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HOME >> Product 0094 >> HIDDEN SHADOWS>>

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HIDDEN SHADOWS

Maryann Paige

The Sightings, Dark silhouettes. Movement from the corner of your eye. Look again. Is someone there? When five-year-old Jeffery tells his mother about his confrontation with the shadow man, she all but dismisses it as child's play. The Questions. Can she believe what she saw with her own eyes? How does one explain the need for protection against what most cannot see? Is Maggie caught up in her son's superhero fantasies? Is Jeffery correct in saying they are coming to take sides: some evil, some good. The Confrontation. As a few local "believers" help her, Maggie vows to give her own life to protect her son. Can she fight those that emerge from the Hidden Shadows?

$1.99

 

eBOOK STATS:

   

Length:

75886 Words

Price:

$5.99

Sale Price:

$1.99

Published:

2008

Cover Art:

Erika Gray

Editor:

W. Richard St. James

Copyright:

Maryann Paige

ISBN Number:

978-1-897532-28-7

Available Formats:

PDF; iPhone PDF; HTML; Microsoft Reader(LIT); MobiPocket (PRC); Palm (PDB); Nook, Iphone, Ipad, Android (EPUB); Kindle (MOBI);

 

EXCERPT

   

MOVING IN QUICKLY, THE gray clouds covered the sun. A humid, spring afternoon had spawned a strong line of thunderstorms heading towards Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY. Maggie Crown approached the bus stop and cursed her forgetfulness for leaving the umbrella behind.

A rumble of thunder played in the distance, but not far off enough to appease her. As she looked at her watch, she noticed the school bus take the corner and head directly towards her. She could see Jeffery's little hand waving to her from behind the bus driver's head. She would have to talk to that boy again about staying in his seat until the bus came to a stop.

A roar of noise and child chatter filled the air as soon as the driver opened the door. Jeffery ran out and into her arms. She hugged him tightly and kissed his forehead.

"Tornado Watch this afternoon, Miss Maggie!" exclaimed the bus driver. "Better both get inside soon and put the Weather Channel on."

"Thanks, Mr. Smith, I'll do that," She said, smiling. She didn't want to sound condescending, so she didn't tell Mr. Smith that a tornado had only graced this area twice in recorded history, so the probability of one arriving this afternoon was next to zero.

Walking in front of the bus and across the street, Jeffery held his mother's hand tightly. Looking down at him, she knew immediately that something was wrong. The rumbling thunder moved steadily closer to them. She picked up her pace a bit to keep in step with her son, but the child continued to move faster.

"What's the matter, babe? Something happen today at school?"

"I don't want to talk about it now, Mom."

Releasing a sigh, she wondered how much more she could take of this. Jeffery, although extremely bright and likeable, had been the most mischievous kid in kindergarten this year. Several times she had dragged herself away from work to meet with the principal and discuss the various behavioural problems of her son. His inability to focus in the classroom was becoming a problem. Maggie worried that her son, now labelled as having a problem, would be forced to take drugs for his behaviour.

She frowned at the thought of putting her child onto some drug to curtail his natural, energy-laden personality. There was always home schooling, but she preferred not to take that particular route. She had been home schooled, and although she obtained a superior education, it had forced her into an adult world before she was ready.

At last week's meeting at the school they had discussed Jeffery's inability to listen to the teacher's rules. One morning, instead of asking the teacher for permission to use the bathroom, he had just gotten up from his desk, run down the hall, with two teachers chasing after him, run into the boy's bathroom, climbed on top of the sink, and forced the bathroom window shut. What disturbed Mrs. Parker, the principal, was that he had been running as the teachers were telling him to stop. He had just kept going until he had reached his destination. The child had never slowed down nor had he swayed in his pace.

When she finally arrived at the school that morning, she saw him sitting in Mrs. Parkers' office telling jokes as if nothing had happened. Running into her arms, he had hugged his mother as she entered the office. Yet again, he begged for forgiveness. Insisting that he had needed to close the bathroom window to keep him and other children safe from the bad men, he said there had been no time to ask the teacher for permission to use the bathroom.

At first, Mrs. Parker didn't dismiss his story. In today's world, there was always the possibility that a stalker was peeping into the boy's bathroom waiting to snatch a child through the window. The security in the small school building had recently changed. One needed to be buzzed in by the front office before entering the premises and parents no longer had the right to roam the hallways during school hours.

"I swear, Mom, he was there. He was trying to get in. I had to shut the window."

"Jeffery, who was he?"

Jeffery shrugged his shoulders. "I swear, he was there."

"Possibly, Ms. Crown, there would be footprints in front of the window. I should have thought of this sooner. Please, excuse me for a moment," Mrs. Parker stated.

"There isn't going to be any footprints," Jeffery said.

"Honey," replied Mrs. Parker, "let me go take a look."

