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What Lurks Beneath The Shadows

By Sai Sruthi.S


“Jo! Careful”

“Don’t be a worrywart, Nadia”, says Joanne as she stumbles through the alley tripping over her own shoelaces.

“I am not being a worrywart. You are just too drunk and this isn’t safe” says Nadia as she tries to help Joanne get up even as Joanne resists. She appears to be lost in thought for a second and just when Nadia began worrying, she says,” Nadiaaa! my dearest friend, you are right but I am not drunk, Alcohol is my enemy tonight and the bible says to love the enemy. I am just following up on Mr. Jesus’s orders.”

“That’s bullshit Jo and you know that. You don’t even believe in God, so your logic doesn’t stand—wait what are you doing??” she exclaims as she sees Joanne dance in the middle of the alley.

“I am playing with my shadow!! Look, it’s so much fun. It’s like having the best dance partner ever in the whole—what the hell Nadia, why are you stopping me”, says Joanne irritated by Nadia’s attempts at stopping her.

“OK listen, just humor me here ok. It’s a family belief of ours that the shadow is a manifestation of the devil and interacting with it can draw the devil’s attention to you. So please don’t do that alright, at least for my sake. I know you are not a believer, but please don’t do that”, Nadia says with pleading eyes.

“Hold up devil as in THE devil, all red and horns and wings and big old scary-ok ok I will stop, on one condition though”, she says giggling at Nadia’s irritation. “Take me home. I crave my bed and I might, not sure, but might puke all over your gorgeous dress”

Nadia finally drives them home, tucks Joanne into her bed, and smiles fondly at her indignant protests against the mollifying. She bids her goodnight and falls asleep on the couch just in case Joanne needs help with her glorious drunkenness. Their night out had been a celebration of completing their residency at the hospital and finally progressing from interns to residents. Joanne was to specialize in Cardiology whereas Nadia was pursuing Pediatrics. She was so happy and proud of herself and her friend. They’d gone to medical school together and then been inseparable ever since. Nadia drifted as the fond memories they shared lulled her to sleep while a smile crept over her face.

Joanne wakes up with a severe headache and an erratically thumping heart. She lies in her bed confused when all of it comes back to her, the horrible nightmare filled with shadows, devils, death, and everything morbid. She couldn’t recollect the details but she remembered the dark sensation she had felt in her very core, the helplessness she felt as it consumed her very being. She couldn’t shake away the feeling of being watched even awake. She pushed it aside as the aftereffects of the nightmare. She internally cursed Nadia for filling her head with crap and decided to give her an earful over it. All this anger vanished when she was greeted by Nadia cooking her breakfast and handing over paracetamol for the headache that was killing her. She went over and hugged Nadia and they settled into a comfortable silence.

1 year later

The slow drizzle had soon turned into a thunderstorm and driving the car was getting harder with every passing moment for Joanne. She had known it was a bad idea to attend the medical convention all alone but she couldn’t exactly escape it when everyone looked forward to her speech and congratulated her on the breakthrough in cardiology she had made in the past few months. She was Dr. Joanne Smith, one of the most renowned cardiologists at present after all. But all those accolades were of no use to her in the middle of this horrid night as she drives through this desolate forested area. The convention itself had been filled with a few inspirational pioneers in her field but for the most part, it was filled with pretentiousness and jealousy. She’d wanted to run away and hide in the comfort of her house all night. And then there was that constant feeling of being watched, a persistent shadow that refused to leave her. Her paranoia had led to a lot of scary situations in the past year. Her fear of being alone had led to her spending more and more time at work. This, of course, had led to her achieving a lot on a professional level at her fairly young age but she shuddered at the motivation behind it all. Parts of her remembered Nadia’s words about drawing the devil’s attention but she soon shut it down scoffing as it was completely illogical and she was a woman of science whose brain had no space to entertain any such superstitions. She cursed Nadia as she had escaped enduring the convention as she had shifted back home to the countryside to look after her parents and serve the poor. Nadia could never quite fit into the posh city life, secretly Joanne couldn’t help but agree with her friend as she too longed for the peace of the country. She smiles as she daydreams of a quiet life. The weather progressively got worse, and in all of her grumbling annoyance and contemplation, she fails to see the fallen tree ahead of her from afar. She swerves at the very last minute to avoid a collision.



