This is Shadow Man, a short story I wrote. It has been adapted into a fun short webtoon by the amazing Sara Blanco and is available on Webtoon Canvas.
There are beings that exist in the shadows, that live in spaces we can’t see. Sometimes we get a glimpse of them, in the corner of our eye, or we see a shape in the dark that doesn’t look quite right.
Sometimes we even hear them going bump in the night, but when we switch on the light or turn back and look again, there’s nothing there and we think it’s all in our heads, but they exist.
The shadow people are always there.
“Why can’t she go to the store herself!?” whined a young girl with a short black bob cut, “Don’t you think Mum’s being annoying sending us out to buy ice cream for her at this time of night…. Saline, hello Saline are you listening to me!?”
Saline had her brows furrowed, she chewed the corners of her plump pink lips as she stared at her phone. Her short red hair danced like flames and several of her piercings jingled like bells as the wind blew.
“Saline!” yelled the young girl as she smacked her in the back, “Can you pay attention to me for one second, you never listen to me!”
“OW WHAT!!!” Saline yelled, she growled at her little sister. “What do you want now Wendy, stop pissing me off!”
Wendy’s small face scrunched up, Saline inwardly groaned as she saw the tears forming on the corners of Wendy’s eyes.
“Hey don’t cry” Saline crouched down to Wendy’s height, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to ignore you or yell at you like that. I just have a lot on my mind.”
Despite Saline’s comforting tone Wendy still looked like she was about to cry. She was breathing heavily, her chest going up and down and her face was still scrunched up. Saline lost her patience and grabbed her chubby cheeks, “Hey I said don’t cry you brat!”
Wendy began wailing and pulled away from Saline, “I hate you!” she said before running off down the street and jumping straight through the automatic doors of their local 24hour mini-mart.
Saline just sighed and rolled her eyes.
Life had been hard for her ever since their Dad left.
Mum was getting more and more depressed, she’d come home from work, remove her makeup and just sit curled up in front of the TV eating ice-cream all the time. Not talking to them unless she needed some errands or shopping done.
Saline was left to babysit Wendy; she picked Wendy up from school, she’d have to take her to all her extra classes and hang out with her like Dad used to.
This led to Saline constantly having to cancel plans with her friends or ditch rehearsals with her band to look after Wendy, not to mention she was working part-time at the Music shop. She felt like she didn’t have time for anyone and she was always getting into fights with everyone these days. She could never do right with Wendy, they were always arguing, and her friends were just being difficult.
She looked at her phone again and read the text from Malcolm, it said: “Don’t bother coming to practice at lunch tomorrow we found a new lead guitarist who can commit.”
She sighed again, life just wasn’t working out.
Saline got to her feet and was about to walk into the Mini-Mart, but she paused. She felt a prickling sensation at the back of her neck. She’d been feeling this for the last few days, like someone was watching her.
She spun around and looked into the dark alley behind the store. There were no lights there but she could make out someone’s eyes.
“Hey creep!!!” She shouted, “Who do you think you’re looking at!” She wasn’t in the best of moods and now some pervert was spying on her.
She marched up to the alley and grabbed the figure in the shadows and pulled him out into the lamp-lit street. “Hey, arsehole! Do you have a problem with me, I don’t take any kind of harassment, I’m two seconds from beating your ass. Do you think Women are there for you to leer at a creep, huh!?”
The man she’d pulled out of the Shadows was tall, he had extremely pale light grey eyes, their pupils were vertical like a cat’. His outfit was strange; he was wearing a long cloak-like some warlock in a video game, it was made of some kind of dark material that looked like leather but it felt like fur. His hair was long and had a pale blue colour and he was handsome in an androgynous and mysterious kind of way.
His expression was blank, his eyes wide with surprise.
“ⴵⴳⴴⴲⵅⴺⵄⵒⵓⵦ, ⵛⵚⵐⴼⴹⵌⵊⵁⵀⴶⴵⴴ” strange unintelligible words came out of his mouth.
Saline raised her brows in confusion, “What!?”
