Shadows

“Shadows” is from a book I wrote entitled Stories to Smoke
a Pipe by
. I revised the original story and present it here. This
newly revised version of “Shadows” is dedicated to my wife
Maria.

I hope you enjoy it!

Melvin S. Schwartz

The wind pushed the rain against the window in my den. I remember
thinking how fortunate we are having the rain instead of the big snow they
had predicted. It was winter, cold and lots of snow as usual up here in
northern Vermont. I will never forget that Sunday night in January of
2006. It was the beginning.

I was home alone getting ready to enjoy a good smoke. With much
enthusiasm, I walked over to the pipe cabinet hanging on the wall. When I
opened the glass doors, there were thirty-six pipes standing at attention.
It was hard to make a selection, but I finally decided on an Ashton
straight billiard “Old Church.” I knew that I was truly going to enjoy this
smoke in peace; I knew that because my wife was out of town. She took my
daughter Michelle and went to Montreal for a two-week vacation. I couldn’t
go because I had to work. I call it work but it’s the love of my
life—second to my family that is. I own—owned a pipe shop. I haven’t sold
it, but there’s a reason why I say “owned,” which you will understand why
later.

This wasn’t the first time I was alone while my family went on vacation,
and so I really couldn’t explain the sudden nightmares I began having. The
first nightmare began when I went to bed Sunday night: there was a knocking
on my front door. I went to answer it, not asking who is there like I always
do, just unlocked it and opened the door. I didn’t see anyone, so I stepped
outside and looked around—nothing was there. When I turned to go back
inside, I felt something touch my shoulder. I turned around and still
didn’t see anything, except a large oval-shaped shadow on the ground. I
didn’t think much about the shadow, but then I didn’t know what was to
follow. I went inside and closed the door. I put on the TV and that’s when
the next surprise came. I was watching TV when I noticed a dark shadow on
the floor moving across the room. I kept watching it, thinking how odd this
was because it was dark outside.

Suddenly it was creeping along the floor and up my legs, and then came
to a sudden stop when it reached my chest. I was wearing a white shirt and
the dark shadow really stood out. After a few moments, I began to feel as
if something was pushing down on my chest. The pressure was strong. At
first I thought that I was having a heart attack. When I tried to get off
the couch, I couldn’t move. Large beads of perspiration covered my
forehead, and then slowly dripped into my eyes, causing me to blink
excessively. The perspiration under my arms became so bad I almost vomited,
and I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t do anything but sit there and die, I
thought. My whole body began to shake violently, and then I awoke, sweat
pouring down my face.

And that was the first nightmare.

My body odor was so foul that I couldn’t think of going back to sleep,
so I got out of bed and took a shower. It was four in the morning and I
was taking a shower.

I didn’t have to open the shop until ten, so I tried to fall asleep
again. I tossed and turned, peeking at the alarm clock, until I decided to
call it quits and got out of bed. I ate breakfast, and then watched the
weather channel until it was time to leave.

I opened the pipe shop at 10:00 a.m. sharp. There was a certain feeling
I got when I walked in: happiness. The pipe shop is—was a great joy for me.
I loved being surrounded by all those pipes, and I loved the contact with
other pipe smokers. Pipe smokers, I think, are the most interesting people
in the world. Why? Honestly I can’t quite put my finger on it, but if you
get into a conversation with a pipe smoker, smoking a pipe at the time, you
get into one interesting conversation, usually. I love pipes and pipe
smokers. Maybe that’s why I’ve been doing this—was doing that for eight
years, even though I was not doing well financially. In fact, my wife has
always pestered me to give it up and start a new business—a clothing store.
People always need clothes, not pipes, she would constantly remind
me. Somehow, I always managed to convince her to be patient. I even told
her that Sylvester Stallone smokes a pipe, and as soon as he starts puffing
on it in one of his movies, we will be rich because all the young people
will give up cigarettes and go for the pipe. I think she believed me
because I would always win the argument with that one.

