been able to scare anything off, but I decided I would feel better with him there. I waited until my parents fell asleep, which wasn't all that long since they both worked mornings, and then Huff and I struck out.

I would be willing to bet that none of you know what it feels like to be truly alone. Sure, you've probably seen the streets of your hometown looking a little deserted once or twice when the bars are closing down, but have you ever been alone? Not another soul on the road. Maybe a light in a window somewhere nearby, maybe the sound of some animals rooting in trashcans, but nothing outside of that. It's a strange feeling to walk through places that are supposed to be filled with life and activity, or at least sound, and to find them cold and empty. Maybe it was how alien everything looked in the dark, or the reality settling in that I was doing something I had been warned against my whole life (however vaguely), but I can remember even before I made it three blocks away from my parents' house I began to feel uneasy. I considered pulling out the bread knife for protection, but that would have only been an admission that I was actually frightened. I was too tough for that.

Huff and I had just turned onto main street when I started to feel like something was well and truly off. At first it was nothing more than some hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Some instinct of self-preservation that only profoundly foolish or unlucky seven year old boys have need of. Soon though, my fears became a little more concrete when Huff began to growl. He snarled with an aggression I hadn't known he was capable of as he stared at the end of the street, every hair on his body seeming to bristle. I followed his gaze, right past Murphy's ice cream, and if I forget everything else I have ever known I will never forget what I saw there.

It was like something huge was flying overhead, casting a shadow that covered the entire street. Everything seemed to get swallowed up in this weird gray darkness. It would have been strange enough to see just that, one specific part of the street that was somehow darker than everything else, but as I was staring at it, trying to reconcile what I was seeing with what I understood to be possible, it moved. It lurched forward like an animal with a limp, crawling over houses and businesses, snuffing out streetlights as though they were candles. I looked up at the sky, trying to see if there was some plane or hot air balloon overhead that casting this strange shadow, but even as I was turning my gaze upwards I realized that didn't make sense: it was almost nine 'o clock at night.

Then with one final bark, Huff charged. I called out for him, tried to catch his leash before he got out of reach, but he was too fast. He sprinted forward past Beechwood avenue, past Sterling's pharmacy, and he plunged into the darkness like a stone into a river. I could only see him for a few seconds after that, his yellow tail bleached of all its color as he faded into that monstrous encroaching shadow. I think it was around then that I started to run. I sprinted as fast as my legs would carry me in the direction of my parents' house. I ran for block after block, praying to anyone that might be listening that whatever that was wouldn't catch me like it did Huff. I think I was crying, too. My lungs felt like they were going to collapse as I jumped over the fence to my backyard and crammed myself through the basement window that had provided my exit just a few hours before. I tumbled to the floor of the basement, pausing only for a moment to catch my breath before I slammed the window shut and locked it.

We spent the next two weeks looking for Huff. I told my parents I had let him out to pee and he'd run off. I don't know if my mom knew I was lying. I think my dad had his suspicions though. I almost told them a couple of times. My parents, especially my dad, loved Huff. They were devastated that he'd run off. I knew exactly where he was though. Every night that autumn, and every autumn after that I lived in my parents' house, I could hear him whining to be let in outside my window. I only made the mistake of looking out at him once.


About the Creator

Daniel Bradbury

Big fan of long walks in the woods, rye Manhattans, Spanish literature, jazz, and vinyl records.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (5)

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  • Test6 months ago

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  • Adam 6 months ago

    Beautifully written!!! Congratulations on Top Story!!!❤️❤️

  • Harbor Benassa6 months ago

    This was incredible! The beginning was instantly compelling without any obvious clunkiness, and the main character has a strong voice. Even with the flashback, I don't feel like my suspension of disbelief was interrupted. Fantastic job, and congrats on top story!

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