As the principal walked outside to check underneath the boy's bathroom window, Maggie flashed Jeffery a stern look.

"But, Mom, I am telling the truth. He was going to come in and hurt someone. I don't know who, but probably me."

"Did you get a look at the man?"

"It isn't a man, Mom, it's a shadow. A dark, nasty shadow."

"Not again with the shadows. How can we tell the principal that?"

As Mrs. Parker opened the door to re-enter her office, Maggie knew from the expression on her face that she had found no footprints in the snow. Although Jeffery tried to explain that a shadow had no feet, both adults were growing tired of the make-believe stories. This wasn't the first fairytale type of story that Jeffery had tried to pass off as truth.

"Jeffery, we make sure you are all safe here," Mrs. Parker said. "And that nothing can happen to you. Please trust us. You and the other children are safe."

"Yes, honey," Maggie interjected. "Your school is very safe. Mrs. Parker and I are both sure nothing could get in here and hurt any of you."

The principal smiled at him. "Sometimes things that are fake seem to be real. Do you understand, Jeffery?"

"Yes, ma'am, I do," he said with a blank expression on his face.

That day, he sat in the principal's office, promising his mother and the principal to do better next time. For days after that meeting, Maggie was unable to shake the memory of her son's face during that afternoon. Not an angry look or a mischievous look, but a hurt look. He obviously believed in what he was saying, but was unable to have the luxury of having others believe him. He had looked beaten and solemn. She hoped never to see that look upon his face again.

She wanted to demand that he tell the principal that his story about the man at the window was a lie, but she didn't press it. Jeffery looked disappointed enough in her already, she saw no reason to bring him down even further.

She thought about looking up his behaviour on the Internet tonight to see how other parents dealt with a child that was making up ghost stories.

As they walked away from the school bus stop, Jeffery kept turning back to look behind them.

The rain droplets started to fall as the thunder crashed only about a mile away. He started to lag in his walking pace because he kept turning around to look behind them.

"C'mon, babe, why are you slowing down?" she asked. "Look ahead when you walk, not behind you, please. That's a good way to fall right on your butt."

Maggie was shocked to see that her use of the word 'butt' hadn't pried a giggle out of the boy. Her use of any word such as butt, fart and bogie would cause him to have a complete giggle meltdown. She knew something was very wrong.

In an instant, he picked up his pace to keep step with his mother and turned his head to look behind them again.

Looking back herself, she asked, "What are you looking for?"

"The shadow man," he answered.

"The who?" She asked as he turned back again and carried on walking. "I don't want to get stuck in this storm," she continued to say. "Save the stories until we get home."

Hearing the word 'shadow' sent chills down her spine. Holding back her impulse, she didn't reprimand her son. Tired of hearing about the 'shadow people', Maggie released a deep sigh. This was the last straw for him and his stories. Tonight, she would toast marshmallows around the fire with him, and they would close the door on the shadow people.

The skies turned dark as the local siren cut out a loud scream. Straight in front of them, a tumultuous cloud was forming. Its blackness stood out starkly among the numerous gray clouds. The wind pushed on them. Looking up at the sky, she saw the cloud spinning ominously. The black cloud then formed into an oblong shape, devouring the gray clouds in its path as it grew larger.

"Oh my God!" she yelled. "It's a wall cloud. Jeffery, move quickly, this may be a tornado!"

Still looking behind him, a yelp formed in Jeffery's throat, releasing itself from his body as a scream. Stopping in her tracks, she thought she saw two dark figures running in the distance. Moving her head back and forth, she tried to catch a glimpse of what she had witnessed.

"Mom, don't stop!" He pulled on her arm. "We have to keep going. They're coming for me!"

From the corner of her eye, she saw the figures again. Although hundred yards or so from her, she clearly saw something.

A black silhouette of a man? What the hell is that? Jeez, Jeffery, now I'm seeing your boogieman. This is ridiculous. The boogieman is the last thing I need to think about right now. There's a tornado coming and it's going to be a big one.

Stopping in her place, she pulled him back. The child continued to scream. "Mom, please let's go. They're going to get me! Mom! Let's go," He yelled, yanking on her arm.

Looking at the horizon, a feeling of doom swept over her body. Swallowing, she stared into the face of the blackening sky. The wall cloud had grown ominously large in size in only few second. Although frightened, she was impressed at the speed with which the powerful cloud consumed the others.

Her son's body began quivering; he yanked harder on her arm. The thunder and lightning roared above their heads. The wall cloud formed into a small funnel in the sky, whistling as it grew, sucking strength from the air around it. Jeffery's tears were falling in steams as he cried aloud while yanking on his mother's arm.

"There it is!" she yelled. "It's gonna be a tornado!"

"Mom, we have to go. They're coming for me!"

Suddenly, two dark forms moved slowly and deliberately towards them.

