Just Beyond the Shadows

EVELYN WARD

She pulled a hand from her eyes and held the edge of the down comforter against her nose. The whir of electronics clicked from the next room. A car’s headlights crawled across the wall.

Where are you? Sandyyy.

She dove deep beneath the sheets, the sweat forming a ring in the fabric.

I can see you. Sandy, Sandy, Sandy. Come out, let’s play.

The first psychologist, a kindly old man with steel wool hair, had suggested an anxiety-related psychosis brought-on by stress at her job. It made sense; driving the bus around those parts could be not only stressful but dangerous. Last month during a blizzard, a kindergartner had slipped in front of the bus and broken their femur. Luckily, the highways had been salted and an ambulance arrived in time. The sandman made his first appearance only four days later.

On the first night he arrived, she’d gone to bed early after having another fight with Mark. Something about his mother, although her memories had grown so foggy she couldn’t quite recall. She’d taken an Ativan, poured some red wine, and filled the room with lavender-scented oil. That’s when he arrived.

“What can you tell me about the… uh, Sandman was it?” The second psychologist was not nearly as approachable as the first. A stern, straightforward woman in her mid-fifties, who provided about as much comfort as a rock.

“Yes,” Sandy said. “At least that’s what he called himself.”

What did she remember? The freezing cold touch, the draining presence, the horrible suffocation of his crushing fingers, albeit invisible, on her neck. Black… all black, save the glowing, amber eyes.

Mark only knew about him. He would take her calls in the middle of the night to come over, and arrive with open arms. “Calm down, sweetheart. It was just your imagination.”

Of course it was. But she could shake the sinking feeling of doubt when she glanced back towards her bedroom door, the entrance to both her and his domain. “He was there,” she’d say. “He was there… just beyond the shadows. I felt him, I swear it.”

The last time Mark stayed over they’d been at a movie. Although he lived only three blocks away, she’d needed him that night.

“I have to get up early tomorrow,” he said. But she pulled out the wine glasses anyway.

Hours later, they rested on her bed, exhausted from throws of passion. Sandy laid on top of Mark’s stomach, tracing small circles on his skin with her finger.

Sandyyy…

“He’s here.”

Mark’s eyes darted to the corner of the room. “Where?” Sandy, suddenly rigid and cold, stepped out of bed.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

“Sandy, there’s no one here.”

She was on her hands and knees now, crawling along the bedroom floor, in a dazed panic. Mark hopped out of bed and switched-on the lights. Everything was ordinary — except Sandy. She stood in a strange, angled formation, her face twisted in a devious grin.

“He’s here, Mark. Inside.”

Mark moved slowly and offered a hand. “Honey, let’s just sit down and talk about this.”

Her eyes locked on his face.

Let’s have some fun.

***

Sandy awoke with a start, the comforter nearly suffocating her. The alarm was just about to go off. Another sleepless night.

She moved to the kitchen and checked her phone; still no messages or calls from Mark. It’d been close to three weeks now. As she poured herself some coffee, she tried to think of their last encounter, any signals that things were headed south. She sipped it slowly.

Another one bites the dust.

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