I closed the shop at seven, had dinner at a restaurant, and then went
home.

That evening, I opened the pipe cabinet and selected my favorite pipe.
I’m not one to ever sidestep the issue when someone asks me what I favor. I
tell them the truth. I like Ashton pipes and McClelland’s tobacco: No. 25
to be specific. And I light my pipes with nothing except a wooden match:
Swan Vestas to be specific.

I was enjoying my pipe and reading Tom Dunn’s The Pipe Smoker’s
Ephemeris
, when my wife called me from Canada. She just wanted to know
if I was all right, and the usual things your wife worries about when she’s
left you all alone at home. I reassured her that everything was okay and
tried to make our conversation as brief as possible. If I knew then what
was going to happen, I would have also said how much I loved her. But I
didn’t say it. And I only hope she knows just how much I love her, and
Michelle. I haven’t mentioned much about my daughter Michelle because it
pains me to think I’ll never see her again. Little Michelle with her soft
brown hair and beautiful hazel eyes, and that wonderful smile that turns me
into butter, and I’ll never see her like that again. Oh God, I wish I
could.

When I went to sleep that night, the whole dream from yesterday repeated
itself, and then the nightmare continued. It began to reveal even more
frightening scenes, more horrifying than the last time: I was sitting on
the couch, still wearing the white shirt and the dark shadow on my chest,
and feeling that awful pain in my chest. The pain became so intense that I
closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. I felt myself grow weaker, and soon I
was falling in small circles, going deeper and deeper into an empty black
void, falling faster and faster. My arms were reaching out for something to
break my fall, but nothing was there. Suddenly I stopped. I hadn’t thought
about it, but the pain was gone. I opened my eyes and looked into a room
that appeared to have been painted black. It was like being in a room with
four solid walls and no light. It was pitch black. I’m not even sure why I
call it a room—I didn’t see anything. No ceiling. No walls. No floor.
Nothing! I might just as well have been in outer space. I really didn’t
know. It was like being in a haunted house somewhere deep in the universe.
I existed somewhere, but that somewhere troubled me, not knowing where that
somewhere was.

I was seated in a chair of some sort. I didn’t see the chair, but I was
in a seated position. Although I couldn’t see anything else in whatever it
was, I could see my legs. And I was in a seated position, knees bent,
sitting erect—staring out into the blackness. It was as if I was frozen
still, unable to move even a finger. I could feel myself breathing and so I
figured I was still alive, wherever I was, alive but unable to move. It was
frightening. I was terribly afraid that something bad was going to happen.
I just sat there and stared out into the blackness, the fears filling my
thoughts, consuming me, until my head was about to explode. I just waited,
trembling with fear, wondering if my eyes were really open, or were they
closed and that’s why everything was so black. But I can see my legs, I
kept telling myself. “My eyes are open,” I repeated over and over to the
empty blackness. I tried to raise my arm and check the eyelids, just to be
sure. I couldn’t raise my damn arms. I wondered if this was the way I would
always be, so helpless and wasted,
condemned to an infernal life of
solitude. I couldn’t make the sign but I said the Lord’s Prayer. Then I
stared into the blackness and waited.

The silence was broken by what sounded like footsteps. The sound got
louder and louder and I knew whatever it was it was coming closer. I was
overwhelmed with fear and couldn’t look, so I shut my eyes tight. The sound
of the footsteps penetrated my ears like blasts from a cannon. I kept my
eyes closed and didn’t dare look as the footsteps got louder and louder.
Boom…boom…boomboom…BOOMBOOM. I thought my ear drums were going to
burst from the noise, and then suddenly the footsteps stopped. I could feel
my body shaking, and I could feel the sweat from my forehead rolling down
my cheeks. There was the sound of a quick grunt—an inhuman sound. Suddenly,
I felt a hot breath on my left forearm. Then there was a crunching sound. I
still didn’t feel anything touch me, only that hot breath on my forearm.
After I heard that awful crunching sound, I heard a sound like chewing. On what is that chewing? I asked
myself over and over, until the thing stopped making those horrible sounds
and I no longer felt its hot breath on my arm below the elbow. Then the
footsteps began to pound into my ears, jolting me with every crashing
sound, until they slowly disappeared.