Clouds?

A sour smell filled the air and her heartbeat began to race. Turning her head back and forth to obtain a clearer view of the shadows, she couldn't keep her eyes on them; they were moving too quickly.

She turned left. Nothing. Turned right. Nothing. In the blink of an eye something moved around her.

What the hell was that?

A frightened feeling that she had never experienced before enveloped her body, causing her neck to twitch. Acting upon her fight-or-flight impulse, she grabbed Jeffery's hand and they began walking at a brisk pace. She felt the density of the air pushing down on them. Her breathing quickened. Her legs moved faster as he ran a few steps to keep pace with her. The child looked up at her twice because she was dragging him through puddles. He knew his mom was frightened and very worried.

With each step, her pace picked up speed. The butterflies in her stomach turned to knots as her breath released itself with a yelp. Swallowing hard, she worried about what was about to happen to them. The glances of the shadows would catch her attention from the corner of her eye, but then they would vanish. The howling of the tumultuous sky consumed all of the other sounds of the area. She thought it was deafening. Her heart beat faster. Looking down at him, she was unable to tell if his face was wet from tears or from the rain. He squeezed her hand tightly.

Squeezing back on his hand, she changed her fast walking pace into a run, dragging her child with her. With the few quick running steps, his feet starting giving out under him, but she pulled him upright. Slowing down her run, she was certain that he couldn't stay on his feet at this quick pace.

The sky darkened more as the air grew sour. A wave of nausea overtook her, and she thought she going to vomit.

The rain fell harder, soaking them both through their clothes. Despite the ninety-degree hot and humid day, she found herself shivering with each rain droplet that hit her body. From the corner of her eye, she saw a dark figure suddenly swoop in towards his body. Without thinking, she yanked him away from the darkness. The cloud of darkness swooped in again.

Screaming aloud, she pulled him closer to her. Picking him up into her arms, she grunted when realizing the weight of his body. His backpack fell onto the street. Struggling with her forty-pound son, she held him in her arms and walked as quickly as possible in the opposite direction of the storm. Her knees wobbled and she thought she was surely going to fall.

She cursed herself for not sticking to her exercise routine. Forty pounds of child was much heavier than she ever expected.

The darkness swooped in again. She screamed as he buried his face in her neck.

"Hold on to me tightly, Jeffery! Wrap your legs around my waist."

She pushed her speed until she was into a jog. Ignoring the weight of her son against her chest, she moved forward. The blinding rain prohibited her from seeing the dark figures she had seen moments before. She desperately hoped they were gone.

"Hurry, Mom, I see them! Hurry!"

Daring not to turn around, she felt them. Unsure if she was running from the boogieman or the tornado, she pushed forward as best as she could.

Turning the corner, she saw their house ahead. On either side of her, the beautiful country estates that adorned Crown Road stood strong against the winds of the storm. Manicured bushes and lovely rose hedges swayed violently back and forth under the forces of the powerful winds. Broken petals in pink and red caused a slippery film on the sidewalk under her feet.

Inside her head, she cursed the crooked sidewalk. Twice, she thought she was going to lose her balance to the small potholes on the pavement, but each time she regained control and managed to keep her footing.

Once under the awning of the house, she put him down and looked up and down her street. She saw nothing. Soaking wet, she stood in front of the door, panting, desperately trying to catch her breath. Taking a few deep breaths, she tried to calm her heartbeat. It has been years since she had run like that, and having to carry forty pounds of child made it even more difficult to move. Shocked that she had managed to get them home, she grinned while gasping for air.

"Mom, open the door. They're coming!" The panic in her son's voice frightened her, reminding Maggie the quest for safety was far from over. In the five years he had been alive she had never seen him in a panic. Even when he came into her room after a nightmare, he had always kept a certain calmness to his demeanour. Today, he was so different.

Jumping up and down, he started screaming, "Open the door, Mom, hurry!"

Pushing her hands into her wet jeans, she fumbled with the keys, dropping them on the porch as she pulled them from her pocket. Bending over to retrieve them, a pain shot from her neck down to her lower back. Grabbing the mound of keys, she ignored the pain and stood upright. The run with him must have pulled out her back.

He was screaming louder; she slid the key inside the hole. Pushing him inside of the house, she slammed the door behind them. In silence, they both stood in the foyer, panting, looking at one another, their wet clothes dripping on the new ceramic tile floor that she had laid over the weekend. She shivered, but she wasn't sure if it was from the cold. Her gasps for breath were less intense as her heartbeat moved closer to normal.

The house was dark and quiet. At least fifteen pictures of Jeffery adorned the walls of the hallway. All of the various stages of his life were on display in one well-maintained and cozy area; it has always been her favourite part of the house. The focal point of the hallway was a portrait of them two weeks after he had been born.

