*Trigger Warning: domestic violence and rape*
I pass the Thing in the Shadows every night I walk home from work.
Everyone in town knows about the Thing in the Shadows, though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to talk about it. It mainly lives in the alley between the 7-Eleven and the head shop. No one is quite sure exactly what it looks like; it’s a tangle of formless dark, lanky, shifting shapes. Occasionally someone in the area vanishes, usually a street dealer or someone up to no good, and there will be whispers that the Thing in the Shadows took them. Usually, it’s not someone that anybody misses, and the gossip quickly moves on.
Not everyone believes in the Thing in the Shadows, but I do. I see it regularly. I can’t unsee it, not since the night I was walking home and it stepped out in front of me.
At the motel, the breakfast offerings aren’t much. Cereal, muffins, bagels, that sort of thing is all that’s available. We kept the goods in a pantry close to the front desk, so I’d regularly sneak a bagel as I clocked out after my evening shift to snack on during the walk home. I could always sense the Thing as I passed by; that alley was always obscuring and unnaturally dark. One night, however, it stepped out. Shadows consumed the sidewalk before me as a vague, hazy figure stood motionless, blocking my path. I stopped and stared at it, and I could feel it returning my gaze even though no eyes were visible on the form.
I was startled and scared to move, thinking of all the disappearances attributed to the Thing in the Shadows. I spent so long debating in my head if I should run or not, that I eventually realized the Thing wasn’t moving, and hadn’t moved for a few minutes. Unsure of how to cope with this situation, I hesitantly placed the remaining half of my bagel at the feet of the Thing and backed away. Silently a thin, shadowy tendril reached out to accept the offering before the entire figure retreated back into the alley. I was free to continue walking.
This became our routine. I began sneaking an extra bagel on my way home from work and leaving it at the alley for the Thing in the Shadows. There were some nights it wasn’t there, and I wondered where it wandered off to. Most evenings it was there, and it would enthusiastically rush forward to accept the snack. I started to think of it as a sort of strange friend in a way, and the nights it was there cheered me up and made me feel comfortable that things were normal and right with the world.
This high point in my day would end about five minutes later, when I got home and Adam would be waiting for me.
I married Adam when I was nineteen and naïve. He showed me a shred of affection, and I was desperate enough to latch on and ignore the red flags. Slowly over time, what I thought was protection and caring evolved into overbearing and controlling. He was always reading my emails and texts over my shoulder, always “just checking in” when I was at work, always insisting on tagging along with my friends “to make sure you stay safe”. I should have noticed all these signs earlier, but I was too blinded by the love and affection I felt.
Now at night, when I got home, that was when things were the worst. I had long since lost interest in intimate relations with him, ever since he had referred to me as an “ugly fat cow” after a Thanksgiving family trip. The more he forced the issue of my lack of interest, the further away I was driven. I tried to fight him off, once. It ended badly, so now I just tolerated it when he climbed on top of me every night. It angered Adam, my non-responsiveness to his advances. I was a “useless bitch,” a “cold fish,” and a host of other terms along the same vein.
As much as I was unable to say yes, though, he was unable to say no. This became our nightly routine, with me waiting for him to finish so it could be over. It was rape, I see that now. Not the “big R” kind you hear about in the news. This was the “little R” kind, the kind that will never be heard inside a courtroom or on Dateline, the kind that slowly erodes your soul until the colors of the world dim and you feel like a hollow husk of your former self. Because I couldn’t say yes, and he couldn’t say no.
Oh, I often thought about leaving, about how I could escape. But where could I go? I had no local family, and the few friends I had didn’t seem to think it was a big deal when I brought it up. “That’s how men are,” they would state with a dismissive wave of the hand. There was the women’s shelter, but that was akin to a witness protection program: give up your job, your connections, pack one suitcase, and get whisked away to a secret safehouse location. My job, my belongings...the thought of sacrificing my last shreds of independence seemed more unbearable than where I was already at. So I tolerated it. It wasn’t ideal by any means, but I could slip away into my imagination and tune out the world, and then things didn’t hurt so bad. I could live with it.
For months, my routine after work remained the same. Clock out, feed the Thing in the Shadows on the way home, try to tune out Adam while he got his rocks off, shower, sleep, repeat. It wasn’t a comfortable routine, but I could sustain it, or so I thought. Adam had other plans.
