The Man Made of Shadows
by Kylie Wilson
I WALKED IN THE DOOR and a putrid smell filled my nose. I scrunched up my face in disgust, and when I opened my eyes again I was taken back by the sight in front of me: investigators and police officers hustling about Mr. and Mrs. Brown’s foyer, carrying and logging various evidence bags and samples. My eyes traveled up the stairs, where the commotion was coming from, and walked cautiously to the master bedroom.
When I got up there, blood was splattered across the walls in a horrific dark red pattern, similar to a speckle of stars in the sky. Wallpaper was torn, as if attacked by an animal. Any glass surface in the room—lightbulbs, windows, mirrors—was completely shattered. My eyes traveled across the room at the disturbing sight.
But the worst of it all was Mr. Brown. Poor, sweet Mr. Brown, with shards of glass impaling him to the wall like thumbtacks. Just dangling there. Gone was the friendly twinkle that welcomed you when he smiled. His face now drooped down, like he’d suddenly aged a century since I last saw him. Blood was caked over the entirety of his face. His eyes, to my horror, were stuck in a terrified expression of shock. I stumbled backwards, my mouth gasping at the sight.
A moment later, after the initial shock of the situation wore off, I was ready to get to work. A job had to be done. I hesitantly stepped towards the remains and examined the body, trying to ignore Mr. Brown’s face. I had never seen a murder sight before, but I was sure that the veteran officers hustling around me hadn’t seen anything like this before either. I watched as one of them shuffled to a trash can to vomit, his face green. I spotted the lead detective on the scene and walked over.
“Do we have any leads on a suspect?” I asked.
He looked at me quizzically (I got that a lot, being only sixteen) before I presented the police badge my dad gave me.
“Nothing yet,” he said.
That seemed impossible. “Nothing? No fingerprints? Residue?”
He looked at me, a tinge of annoyance in his tone. “I’m telling you, if there was anything here to find, we would’ve found it by now.”
“Are you sure there’s something you’re not telling me?” I questioned, shining the captain’s badge. It seemed impossible to leave nothing at a crime scene.
“I’ll call if I find something else,” he grumbled. But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of suspicion.
I avoided the main attraction of Mr. Brown’s bedroom and started searching elsewhere. I had watched and heard my dad do this millions of times, looking for the smallest things that could reveal the biggest clues. I started with the bathroom, then the kitchen, then the laundry room. I traveled room to room, searching for anything the investigators could have missed. Nothing important had caught my attention, until I stumbled into Mr. Brown’s office.
The first thing I noticed was a lock on the inside of the door. A dark wooden desk stood in the center of the room, accompanied by smooth and elegant arm chairs. The serenity of the furniture was disrupted by the papers and folders strewn around the room. It looked as though a tornado had blown through the office. Some spaces were empty, which meant whatever used to be there was already taken and filed as evidence. My eyes wandered to the white board in the corner of the room.
My vision went blurry suddenly. I squinted my eyes at the scribbles on the board, but all I could make out was a bunch of nonsense. It didn’t seem like Mr. Brown’s work, who was always so neat, tidy, organized and put-together. Like his office at the high school. I lifted up the camera hanging from a lanyard around my neck and snapped a couple of pictures. Then I searched through the drawers and pushed away various documents, papers. That was when I found a small notebook, tucked away in the bottom of one of the drawers. I opened it up and started leafing through pages, until I saw my name.
Student: Logan Mars
Session date: April 5th
Notes: Logan complained about her struggles with insomnia and sleep paralysis. It may be a case of PTSD. She refuses to discuss her mother. Perhaps repressing traumatic memories? I encouraged her to sign up for a follow-up session; she said she would but hasn’t yet. (Afraid she’ll embarrass her father, maybe?)
These were Mr. Brown’s notes from school, I realized, specifically about the students he had been counseling. Every word of it is confidential, thank goodness. The book needed to be thoroughly scanned for clues, and not by some random detective. I placed the book in an evidence bag and tucked it underneath my arm, looking around the room one last time before walking to the door.
I DIDN’T GET MUCH SLEEP THAT NIGHT. My mind kept reeling about Mr. Brown. What about Mrs. Brown? Where was she? She had to have seen something. By sunrise my eyes were weighted down with fatigue, but the curiosity and determination I felt gave me a sudden burst of energy. I hopped out of bed and quickly got dressed. I clipped the badge my dad gave me to my belt and tied my hair in a loose ponytail as I walked into the kitchen.
