The Shadows Stare Back

Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt

8 comments

Fiction Sad Horror

The overhead light flickered out. The man watching it trembled. Only two more lights. The inhuman noises from outside the ramshackle hut roared, as if in celebration. George Henwin shook the dead bulb gently, silently begging it to come back to him. "No, no, please!" It was no use; the bulb had been burning for 2 months, longer than George had expected. 

Ever since the world was plunged into chaos by the shadows, he had relied on his collection of half used bulbs to keep him safe from their shrieks and claws. The longer he lived, however, the more people he watched die at the hands of the monsters. 

He had tried to help, to save as many people as he could, but there was only so much room he could spare. He still remembered when his son, a wash up in his eyes, strode out of their house, warding off the shadows and allowing George to escape into his small garage, where the light would be strong enough to keep him alive. Not a day went by that his heart didn't twist in agony at the memories.

George was brought out of his train of thought abruptly by the feeling of shadows on his shoulder grabbing at his shoulder. He shrieked, darting from the dark corner he had been standing in. The shadows shriveled up and evaporated in the light, an angry hiss emitting from the darkness in the room. 

That was a close call. Too close, George thought to himself. He couldn’t stay there forever; he was running low on bulbs, and the ones hanging were growing weaker with every day he was holed up in the small garage. He rummaged through the drawers of his workbench, looking for a new bulb to replace the burnt out one. 

But his search came up empty.

 No. 

He desperately searched again, but found nothing. He nearly cried; the bulbs hanging above rocked as the shadows shook with anticipation, a thousand voices crying in delight as George curled up into a ball. This was it. I’m going to die alone in this damn garage, he thought to himself. With nothing but these shadows. He rested his hand on the floor, but it instead made contact with fabric. 

Looking down, George pulled a deep red backpack from under the workbench, the remnants of shadow falling off, along with 2 months worth of dust. The pins were rusty and the patches were almost unrecognizable; still, George felt a rush of bittersweet nostalgia as he brushed his fingers over each one. Unzipping it, he pulled out a lantern, the one he used to bring on his camping trips with his son. A memory rushed to the forefront of his mind: the first time he had gone camping with his son.

“Come on, Dad!” George chuckled at James, his only son, as he raced towards the campsite, his backpack bouncing with every step. “The campsite isn't going anywhere, JJ! Slow down!” He scooped the little boy up, carrying him to the fire pit he had set up the night before. “Dad, can I go swimming now?” “After the tents are set up, sure.” George dumped the contents of one of his bags, tubes and wires clattering together on the dirt. 

George shut his eyes, refusing to reminisce any longer. He flicked on the lantern, white light filling out the entire shed and spilling out the windows, shadows shrieking and writhing away. This was just what he needed; it was still as bright as the first time he turned it on. But he hastily turned it off at the warning beep—there was only about half of a charge left, he’d need to use it sparingly.

He scoffed at his thoughts. Sparingly. The way I’ve been living for 2 months. What was the point of his discovery? It wasn’t like he was strong enough to go help other survivors. Hell, he didn’t even know if anyone else was left out there. No, he was going to sit in his desolate garage until something killed him—be it the shadows, starvation, or isolation. He rummaged through the backpack again, pulling out a few new items: a weak flashlight, an assortment of long shelf-life snacks, and his son’s favorite book. 

George flipped open the book, and stumbled as pieces of paper spilled out and onto the floor. Photos scattered, along with a note. Some of the letters on it had become blurry, as if the paper had been left in the rain. He picked up the note, reading the date. June 20th, 2025: 3 days before his son had been swallowed by the shadows.

Dear Dad,

I’m sorry I was never what you wanted me to be. The decisions I made, the arguments, the pain I caused you, are things that I can never take back. You were the best dad I could ever have asked for. I hope you don’t blame yourself for what happens to me. 

We can’t stay in the house; keeping the entire place lit is hard with how fast our bulbs burn out. I’ve been fixing up the garage, so we can move there instead. I know you love the house, but there’s nothing left for us. If you find this after I’m gone, I want you to know that you were my light when I fell to the shadows.

Love,

Your JJ

Tears splattered onto the paper as George tried to wipe them away. He was too lost in his grief to notice the second bulb flicker out, leaving him almost completely in the shadows. When he did notice, however, his body refused to move. What was the point? He had no reason to live: no family or friends to keep safe, no wife to defend, and no son to protect. He could just wait for the last light to die, let the shadows overtake him and rejoin his son in whatever awaited him after death.

No. Even if he had nothing to live for, George would not die in a cramped shed, the stale air choking his lungs away. He stood up, shaking off the shadows creeping up his back. He gathered up everything back into the backpack, and flicked on the lantern. He may be getting on in years, but he knew the city like the back of his hand. He was going to live his last day on Earth to the fullest he could.

Slowly opening the shed door, George stepped out into the night, his lantern clearing away the shadows. Not bothering to close it, he walked away from the small garage. After a few strides, he turns, considering going back. But the last bulb—the only thing breaking through the shadows—flickered off, and the structure disappeared in the dark. There was no going back. He pressed on, the shadows whispering over his shoulder.

About half a day of walking, and the lantern’s light was still shining bright, albeit a little dimmer than when George had left. He sat down on a bench near an old lake he used to frequent, the bench relieving some of his exhaustion. As he chewed on a stick of beef jerky, he listened to the water swell and release gently, his light reflecting off the lake like the moon used to do. 

