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September 26, 2022

Shadow of Death

By Carrie A. Golden

Kara Senecal was startled awake. She sat up and looked around to see what had whizzed by her head. Seeing nothing, she leaned back against the large oak tree. It must have been just a bug. Picking up the book that she'd dropped on the ground, the fourteen- year-old glanced down at the pages. Shaking her head, she closed it. She was too tired to read anymore.

She hadn't been able to sleep well at nights; not since Dad moved her and Josh, her six-month old brother, into their new home three weeks earlier. "New" home? Kara glared across the grassy field to the old farmhouse that they lived in. There was nothing "new" about it. It was old, drafty and falling apart from disrepair. Dad bought it anyway, saying it was a good deal and that he would fix it up nice.

"Nice?" There was nothing nice about this place!

The house actually frightened her. She felt they were being watched. And the voice. She would hear a voice of the young girl. Most of the time she couldn't understand what the voice was saying, or maybe that was because she couldn't hear well.

Remembering the day they first arrived at the house, Kara could have sworn she saw a black shadow hovering in the background in one of the rooms, through the curtainless windows, on the second floor. She hadn't even gotten out of the car yet as she sat in the front seat, frozen. Dad had to call her several times before she was able to tear her attention from the house to focus on what he was saying. Not entirely convinced of what she had seen, Kara decided that it was just her imagination.

That would last until that night.

Kara had been in the kitchen, unpacking the boxes, when she had suddenly felt a cold breeze brush past her. No window or door had been open. Shaking her head, she'd gone back to unpacking when a whisper had come from behind her. Turning to look, she had seen nothing. She had stood there, very still, listening, and the whisper had come again. It had sounded like a child. She had wanted to run but she had been rooted to the spot. The whisper had come yet again, this time louder and unmistakably clear, "He's in danger!"

No, she didn't like this house. She told Dad this and about the voice, but he would just shrug her off, saying that she must be hearing things that sounded like voices but were really the drafts whistling through the house. He always had a reason or an excuse instead of believing her. He would even say that it could have been her overactive imagination due the fact she was having a difficult time coping with Mom's death.

Mom. Life had changed drastically since Mom died six months ago while giving birth to Josh. Dad said there were complications and the doctors were unable to save her. At first she was angry with Josh but realized that Mom's death wasn't his fault; he was just a baby. A few months later, Dad sold their suburbia house in Boston and moved them clear up to the North Country, to a small town of Mallory's Bush. Dad said they needed a fresh start. He was a consultant for a law firm, and for the time being he was able to work remotely from home.

From the first moment they arrived at the house, Kara had felt a sense of gloom and death that she could not quite understand. She did not feel safe there; but, to tell Dad would only prompt a speech about how her imagination was getting the best of her.

Kara recalled one afternoon, shortly after they had moved into the house: she had been standing outside watching two deer chomping on grass in the backyard when she had turned to look up at the window into Dad's bedroom, where he was unpacking on the bed. It had been an overcast day, yet she had seen there was a peculiar-looking shadow on the wall behind Dad. At first, she had thought nothing of it until it had begun to move and its size had grown as it had crept along the wall towards him; looming overhead as if it were coming to engulf him. Being quite frightened, Kara had begun screaming, trying to get Dad's attention. It was a few moments before Dad had realized that she was outside, jumping and waving at him. As soon as he had gone for the window, the shadow was gone.

Leaning her head back against the tree's gray bark, she reached up her hand and brushed a loose strand of hair from her oval, lightly tanned face. Dad would constantly remark how much she looked like Mom. Kara had long, dark brown hair that she normally had pulled back in a pony tail, and, like Mom, she had emerald green eyes and a fair complexion. Kara was blossoming into young womanhood as her stick-thin figure was giving way to soft curves. She wasn't sure if she was ready to grow up. She longed for Mom's nurturing touches and gentle voice when she sang lullabies at bedtime.

With Mom gone, it seemed that Dad expected her to pick up all the responsibilities that Mom once did which included house cleaning, cooking and taking care of Josh. Often times, these unfair expectations would lead to arguments on who was responsible for what. They had had one such fight earlier, which ended with Kara shouting at her father, "I wished it was you who died and not Mom!" With tears burning in her eyes she'd stormed out of the house, with a book in hand, and stomped across an open field to a large old oak tree where she'd stayed for most of the afternoon.