“Good morning,” my dad said in his sing-song voice. His eyes traveled from my dark eye circles to the badge clipped on my belt. “You never know when to quit, do you?”
I headed for the coffee pot on the counter. “I’m going in for an interview with Mrs. Brown today. Can you give me a ride to the station?”
He eyed me nervously. “Don’t you have school today?”
“It’s Saturday,” I said, smiling.
He shook his head. “You know how I feel about young detectives taking on personal cases. You’ve known the Browns for years.”
“Dad, this is my case.” My tone was annoyed but sincere. “I’m not going to just sit around and watch.”
“It’s a dangerous job, Logan. The things you see cannot often be unseen. I’ve had many good detectives reduced to tears at my desk. I don’t want the same thing to happen to you.”
Careful to give no indication of self-doubt, I looked him in the eyes. “What if I told you I found something?”
He looked at me with curiosity.
“A notebook,” I continued. “It’s filled with all sorts of notes on the kids he had sessions with at school. My school.”
His eyebrows furrowed, as if he knew what I was about to say. I said it anyway.
“Which detective of yours knows more about these kids than I do?”
He nodded, grudgingly. “Get in the car.”
THE STATION WAS A MESS WHEN WE GOT THERE. Officers were everywhere, making phone calls, scrambling to file paperwork. It had been at least a decade since a murder case like this had shaken the town. My father led me to the interrogation room where Mrs. Brown was already sitting at the table. “She said she doesn’t need an attorney present,” he informed me. I carefully peered into the room. She was wearing her nice patterned blouse with simple but elegant diamond-crusted accessories. (Her trademark look.) Understandably, she didn’t look as put-together as she usually did. Her blouse was wrinkled, her pants were smudge, and her hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed through in months. I took a deep breath before entering.
Mrs. Brown was a very sweet woman. I remember her helping bake cakes for the annual bake sale in town. Years and years ago, it seemed like. It was jarring seeing heavy bags under her eyes, her face red and puffy from crying. The bright light made her skin look green, almost alien-like. I sat down with the gentlest expression on my face.
Her red eyes peered up at me. “Logan? Is that really you?”
“Yes, it’s me.” I was more nervous than I’d anticipated. Like Dad always said, talking to family members is the hardest part of the job. “I am so sorry about Mr. Brown.”
Her lip quivered as she looked down at her hands.
“Can I ask a few questions about what happened?”
She remained silent, playing with the wedding ring on her finger. I hated making her have to relive the event, but Dad had confirmed that she’d been home on the night of the murder, and that, although it was highly unlikely (given the nature of the crime), Mrs. Brown remained a suspect. The only suspect. After all, they had found her covered in her husband’s blood.
“Mrs. Brown, did your husband ever bring his work home with him?” My voice was coming out shaky. “Did he, like, ever bring up his patients? The students that he was especially worried about? Or maybe afraid of?”
When she didn’t speak, I kept prodding. “Did he mention any students from my high school? If any of them were creating problems for him?”
Silence. But then, after a moment, the fragile woman said, “You look exactly like your mother.”
My heart sank at the mention of her. I opened my mouth but couldn’t speak.
“She really was a good woman,” Mrs. Brown insisted, “despite all of her…flaws.”
I looked down at the table, trying to blink away emerging tears. I knew Mrs. Brown was deflecting my questions on purpose, but at least she was talking.
I cleared my throat. “She admired you, Mrs. Brown. Mom always spoke about how good of a baker you are.”
A slight smile brightened her face. “She was always trying to steal my blueberry muffin recipe!” she said with a comforting laugh. Then her expression turned serious again. “No one will believe me, Logan, when I tell them what really happened. They’ll think I’m crazy.”
“I know you’re not crazy,” I tried assuring her.
Her gaze held on to mine for dear life. She whispered, “It was the man.”
I flipped my notepad open. “What man?”
“The man in the shadows.” Her eyes darted fearfully around the room, as if someone maybe had crept in. “My husband said he’d been popping up lately. A man made purely of shadows, haunting him in his sleep!”
My brow furrowed in confusion. “He was having nightmares?”