“Holy shit! That was close. What on earth am I going to do in this unknown area? Oh well, might as well look around for a nearby motel to stay the night cause this mess is going to take a good while of clearing up”, Joanne sighs and proceeds to check for a place on her phone, an activity that proves far more laborious than she’d expected. She finally finds one and drives up to it. After she parks the car, she rushes to the hallway of the inn to escape the shards of pouring rain. She overlooks the eerie vibe of the place in her hurriedness only to find the reception empty, Joanne calls out for someone but then eventually starts to look around exploring the place. She gapes as she takes in the weird configuration of the place. Externally, it was built like a cottage but internally it resembled an abandoned house, a creepy one at that. Weird scriptures that looked almost satanic and paintings covered the walls. There was a particularly nasty painting that depicted some form of torture in graphic detail, complete with chopped-off toes and oozing blood. Merely looking at it sent shivers down Joanne’s spine. Things kept changing places and every room she entered looked like an exact replica of the previous one. Growing weary but also creeped out, Joanne tries to find a way out but soon gets lost inside and gives up. It was like the place had a life of its own. Overcome by fatigue, she convinces herself that her tired mind was playing tricks on her. Finding no other alternative, she falls asleep on the couch. It takes her time but sleep finally engulfs her.

The next morning, Joanne wakes up to an awful stench she must have missed the previous night. She stumbles around disoriented in search of the source. Suddenly, her blood turns cold, her eyes pop out and the scream she wants to desperately let out gets stuck in her throat, for nothing could have prepared her for the sight in front of her. It was a half-decayed corpse of a lady. Fluids oozed out of her, and her skin which had turned into a ghastly shade of bluish-green was covered with flies and maggots crawling through her insides. Joanne bends over and pukes all over the carpet. As soon as she regained command of her limbs, Joanne ran. She ran until she was somehow out of the place and rushes into the safety of her car. She tries convincing herself that it was all a nasty nightmare yet she knew it wasn’t. She steadies her breathing, calls the police, and informs them of the situation. She takes deep breaths as she tries to convince herself that she would be all right. All she wanted to do was drive away but she didn’t trust herself behind the wheel at the moment. After all, the last time she’d driven with an uneasy mind, she’d almost skewered an entire family and their dog to a tree. So, she decides to wait. The more she waits, the more her apprehension grows. Everything that happened over the past year comes rushing to her. The incessant nightmares, the constant feeling of being watched, the everlasting ominous feeling, the sheer number of accidents she had been in the past year. She is startled out of her trance by the sound of a knock on the window. It takes her a while to register the uniform-clad officers before her. Once the realization sets in, she leaps into action. Joanne tells them everything after which she waits as they enter the hellhole. She is soon informed by the officers that the body belonged to the innkeeper who’d been reported missing a while ago and that the inn had been closed ever since. They thank her for her cooperation as she completes the formalities.

Once home, reality sets in. She calls in a day at work and rests. She lets the shower water cascade over her as tries to cleanse the last night away. She feels at peace. She slowly opens her eyes and is met with the sight of maggots crawling out of her skin. She lets out a scream and quickly turns off the shower. As she dries herself, she sees a silhouette of a person beyond the shower curtain. Shivering, she slowly peeps through it. She is relieved as she is met with nothing but her empty bathroom. The uneasiness doesn’t leave her though. The constant feeling of being watched persists, only stronger. She attributes all of it to her long night and goes to sleep. But sleep evades her. She twists and turns and then finally gives up. She makes herself a cup of tea and stares out of the window and sees the corpse again. Only this time, it is staring at her with its blue eyes and grinning devilishly at her. She shuts her eyes and takes deep breaths. She opens her eyes and is met with an empty street. She tries to sleep again and this time she succeeds. Although, the embrace of sleep is anything but calm for her. Her dreams are once again plagued by shadows, corpses, and spinning cottages. She wakes up feeling more tired than ever in the morning.