"We have to get out of here! They're going to get in! They know where I am! Mom, we must leave!"

"There's a tornado out there! Jeffery, who are they?" She screamed. "I have to call the police." Running to the phone, she picked it up.

"They can't help us. They'll take me by then! Listen to me, Mom! Please!"

She compelled herself to look into her son's eyes as a crash echoed throughout the house. His maturity level had been high from the time he was born, so seeing him in state of panic really upset her. Teachers and those around him complimented Jeffery on his calm demeanour. Some even insisted that because he was big for his age, society required him to act in a more mature fashion, and that was the reason he was so mischievous. People were always expecting more from this bright five-year-old than he was capable of giving.

His usual calmness and maturity had all but vanished. All that was left was a frightened little boy. Moving in closer to his wet, shivering body, she held him close. Another loud crash echoed in the background. She knew there wasn't time to rationalize over the situation. She was going to take the advice of her son and get the hell out of there.

"They broke a window, they're in!" the child screamed. "I can feel them. We have to get out!"

Without thinking, she grabbed him and they headed towards the Jeep parked in the driveway. She didn't have to turn back; she knew something was behind them, closing in on them. Its presence brought her senses alive. Its stench filled the air. Pushing him onto the passenger side floor, she then jumped into the Jeep, started it and sped away.

The long driveway felt longer than usual as she pushed on the gas pedal and shoved the vehicle into four-wheel drive.

Two black figures glided along on either side of the Jeep.

She screamed, "What the hell is that?"

"It's the shadow man, and he's with another one! Go faster!"

She wondered how he knew they were there from his position on the floor of the Jeep.

Moving himself into a foetal position, he sobbed quietly, "I'm so sorry. I never meant for this to happen."

Unable to focus on the child for too long, she looked down and gave him a grin as she hydroplaned through her flooded driveway. The lightening crashed down as the thunder rumbled louder.

Turning the Jeep to the left, she roughly drove over the cement paving and slipped the Jeep out of her driveway onto the main street. With nothing ahead of her but dark clouds, she pushed the pedal of the Jeep to the floor.

Darkness enveloped the skies as the force of the storm ripped into the driver's side of the Jeep. She squinted her eyes into small slits hoping it would help her see more than the pounding rain. Pushing her windshield wipers into the fastest motion didn't help, but she left them on that speed anyway. As she focused on the road, he wept quietly while huddled on the floor.

"Don't cry, baby. I'll be all right," She grabbed a sleeping bag she had in the backseat and threw it on top of her son. She was too scared to ask him to climb into the back to buckle himself in. She hoped if anything happened, the sleeping bag would somehow cushion him.

"Take the sleeping bag and put it around you," she blurted out.

"Don't be mad at me."

"I'm not angry with you, baby. Just hush up now and hold on. The streets are flooded. I need to concentrate here."

"This is all my fault. I didn't mean to do it. I really didn't."

"Shh, baby. It'll all be all right. I promise."

Moving quickly, she pulled the Jeep onto 9W and pressed her foot down onto the gas as far as it could go. The tornado had whipped around and was taking direct aim at the back of the Jeep. The winds pushed on either side, causing Maggie to scream aloud again.

What am I fighting here? A storm? Make-believe shadows? Please God, no matter what happens, spare my son. Please God, spare my little Jeffery.

"Dear God, please!" she yelled. Although she was hydroplaning on the highway, she dare not slow down. Heading towards an overpass, she pulled the Jeep underneath and grabbed Jeffery, pulling him over the gearshift and out of the car.

In her mind, she begged over and over for her son's life to be spared. The rain whipped underneath the overpass and bit harshly at her skin. Once he was securely in her arms, she ran to the top of the overpass foundation.

"Oh, thank God," she screamed upon seeing a hole inside the concrete structure. Pushing him inside the hole, she felt his knees scrape across the concrete, but she pushed on him harder.

Looking above her, she saw two metal beams and grabbed one in with either hand. Pushing her body towards the hole in the concrete, she prepared to shield her son with her own body.

"I love you, Jeffery," she blurted as the tornado moved closer to them. Burying her face into the child's back, she came to her knees whilst holding the beams tightly. She then prayed for safety.

The sound of a whirling freight train filled the air. She couldn't help but think they were trapped inside of one of his comic books. The winds pushed on her back, but she held firm to the steel poles that secured the overpass. Feeling her hands slipping from the steel beams, she held even tighter. The wetness poured down on them despite the fact that they were under an overpass. The whirling sounds hurt her ears, but she dare not cover them. Thinking she heard him scream, she opened her eyes to look at the child, but she wasn't able to see him through the dense rain and wind. The rain stung her eyes, so she closed them again.

It's better not to see. I don't want to witness my son's death. Please God, spare us. Please. This wind is so strong.