The tree, where she had been spending more and more of her time recently, was the largest tree among several trees, mostly pines, near a small stream that ran along the edge of their property. Looking across the stream, on the other side of a different plot of grassy field, stood a house even sorrier-looking than her own. It was a small, one-story house with its white paint peeling and the yard around the building overgrown with more weeds than grass. There was an old model Ford truck sitting in the gravel driveway, which led Kara to assume that someone did live in the wretched house. Beyond that house were miles of woods and winding rural roads until you came into the small town of Mallory's Bush, which was nestled in the valley surrounded by the Adirondacks Mountains. Kara felt utterly alone here. She was used to the active lifestyle of Boston. This move had been quite a culture shock for her. She found that she was looking forward to school, for the first time in her life, just to get away from this place.

Sighing loudly, Kara stood straight up, reaching behind to brush grass and dirt off the back of her slender legs. Glancing across the field towards the house she could see that the sun was beginning to set in the sky behind the building. Long shadows were lengthening across the field, reaching towards her like some black claws striving to engulf her in their darkness. A cool breeze was beginning to blow, and it further loosened more strands of hair into her face.

She hadn't realized how late it was and it was her turn, again, to cook supper.

With a low groan, Kara began her trek back across the yellowing field and approached the building that Dad called "home." She could feel the hair on her body rising up on ends. She felt as if she were being watched. Stopping just short of the steps to the sagging porch, she turned and looked behind her.

Nothing.

This whole place was starting to grate on her nerves.

Looking up at the old house she studied it briefly. The entire exterior of the building, like the old house by the stream, was peeling and it reminded her of a zebra with its whites laced with blacks. The shutters around the windows were either missing or ready to fall down. Slowly shaking her head at the sorry condition of the building, Kara made her way up the weather worn steps.

Even though the summer days had been quite hot and muggy, she found that whenever she would cross the threshold into the house she would go from being sweaty to being chilled to the bone. The house did not have central air unit or any ceiling fans; but then again, it didn't need any, for it kept unnaturally cool.

Dad was sitting at the table in the kitchen when Kara arrived. With his head bent, he was pouring over Mom's medical bills that kept filtering in by mail daily. As she studied her dad's tired and haggard face, a wave of pity washed over her. She was beginning to feel guilty for having been so selfish. Dad needed her now that Mom was gone and she had been thinking of only herself.

Setting the book down on the wooden oval table, Kara went to her Dad's side. He looked up at her; his hazel eyes were moist and dark. He opens his mouth to say something but was unable to speak. Shaking his head, he looked back down at the sea of papers. Josh was in the play pen nearby, cooing quietly with a toy rattle.

Not quite sure of what to say, she gave her dad a quick hug and noticed how thin he was getting. Pulling away and heading to the counter, Kara began to pull out dishes. "Spaghetti?" she asked.

"Hmmm." was all Dad could say.

After supper was over and when the dishes were cleaned and put away, Kara got Josh and took him upstairs. Josh had Dad's dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. He was still pudgy but was now learning to pull himself up to his feet. When Kara gathered him up into her arms, he gave her a wide smile that exposed his front two teeth.

"Hey bud, ready for a bath and bedtime story?"

He let out a loud gleeful laugh. Josh was such an easy-going baby that she hardly had any problems with him. For that, she was thankful.

In the only bathroom of the house, which had no windows or closet, Kara prepared Josh's bathwater in the large sink. She wasn't ready to put him in the tub yet. He was still too squirmy.

After turning off the lukewarm water, she bent down to Josh, who was sitting on the floor, and proceeded to undress him. It was then she heard a faint noise, like a child whispering nearby. She turned her head to the side and looked. Nothing. As she took a deep breath she thought, here we go again.

Lifting Josh's now naked body she carefully placed him in the bubbly water. She washed him up quickly and kept glancing at the mirror in front of her to be sure there was no one else in the bathroom with her.

Setting down the washcloth she turned to the side to pick up a bottle of baby shampoo. Turning back to Josh she took another glance at the mirror and this time saw a ghostly figure of a young girl, dressed in a long white dress, standing directly behind her.

Letting out a scream Kara dropped the shampoo but managed to keep a hold of Josh. She whirled around to face the door, but the girl was gone.

