The Shadow Man
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…
‘Mama, are we really going to have a teddy bear’s picnic?!’ My five-year-old daughter jumps up and down on her bed cradling the teddy bear I got her when she was first born. She’s never let go of it since. Ragged; bobbly and with one eye missing, the poor teddy bear has seen better days but he’s her best friend. You remember how it was when you were younger right? Only child, single mum who’s always working, the best friend you have is the one you carry around with you. It’s sweet. I have the day off work so I’m going to take Katie down to the woods to have a picnic with her teddy bear, like in that nursery rhyme. She’s been singing it for days now but I don’t know where she got it from. I’ve never sung it to her because (quite frankly) I think it’s creepy, my mom who babysits for me while I’m at work, said she doesn’t sing it and I’ve checked the iPad but nope, no YouTube videos for nursery rhymes. Just toy unboxing (which I don’t understand by the way). Katie hums the tune of the nursery rhyme while I put on her pretty blue dress for her and while zipping her up I ask,
‘Sweetie, where did you learn that song?’
‘The man in the shadow sings it to me at night mama,’ she replied, casual as can be as if this was completely normal. What? The man in the shadows?
‘What man in the shadows?’ I ask trying to keep my voice level so she doesn’t sense my panic.
‘He sits at the end of my bed and sings to me,’ she says smoothing out her dress and giving me a twirl. I feel a cold shiver run down my spine. Surely, she can’t be serious? I lock the doors and close the windows every night before bed it would be IMPOSSIBLE for an intruder to get in here without me hearing something. I decide to brush this off as stupid shit that five year olds say. She was having a dream and she’s heard the silly nursery rhyme at the playground. There. Mystery solved, just call me Scooby Doo. I get myself ready for our outing and off we go, into the woods.
If you go down to the woods today, you better go in disguise…
We arrive in the woods early – around midday. I set up our blanket and take our shoes off. It’s a warm day, unusually warm for September but hey, I won’t complain. Katie is so excited; she takes her teddy bear and makes him walk around the blanket, giggling to herself and talking in a foreign language. Wait. A foreign language?
‘Katie, what are you saying honey?’ I ask her but my voice is shaking.
‘Mama, the shadow man asked me to say this when I’m in the woods with my teddy bear,’ She says but looks at me with a stern look on her face. A look I’ve never seen before, she has a harsh glint in her eye that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I don’t know why but I feel compelled to let her finish whatever she’s doing. Like an outside force is making me let her finish…
Beneath the trees, where nobody sees…
After a while, we both relaxed and sank into our comfortable relationship. I lay down and she lay down next to me while I told her all about her daddy and how he was a great man when he really was an asshole who left me when I was pregnant at nineteen. She’ll never find out the truth. He’s dead. Killed in a car accident when she was two years old. Never met his daughter. She asks about him all the time and I don’t quite understand why. Aren’t I enough? After discussing how mommy and daddy met for what feels like the millionth time, Katie curls up to me and falls asleep under the warm September sun. I can hear her little snores, almost like a kitten purring. I stroke her hair and kiss her forehead. ‘My baby,’ I whisper as I drift off too.
They’ll hide and seek as long as they please…
I wake up and I’m cold. Freezing. It’s pitch dark when I open my eyes. How long have I been asleep? I reach out for Katie and there’s a cold spot where she was lying. She’s gone. I stand up way too fast that I get a head rush and feel sick. I don’t put my shoes on, there’s no time when my baby is in the woods by herself. I run around the area screaming KATIE at the top of my lungs. Nothing. It’s too dark to see anything. I go back to find my phone there, I use the flashlight app to aluminate the area at least a bit to see her little foot prints or something. Where could she have gotten to? She doesn’t know this area; she’s never been here before, what if someone has taken her? Am I too late? I try to call 911 but there’s no service. I keep trying but the call isn’t connecting. I run. As fast as I can through the woods while shining my flashlight on my phone and screaming Katie’s name. Hot tears are streaming down my cold face now. My baby is gone. That’s when I step on it. Her teddy bear. I pick it up to examine it. It’s dirty; looks like it’s been dragged through the mud and what’s this red stuff? Surely, it’s not? No. It’s blood. Please don’t let it be Katie’s blood. I hear a noise nearby like a rustling of leaves. I turn to look but there’s no one there. Again, I hear the rustling sound closer to me this time but when I turn around again, there’s nothing to see but a shadow. A shadow. I follow the shadow with the flashlight, I see it running; I run with it. Faster and faster until it stops and disappears. I hear the foreign language Katie was saying earlier but it was more of a chant and more than one voice. It was several voices. I stay as still as I can with my thumping heart to work out where the chanting is coming from. Left. It’s coming from the left. I crouch down and slowly creep forwards towards the voices. They get louder and louder then I hear her little voice. She’s chanting too. What the fuck is going on with my child? I inch closer to the voices and peer out behind a tree to see the shadows and Katie. Katie in the middle and several shadows surrounding her. The shadows look like extremely tall men, over seven feet tall with rotten skin and red eyes. Katie’s eyes are red too but she’s still my little girl. I make a dash for it. I grab her and pull her close to me in a hug. She claws and screams until I let her go. She speaks but the voice comes out of her body isn’t the one she has normally. It’s now horse and dry, as if she hasn’t been a little girl at all.
‘Begone, this land belongs to the shadows,’
I just stared at her. What have they done to my little Katie? What in the name of Christ is going on? I need answers. Now.
‘Katie, it’s mama, it’s time to go home,’ with a shaky voice, almost too shaky to talk and with that I felt the cold knife in my back and I slump to the ground.
If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone…
I wake up in bed covered in a cold sweat, breathing hard. My pyjama top is sticking to me and my head is spinning. It was just a dream. Just a dream. More like a nightmare. That was crazy, I’ve never had a dream that felt so…real before. Now I know what lucid dreams are I never want to have one again. I look over to my left and see Katie in my bed as usual, purring away like a kitten. I pick up her teddy bear in a loving manner. It’s dirty; looks like it’s been dragged through the mud and what’s this red stuff? No. Surely, it’s not blood? I look up and see the shadow man at the end of my bed with his red eyes staring at me and look over to Katie. She’s staring at me too with her red eyes. It wasn’t a dream. The shadow man is real. And he took my daughter.