When Shadows Come Calling
by Charlene Ashley Taylor
I will show you something different from either|
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
— T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
Clean on the outside but dirty under the skin like a polished apple rotten at the core. A bitter cold molasses crept through Detective Charles Elder’s veins as he reflected on recent events. He allowed every gory image infect his mind before he handed the file to the lieutenant.
“Why did he do it?” Lieutenant Walbert’s voice was unusually soft. “A cop killing his wife in cold blood?”
“Our history with this man doesn’t matter anymore. Try to stay professional in there.” An attempt to keep and coach an emotional distance.
“I just don’t get it. Not even a week out of the hospital, and we pick him up, covered in his wife’s blood. He’s not the same man anymore.”
They watched in perplexed awe as two young officers dragged Jacob Easton into the interrogation room.
Charles took a deep breath. “Once a man goes bad, that’s it. Over with. No more walking the streets so they can steal the life from someone else.”
Shackles clinked against the steel underside of the table. Blood covered Jacob’s ragged clothing.
Charles grimaced at the sight of it. He glanced over to the lieutenant who had an obvious fear in his eyes. Another deep breath. “Let me do it.”
“What?” The lieutenant tried to hide the hint of relief.
“He was my partner. Let me do it.”
“I thought that was the very reason the chief asked me to.”
“Nine years working side by side with this man” — Charles grabbed the file from the lieutenant — “I should be the one in there.”
Without looking back, Detective Charles Elder entered the interrogation room. Ice in his blood sent shivers down his spine. His heart pounded against the tiny shield on his chest.
“All yours,” laughed one officer. The two left the room, shutting the heavy door behind them. The bang echoed in the tight space.
Charles rubbed an itch in his eyes and stepped forward to the table.
Jacob kept his head down. Long, blood-crusted hair shadowed his face. Charles imagined what he would see under those thin, bloody drapes. He knew already, though. He’d seen the simple face of a man, someone he’d known. A partner. A friend.
He slid a chair out from under the table, its metal legs squealing across the floor, and sat down. His gaze never left the murderer sitting across from him. Charles removed a tape recorder from his pocket and set it on the table. He tapped a large yellow folder, arranging the contents neatly, and set it down.
Through all of this, Jacob remained immobile, still as a gargoyle statue.
What a calm costume he’s wearing, veiling the incessant rage beneath.
Charles’ fingers drummed on the table, nails clicking against the surface. The process never began easy. It took time. Since he knew this man, had worked with him for years up until a few weeks ago, it wouldn’t be any easier.
He cleared his throat. “I am detective Charles Elder. I’m going to ask you a series of questions, and you are going to respond with your most honest answer. This is going to be recorded for the sake of evidence. Do you understand?”
Jacob stayed silent.
“All right, “ said Charles, clicking on the recorder. “What is your name?’
A low growl resonated the room. Then, as if unaware of what he was saying, “Jacob Easton.”
Keep calm. “What is your occupation?”
“I’m a cop. You know who I am and I know everything about you.”
Charles cleared his throat again, moving his stiff finger along through the standard questions.
“Have we ever met before?”
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Yes.” The word hissed from his lips.
“I’m here because of what you think I’ve done.”
“I don’t think you’ve done anything. I have evidence here with me that say you murdered your wife.”
“You don’t know what you have.”
Charles grunted and opened the folder. Inside was a written report of the crime and a collection of photos from the crime scene. He grimaced at the sight of them and spread the pictures out on the table.
“I have photos of—”
“It’s a little hard for a blind man to look at photos.”
Charles ignored him and continued. “The knife used to murder her has your fingerprints on it. Officers arrested you at the scene of the crime. For God’s sake, your clothes are covered in her blood.”
Boiling stomach acid rose to his throat, the ulcer deep inside him growing restless. Relax.
“I didn’t kill her,” the corner of his mouth curled.
Charles itched at his eyes and sighed. Sweat cascaded down his brows. The dim room felt like the oven at a pizza parlor.
“All right, then who did?
“You won’t understand. Not yet, anyway.”
Charles cracked his knuckles. “Well, you had better start explaining, because you’re in a lot of trouble. So talk.”
“Why do you still wear that stupid tie, Charles?”
His heart paused. Muscles clenched through his body. He reached down and ran his fingers over a red tie sporting images of Santa Claus in white underpants. A gift from his wife that he didn’t have the heart to return. He shouldn’t be able to see it.
“How did you know I’m wearing it?” The words crept out of his mouth.
Amused laughter sounded from across the table. “Just a lucky guess. You used to wear it so often.”
“Are you going to tell me what happened?”
“I already said you wont believe me. You’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Why do you assume I think you’re crazy?”
“Because of them...”
Charles leaned back in his chair. Here it comes.
“I can already hear it in your voice. You’re not going to believe it. Have you ever noticed that every crazy person either has a ‘them,’ an ‘it,’ or a ‘they?’ They all imagine that something is driving them to what they do, that they’re not really mad at all. But mine are real.”
A chill crawled down Charles’ arms. Hair bristled and stood on end. “What are they?”
A pause. Jacob’s body went rigid. He lifted his head slightly and looked over Charles’ shoulder. A hint of the black sunglasses that he wore shone through his bloody hair.
Charles glanced behind himself. Nothing there but reflection in the mirror.
Jacob lowered his head. “I don’t know what they are. I only know what they do.”
“And what do they do?” Charles was becoming impatient. Jacob could be toying with him, dragging him in circles. They enjoyed doing that sometimes.
“Drive you to madness.”
“Like the other crazies. Like you said.”
Jacob smashed his fists into the table. “I’m not crazy. You need to LISTEN to me.” The chains that bound him slithered and clinked on the table. He clenched and unclenched his hands, struggling against the restraints.
