The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
The Shadow’s Return
A migraine drove Mom to bed not long after dinner. I stayed up a while longer, but as another thunderstorm threatened the night, I closed the windows that would let the rain in and got ready for bed.
The sweaty film that seemed to appear the minute I was out of the shower every day made the cotton sheets cling to my skin in an uncomfortable way, but something about the night felt off, and the comforter lived up to its name. Above me, the ceiling fan whipped the thick air furiously and managed to keep me cooler than I expected. I had Mom’s phone plugged into the speaker set we’d brought and it shuffled through one of her cello playlists.
I lay awake for minutes, processing everything that had transpired the last few weeks. Somewhere between the image of Maisie’s expensive lipstick in our bathroom and the recollection of the midnight moving van, I began to doze.
My body jerked violently, and I bolted up at raucous crash.
My brain put it together fast: trashcans and glass.
The raccoons.
I tried to slow my racing heart and untangled my legs from the sheets. After I flipped the lights on, I picked my way over my bags and shoes and went to the French doors. Rain came down hard. Its accompanying wind blew harder. The garbage cans had not only fallen over, but they’d fallen into the glass doors. Fortunately, the bungee cords kept them closed, so we wouldn’t have a terrible, wet mess to clean in the morning.
I watched past the small patio, looking for movement. If the crash was due to the coons and not the wind, and if they were still close, I was not opening the door to set the bins up again. I strained, but couldn’t see much—it was too bright inside—so I went back to my bag, retrieved my flashlight, and turned off the lights.
Mom’s favorite band came on with one of their more haunting songs, one I loved as much as she did. It sent an unexpected chill over me. I shuddered.
Back at the glass doors, I let my eyes adjust to the darkness. A yellow-white explosion lit up the sky behind the vast lowcountry forest that edged three sides of the yard. Thunder followed a brief second after. The glass in front of me trembled. Instinctively, I stepped back. Wind pushed one of the trash bins toward the edge of patio, and the lid strained against the bungee cord. The hook gave way and the lid, now free of its fetters, separated from the base of the bin.
“Ugh,” I murmured.
I shoved my flashlight into my PJ shorts pocket, opened the door, and worked quickly to right the bin. I scrambled after an escaped yogurt container and then a plastic wrapper, but managed to dispose of both again. Then I shoved the lid on. I struggled to get the bungee cords in place while the spray from the rain made my pajamas cling to me. “Finally,” I said, just as a hard gust of wind shoved me back toward the house.
Another burst of lightning created an enormous boom just over top of me, and then I heard a distinctive crash that never seemed to end. I looked to my right and watched one of the tremendous trees near the yard move, lift, and fall. I stared, stunned, and the next flare of lightning, this one brighter and whiter, left a painful imprint on my eyes. I blinked, trying to clear the image, and stepped back toward the still-open door.
And then I saw it.
I saw him.
The ShadowMan.
The same figure, in the same place as our first night.
He emerged from the woods and stepped into the yard.
My heart pounding again, I put my hand on the door’s handle, but my legs wouldn’t let me move more.
The figure approached, its movements slow and jerky as he fought the wind.
The next burst of lightning took away the shadows for less than a second. And then I knew.
“Rhys!” I yelled, and ran, barefoot, onto the sopping ground.
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