“Is he foreign” she wondered, “he looks like he’s coming back from a comic convention or something, is that a cosplay, it’s really well made…”
Now that she was just holding him by the collar she didn’t know what to do, and she had no idea what he was saying.
She sweated a bit nervously and had a dumb expression on her face as she asked slowly “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”
He looked at her blankly and she sighed and let go, “Just leave.” she said to him.
She turned around to walk away but then she heard him say in English, “You can see me and hear me!”
She looked back and the strange man was right next to her, his eyes sparkling with excitement. “You can see me and hear me!” he said again, louder, “That’s amazing!”
He jumped up and down, but then he faltered and grabbed her face, “Wait are you not human…you definitely look human” he sniffed the air next to her face, “you smell human. You must be human!”
“I’ve never been seen by a human before!” he yelled before he went flying backwards. Saline had punched him in the face.
“Don’t touch me you creep…fuck!” she marched off into the store. She was having a shitty day and now some weirdo had grabbed her face and sniffed her.
As she walked into the mini-mart Wendy ran up to her and hugged her. “I thought you weren’t coming, I thought you were just gonna leave me.”
“I wouldn’t do that, and you’re the one that ran off. I was just fending off some creep outside.”
“What creeps?” asked Wendy
Saline turned around and was shocked as she saw the weird man standing right next to her, she jumped and screeched, “That man!”
“What are you doing?” Wendy was confused. Some late-night shoppers looked at Saline weirdly, “There’s no one there.”
“What do you mean no one!” she yelled as she grabbed the man’s arm, “He’s right here can’t you see him!”
“Why are you acting weird, there’s no one there,” Wendy argued.
Saline didn’t know what to make of this, she pulled the guy up to a shop assistant whose name tag said ‘Derek’, “Can you see this man?” she asked.
Derek looked at Saline with confusion, “Is…Is this a trick question?”
Saline was confused, everyone in the store was looking at her like she was on drugs or something, but she wasn’t. Could no one else see this guy but her?
“That’s the normal reaction,” said the strange man, “Humans can’t see me normally, I wonder what makes you so different?”
Was this man a Ghost!? The moment the thought occurred to Saline she went pale with fear. She grabbed her sister and ran out of the store in a hurry.
When they got into their house Saline put Wendy down, she gasped for breath, she had run the entire way.
“You’re back Girls, did you get the ice-cream I asked for.”
Their mother came out of the living room wrapped in bedsheets and covers, her eyes were a bit red as if she had been crying. Saline could hear the same romantic sappy movie she’d been watching for the last few weeks playing in the living room.
“Mum, Saline’s lost it. She had a meltdown in the shop and then ran back here with me for no reason. I think something is up with her.” Wendy moaned as she ran up to their mother and hugged her.
“Huh, are you okay Saline?” Mum asked with concern.
“I…” Saline didn’t want to worry her Mum with something weird like this, Mun had enough to worry about as it was, “I’m fine… I made a mistake. I’ll get some more ice cream tomorrow after school.”
“It’s fine I was planning on doing a proper grocery shop after work tomorrow anyway. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay” Saline sighed, “I think I need some sleep.”
Mum nodded, “goodnight dear,” she said as Saline walked into her room and jumped onto the bed.
‘What was that man, had she really just encountered a Ghost’ she wondered
She thought about it all night until she eventually fell asleep.
The next morning she felt a weight on her stomach. Her alarm clock went off at the same time. She groggily grabbed her phone, as she sat up and realised something was on her lap. She looked up and there was the strange man with his legs folded, sitting on top of her like some Cat.
“Good Morning,” he said with a cheery smile.
She nearly fainted, “the Ghost followed me home” she muttered.
“W…what are you doing here?” she pointed her phone at him threateningly.
“You’re the first human that’s ever seen me! I want to know how? Humans never see Shadowmen like me. You’re all so interesting with your bright hair and weird accessories and strange inventions. I’ve always wanted to know Humans.”
He leaned close to her with a look of excitement, “Can I be your friend?”
At that point her Mum came into her room, she was dressed in her office outfit, equipped with heels and her full face of makeup. “Saline are you not up yet, hurry and get changed you need to get your sister to school as well not just yourself.”
