By William Everett
My buddy Mason and I were doing our Tuesday night rounds together in his busted-up Plymouth Barracuda until we hit 14th Street. Seeing a dead guy was nothing new around here. Shootouts, muggings, and bad negotiations make the ambulance siren a common backdrop during work, same way you hear the fridge at night.
This dead guy brought a whole new level of dead, though. At an empty intersection near the old park, we saw him underneath the streetlight. He was upright, slouched over like hikers with their heavy backpacks, but he was hovering. He was wearing our jacket. It was Liam.
Mason called me quick. “Noah,” he said. He pointed underneath Liam’s floating feet. Liam’s shadow had a noose hanging from the streetlight’s shadow and his dark outline had an etching of light within it, hand-carved by knife, as if the shadow was a physical body that could be touched. All the marking said was “March 11th.”
“This coming Saturday,” Mason said. Whatever did this was ready to do something big in four days.
We told our boss Jackal about Liam and the date. He led our gang, the Wild Dogs. We were the finest robbers and “prescription” drug sellers in Paradise Valley. The original founder was a bold man who only went by Dhole. Two months ago, he, Jackal, and his hand-picked goons went to rob the jewelry store off Greenfield Street. They came back with exhaustion instead of loot. Our rival gang, the Bush Vipers, ambushed them on the way, and they killed Dhole.
His right-hand man took the reins: Lucas “The Jackal” Johnson. Other than calling us “glass-jawed sissies” and such, Jackal had been doing great as head honcho. There weren’t any more ambushes. We were making more money than ever.
The next night, some other guys found Carter dead on their route, laying in a dirty alleyway. Nothing ripped him, yet his shadow was bleeding black. Our record whiskey-chugger Oliver was found in the old coal factory on Thursday. The other guys didn’t see anything until they turned a flashlight on him. He was speared in the back. Black dripped from his mouth and oozed down his arms. It trickled from his finger.
Jackal was strangely tame upon hearing we just took three losses for three straight nights. Since nobody saw the killer, we named it the Murk. We knew it targeted our guys in the northeast part of town, so Jackal offered us different routes out of the way. It was a smart play, but Jackal’s reaction felt off, like the awkward silence after hearing a bad joke.
The next night, we drove our new route. Mason had to take a piss, so we stopped off the road underneath the billboard for Giovanni’s Pizza. I pulled out an old newspaper from the glove compartment. Mason left the car. I heard a bush rustle, nothing else. I called from the car if he was alright. No response. I looked his direction. He was frozen mid-walk. I got out, walked toward him. I checked his shadow.
It was polka-dotted with beads of light. Bullet-holes.
The Murk killed him three feet away from me. I screamed until my whole upper body went red, enough for the both of us.
That Saturday was March 11th. We had an emergency meetup in the Jackal’s Den, an old storage warehouse. Mason’s murder was my last straw. The money was good, but this was all far too risky. I ignored Jackal’s strategies. I kept staring at the shadows.
They were everywhere. There was no avoiding them. The Murk could be in the walls. Under the truck. In the corner right behind me. What do I do? An immediate punch to the gut snapped me back into listening. Everyone stood in the same place except Jackal’s personal goons. They were missing.
Jackal started choking and grabbing his neck. With a last breath he screamed, “He’s here!” and shot the overhead fluorescent light. The goons, now wearing night goggles, guarded both doors. The warehouse was pitch black. Jackal gasped for air.
“It worked,” Jackal said. “No shadows. Who would have thought the dark would be your own downfall, Dhole!”
I yelled into the void, “You knew his weakness this whole time?”
“Doesn’t matter now,” Jackal said. “He’s locked in here and can’t hurt us without our shadows.” His retort made our dead comrades sound so disposable, like cigarette butts casually flicked out the car window into the grass.
The goons looked around, but the now dangling light started to flicker again. Every flicker showed the Murk for just a moment. He was vantablack, dark to the point that his body looked like a bottomless hole. He had eyes, I think, two still ovals of white so pure they felt like a car’s headlights.
The Murk disappeared into one shadow and pounced out of another. One flicker and the goon to my right was gone. The other was gone before I could even blink. Jackal aimed for the light one more time, but the gun got knocked out of his hand.
Dhole seemed to savor Jackal’s pointless yapping.
“Look, what did you expect me to do?” Jackal asked. “Stay second fiddle in this crap town? I’ll give you whatever you want. I just need more time!”
Dhole stared blankly at Jackal’s last plea. He formed a sword out of nothing and pierced him. A backstab for a backstab.
The remaining few of us were now still. I saw the shadow’s shadow. It was composed of flesh, of people. Their contorted faces swirled and screamed silently within the limits of his outline. He faded back into the darkness. The now open door revealed dawn outside. After that, everything went black.
William Everett was born in Brunswick, Georgia and was his high school’s Valedictorian in 2018. Currently a first-year student at LaGrange College, he hopes to pursue a degree in Computer Science. This is his first piece of published fiction.