Weeks pass by but Joanne’s days remain more or less the same. Her days are filled with the welcome distraction of work and her nights are filled with dreadful nightmares. She drinks to soothe her mind and it often helps her in going to sleep. For the most part, work was her safe space, she dreaded going home for at-home horrors disturbed her idle and tired mind. This goes on for a few months. And then one day, it worsens, and the shadow finally infiltrates her workspace. She was performing a keyhole heart surgery when she saw it again. This time even more decayed and grotesque. There was no grin this time, it glared at her in silence. She blanks out and wakes up in a pristine white hospital room where one of her colleagues informs her that it’d been two hours since the surgery and that she had fainted mid-surgery. Thankfully, complications were avoided as another doctor present had stepped in. Joanne clutched her head in silence as she listens to this. Tears escape her eyes as she turns the events over in her head. In the entirety of her professional career there had never been a mishap of this level on her part. The dreadful thought of what could have happened to the patient if not for the doctor present plagued her. She couldn’t let this continue anymore; this was her last straw. She meets up with her supervisor and takes some time off work. She considers meeting a psychiatrist but decides against it as it would affect her medical practice. She goes out and drinks to quieten her mind until she is dead drunk. She stumbles back home. This cycle continues for a few days. With every passing day, Joanne’s paranoia increases and her touch with reality loosens. Her hallucinations if she could call them that were a regular occurrence now. And then one day, she sees the shadow again while she is in the kitchen. She takes hold of a knife and waits for it to attack.

“Don’t you dare approach me! I am armed. I am not scared of you; you are just a figment of my imagination. YOU ARE NOT REAL!”, she screams at the figure. In a moment of bravery, she swings the knife back and forth. The shadow remains quiet throughout which only increases its eeriness. It eventually disappears. She sighs in relief. She registers a searing pain in her palm. She looks down and realizes to her horror that she had been slashing her hand all this time. Bewildered, she rushes to the bathroom and grabs the first aid kit from the shelf. Her hands continue to tremble as she rolls the bandage around her hand. Once satisfied with her work, she sits down in the bedroom and hugs herself. She cries and screams and eventually falls asleep where her demons haunt her again. She wakes up to a disturbance downstairs. She hears the staircase creak and picks up her flashlight and a baseball bat. But when the corpse lady comes into sight, she freezes in terror. This time around, she speaks in a raspy voice. “Embrace the darkness within you. You called upon the devil and now he is here. He is in and around you. Let him in!!”, she shrieks.

“N-NO, this can’t be real. This is just another nightmare. I need to snap out of it. Think Jo think…surely you can think of something”, says Joanne. And then a voice so friendly asks her to jump from the top floor. The voice was so close that Joanne could easily mistake it for her own thoughts. With every passing moment jumping made more sense to her.

“Let go, Joanne. You shall finally find peace once you jump. Put an end to this misery and free my soul as well as yours”, says the corpse. The corpse now approaches her and she stumbles back. She retreats until she feels the railings press into her back. It comes closer and closer until it is face-to-face with Joanne. “Let go”, she whispers. The railing behind her breaks and she tumbles down. Her body hits the floor with a thud. Blood oozes out of her head as she lies broken on the floor. A dark figure emerges from the shadow.

“You have evaded me for way too long little one. You keep slipping through my shadows but now finally I can claim your soul. You did not seriously expect to draw the devil’s attention and walk around freely, did you? Tch-tch” mumbles death as he lifts her up and guides her for her trial with the devil.


By Sai Sruthi.S





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Madhu Mohanan K.M
Madhu Mohanan K.M
May 25, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Beautiful 💕

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DMN
DMN
May 25, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Gripping. Well paced.

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Akhil P Shaji
Akhil P Shaji
May 24, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Beautiful

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Neha Thomas
Neha Thomas
May 19, 2023

Amazing Kingu. Long way to go 👏

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thomas robert
thomas robert
May 19, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Good English.

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