Elsewhere: Part I

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Elsewhere

Author: Shelly Moore

{Part One}

Most people are sleeping soundly at eleven pm on a Tuesday night in mid-October. By then, most people have had a nice dinner, watched a bit of mindless television, showered if they’re the shower-at-night type, maybe even got a little frisky with their partner, then dozed off to join the sandman on his nightly travels. Neil Glassman isn’t one of those people. Neil Glassman can only be found in one spot on any given Tuesday at eleven pm, and the only one who knows where that place might be, is Neil.

Neil, you see, is a fourth generation book binder, which although it may sound it, is quite far from exhilarating. In fact, it’s exhilaration rating lies somewhere between that of watching paint dry and counting blades of grass on a lawn. He would never have confessed this to his father, nor his grandfather, but Neil would much rather be doing pretty much anything over binding books.

He had dabbled in a various variety of vocations over the years, although he could only refer to them as hobbies in front of his father and grandfather. Some of these hobby/vocations included, but were certainly not limited to waiting tables, court reporting, nature photography, portrait photography, songwriting, stand up comedy, landscaping, and performing, which was his favorite of the lot. He played guitar quite well, piano well enough to get by, and sang about half as well as he played piano. He did play in a few bars on open mic nights years ago and somehow manage to make enough in tips to pay the rent, but not much else. Like the song lyrics go, Neil was a “jack of all trades, but the master of none.”

As far as relationships were concerned, Neil was just like every other warm blooded human being; he craved finding that ever elusive yang to his yin that understands his dry wit, gives him the space to be his own person, and makes killer homemade empanadas, amongst a laundry list of other desirable traits. His standards weren’t set unreasonably high, he thought, he just hadn’t quite found her yet, and that’s alright.

He had just recently ended, mutually, a three year roller coaster of a partnership with a woman named June, and was in no hurry to start hop aboard another any time soon, but also didn’t avoid it. His philosophy is, and always has been, whatever will be, will be. Just like the song.

On a Tuesday night when the birds have gone to sleep and the moon has risen to kiss the earth with its reflection, Neil wouldn’t be found at the local church’s Singles Paint Night or wrapping up a great first date with a smoking hot brunette by inviting her to his place. He also wouldn’t be out drinking with his friends, shooting pool at the pool hall down the road from his duplex, or mindlessly scrolling through stupid memes while at a friend’s house.

Leigh had been watching Neil through her binoculars for eight months, one week, and four days. She knew this because right around month two she had decided to start keeping tally of her time spent watching this poor bastard by scratching a mark on her dash with a key. She did what she was paid to do, and although eight long months had already passed, she had yet to figure out where it was he went at eleven pm on Tuesday nights.

She knew a lot about Neil. She knew he worked weekends at “Glassman Book Binders” in Hubbardston with his father, but on weekdays he’d work from eight in the morning until six at night at the local diner, doubling as both the host and busser. She knew he’d take Main Street to Lowell Rd on his way home, always stopping at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Dixon and Kirby, where he’d usually buy a twenty ounce soda, a bag of potato chips of some sort, and a handful of scratch lottery tickets. She knew if he needed gas, he’d always go out of his way by .8 of  a mile to the gas station near Starbucks because gas was always just slightly cheaper there. Leigh knew he would park in the spot under the tree in front of his side of the duplex, which was the left if you are facing it. She knew the right half was owned by his Tommy Chong-looking neighbor, whom he affectionately and appropriately called, “Chong,” and she knew that every single night right around nine, Neil Glassman would break the law. He’d sit on his front stoop and smoke a big, fat bowl.

Recently, as a sort of a game to entertain herself while doing this tedious, so-boring-she-could-die surveillance, she had started packing a one-hitter so she could partake in his night cap with him, offering silent camaraderie and an unheard “Cheers, mate,” from her inconspicuous little black Nissan Juke. Tonight, as always, she was parked just far enough away to avoid grabbing his attention. 

Leigh’s cellphone rang; she coughed, choking a bit on the hit, then firmly gripped the metal one-hitter, which was designed to resemble a cigarette, between her pursed lips. She answered without lowering the binoculars from her eyes, “Hello?”

“You’re an idiot,” the caller said.

“Screw you, asshole,” she replied.

“You left the door unlocked, again.”

“Christ. I swear I thought I locked it. I’m sorry, Roddy. I left in a hurry, won’t happen again,” she said to her brother, Roderick.

“Yeah it will. Don’t lie to me,” he said.

“You’re right. It’ll happen again. Probably tomorrow… and the next night, and the next,” they both laughed.

“You gotta knock that shit out, I mean it. We don’t live in the fluffiest of neighborhoods, Leelee. Sam had his new stereo stolen from his car last week and Nettie claims someones been stealing her silverware and dishes.”

“Yeah, well, Nettie’s crazy and we both known Sam’s full of shit. He probably just wanted the insurance money,” Leigh said.

“Ma said you didn’t come home till like 5 am yesterday. Where the hell are you going, staying out so late like that?” he asked.

“None ya. As in none ya business, and tell Ma to quit watching me across the street all the damn time, will ya? God that woman needs a damn hobby,” Leigh said.

“She said she heard your music all loud when you pulled in your driveway, dumbass. If you wanted to be sneaky, don’t crank your damn car stereo while the rest of the world is trying to sleep,” Roddy said.

“Touché, asshole, but that loud music is what keeps my ass from falling asleep at the wheel when I work those late night shifts, so screw you, and screw the rest of the sleeping world,” she said.

