The Shadow Men
Copyright © 2012 Mark Leslie Lefebvre
THE SHADOW MEN
I’ll never forget the night that changed my life forever. It happened in the woods when I was ten years old.
It was dark; the air was crispy and chilly. Curious little sounds cut through the night – small animals rustling in the nearby bushes, the haunting call of a loon on the lake, leaves whispering in the breeze. And the air was charged with the smell of the still-burning embers of a recently doused campfire.
It was a night, in fact, not all that different than tonight.
I was sleeping in a four-man tent with my parents and younger brother and woke up with an overwhelming urge to pee. I crawled out of my sleeping bag, careful not to wake anyone else, slipped outside the tent and headed down the moonlit path to where I remembered the outhouse was.
Before I took more than a dozen steps I heard a noise behind me: the crack of a branch breaking underfoot.
With my hairs standing on edge, I manged not to let out a yelp as I turned.
There on the path not three steps behind me stood my little brother, a look on his cute button-nosed face like I’d just caught him sneaking a treat from the cookie jar.
“Jimmy,” I whispered. “What are you doing?”
He stood with his right leg partially crossed over the left.
“Need to pee,” he said, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“Geez, Jimmy. If you had to go that bad, why’d you wait so long?”
“Because,” he said, his six-year-old eyes wide and bright in the reflected moonlight, “the Shadow Men might get me.”
I felt a shiver run down my spine despite the fact that I knew the ShadowMen were something my father had conjured up that evening around the camp fire. They were the bogeyman of the New Hampshire wilderness that hid behind trees and lurked in the shadows. Their sole purpose was to trick little boys down the wrong path in the woods, deeper and deeper into the forest and far from the safety of their parents.
Even at ten, I knew my father told the story to use for fun and perhaps partially to keep us from wandering far away from them; but when Jimmy said that I still felt a chill.
“The Shadow Men aren’t real, Jimmy.”
“Are too! Listen!”
At just that moment the haunting call of a loon echoed through the forest, delivering a deep shiver up the base of my spine.
“That’s just a loon,” I said, but the chill wouldn’t go away.
“No. Listen, Charlie. It’s a little boy. One that the Shadow Men tricked. He’s warning us.”
Frustrated with my brother – and, okay, a little frightened – I just wanted it to end; I didn’t want to hear any more. So I thought I’d throw a good scare into him.
I turned and ran down the path. “Jimmy!” I called out. “Behind you! The Shadow Men are behind you!”
He let out a cry. “Wait!”
Able to see the path clearly in the moonlight, I ran fast, took a sharp turn and ducked down behind a low bush. Jimmy ran past me, still calling ahead on the trail for me to stop, panic rising in his voice as he seemed to think I’d gotten really far ahead of him. I had to put my hands on my mouth to suppress a laugh. But I stayed silent that way, listening to the padding of his footfalls on the packed dirt path and his calls for me to wait for him receding into the darkness.
His last cry was drowned out by the shrill call of a loon in the distance.
And I never saw him again.
But I hear him all the time.
Now, every time I’m out in the wilderness, out camping, I can hear my little brother’s voice. Somewhere, masked within the sad, mournful, unearthly half-laughing, half-wailing cry of a loon, I can hear my little brother warning me that the Shadow Men are near.
Just listen for it and tell me what you hear.
"The Shadow Men" was originally published in the anthology NORTHERN HAUNTS edited by Tim Deal (Nov 2009). It also appears in BUMPS IN THE NIGHT: Creepy Campfire Tales - an eBook by Mark Leslie which is available on all major platforms.
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