Her body swayed under the forces of the storm, but she swore to herself that even in death she wouldn't let go of the metal beams. Her son would survive this storm, no matter what she had to give to ensure that.

She heard a scream and within moments realized it was her own voice. She held desperately to the beams, but the winds pushed harder. The whistling noises grew in their intensity as debris crashed into the overpass. A long sound of scraping metal filled the air, but she was too frightened to turn around. Keeping her eyes tightly closed, she prayed whatever was coming didn't hit her.

Hold on, Maggie. Whatever you do. Hold on.

Being able to feel his body cuddled at her chest brought her comfort. The tornado swirled and slammed into the overpass. The storm was upon them.

MOVING IN QUICKLY, THE gray clouds covered the sun. A humid, spring afternoon had spawned a strong line of thunderstorms heading towards Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY. Maggie Crown approached the bus stop and cursed her forgetfulness for leaving the umbrella behind.

A rumble of thunder played in the distance, but not far off enough to appease her. As she looked at her watch, she noticed the school bus take the corner and head directly towards her. She could see Jeffery's little hand waving to her from behind the bus driver's head. She would have to talk to that boy again about staying in his seat until the bus came to a stop.

A roar of noise and child chatter filled the air as soon as the driver opened the door. Jeffery ran out and into her arms. She hugged him tightly and kissed his forehead.

"Tornado Watch this afternoon, Miss Maggie!" exclaimed the bus driver. "Better both get inside soon and put the Weather Channel on."

"Thanks, Mr. Smith, I'll do that," She said, smiling. She didn't want to sound condescending, so she didn't tell Mr. Smith that a tornado had only graced this area twice in recorded history, so the probability of one arriving this afternoon was next to zero.

Walking in front of the bus and across the street, Jeffery held his mother's hand tightly. Looking down at him, she knew immediately that something was wrong. The rumbling thunder moved steadily closer to them. She picked up her pace a bit to keep in step with her son, but the child continued to move faster.

"What's the matter, babe? Something happen today at school?"

"I don't want to talk about it now, Mom."

Releasing a sigh, she wondered how much more she could take of this. Jeffery, although extremely bright and likeable, had been the most mischievous kid in kindergarten this year. Several times she had dragged herself away from work to meet with the principal and discuss the various behavioural problems of her son. His inability to focus in the classroom was becoming a problem. Maggie worried that her son, now labelled as having a problem, would be forced to take drugs for his behaviour.

She frowned at the thought of putting her child onto some drug to curtail his natural, energy-laden personality. There was always home schooling, but she preferred not to take that particular route. She had been home schooled, and although she obtained a superior education, it had forced her into an adult world before she was ready.

At last week's meeting at the school they had discussed Jeffery's inability to listen to the teacher's rules. One morning, instead of asking the teacher for permission to use the bathroom, he had just gotten up from his desk, run down the hall, with two teachers chasing after him, run into the boy's bathroom, climbed on top of the sink, and forced the bathroom window shut. What disturbed Mrs. Parker, the principal, was that he had been running as the teachers were telling him to stop. He had just kept going until he had reached his destination. The child had never slowed down nor had he swayed in his pace.

When she finally arrived at the school that morning, she saw him sitting in Mrs. Parkers' office telling jokes as if nothing had happened. Running into her arms, he had hugged his mother as she entered the office. Yet again, he begged for forgiveness. Insisting that he had needed to close the bathroom window to keep him and other children safe from the bad men, he said there had been no time to ask the teacher for permission to use the bathroom.

At first, Mrs. Parker didn't dismiss his story. In today's world, there was always the possibility that a stalker was peeping into the boy's bathroom waiting to snatch a child through the window. The security in the small school building had recently changed. One needed to be buzzed in by the front office before entering the premises and parents no longer had the right to roam the hallways during school hours.

"I swear, Mom, he was there. He was trying to get in. I had to shut the window."

"Jeffery, who was he?"

Jeffery shrugged his shoulders. "I swear, he was there."

"Possibly, Ms. Crown, there would be footprints in front of the window. I should have thought of this sooner. Please, excuse me for a moment," Mrs. Parker stated.

"There isn't going to be any footprints," Jeffery said.

"Honey," replied Mrs. Parker, "let me go take a look."

As the principal walked outside to check underneath the boy's bathroom window, Maggie flashed Jeffery a stern look.

"But, Mom, I am telling the truth. He was going to come in and hurt someone. I don't know who, but probably me."

"Did you get a look at the man?"

"It isn't a man, Mom, it's a shadow. A dark, nasty shadow."

"Not again with the shadows. How can we tell the principal that?"

As Mrs. Parker opened the door to re-enter her office, Maggie knew from the expression on her face that she had found no footprints in the snow. Although Jeffery tried to explain that a shadow had no feet, both adults were growing tired of the make-believe stories. This wasn't the first fairytale type of story that Jeffery had tried to pass off as truth.