Looking up, he saw a light to the left of the lake. A teen sat on a bench, looking down at their phone as tears dripped down their face. He wanted to call out to them, to offer his light—but something told him that they wouldn't have taken it, that they were here for the same reason he was. The phone screen went black, and the teen disappeared. The sound of the phone falling to the ground reverberated around the lake. 

After he finished a few strips of jerky, he stood up and continued walking. Despite the darkness the world was plagued with, the stars still shone in the sky, clear as could be. They silhouetted the skyscrapers of the city in the distance. It was quiet, the wind blowing through the empty street, not a single bit of light. George stood for a moment, quietly contemplating.

As he reached the center of the woods, George sat on the forest floor, the dead grass scraping at his calves. The lantern was running low, only 15% battery life remaining. He laid out everything left in the backpack: pictures of his family, his son’s favorite book, and his son’s final letter to his dad. Silent tears dripped to the ground as George finally allowed himself to remember his son’s final day.

“Dad!” James yanked the older man away from his room as the bulb went out, a lantern in his right hand. “We can’t stay here. The garage is safer.” George shook his son’s hand off of him. “I’m staying here. I can’t leave all of this.” James grabbed George’s hands, fear in his eyes. “You have to! I can’t lose you!” His grip was desperate. “Please. Just- meet me at the front door in 5 minutes. Grab whatever you can.” George’s stern gaze relaxed a bit, and he nodded to his son. 

“Ready?” James flicked on his lantern, letting light flood the barren yard. George hoisted up a box of bulbs, food, and photo albums, and began to walk towards the shed. The wind was howling; the lantern swayed and shook in James’ hand. When they entered the shed, George flicked on the overhead bulbs, James flicking off the lantern and putting it back in his bag, shoving it under a workbench, and taking out a flashlight. He looked around the interior, and then turned to his father. “I’m gonna grab a few more things. Don’t leave the shed.” George didn’t bother turning around. “Fine.” 

James shone the flashlight to his chest, feeling the breeze flow through his hair. He walked out and towards the house. George turned and watched him walk. Halfway there, however, the wind picked up, knocking a tree branch into James and sending him towards the ground. George’s heart pounded as he yelled to him. “Get up! Just come back, it’s not worth it!” James got up, much to George’s relief. But as he turned to face his dad, James’ flashlight went out, the darkness swallowing him. 

George had spent an entire hour screaming into the shadows, desperately looking for his son. But he was gone. At least I can join him now. 

The lantern was barely shining, only a minute or two of battery left. George felt the shadows curl around his shoulders and snake around his ankles, as if trying to drag him away from the light. He could hear thousands of voices in his ears, howling and shrieking. It was ear splitting, but he didn’t dare cover his ears; his son’s voice was among the cacophony of voices.

Looking over the photos, he thought about everything he had lost to the shadows: his home, his wife, his family, his son—and now he was going to lose his life to them. But despite the cold breath of Death breathing down his neck, George found that he was… at peace. He knew he wouldn’t be able to survive forever. Looking back on it all, he smiled. I’m ready. 

He looked towards his son’s note, his son’s final display of love for his father. He smiled, finally at piece.

Dad’s coming, JJ.

He closed his eyes as his lantern went out, disappearing in the shadows.

June 09, 2022 04:06

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8 comments

Katy Borobia
17:08 Jun 11, 2022

First let me say: the title was just incredible. I think my favorite thing about the story was the relationship between George and James. Well done!

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Maria Avisal
23:18 Jun 17, 2022

I liked this creepy story - it's clear from the beginning that George is in a hopeless situation but I still found myself rooting for him and was happy he found peace at the end. The use of italics for the letter and memories helped keep the jumps back in time from being confusing (and I love that it was 2025- not so far in the future as to feel unreal!)

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Sam Wilson
23:55 Jun 15, 2022

I really enjoyed this story! The descriptions were wonderfully written and really evoked a sense of dread. This line “ George felt the shadows curl around his shoulders and snake around his ankles, as if trying to drag him away from the light” really gave great imagery and I could even sense George’s emotions in this moment. Well done. Thank you for sharing.

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Mark Wilhelm
15:43 Jun 13, 2022

OMG that was really great! I take stories like this and bring them to life with narration and sound effects. Would you be alright if I performed this story for an episode? if you want to get an idea of what that looks like visit Frighteningtales.com and if this isn't your thing.. thanks for sharing a scary story!

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Kay Border
16:02 Jun 13, 2022

No, I wouldn't mind! As long as I'm getting proper credit for the story, I'm fine with that!

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Mark Wilhelm
20:09 Jun 13, 2022

Absolutely! I announce the writter of each scary story at the start and the finish. If there's a book or website you'd like people to visit or look at let me know at creepy@frighteningtales.com and I'll plug that for you.

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Mark Wilhelm
02:50 Jun 28, 2022

https://open.spotify.com/episode/4bB453dTIJ4snZwNdZRsFz?si=b090b06ea83d4019 Your story starts at 15mins. Thanks again.

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17:02 Jun 11, 2022

Fantastic! A wonderful use of the prompt. Full of despair, suspense, and longing. The story, for many, will have meanings on many levels as they read it. I know George is literally being swallowed by the shadows, it felt like he was being swallowed by the depths of apathy or society in many ways. His self being sacrificed to the common use. (I could be reaching here...) Powerful stuff. Well done! I look forward to more of your stories.

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