I opened my eyes, and suddenly I was able to move my head. I looked at
the horrible sight of my left arm. Everything below the elbow was gone! I
hadn’t felt anything except its hot breath—that thing was eating me! No
blood. No pain, nothing but that hot breath on my skin. I looked at the
ragged edge of where my elbow had joined my forearm. It was horrible. I
checked my right arm and that’s when I saw the notebook. There was a
notebook under my right arm, and a writing instrument in my right hand. I
wouldn’t call it a pen or a pencil because I’d never seen such a writing
device before. The notebook cover opened by itself and revealed a blank
page. My right hand began to move and I was writing words in black ink or
black lead or whatever. I started to read what I was writing and it was all
that was happening to me. I was writing a record of my dream. As I read the
terrible details of my own dream, my body began to shake violently and I
awoke. It was four in the morning. Just like the last time.

And that was the second nightmare.

I showered and got dressed. I knew there wasn’t any need to try and fall
asleep again, for that would have been futile. I made some coffee and
waited, taking out a book to read. I tried to get my mind off that dream.
It haunted me. It wasn’t easy to forget this one. I wondered why I should
dream the same dream as yesterday and have it actually continue. That had
never happened to me before, and I wondered if it ever happened to anyone
else.

At the pipe shop, business was not good at all. It was a very slow day.
My close friend Bill came over to engage in some conversation. But my mind
kept wandering off thinking about that dream I had. I wanted to tell him
about it, but I felt so foolish. How does a grown man tell someone, even a
close friend, that he’s having nightmares? Bill kept talking about how much
he was enjoying that new Radice I had sold him, and I kept seeing my left
arm chewed off below the elbow. Every time I wanted to interrupt him and
talk about my nightmares, I felt like a jerk. I just couldn’t tell him,
even though I wanted desperately to talk about it. That whole day in the
shop, I just wanted to tell someone. Anyone. But I couldn’t bring myself to
do it.

That night, I really needed to relax. I did everything possible to
achieve a happy frame of mind. I lit up the most expensive and beautiful
pipe I own—a Castello Collection Greatline Fiammata. I put on a recording
of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and puffed on my Castello. As much as I love
that symphony, I couldn’t focus on the music. I kept wondering if I was
going to have another nightmare, another wake up at 4 a.m. in a cold sweat
routine. Then the sound of drums reminded me of the footsteps—I shut off
the stereo.

It was 10:40 p.m. when I finished the Castello. I sat there awhile until
the pipe cooled and then cleaned it and put it back in the cabinet. It was
now 11:15 p.m. I was too darn afraid to go to sleep, so I took out another
pipe to smoke. I sat there puffing on the pipe and thinking what a fool I
am for being so afraid to go into bed. I’m thirty-eight years old and
acting like a child, I told myself. But no matter how many times I
repeated it, I was still afraid.

I finally went to bed at one-thirty in the morning. I pulled the covers
up, closed my eyes, and began to tremble. I couldn’t help but worry if I
was going to have another horrible nightmare. After about twenty minutes,
I had to get up and go to the bathroom. When I returned to the bedroom, I
could swear that a shadow moved across my bed. Somehow, I finally managed
to fall asleep.

