The Thing in the Shadows

Have you ever had that feeling of being watched? The feeling that no matter which way you turn, something bad is looming over your shoulder? I have, in fact, I still do.

I used to work for a clothing store in the mall. I was going to school for fashion design during the day and would sell cheaply made clothing to over indulgent, self-entitled teenagers in the evenings. It wasn’t the most exciting experience, nor was it exactly what I wanted to be doing with my life, but it paid the bills and kept me fed, so at the end of the day I wouldn’t complain too much.

The feeling, which I have never been able to shake, began one night after the mall had closed. I had locked up, closed out the tills, and made the nightly deposit for the morning manager to deliver to the bank. As always I left it in the safe and left the store, headed home for a long hot shower and some much-needed sleep. I knew I had homework to finish, but I was certain I could rush through it before class, in the morning.

I had just exited the mall and was making my way across the empty parking lot toward my car when I got the distinct feeling I was being followed. Casually, as if not to make a fool of myself, I turned my neck and looked behind me, still moving in the direction of where I had parked. The parking lot was bare. No one was behind me. Still, the feeling persisted. I strong sense I was being watched.

Nervous, as any twenty-three-year-old woman should be in an empty parking lot at night, I quickened my pace and made my way to my locked car. The feeling seemed to intensify. The feeling grew stronger. My heart began to pound in my chest. Panicked I fumbled in my purse for my keys. Oh, why hadn’t I retrieved them before walking into the parking lot? Isn’t that what they always say to do?

Holding back a scream I yanked the keys from my bag with shaking hands and unlocked the door. I jumped inside the vehicle, slammed the door behind me, and pressed the button for the power locks. I was panting, out of breath, heart racing. After a long moment, I forced myself to look out through the windows.

The parking lot was still empty, barren save for a few lifeless cars and vans. I was alone. I had let my fears get the better of me, I thought. The fear itself was warranted. Only a few months earlier a young woman two counties over had been attacked and raped while making her way to her car after work. These things happened and I knew I was justified in feeling scared.

What bothered me, however, was how scared I felt. I was certain while walking, that someone was behind me. That I was being watched from somewhere. I’d felt the goosebumps on my skin; felt the tingling sensation on the back of my neck as if someone were standing directly behind me. Yet, there was no one. Not even a sign that I had been partially correct. Just the empty space of the well-lit parking lot, and my fears.

I drove home that night feeling uneasy. Had there been someone there? Watching me and waiting for me? Had I simply not seen them? Or was this feeling, these terrified emotions all in my head?

I didn’t sleep that night, which of course, ruined any chances of finishing my homework before class. I was too tired throughout the day to function properly. I dragged my feet through work, mostly focusing on how nice a good night’s sleep would feel. I had almost entirely forgotten the events of the night before, forgotten about the reason I felt so terrible, so tired.

That is until I had to close the store. The mall was closed. I had just shut the gate, letting out the last customers with an insincere, thank you. The shop was empty. I was by myself. Instantly the dreaded feeling returned. I was not alone. I couldn’t see anyone. But I knew, someone, somewhere, was watching me.

I stalked through the clothing racks carrying an aluminum pole. The kind used for grabbing hangers off top shelves, too high to retrieve by hand. It was empty. I counted down the registers, made the bank deposit, and grabbed my things.

I was conscious this time, making sure to grab my car keys before I left the building. Paranoid, I even held them in my fist, making each key a spike jutting between my fingers. If anyway was out there, following me, they would regret it.

Then came the moment I had been fearing the most. I stood within the outer doors of the mall. The parking lot beyond was empty. There were four cars sitting motionless and empty. One was mine, and another was parked beside it.

A thought, which I was eager to force out of my head, crossed my mind. What if the person waiting for me was parked in the car beside mine? What if they had planned it that way? I scolded myself for making things worse. For scaring myself with silly thoughts.

I left the mall and quickly padded across the parking lot. I should have worn better shoes I thought as I struggled to keep my flats on my feet. I passed under the loud buzzing lights which brightly illuminated everything.

I made it to my car without incident and climbed inside. I was safe. Then, as if on cue, the tall tower-like lamps which gave a sense of security to the large open space, began to flicker. I glanced around from within my seat at the parking lot. Beyond where I rested the lights were fine, across the parking lot, near the opposite side of the mall. Around me, however, the lights flickered, then faded.