"Jeffery, we make sure you are all safe here," Mrs. Parker said. "And that nothing can happen to you. Please trust us. You and the other children are safe."

"Yes, honey," Maggie interjected. "Your school is very safe. Mrs. Parker and I are both sure nothing could get in here and hurt any of you."

The principal smiled at him. "Sometimes things that are fake seem to be real. Do you understand, Jeffery?"

"Yes, ma'am, I do," he said with a blank expression on his face.

That day, he sat in the principal's office, promising his mother and the principal to do better next time. For days after that meeting, Maggie was unable to shake the memory of her son's face during that afternoon. Not an angry look or a mischievous look, but a hurt look. He obviously believed in what he was saying, but was unable to have the luxury of having others believe him. He had looked beaten and solemn. She hoped never to see that look upon his face again.

She wanted to demand that he tell the principal that his story about the man at the window was a lie, but she didn't press it. Jeffery looked disappointed enough in her already, she saw no reason to bring him down even further.

She thought about looking up his behaviour on the Internet tonight to see how other parents dealt with a child that was making up ghost stories.

As they walked away from the school bus stop, Jeffery kept turning back to look behind them.

The rain droplets started to fall as the thunder crashed only about a mile away. He started to lag in his walking pace because he kept turning around to look behind them.

"C'mon, babe, why are you slowing down?" she asked. "Look ahead when you walk, not behind you, please. That's a good way to fall right on your butt."

Maggie was shocked to see that her use of the word 'butt' hadn't pried a giggle out of the boy. Her use of any word such as butt, fart and bogie would cause him to have a complete giggle meltdown. She knew something was very wrong.

In an instant, he picked up his pace to keep step with his mother and turned his head to look behind them again.

Looking back herself, she asked, "What are you looking for?"

"The shadow man," he answered.

"The who?" She asked as he turned back again and carried on walking. "I don't want to get stuck in this storm," she continued to say. "Save the stories until we get home."

Hearing the word 'shadow' sent chills down her spine. Holding back her impulse, she didn't reprimand her son. Tired of hearing about the 'shadow people', Maggie released a deep sigh. This was the last straw for him and his stories. Tonight, she would toast marshmallows around the fire with him, and they would close the door on the shadow people.

The skies turned dark as the local siren cut out a loud scream. Straight in front of them, a tumultuous cloud was forming. Its blackness stood out starkly among the numerous gray clouds. The wind pushed on them. Looking up at the sky, she saw the cloud spinning ominously. The black cloud then formed into an oblong shape, devouring the gray clouds in its path as it grew larger.

"Oh my God!" she yelled. "It's a wall cloud. Jeffery, move quickly, this may be a tornado!"

Still looking behind him, a yelp formed in Jeffery's throat, releasing itself from his body as a scream. Stopping in her tracks, she thought she saw two dark figures running in the distance. Moving her head back and forth, she tried to catch a glimpse of what she had witnessed.

"Mom, don't stop!" He pulled on her arm. "We have to keep going. They're coming for me!"

From the corner of her eye, she saw the figures again. Although hundred yards or so from her, she clearly saw something.

A black silhouette of a man? What the hell is that? Jeez, Jeffery, now I'm seeing your boogieman. This is ridiculous. The boogieman is the last thing I need to think about right now. There's a tornado coming and it's going to be a big one.

Stopping in her place, she pulled him back. The child continued to scream. "Mom, please let's go. They're going to get me! Mom! Let's go," He yelled, yanking on her arm.

Looking at the horizon, a feeling of doom swept over her body. Swallowing, she stared into the face of the blackening sky. The wall cloud had grown ominously large in size in only few second. Although frightened, she was impressed at the speed with which the powerful cloud consumed the others.

Her son's body began quivering; he yanked harder on her arm. The thunder and lightning roared above their heads. The wall cloud formed into a small funnel in the sky, whistling as it grew, sucking strength from the air around it. Jeffery's tears were falling in steams as he cried aloud while yanking on his mother's arm.

"There it is!" she yelled. "It's gonna be a tornado!"

"Mom, we have to go. They're coming for me!"

Suddenly, two dark forms moved slowly and deliberately towards them.

Clouds?

A sour smell filled the air and her heartbeat began to race. Turning her head back and forth to obtain a clearer view of the shadows, she couldn't keep her eyes on them; they were moving too quickly.

She turned left. Nothing. Turned right. Nothing. In the blink of an eye something moved around her.

What the hell was that?

A frightened feeling that she had never experienced before enveloped her body, causing her neck to twitch. Acting upon her fight-or-flight impulse, she grabbed Jeffery's hand and they began walking at a brisk pace. She felt the density of the air pushing down on them. Her breathing quickened. Her legs moved faster as he ran a few steps to keep pace with her. The child looked up at her twice because she was dragging him through puddles. He knew his mom was frightened and very worried.