The nightmare began. It was all so vivid, so clear, and so real. The
whole thing started again, right from the knocking on my door up to the end
of the last dream. Then it continued: I was sitting in the blackness,
looking down at where a chair should have been supporting me, wondering how
I could be sitting on nothing. It bothered me not knowing how or why I was
sitting there. I noticed my right hand was writing in the notebook. I
wasn’t even aware that the hand was moving—I mean, I didn’t have any
feeling there. I didn’t have any feeling anywhere except in my head, which
was the only thing I could move. My hand was writing, but I wasn’t telling
it to write. Believe me. Everything that was happening to me, and every
thought I had, was being written into that notebook. I was watching my very
thoughts appear in the notebook when I suddenly heard the footsteps. I
can’t imagine what caused that sound. All I could see was my body and that
blackness. If there was a floor, I didn’t see it. I didn’t even know where
I was or why I was there. All I knew was that I couldn’t leave. My knees
were bent, and so I must have been sitting on something—on what I don’t
know. The footsteps grew louder. It was coming again. Once again, I heard
the loud thunderous sounds coming closer. I closed my eyes and felt my
whole body begin to shake. “Oh God,” I said, “please help me. I want to be
with my wife and little girl again. Please help—” I stopped suddenly when
the thunderous footsteps swelled inside my ears and I no longer could hear
my own voice. A sharp pain shot through my ears and kept hammering away
until the horrendous sound stopped. Then suddenly I felt the hot breath on
my left arm. The loud crunching noise began. Then I heard that awful
chewing sound and I knew it was at it again, chewing my flesh and bones.
Slowly it was destroying me. All I could do was sit there and let it take
me apart piece by piece.

When the monstrous thing left, I opened my eyes and looked at where my
left arm used to be. It was gone. Clean. There wasn’t any blood on me at
all. How considerate of the bastard. It was so damn efficient. I turned to
check my right arm, and my right hand was writing the whole thing down in
that notebook, even my thoughts as I thought them. Suddenly my hand
stopped writing and I began to shake violently. My eyes felt like they were
popping out, and I awoke in a cold sweat. I looked at the alarm clock: 4
a.m. it glared at me.

And that was the third nightmare.

I was so exhausted that morning, but I had to open the pipe shop. I sat
there waiting for the first customer, trying to keep my eyes from closing.
Thinking. I knew this couldn’t go on if I was to keep my sanity and my
health, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I had to talk to
someone.

When Bill came into the shop, I decided to tell him everything. I was
hoping he wouldn’t joke about it and laugh in my face, and he didn’t. He
was very concerned and suggested that I visit a doctor. “Go see a doctor
and get some sleeping pills,” he said politely. I didn’t like the idea of
taking pills, but there wasn’t much else to do. I made an appointment with
a d
octor and closed the shop early.

Dr. Adler listened attentively as I told him about my nightmares. He
never interrupted me. Every now and then, he would write something down on
a sheet of paper on his desk, and occasionally scratch at his forehead.

I felt somewhat relieved after I told him everything.

He stared at me for a few moments, and then asked, “Have you had these
kind of nightmares before?”

“No,” I said. “I haven’t had nightmares since I was a kid.”

“Is anything troubling you?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, nothing,” I said firmly. “Business has been slow, but it’s not
causing me any great difficulties.”

He leaned back and asked, “Would you like some sleeping pills?”

“I guess so,” I said. “I have to get some sleep or I’ll be walking
around like a zombie.”

“I’m going to give you some Halcion,” he said stiffly. “If you continue
to have a problem after the Halcion is finished, make another appointment
and we will re-evaluate your condition.”

“All right, Doctor,” I said, and then happily took the prescription and
left.

I was sitting on the couch and watching the 11 o’clock news on TV. The
newscaster began talking about UFO sightings by some local residents:

“During the past several weeks there have been numerous reports of
UFO’s hovering over the city. Early this evening, two residents of
Bramfield County claim to have seen a UFO land on the ground about
fifty-feet from their house. They said a door of the UFO opened and a ramp
extended to the ground. They did not see anyone. However, they were certain
that something was there because a shadow suddenly formed on the ramp. They
further stated that the shadow moved off the ramp and onto the ground, and
then disappeared from their view. Unfortunately, the UFO took off and we
are unable to verify the validity of this story.” He paused to clear his
throat a few times, and then said, amused, “They must have taken a whiff of
our air pollution and decided to leave.” There was some laughter in the
background as they switched to the weather report.