Mum leaned over Saline’s bed and opened the curtains, as she did this her body went right through the strange man as if he wasn’t there.
“Be downstairs in 10 minutes okay.”
“Yeah” Saline muttered as Mum left the room.
Saline jumped out of bed, “Look I’m sure you’re a nice…thing… but I don’t have time to be friends with a Ghost, I don’t even have time to be friends with my friends these days.”
“Can you just leave me alone?”
The strange man’s face creased up the same way her sisters would, “Are you about to cry!?”
“No,” said the strange man, he was obviously lying because a tear was about to fall down his face.
Saline couldn’t deal with crying, “ah fine, I’ll be your friend, now can you leave I need to get ready for school.”
“Thank you, you won’t regret this!” he said with a bright smile before he walked into the shadow cast by her wardrobe and disappeared.
Saline groaned, “What have I gotten myself into!?”
Half an hour later she had dropped her sister off and she was walking to her own school.
The strange man popped up next to her, “I realised I never introduced myself, my name is Aster, what’s your name?”
“EEP” she shrieked, “You can’t just pop up like that” she gasped. After she calmed down she nodded at him, “My name is Saline” they shook hands.
“Ohh what’s that?” asked Aster with a curious expression as he looked at Saline’s guitar case.
“My guitar” Saline said proudly, “I’m the lead guitarist of the Wiccans. It’s a band I made with some friends at school…well I was, and I will be again, I’m going to try and see them at lunch and practice with them.”
“A guitar is a human instrument right! You must be quite talented, I’d love to hear you play.” Aster said he was like a puppy. If he had a tail it would have wagged with excitement.
Saline blushed, “Well I don’t know about talent but I’ll definitely play for you some time.”
They walked together for a bit before she gained the courage to ask, “What are you Aster, are you a Ghost?”
“Hmm, well I’m not a spirit. I’m alive. You people have had many names in the past for my people, such as Jinni or Yokai, but if I’m translating this to your human language correctly, we call ourselves Shadowmen. We live in this world just like you, but we make our homes in the Shadows. Most creatures can sense us or see us, but Humans can’t. Sometimes your people catch glimpses of us and we become a part of your stories but for the most part, we’re invisible.”
“That’s why it’s even cooler that you can see me!” he yelled happily, I must find out how, and then I can tell the others. I’m so excited to befriend more humans.”
Saline couldn’t believe she’d been scared of this guy before, he was like an innocent curious puppy. She smiled.
Some girls wearing the same uniform as Saline walked past, Saline recognised them, “Hey Bell, May! It’s me! Let’s walk together!” she called out to them but they ignored her.
Even though they obviously heard her, the girls acted like they couldn’t and just hurried ahead.
“Why did they do that?” asked Aster, “That’s not nice.”
Saline felt a bit downcast, “People have been shunning me these days, I don’t have the time to hang with them, and someone in my friend group started making rumours about me, before I knew it even people that would beg to hang with me in the past began avoiding me, It’s dumb.”
“If they treat you like that they’re not your friends,” Aster said angrily.
“Yeah you’re right, they’re not, they’re arseholes. And you know what, I don’t want to go to school today, I don’t want any responsibilities today.” Saline announced, “Let’s ditch, Aster we’re gonna hang out today!”
Aster smiled, “Okay let’s have fun!”
Saline rolled her blazer and tie and put them in her bag. She grabbed Aster’s arm and headed into town with him.
As they messed around there were several things that she noticed about Aster. He couldn’t touch things unless they were in the shade or she had given it to him personally. When she ordered them both ice-cream he couldn’t pick it up until she gave it to him.
Most people couldn’t see him but small children could.
A Baby began to laugh as he made a silly face at it and a Toddler gave him a high five as they walked down the busy high street. Animals could see him as well, Dogs would bark at him and a small sparrow bird landed on his shoulder.
When they walked past a flower shop Aster smiled brightly, “I love flowers” he said.
Saline turned a bit pink, Aster was gorgeous when he smiled.