With each step, her pace picked up speed. The butterflies in her stomach turned to knots as her breath released itself with a yelp. Swallowing hard, she worried about what was about to happen to them. The glances of the shadows would catch her attention from the corner of her eye, but then they would vanish. The howling of the tumultuous sky consumed all of the other sounds of the area. She thought it was deafening. Her heart beat faster. Looking down at him, she was unable to tell if his face was wet from tears or from the rain. He squeezed her hand tightly.

Squeezing back on his hand, she changed her fast walking pace into a run, dragging her child with her. With the few quick running steps, his feet starting giving out under him, but she pulled him upright. Slowing down her run, she was certain that he couldn't stay on his feet at this quick pace.

The sky darkened more as the air grew sour. A wave of nausea overtook her, and she thought she going to vomit.

The rain fell harder, soaking them both through their clothes. Despite the ninety-degree hot and humid day, she found herself shivering with each rain droplet that hit her body. From the corner of her eye, she saw a dark figure suddenly swoop in towards his body. Without thinking, she yanked him away from the darkness. The cloud of darkness swooped in again.

Screaming aloud, she pulled him closer to her. Picking him up into her arms, she grunted when realizing the weight of his body. His backpack fell onto the street. Struggling with her forty-pound son, she held him in her arms and walked as quickly as possible in the opposite direction of the storm. Her knees wobbled and she thought she was surely going to fall.

She cursed herself for not sticking to her exercise routine. Forty pounds of child was much heavier than she ever expected.

The darkness swooped in again. She screamed as he buried his face in her neck.

"Hold on to me tightly, Jeffery! Wrap your legs around my waist."

She pushed her speed until she was into a jog. Ignoring the weight of her son against her chest, she moved forward. The blinding rain prohibited her from seeing the dark figures she had seen moments before. She desperately hoped they were gone.

"Hurry, Mom, I see them! Hurry!"

Daring not to turn around, she felt them. Unsure if she was running from the boogieman or the tornado, she pushed forward as best as she could.

Turning the corner, she saw their house ahead. On either side of her, the beautiful country estates that adorned Crown Road stood strong against the winds of the storm. Manicured bushes and lovely rose hedges swayed violently back and forth under the forces of the powerful winds. Broken petals in pink and red caused a slippery film on the sidewalk under her feet.

Inside her head, she cursed the crooked sidewalk. Twice, she thought she was going to lose her balance to the small potholes on the pavement, but each time she regained control and managed to keep her footing.

Once under the awning of the house, she put him down and looked up and down her street. She saw nothing. Soaking wet, she stood in front of the door, panting, desperately trying to catch her breath. Taking a few deep breaths, she tried to calm her heartbeat. It has been years since she had run like that, and having to carry forty pounds of child made it even more difficult to move. Shocked that she had managed to get them home, she grinned while gasping for air.

"Mom, open the door. They're coming!" The panic in her son's voice frightened her, reminding Maggie the quest for safety was far from over. In the five years he had been alive she had never seen him in a panic. Even when he came into her room after a nightmare, he had always kept a certain calmness to his demeanour. Today, he was so different.

Jumping up and down, he started screaming, "Open the door, Mom, hurry!"

Pushing her hands into her wet jeans, she fumbled with the keys, dropping them on the porch as she pulled them from her pocket. Bending over to retrieve them, a pain shot from her neck down to her lower back. Grabbing the mound of keys, she ignored the pain and stood upright. The run with him must have pulled out her back.

He was screaming louder; she slid the key inside the hole. Pushing him inside of the house, she slammed the door behind them. In silence, they both stood in the foyer, panting, looking at one another, their wet clothes dripping on the new ceramic tile floor that she had laid over the weekend. She shivered, but she wasn't sure if it was from the cold. Her gasps for breath were less intense as her heartbeat moved closer to normal.

The house was dark and quiet. At least fifteen pictures of Jeffery adorned the walls of the hallway. All of the various stages of his life were on display in one well-maintained and cozy area; it has always been her favourite part of the house. The focal point of the hallway was a portrait of them two weeks after he had been born.

"We have to get out of here! They're going to get in! They know where I am! Mom, we must leave!"

"There's a tornado out there! Jeffery, who are they?" She screamed. "I have to call the police." Running to the phone, she picked it up.

"They can't help us. They'll take me by then! Listen to me, Mom! Please!"

She compelled herself to look into her son's eyes as a crash echoed throughout the house. His maturity level had been high from the time he was born, so seeing him in state of panic really upset her. Teachers and those around him complimented Jeffery on his calm demeanour. Some even insisted that because he was big for his age, society required him to act in a more mature fashion, and that was the reason he was so mischievous. People were always expecting more from this bright five-year-old than he was capable of giving.