One night after Adam had finished and had called me a “dead-hearted bitch,” I slipped off to the shower.
“No,” Adam commanded. He got up and stood in the doorway, blocking my path. “You’re my wife; you listen!” He pushed me into the wall, leaning in close. “When I give myself to you, you should like it.” As he said “like”, his fist impacted the wall beside my face.
A sob escaped my throat as I crumpled to the floor. Adam stood over me as I shivered in a frightened huddle. “Stupid bitch, like I’d actually hurt you,” he muttered as he stormed off.
From that night on, what I had once thought was bearable became much more menacing and dangerous. Adam became much more aggressive about getting me to respond to him by any means necessary. He would grasp me by the neck and force me to tell him I loved him. Reading emails and texts over my shoulder wasn’t enough anymore; now he physically pulled me away from the computer or slapped the phone from my hands. Worst was I couldn’t leave the house anymore except for work. Adam would bar the door with his body. Tears in my eyes, I desperately tried to push past, but he would grab me and shove me to the floor. I wasn’t strong enough to escape. I started screaming at him, and he would pin me to the wall and hold my mouth shut. I was surprised the neighbors didn’t call a noise complaint on us.
One day as I tried to make another vain escape attempt, he pushed me back and I hit my face on the wall corner. I tried to cover the bruise with make-up as much as I could. My boss made a comment about how I needed to be more presentable. I apparently didn’t cover it up well enough.
That night on the walk home, I broke down sobbing. The thought of going home was terrifying, but I didn’t know where else to go. Tears were still streaming down my face as I stopped at the alley to feed the Thing in the Shadows.
I lingered there a bit longer, just trying to delay the inevitable. Something icy brushed against my cheek. Jumping, I stepped back as I realized a shadowy tendril was reaching out to me. The Thing quickly pulled back. Its form swirled and spun.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m just having a hard time right now.”
The thing stood there, pulsing and swirling, before suddenly melting into the shadows. With a resigned shrug, I slowly headed home.
“You’re late,” Adam growled as I entered the door and put my purse down.
“Yeah, I’m late,” I grumbled. “I’m five whole minutes late. What of it?”
“Show me your phone.”
Anger burned inside me. “Why, so you can see who I’ve been talking to? Because being five minutes late is so terrible!”
I didn’t see the hand coming, just felt my shoulder jerk as he spun me around and threw me down the hall. I collapsed into the floor, banging my elbow on the hard linoleum floor. I barely felt it anymore.
“There’s no messages here,” Adam cursed. “Why were you late?”
“Clearly I must be having an affair in those five whole minutes,” I muttered.
“What did you say?” Adam was screaming.
I stood up and brushed myself off. “Why don’t you go fuck yourself?”
The rage in Adam’s eyes was terrifying, and I knew I was about to be punished, but the anger in my heart had pushed me to the breaking point. I didn’t care anymore what he did to me. As Adam approached, I braced for what was to come. I almost didn’t hear the knocking at the door.
“Who is that?!” Adam demanded in a furor. “Is that person why you’re late?”
The knock came again. Adam backed away from me and stormed to the door.
“Who the fu--”
Dark, black tendrils choked off Adam’s words as they wrapped around his neck and mouth. And his arms, and his legs. I watched Adam’s eyes widen in fear as the Thing in the Shadows reached out and around, silently restraining each of his limbs and constricting and contorting them. Muffled screams escaped Adam’s chest as he was pulled outside into the night.
As the stifled cries faded, I slowly walked in stunned silence to the door. The Thing in the Shadows retreated into the night, carrying a terrified Adam with it. Adam’s eyes were bulging, his muscles fighting, his pants obviously soiled. Both of them faded into the shadows, and the night was silent and still.
I never saw Adam again. The police came to investigate when he stopped showing up for work. I told them that he’d simply left and not returned. They interrogated me a few times before they stopped coming around. Adam was gone and life simply moved on. I was finally free to breathe, free to live my life without constraint.
I still feed the Thing in the Shadows bagels every night. I don’t know what it did with Adam. I don’t care to ask. Its secret remains safe with me. The people it makes disappear, no one misses after all...
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation and needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.