“Yes. Nightmares. He said there was a man, made purely of shadows, that haunted him in his sleep, and the fear of him made my husband…different. He became constantly paranoid. He’d wake up screaming, drenched in sweat. And all the while I kept thinking, What’s wrong with him? Who is this man of shadows? What harm could he possibly do to us?”
I thought of my mom, in the driveway. The duffle bag. The last time I’d see her.
“I know you think I’m crazy,” Mrs. Brown said. “But he was there, the night of the murder. I saw him!”
Her lip was twitching. Eyes brimming with tears. Voice shakily getting louder. Mrs. Brown believed so sincerely in what she’d seen.
I’d heard enough. “Thank you so much for your time, Mrs. Brown.”
“So you believe me?” she asked, a glimmer of hope in her wet eyes.
I gave her a small nod, and a flash of satisfaction washed over her face as I left her in the interrogation room.
Crazy as she sounded, the truth was, I did believe her.
ON THE DRIVE BACK HOME, I told Dad exactly what Mrs. Brown had told me in the interrogation room, word for word. Except the stuff about Mom.
“That poor woman,” Dad said, yawning. My eyelids started feeling heavy, and slowly, as the car droned on, my mind drifted in and out of sleep, in and out of consciousness, to an old house that my mother used to work at, years ago, when she was still a cleaning maid. It was Mrs. Holly’s house. In this dream—more like a memory—my younger self was sitting on a booster seat in the back of Mom’s car, which was parked in the driveway. All was quiet, calm, until the door popped open and a heavy duffel bag fell onto my lap. Its contents clinked loudly on impact. Not the soft sounds of sponges, rags and detergents I was used to hearing.
Mom, her blonde hair and makeup all disheveled, hurried around the car and into the driver’s seat. I’d never seen her in such a rush! She turned the car engine on and sped out of the driveway in reverse. “What’s going on?” I asked, but her mind was focused on the road. I unzipped the duffel bag, reached in, and pulled out, to my surprise, a handful of expensive jewelry. Metals and gems I’d never seen before! With my hand I started sifting through more of the items, none of which belonged to us: silverware, clothing, makeup. My stomach sank. “What are you doing with Mrs. Holly’s stuff?” I asked.
Mom looked at me through the rearview mirror, putting a finger to her lips. Shhhh.
Then her eyes turned white. Burning white. And it wasn’t my mother in the driver’s seat, but the man Mrs. Brown had described. The man made of shadows, staring at me. In those eyes I saw my fears, my flaws, my sins. Everything I hated about myself.
Next thing I knew, Dad was shaking me awake from the driver’s seat. “Logan,” he kept saying. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. We were headed down a two-lane road, zipping past oncoming traffic.
“You were having a bad dream,” Dad said.
It took a moment to orient myself. “I dreamt of something Mrs. Brown said.”
Dad sighed. “What did I tell ya about taking on personal cases?”
WHEN WE FINALLY PULLED INTO OUR DRIVEWAY, I knew that I needed to share my notes with Dad; to come clean about everything Mrs. Brown had said. “The best detectives are honest detectives,” according to Dad. But I was utterly exhausted by the time I stepped foot in the doorway, having worked the last forty hours, without a wink of sleep. The comforter on my bed was calling my name.
Tomorrow morning, I decided. I’ll tell Dad tomorrow morning.
That night, tossing and turning in bed, I dreamt I was back at the crime scene.
It was exactly how I’d seen it a couple days earlier: blood-splattered walls, torn wallpaper; Mr. Brown’s impaled corpse tacked on to the center.
Only, as I slowly approached him, I noticed it wasn’t Mr. Brown at all. It wasn’t even a man.
Its body was slender, its arms drooping by its side, wreathed in cloud-like shadows. Eyes glaring bright, and filled with despise.
I watched it pull its limbs from off the wall, one at a time. Its feed landed with a thud onto the floor. Then it started taking long, slow strides toward me. I was paralyzed, my legs having seemingly turned to jelly. Its steps became louder as it came within arm’s reach. My mouth gaped open, but I couldn’t speak.
Its head lifted as its whites met mine. Its murky claws clutched my shoulders. A tear rolled down my paralyzed face.
“Logan,” it said, and then the room turned white-hot around us.
♠ ♣ ♥ ♦
Very well done