His usual calmness and maturity had all but vanished. All that was left was a frightened little boy. Moving in closer to his wet, shivering body, she held him close. Another loud crash echoed in the background. She knew there wasn't time to rationalize over the situation. She was going to take the advice of her son and get the hell out of there.

"They broke a window, they're in!" the child screamed. "I can feel them. We have to get out!"

Without thinking, she grabbed him and they headed towards the Jeep parked in the driveway. She didn't have to turn back; she knew something was behind them, closing in on them. Its presence brought her senses alive. Its stench filled the air. Pushing him onto the passenger side floor, she then jumped into the Jeep, started it and sped away.

The long driveway felt longer than usual as she pushed on the gas pedal and shoved the vehicle into four-wheel drive.

Two black figures glided along on either side of the Jeep.

She screamed, "What the hell is that?"

"It's the shadow man, and he's with another one! Go faster!"

She wondered how he knew they were there from his position on the floor of the Jeep.

Moving himself into a foetal position, he sobbed quietly, "I'm so sorry. I never meant for this to happen."

Unable to focus on the child for too long, she looked down and gave him a grin as she hydroplaned through her flooded driveway. The lightening crashed down as the thunder rumbled louder.

Turning the Jeep to the left, she roughly drove over the cement paving and slipped the Jeep out of her driveway onto the main street. With nothing ahead of her but dark clouds, she pushed the pedal of the Jeep to the floor.

Darkness enveloped the skies as the force of the storm ripped into the driver's side of the Jeep. She squinted her eyes into small slits hoping it would help her see more than the pounding rain. Pushing her windshield wipers into the fastest motion didn't help, but she left them on that speed anyway. As she focused on the road, he wept quietly while huddled on the floor.

"Don't cry, baby. I'll be all right," She grabbed a sleeping bag she had in the backseat and threw it on top of her son. She was too scared to ask him to climb into the back to buckle himself in. She hoped if anything happened, the sleeping bag would somehow cushion him.

"Take the sleeping bag and put it around you," she blurted out.

"Don't be mad at me."

"I'm not angry with you, baby. Just hush up now and hold on. The streets are flooded. I need to concentrate here."

"This is all my fault. I didn't mean to do it. I really didn't."

"Shh, baby. It'll all be all right. I promise."

Moving quickly, she pulled the Jeep onto 9W and pressed her foot down onto the gas as far as it could go. The tornado had whipped around and was taking direct aim at the back of the Jeep. The winds pushed on either side, causing Maggie to scream aloud again.

What am I fighting here? A storm? Make-believe shadows? Please God, no matter what happens, spare my son. Please God, spare my little Jeffery.

"Dear God, please!" she yelled. Although she was hydroplaning on the highway, she dare not slow down. Heading towards an overpass, she pulled the Jeep underneath and grabbed Jeffery, pulling him over the gearshift and out of the car.

In her mind, she begged over and over for her son's life to be spared. The rain whipped underneath the overpass and bit harshly at her skin. Once he was securely in her arms, she ran to the top of the overpass foundation.

"Oh, thank God," she screamed upon seeing a hole inside the concrete structure. Pushing him inside the hole, she felt his knees scrape across the concrete, but she pushed on him harder.

Looking above her, she saw two metal beams and grabbed one in with either hand. Pushing her body towards the hole in the concrete, she prepared to shield her son with her own body.

"I love you, Jeffery," she blurted as the tornado moved closer to them. Burying her face into the child's back, she came to her knees whilst holding the beams tightly. She then prayed for safety.

The sound of a whirling freight train filled the air. She couldn't help but think they were trapped inside of one of his comic books. The winds pushed on her back, but she held firm to the steel poles that secured the overpass. Feeling her hands slipping from the steel beams, she held even tighter. The wetness poured down on them despite the fact that they were under an overpass. The whirling sounds hurt her ears, but she dare not cover them. Thinking she heard him scream, she opened her eyes to look at the child, but she wasn't able to see him through the dense rain and wind. The rain stung her eyes, so she closed them again.

It's better not to see. I don't want to witness my son's death. Please God, spare us. Please. This wind is so strong.

Her body swayed under the forces of the storm, but she swore to herself that even in death she wouldn't let go of the metal beams. Her son would survive this storm, no matter what she had to give to ensure that.

She heard a scream and within moments realized it was her own voice. She held desperately to the beams, but the winds pushed harder. The whistling noises grew in their intensity as debris crashed into the overpass. A long sound of scraping metal filled the air, but she was too frightened to turn around. Keeping her eyes tightly closed, she prayed whatever was coming didn't hit her.

Hold on, Maggie. Whatever you do. Hold on.

Being able to feel his body cuddled at her chest brought her comfort. The tornado swirled and slammed into the overpass. The storm was upon them.

 

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