That’s when I saw it. In the split second before the lights went out, just a fraction of a moment before the darkness engulfed everything, I spotted it, standing in the middle of the lane. It looked human but was entirely different. It was dark, black almost. It was naked, and its skin was mottled and wrinkled, like a raisin. It had long stringy hair, which clung to its face and scalp as if it were wet. It hunched over in a position so as to hide its face. In that brief instance, all I could see were its pale white eyes.

Darkness blanketed everything like a shroud. I panicked. Whimpering uncontrollably. I couldn’t see it, the thing that had been standing there. I couldn’t see anything. Then the lights came back on, just like that, as if nothing had ever happened. The parking lot was once again empty. The thing was gone. But where had it gone? The truth was, I didn’t care.

I started my car and drove away quickly. I raced toward home, hoping to never see the lanky naked thing ever again.

I had to have been seeing things, I told myself when the panic had subsided. I had to have imagined that. I let my fears get the better of me. There was no such thing as monsters and that what that was, wasn’t it?

I zoned out as I drove, forcing myself not to think about the parking lot, the thing, or uneasy feeling which crept up on me like a spider, crawling across my back and up my neck. I was mere minutes from home. Soon I would be tucked into bed, under a pile of thick warm blankets, safe and sound.

I drove, passing under street lights, one after another. The roads were empty, this time of night and the only light beyond my headlights were the lamps I drove beneath. Each time I passed under the lights lining the street, it cast a strange gold glow which would cross over the dash, through the front seats and into the back. The lights acted as if they were scanning me, over and over.

I became entranced, watching the golden-orange light as it washed over me, and zipped on behind me before vanishing out the rear window. I looked into the rearview mirror, watching the light disappear into the void outside.

Light, then into dark, then light again. Over and over. Light, dark, light, dark.

My heart stopped. My breath caught in my throat. My eyes wouldn’t blink, even though I silently screamed at them to do so.

Light, dark, light, dark. In the shadows, between street lamps, crouched down behind my seat hid the thing. Light. Each pass of the street lamp, the thing would vanish. Dark. As the light zipped away out the window behind the car, the thing was there, crouching down, curled into a twisted ball. Its face was turned up toward me. It’s pale white eyes stared blankly at me. Its mouth was contorted into a grimace. It’s thin long hair stuck to its face and neck, dripping wet with some unnameable liquid.

Light. The thing was gone, the space behind my seat was empty. Dark. The thing was there, staring at me, watching, unmoving. Light. It was gone again. Did it know I could see it? Did it know, I was aware it was there? Dark. It wasn’t moving. It didn’t act as if it knew I could see it. It just sat there, with its blank eyes, gazing in my direction. Then its hand began to move, slowly reaching for me from the back seat. Light. It was again invisible.

I stifled the scream building inside my lungs. I had to do something. Without thinking, I flipped on the overhead light. Bright white illumination filled the small space of the car. I glanced up into the mirror again. The thing was gone. I didn’t know if it could still touch me, even when I couldn’t see it. I waited impatiently for the sensation of something grabbing me, tearing into my flesh, eating me or worse, but it never came.

It was difficult to see outside in the darkness, the light from within turning my windshield into a fish tank. I was almost home, however, and the thing was nowhere to be seen. I had to keep going.

When I finally pulled into my driveway the apprehension I felt was unbearable. I jumped from my car and rushed up to the front door. It felt as though years were passing as I struggled with the keys to unlocked the deadbolt. The porch was lit with a single bulb inside a lamp-like cover. Though I stood in a small orb of illumination, I could feel the thing creeping up behind me in the shadows beyond the light.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I began to cry. Fear gripped at my chest like a vice that wouldn’t release. I let out a breath and a sob as I heard the familiar click of the door unlocking. I dashed inside, refusing to look back into the darkness. I ran through the house, flipping on every light and lamp I could find. I locked all the doors and checked all the windows, making certain they too were locked tight behind their curtains.

The light was like a comforting embrace. It ensured me that nothing could get me. Still afraid, however, I decided to sleep with the lights on.

I don’t know what that thing is, or how exactly it works. But I knew that so long as the lights were on, it couldn’t touch me.

I’ve refused to leave my house since then. I stay, tucked under my blankets, curled up against the head of my bed. Watching for the thing. I can feel it nearby. Sense that it is watching me. Only now have I realized, I’ve designed my own doom. I haven’t paid my power bill in months. Too afraid to leave the house, too frightened to go anywhere there might be shadows dark enough for it to hide in. Too afraid of that thing. Soon they’ll shut my power off, and with it, the lights. That thing is out there, somewhere in my room. I don’t know how it got into my house, but I can feel it. It’s just waiting, waiting for the darkness to come.