“I used to have a house in a flower shop,” he said, “There was this rose bush in there that never moved and it had a wonderful shadow, I lived there. I always used to hear the human owner of the shop talking about the meaning of flowers. Flowers are beautiful things.”
Aster went into the shade and plucked a purple flower, he tucked it behind Saline’s ear, “That’s a Gloxinia, it means Love at first sight”. He smiled brightly, “pretty creatures deserve pretty flowers.”
Saline felt her heart thump. She realised she was beginning to like Aster a lot.
They took a walk into the park, it was noon and the Sun was high in the sky. Aster seemed to grow tired and weak in the Sunlight so they sat under a tree.
“I told you I’d play you a song,” Saline said. She brought out her guitar and began to play a song for him. As she strummed and watched Aster’s bright smile, for the first time in a long time she felt at peace.
She played many songs for him and time passed quickly, soon the Sun had set. When the sun disappeared small little lights buzzed about and began to surround them.
At first, Saline thought these lights were fireflies but then she realised they were small people with wings, and they were dancing to her song.
“You can see the fairies too, that’s amazing!” said Aster. “Fairies live with nature, they usually hide in the trees and don’t come out, but they love to dance, they must have come because of your Music.”
The fairies buzzed around Saline, they blew her kisses before heading up into the tree again. Saline laughed and blew kisses back to them.
As the fairies flew away she looked back at Aster and she froze.
Saline’s smile vanished as she realised that Aster seemed much more transparent than he did before. She could see the green grass behind him, and his skin seemed much more translucent.
“Aster you’re fading away!” Saline panicked.
Aster looked at himself in surprise and then at Saline, he looked very sad, “Oh so it was only temporary” he sighed. “It’s not that I’m fading away, you’re just losing your ability to see me.”
“What, no that’s not fair, I want to see you!”
“I want you to see me too.”
Aster stood up and held Saline’s hand. “I don’t know how much time we have but there are so many things I want to do with you. So before you can’t see me anymore let’s have more fun.”
Saline was sad, but Aster was right, they should be having some fun.
Saline rented a bike and they rode around the city together.
Even though she knew it probably looked weird to others, she played some music from her phone and danced with Aster in the streets. They sang songs together and ate more snacks together.
But with every hour that passed, it was getting harder and harder for Saline to see Aster.
“You know I’d seen you around before since a few weeks ago you’d pass by the shadow in the alley that I live in.”
She and Aster were lying on a bench watching the stars. “I always saw your bright hair and I’d think they looked like small flames, I wanted to touch it and see if they burned.”
Saline laughed, “That’s so weird.”
Aster laughed as well, “yes you’re hair doesn’t burn at all” he patted her on the head but she could barely feel his touch.
“It was only for a day but I enjoyed being your friend Saline.”
Saline’s heart pounded a bit, she blushed, “I’ve enjoyed being your friend too, it doesn’t have to be for just a day it can be longer….”
He wasn’t there anymore, she felt around but he was gone.
“Aster!” she yelled.
But he didn’t call back to her.
She realised she could no longer see him and she began to cry. As she cried the Gloxinia he’d given her fell out of her hair. When she saw it she hugged it close and cried some more.
Eventually, she wandered home, when she got there two police officers were at her door.
“There you are!” her mother yelled. Tears in her eyes.
“Where have you been, do you know how late it is? Do you know how worried I was when you didn’t go to get your sister from school, and then your school told me you never came in.”
Her Mum’s speech was just buzzing in her ears, all she could think of was Aster.
Every day after that she would go looking for Aster, but she couldn’t find him. She’d buy ‘Forget-Me-Not’ flowers and leave them in the alley near the Mini-Mart always hoping that he’d get them.
One afternoon she brought her sister home from school and went to her room, as she watered the Gloxinia flowers that she now had on her windowsill, she noticed both a pink Carnation and a pink Carmellia on her pillow.
In the language of flowers, they meant, “I’ll never forget you” and “Longing for you”.
As Saline saw these flowers all kinds of complex emotions filled her heart, the most complex of all being hope.
She turned around, praying for him to be there as she called out, “Aster!”