Hissing static filled the room. The tape recorder waited patiently.
“I’m trying to listen to you, Jacob. But you have to start making sense or start telling me something, because you’re not doing either.”
“They’re shadows. Living shadows.”
Where winged shadows challenge the heart,
hovering questions haunt the daunting dusk.
On the horizon in the shadowy glade,
swelling darkness beckons the determined dawn.
Echoing ghosts reveal the veiled,
and answers hum in the ear of the mind.
The itch crept back into his eyes. He scratched it.
“How do you mean?”
“I don’t know how I mean,” shouted Jacob. “I can see them, all around me. Tall and dark. They have the shape of people, but they’re much bigger. There’s something monstrous about them. Something evil.”
Charles rested his chin in his hands. “But you’re blind. How can you see them?”
“I think they’re demons. They want to drive us all crazy, one by one.”
“You didn’t answer my question.” He cleared his throat. This was becoming a habit.
In the heat of the frantic conversation, the room tightened around Charles. The air felt thinner and looked as if it were wavering like gas.
“I found out about them through a man I met only a few weeks ago.”
He decided to let Jacob continue. There wasn’t any use in asking him anything, really. His brain probably seeped out with his wife’s when he killed her.
“I thought he was just a raving bum in the city. What was I supposed to think with him telling me that there were shadows all around us, waiting for us to see them so they could drive us mad and turn us against each other. I thought the same thing that you do. He was crazy.”
“Are you saying this man was responsible for giving you these fantasies?”
“They’re not fantasies. I found that out the next morning, before I went blind.”
“I started to see them. They haunted me. I couldn’t escape. They are everywhere. I heard them even when I closed my eyes, whispering nonsense into my ear. They have voices like sandpaper that digs into your mind. I didn’t know what to do, so I went back to him.”
Something moved in the corner of his eyes. Charles turned his hear toward the right side of the room. Empty space.
“I found the place where I’d met the bum, some filthy alley near 32nd Street. He was dead. Ran a knife down his arms.”
Charles frowned. “You didn’t report this?”
Jacob shrugged. “What was the point? The man was a bum. No one would have cared. Besides, they wouldn’t let me touch him. A group of shadows were gathered around him when I got there. They clawed at me when I tried to touch him.”
“And these shadows, they can hurt you?”
“No. Not physically.”
Charles stuck a pen in his mouth. He gnawed on the end, a nervous habit he’d developed after so many interrogations. The sight of Jacob drilled holes in his stomach. But he did his best to kindly urge him forward. The world would want to know, as it always so revoltingly did.
“What did you do after you found him?”
A choked sob blurted out from Jacob. Flecks of spit stuck to his chin. “I went home.”
“I took a knife from the drawer, I couldn’t take them anymore.
Jacob reached for the sunglasses. The plastic bounced ambivalently as he dropped them on the table.
Don’t look away. “Why did you cut out your own eyes?”
Chains rattled as Jacob quivered in response. “I didn’t want to see them anymore.”
Whispers licked the back of Charles’ ear. He leapt from his seat and turned around meeting his own figure in the mirror. Jacob continued with his story.
“They were worse, though. They laughed at me for what I had done. They grew more ferocious. And then one of them touched me. I lashed out at it with the knife, stabbing it over and over again. It felt good to hear it scream. I’d never heard one of them scream before.” Jacob’s voice deepened, troubled.
A dull heat burned Charles’ eyes. He dug his finger into them, pushing the relentless itch away.
“When I stopped I felt the blood on my hands. It felt... warm. It’s amazing, the images thought can produce. When my hands found Kaitlin’s face, I remembered every time I ever held her. I took her into my arms. It’s miserable wanting to cry when you have no eyes. Someone must have heard her scream. I only got to hold her a few minutes before the police were breaking down my door...” Jacob dwindled off.
Charles couldn’t hear him anymore. Angry whispering sizzled around him. The voices shouted into his ears, puncturing his eardrums. He squinted, his brain pulsing as if it were about to blow.
“I’ve realized now how it works. It’s a disease. Contagious madness.”
“Be quiet.” Charles stumbled around the room, closing his hands around his ears.
“It likes to taste its victims I think. It wants to know how much fear it can feed off from them.”
The fire swelled in his eyes. He scraped his nails against them. Agonizing pain coursed through his nerves.
“It uses us up, one by one. When it’s finished with one, it moves on to the other. I guess I should refer to it as ‘them’.”
Charles whirled around, facing Jacob. “Shut up.”
Jacob stared at him. A cheshire grin spread across his face. His hair had parted, and through it Charles could see the two empty, black holes that gaze directly into him. Dried, crimson crust encircled the dark orbs. Tall shadows lingered eagerly behind him.
“It starts with an itch.”
He flung himself at the desk and grabbed Jacob by the collar of his shirt.
“Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP.”
Jacob made no attempt to struggle. He let Charles shake him like a magic eight ball. Charles wanted answers.
“Why are you telling me this? Why?”
A soft chuckle fell out of Jacob, beginning quietly then turning into maniacal laughter.
“It starts with an itch. A simple little itch.” Jacob rolled his head as if it were loose on his spine, continuing to giggle.
A cold hand clasped onto Charles’ shoulder. He whirred around, finding nothing there but his own shadow on the dirty floor.
“Something wrong, Charles? You look nervous.”
Hot sweat rolled down his forehead.
“How can you know that? For Christ’s sake.”
It was pointless.
“I’m going to be there to watch you fry.”
A smile spread over Jacob’s lips.
Charles headed towards the door. Something is following. The itch came again, searing both eyes. Tears formed like watery sheets under his lips. The pain was too great to bear.
“Take care, Charles.”
Copyright © 2016 by Charlene Ashley Taylor