Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shadows From the Past

Mary was plodding through her Thursday afternoon on this hot California day, the lone air conditioner in the bedroom window not doing much to cool the rest of the trailer. Finishing her housework, she sat down at the computer to play her games but, as always, scanned through the news on Google first. Toward the bottom of the page something caught her eye. An article about a train derailing near Arkaneville, New Mexico. It was a town she had lived in for a couple of years as a young girl when her family was constantly moving all across the southwest. She'd forgotten the names of most of the places but this one stuck in her mind for some reason. Out of curiosity she searched and found an online newspaper from Arkaneville, the News Register. Looking through the pages to see if anything struck a chord in her memory she was disappointed, but hadn't really expected anything since she'd never made any real friends there that she recalled. Scrolling to the bottom of the Community News section she was about to leave the site when a name popped out at her. She read more closely: SAMUEL BENSON DISAPPEARANCE STILL AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY. Mary's head whirled. The air in the room suddenly became unbreathable. She ran to the bedroom and stuck her face in the cold air blowing out from the dirty vents of the air conditioner. She laid down on the bed to steady herself. In an instant she had remembered something so unbelievable that she had repressed it all these thirty some years. How had she forgotten something so horrible, and why did she have to remember it again now, like this, exploding in her face on her computer screen? Slowly she made her way back and read the article. It had been written on the thirtieth anniversary of his vanishing by the former police chief, recalling the event as one of the most baffling of his career. Mary pushed back from the computer and closed her eyes, facing her past.

Mary's father Joe was a mechanic for the railroad and was moving his family from place to place to be closer to his work, or so Mary was told. The real reason, she found out early on, was because Joe was a drunk and would spend all his rent money on booze, smokes, and anything he decided he wanted when he was wasted. Once he had lost his entire paycheck to a woman who lured him outside the bar with the promise of sex, only to be beaten and robbed by her boyfriend who was waiting in the alley. Ellen, Mary's mom, tolerated his behavior probably because she could ill afford to try and make it as a single woman with a daughter. Ellen had her own problems with the bottle, and many times Mary had come home from school to find her mom passed out on the sofa while the afternoon soaps played on tv. She would arise in the early evening to throw something together for supper right before Joe got home.

They had lived in Arkaneville for only a few months and Mary, as usual, had no friends as yet. She'd seen the boys in the school and neighborhood looking at her and thought they might start picking on her, but she realized their looks were different than the boys at school last year. Her mother had told her, in one of her more lucid moments, that Mary was starting to be a very pretty girl. Mary considered herself skinny and didn't think she was pretty except for maybe her hair which she made sure to brush well everyday because it was long and got tangled easily otherwise. Anyway, at nine years old she wasn't thinking about boys as anything more than nuisances who always caused trouble in class. It was about this time that she started seeing them.

The part of town in which they lived had been an Indian village years before but the Indians had long since moved on, or been pushed out, no one knew for sure.The house that they lived in then was a tiny two bedroom which sat at the end of a dirt road with no other houses closer than a couple hundred yards. With no street light close by it got very dark in Mary's bedroom at night. At first she was convinced her eyes were playing tricks on her. She would see shadows, darker even than the blackness which surrounded her, moving through her room. She paid no attention at first, but after a few nights she stayed awake and watched. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness she could make out forms, small rounded shapes only about three feet tall. She pulled the covers over her head and wished them away, her heart pounding so loudly she was sure they would hear it and get her, but nothing happened and she fell asleep. They came again the next night and she again hid under the covers, but after a few minutes looked to see if they had gone. She squinted and saw that they were still there, moving about as if they were conducting some sort of business, oblivious to her presence. Staring closer she could make out a face of sorts, with deep sockets where eyes would be but nothing else that she could see, although the fact that they were barely visible at all in the darkness made her wonder if she'd imagined those eye sockets. In fact, she was starting to think that her eyes were just playing tricks on her and that they were only in her imagination. She started to feel confident that this was the case. They surely couldn't be ghosts, as ghosts were luminous and made it a point to scare people, everyone knew that. These shadow people were just spots on her eyeballs that some people had. "Floaters" was what her mom had said one time when she said there was something in her eye that kept moving around. To prove to herself that it was just her imagination she slowly extended her hand toward one of the shadow people. She touched something cold and hard and pulled her hand back shaking in terror. The shadow seemed to stop momentarily and turn toward her before disappearing into another part of the room. They were REAL. It had felt like touching the shell of a turtle only slightly damp and much colder. She spent the rest of that night under the covers.

The Bensons were the most prominent citizens in the town, with Benson Limestone employing a third of the townsmen. Sam Benson was the fourteen year old son who was in and out of trouble all the time. He and his friends hung out in front of the appliance store most days and hassled the old ladies and young kids. People were reluctant to stand up to him because of who he was, knowing that someday they might be calling him "boss". He scared Mary because of the way he looked at her. Not threatening-like, but something else that was in his eyes as she walked past. He always smelled like his father's aftershave, probably worn to impress the older girls, something that most of the teenage boys tried to do most of the time. One day Mary had noticed Sam, who was almost never alone but was by himself now, had followed her at a distance until she turned down the road to go home. It had disturbed her a little but he hadn't chased her or anything so she put the incident out of her mind. It was shortly after that when everything happened.

Joe had gone on one of the maintenance jobs which took him away from home for a week at a time. Ellen drank more than usual when he went away, and on this day Mary came home to find her passed out in the recliner. As the afternoon wore into evening and her mother didn't get up to fix her supper Mary shook her awake. "Mama's not feelin good right now honey. Can you warm up some leftovers, ok? Then be sure to get yourself to bed on time." She took some pills from a bottle in the kitchen and stumbled into bed, leaving Mary to heat up some meatloaf and beans.

The warm air blew stronger than usual that night, which was a good thing since it had been so stinking hot during the day. Mary cleaned the dishes and finished her homework, then glanced at the clock. Ten thirty already, way past her bedtime. She quickly washed up, put on her nightgown and crawled into bed. The wind blowing the curtains and through the room gave her a comfortable feeling and her eyes were almost closed when the shadow people came. She gripped the sheet tighter, but she was starting to get used to them. They had never bothered her and didn't frighten her as much as they had at first. Mary eventually drifted off to sleep. Something woke her with a start. She thought instantly that the shadow people had gotten her but opening her eyes she made out a human form, someone who had his hand across her mouth and was fumbling to do something with his other hand. Terrified, helpless and totally in the dark she lay there as she felt someone trying to lay on top of her. Then, with a suddenness that made her attacker gasp, he was jerked from her and dragged across the room. Too scared to move she strained to see what was happening. A muffled sound, as if someone screaming into a pillow, came from the corner where she now could make out several dark shapes converging on a much larger shape whose feet were kicking the floor and the edge of her bed. A gurgling sound was the last noise she heard, and the shapes in the corner all gradually vanished, leaving nothing but an odor of aftershave that she recognized. She must have fallen asleep after that.

The next day it was all over town that Sam Benson was missing. Mary was just as surprised as the rest of the townspeople, as the events of the night before had buried themselves into her subconscious and would not emerge until much much later.

Finishing her thoughts, Mary looked out the window at the sun setting on the distant mountains. She realized that she was meant to see that article on the computer. Although shocking and unbelievable at first, she could now relive her past in her mind and sensed that she had changed somehow. She turned the lights off, got in bed and waited. She knew she would have visitors tonight.


Blogger Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Tim,

Great story! Hope you're having a really good Saturday!

12:26 PM  

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