Dad then appeared at the doorway.

"What the matter? Is Josh alright?"

After taking a deep, shaky breath and deciding not to tell him about the girl, Kara found her voice and replied, barely above a whisper, "Sorry, Dad, I just dropped the shampoo."

"Is that all? Why did you have to scream? Scared the shit out of me!"

Dad's face was red with anger as he stomped away.

Foregoing the shampoo this one time and avoiding the mirror, Kara picked Josh up and out of the now cool water.After the usual bedtime routine of storybook reading and singing lullabies, Josh went right to sleep. Turning on the Winnie the Pooh's night light in one of the wall's outlets she then flipped the switch on the wall to turn off the overhead light.

Kara went to tell Dad goodnight but gave it another thought when she caught a glimpse of him laying face down on his unmade bed, body shaking as he sobbed into the pillow. Lying on the bed to one side of him was a picture of Mom.

As quickly as possible, she tiptoed by Dad's room and down the narrow hallway to where her bedroom was.

Kara's bedroom was a good-sized room. She thought it was probably the master bedroom at one time since it was the largest of the three bedrooms. The room had two long windows and a large walk in closet. Her twin bed was up against the wall opposite of the closet, adjacent to the door and right next to the wall where the windows were. On the floor there were several boxes scattered that she hadn't unpacked yet. Her tall dresser was placed between the windows and on top of that stood a lone picture of Mom, taken shortly before she was pregnant with Josh.

The floor boards creaked as she pattered across the room to her dresser and pulled out a long shirt she used as pajamas. After changing, she slid into her bed and turned off the free-standing black lamp beside the bed. She had been sleeping with her hearing aids on lately so that she could listen for Josh if he woke during the night.

Within minutes, she was asleep.

Kara found herself back in the fields, walking towards the big oak tree.

There was a woman standing beside the tree with her back to Kara so she was unable to see the face. It was daylight but with no sun. The tree was casting a long shadow on the grass that Kara walked within. She noticed that there was no shadow from the woman.

As she got closer she noticed that this shadow less woman was standing over an old fashion carriage on wheels. She could hear a baby babbling from within.

Josh?

It couldn't be. This didn't seem right. Kara quicken her pace, but instead of closing the distance between her and them, it began to stretch on and on until she was in an all out run but still was no closer to them.

What was going on here?

She stopped suddenly when she saw another shadow emerging from the tree and stood beside the woman. The woman raised one of her hands. Kara saw that she was holding a knife, and it was raised overhead, over the baby in the carriage.

Oh no! She was going to kill the baby.

The shadow moved with the faceless woman as they both cowered over the tiny, moving figure.

Her world suddenly began to shake as a child's voice ranged through her head, "He's in danger!"

Just as the carriage was overtaken by these two beings, Kara awoke with a start. She sat straight up. Her body was covered in cold sweat, and the bed was rattling and shaking.

It was no dream. Was it?

Then she thought of Josh and sprang out of her bed. Kara bounded down the hallway and burst into Josh's bedroom.

Every hair on her body stood on end as she saw a shadowy figure standing over Josh's crib. There was no substance to this figure. She could see through it. It was the same shadow she saw in her dream. The room was cold as Kara could see her breaths in the air as she panted heavily.

"Get away from him!" she yelled at the shadow.

Startled awake, Josh began to cry.

Without thinking, Kara stepped toward Josh's crib, and when she did, the shadow melted into thin air. Simultaneously, she heard a noise that sounded like feet pattering down the stairs. She rushed over to the crib, picked up the crying baby and held him, trying to comfort him.

Just then Dad ran into the room. "What the hell happened?"

Kara couldn't say anything as she rocked Josh until the crying subsided.

"Kara, I asked you a question!"

Why did Dad always have to be angry with her?

Kara was debating whether to tell him the truth or not. Finally, she looked up at him and replied, her voice shaking, "I - I think there was someone in the room."

"What?"

Dad went through the room and searched in every nook and corner. Satisfied that there was nothing there, he went to Kara and took Josh. "I'll take Josh tonight. Go and get some sleep," he told her.

Knowing that he didn't believe her, she slowly went back to her bedroom, fighting back the tears.

To be continued ...

Article © Carrie A. Golden. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-12-10
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