I shut off the TV and wondered if there was any connection between the
shadow from the UFO and my nightmares. Of course, that was silly. At least
that is what I thought. Now I am not so sure.

I went into the kitchen and popped a Halcion, and then I went into bed,
hoping to get a good night’s sleep.

The nightmare started again: I was back in that blackness and staring
out into nothing. Waiting. This time I vowed to look at whatever it was
that was slowly turning me into an emaciated piece of garbage. I kept
staring into the blackness and wondered when the thing would come. I
prepared myself as best I could. I kept telling myself that this was only a
dream, and when I wake up, everything will be okay. I’ll have my arm back
and look normal again. It’s only a dream, I told myself over and over.

Suddenly I heard the footsteps, and I wondered if they actually were
footsteps. Every time it came I heard it, and every time it left I heard
it. It had to be footsteps, and yet, how could a shadow make such a sound?
Maybe it wasn’t a shadow, I began to think. I kept my eyes open and was
fiercely determined to find out once and for all what that thing looked
like. Louder and louder the sound filled my ears, pounding into my brain.
My body was trembling, but I didn’t give a damn. I was determined to see
what that horrible thing looked like.

It suddenly appeared—a tall mass of glowing purple was moving towards
me, floating in the blackness. A piece of it went on my left leg, and I
could feel its hot breath. There was that awful crunching sound. Then it
retreated with a piece of my leg and began to make that chewing sound, my
leg disappearing into the mass of glowing purple. The horrible thing was
eating me. Suddenly, there were other footsteps, the sounds blasting into
my head; an excruciating pain shot into my ears as their purple masses came
closer. One went on my right leg, another went on my right arm, and another
went on my chest. They were all over me, taking chunks of my flesh, piece
by piece. All I could do was watch in horror as parts of my body
disappeared into their purple masses. I was turning into nothing.
Crunch-Crunch-Crunch. They were taking all of me . . . I was becoming the
blackness.

The notebook was lying near me; it was a game they played. They made me
write everything down so they could have a good laugh for themselves—I
mean, a good grunt for themselves. They kept reading it over and over and
grunting like mad. It was a goddamn joke they played on me, just to get
some kicks. I also found out why there wasn’t any pain or blood. First
their “hot breath” acts as a powerful anesthetic, and then it cleanly
extracts a chunk of you—they have such good table manners. And the
footsteps, another goddamn joke, were made by an ambizytl. Oh, that’s an
instrument they play. The bastards had a bunch of them going at the same
time. It didn’t bother them because their hearing isn’t even remotely as
good as ours. But I forgive them now, no hard feelings. Everything is okay.
As I wait for my wife and Michelle, I feel good. I am happy. I know that
soon I will be with them, and I’m thankful for that. I really am. It’s been
two weeks since I’ve seen my little nine-year-old sweetie pie. I love her
more than anything. And, of course, I love my wife. Even though we’ve had
our problems, I’ll always love her. I’m really looking forward to being
with both of them. As soon as they come through the front door, I will be
the happiest thing alive.

“Mommy, where’s Daddy?”

“He must have gone out, Michelle. I’m sure your father will be back
soon.”

“I can’t wait to show Daddy my new Barbie Doll.”

As I’ve already said, I love my wife and daughter. I couldn’t bear to
live without them. Where I go, they go. That’s love. I’m sure you know
what I mean. When you love someone, you want to be with him or her, and
that’s the way I feel. I’ve got to be with them—no matter what!

“Mommy, I just saw a shadow move across the floor.”

“I’ll be there soon, Michelle. Don’t worry, sweetheart, a shadow can’t
hurt you.”

Michelle, daddy is coming for you.

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