Death's Shadow

by Philyra's Apprentice
Ontario, Canada
genre: Horror

It is a dark and cloudy night. I am walking home when I have a feeling that something is following me. I turn around, but there is nothing. I hurry home anyway. One could never be sure in the dark. After all, it was on a night just like this that it happened. Some say I am paranoid. Some go as far as to say I’m mad. But really, I’m just cautious.

My house is a small little thing. Only one story with three rooms. That may seem normal in these times, but really I was a rich man from a noble house. Perhaps I had lost all my money or it was another brother that cheated me of my fortune. But, alas, no. It is for a reason much more sinister than that. It is because Death is shadowing me.

It was on a night just like this about a month ago that it started. I was walking home from a party at my friend's house. I wasn’t full-on drunk, but I was most certainly not sober. I was about halfway to my house when I had this feeling I was being shadowed. I turned around, but there was nothing there. About a quarter of the way from my house, I had that feeling again. This time when I turned around, I saw a shadow on the ground. I looked up, but there was nothing attached to it. It was just a shadow! Deeply shaken, I returned to my house and locked the door.

My house in those days was the grandest in the neighbourhood. It had everything I could ever want in it. Grandeur and opulence, more rooms than one could count, a hundred servants working inside and outside the house, and a giant fireplace. Everything I could ever want except, perhaps, a mistress. But that did not trouble me. Nothing really did in those days. In fact, I could laugh about that incident with my friends a week later.

Of course, Death would not leave me alone that easily. As if to pay me back for laughing at Death, I met him again that night. Not on the street this time, but in my very own house. I was ready to relax by the fireplace when I saw that there was already someone in it. I marched up to them indignantly and pushed the chair around to the candlelight, but the figure had disappeared. I turned around to the shadows, and the figure reappeared. It was cloaked in some strange black garment and held something in its left hand. It looked like a scythe. I gulped hard. I knew that Death only used it when collecting a soul. To get rid of the menacing shape, I pushed the chair into the firelight. As expected, the shape disappeared.

Deeply disturbed and horrified, I retired to my room and left the servants to deal with whatever mysterious things were in that room. I locked the door and the windows. I then proceeded to light every single candle in my room. With lights in every corner, the only space still shrouded in shadows was the space under my bed. Taking no chances, I slipped one of my oil lamps underneath. I was desperately hoping that it didn’t catch fire. Perhaps that is what Death wanted, but then, my reasoning said, he couldn’t appear in the light.

It was a sporadic sleep, for I kept waking up to check that the candles were not yet burnt out. The next night I went nowhere. I was too frightened to even go out the door in the evening. My fear was that when I returned, I would find Death waiting for me.

I did not do much in the following days. Indeed, I did not go farther off the house threshold than I had to. Three days later, one of my friends managed to convince me to go out of the house. He wanted some company, and the best part was I could sleep there for the night. I gladly accepted. It was late afternoon by the time these arrangements were made, and I was eager to be off before sunset.

The day was sunny, and my friend chattered away happily. I was constantly checking behind me. Once I was satisfied with what I saw, and that was nothing, I let myself enjoy the day. I enjoyed the sun, the birds and my friend’s company. In fact, I returned it most enthusiastically. I did not notice the shifting shadows. It was only when I thought I heard people calling my name that I looked around again.

This time my eyes found the shadows. Always the shadows! Slowly they morphed into the shape I knew all too well. Every person and everything seemed to have Death for their shadow. I gripped tightly to my friend's arm until I noticed that he too, had Death. I jumped away from him faster than one would remove their hand from a hot poker. My friend called after me, but I was gone. I ran to my house, locked what I could and told the servants to lock the rest. I lit every candle in my bedroom.

One night weeks later, I woke up with a horrible feeling. I shivered in my bed and pulled the sheets up to my chin. I wanted so desperately to light a candle and prove myself wrong, but I couldn’t move. Well, not until I heard that voice. It was the voice of Death whispering to me. It was calling my name and saying it was coming for me. That is when I gave in to my urge. I struck a match but immediately dropped it. That voice again. It was screaming at me now.

I cover my ears up and curl into a ball. But still, the relentless screaming could be heard. “No, go away! Get out of my head!” I then started choking. The match had fallen on the carpet and ignited that too. I ran out of the room screaming, “Fire! Fire!” I stumbled down the stairs, but the smoke quickly obnubilated the landing. Somehow I ended up on the opposite side of the house. The only noises I could hear were the crackling of the fire and a bunch of doors opening and closing. I hoped those were the servants escaping. After wandering some more, I collapsed on the floor, coughing. The smoke was stinging my eyes and evading my lungs. I fainted.

The next thing I remember, I was on a cold marble floor. I sat up, hacking and coughing. The air was still full of smoke, but it was much thinner. I think what really woke me was the voice. It wasn’t Death’s voice, but rather the voice of an angel. It was calling my name. Out of the smoke came a figure, small and lithe. I started crawling toward it, and it called my name before bending down in front of me.

But, no! It couldn't be. They seemed to take on the features of my Beatrice. The only one I loved, but also the sister of my friend. I reached out to touch those rosy red lips; to finger her smooth black hair; to stare into her dark blue eyes. But she pulled away all too soon. Of course, it wouldn’t be real. My mind simply conjured her up in my last moments. I reached out again. This time she didn’t move. This time she let me grab her and then pulled me out. She pulled, dragged, and supported me until we were both safely out of the house. She laid me on a soft patch of ground where I proceeded to pass out again.

The next time I woke I was in a room that I knew very well. I was at my friend's house. The best thing was the person leaning over me. It was Beatrice, and she was definitely real because I could feel her hand mopping my brow. The cool water dripped down my face as I tried to sit up. She smiled at me and asked how I was doing. I replied that I was feeling much better now that I had seen her. She smiled again at this, and bent down and kissed me on the forehead. It was a start and a good one at that.

Since my house burnt down I planned to have a new one built, but still, Death haunted me. It would be a fine day then I would turn around and see him. Sometimes even hear him. I think I would have gone insane by now, but for the fact that my new wife Beatrice is always there. But if Death couldn’t have my life yet, he would ruin it. For really it was no life at all living in constant fear. Some say I am paranoid. Some go as far as to say I’m mad. But really, I’m just cautious.

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