“Listen to you talking all tough. All five feet of you. Gonna go home and pet Professor Fluffensfuff and read Harry Potter, tough shit?” he mocked.

“Highly likely. And his name is Professor Wigglebottom, and he is a majestic little ball of kitty fluff who happens to love when I read him Harry Potter, so you can just suck it.”

Roddy laughed, “I stand corrected, tough stuff.”

“Damn right you do.”

“Hey, I actually called for a reason. Have you talked to Jake Wenslack recently by any chance?”

“God, Roddy. I haven’t even heard that name in ages. Last I saw him was down at Hoops sometime last summer. He was there with his brothers and that Kayla girl he used to see,” Leigh replied.

“He’s missing. No ones seen him for awhile, I guess. I saw a poster hanging by the coffee shop downtown. I called his sister and she said they found his wallet and keys in the drivers seat of his Explorer three weeks ago. It was parked at the trail head by the quarry in Chelmsford. Total mystery.”

“Damn, man. That’s insane. No, I hadn’t heard a thing. I’ll let you know if I do, though. Tell Hayley I’m sorry and I’ll help however I can.”

“She’ll appreciate it. Thanks, sis.”

Leigh pushed the end button on her phone and set it in the seat beside her. She watched as Neil stepped emptied the ash from his bowl over the side of the wooden railing, then walk back inside his half of the duplex.

She was hired to find out where Neil goes on Tuesday’s at eleven pm, and it really pissed her off that she hadn’t yet figured it out. It had never taken her so long to figure anything out, ever. Months ago, frustrated to her breaking point, Leigh had taken it upon herself to break into Neil’s house. She wanted to get to know him a little better, she told herself, so it was totally kosher. He leaves the first floor bathroom window unlocked, which she had discovered one day when he locked himself out, so Leigh had no problem whatsoever getting inside.

His bathroom was boring. Navy blue shower curtain, navy blue toothbrush holder, and navy blue bath rug. Leigh started quietly singing, “Blue” by Eiffel 65, which was just one of those songs, she thought as she laughed to herself, that either you knew or you didn’t.

In the hallway, the walls were adorned with photos of Neil’s four nieces, two nephews, mother, father, brother, and two sisters. There was a tacky gold framed picture of Neil and his father standing outside their shop, “Glassman Book Binders; since 1914,” and another of his father and grandfather posing in the same spot many years prior.

The living room was that of a typical bachelor; a sofa and love seat, both grey with navy stripes, a coffee table that Neil  had quite obviously made himself during his time as a carpenter last summer, and a flat screen television that was so large it nearly covered the entire wall. His tastes were simple, and Leigh could respect that. She also liked simple. He kept the place tidy, which Leigh also respected, although she hadn’t been a great housekeeper these days what with this new case keeping her away from home more often than not. She made her way up the stairs to the second floor where a small room which looked like it may have been used as an office first greeted her, followed by a half bath, and then Neil’s bedroom at the far end of the hall. She entered his room as if she had a hundred times before, pretending it didn’t slightly bother her to be invading the privacy of this man on such an intimate level. His bed was unmade; blue sheets and comforter, imagine that, and a grey fleece throw. Beside the door, a large pile of dirty clothes, which she now realized was what kept the door from fully opening. 

Seeing as how Leigh wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, she simply sauntered about that day, and when it came time to leave she grabbed a magnet from his fridge that read, “Virginia is for Lovers,” and put it in her pocket for no other reason than as a souvenir of her breaking and entering, now larceny, adventure.

Leigh hadn’t broken in again after that day, but had recently contemplated it. She stared at the, “Virginia is for Lovers,” magnet which she had since affixed to her dash using adhesive pads made for mounting photos on walls, and decided she’d not only do it again, but she would do it tonight while Neil lay sleeping.

Gutsy, maybe, but anyone who knew LeighAnne McAddams wouldn’t accuse her of being anything less. Her father, rumored to be part of the mob, had disappeared when she was only four years old. The truth, she would find out years later, was that he was completely criminally insane and got caught breaking into a fast food joint two towns over to rob it. He was found happily grilling himself a burger while singing Michael Jackson’s, “Beat It,” and he didn’t miss a single word or skip a single beat, even as he was being cuffed and thrown into the back of a police car. The kicker? All of this was accomplished while Mr. McAddams was wearing women’s lingerie and hooker boots. 

God knows Leigh and Roddy never wanted that version  of events to get out, so they kept the mob story alive, spreading rumors of their own creation about how Mr. McAddams was in hiding because he was being looked at for the murders of several local businessmen who had been found in the Ohio River. That part, however, was semi-factual. Three local men had, in fact, been found belly up in the Ohio River when Leigh was in high school, but the general consensus was one of them had drowned after falling overboard while fishing, while the other two were assumed to have fallen into the fast flowing river in their drunken stupor and simply drowned.

“Ma” McAddams, otherwise known as Emmalou, had a cousin on the local police force who helped keep the facts wrapped up nice and quiet so little Leigh and Roddy wouldn’t have to deal with the cruelty of the townspeople once they found out what a whack job their daddy was.

Leigh was getting real tired of all this watching and waiting bullshit, and was ready to put this case behind her. It paid well, but she had no time to have a life of her own. This case was eating her soul.

She grabbed a pair of black latex gloves from her purse beside her and shoved them and her phone in her back pocket, then closed her car door behind her quietly. She made her way to the grey duplex, then walked around back, seemingly without a care in the world. There were no Mission Impossible moved for Leigh. She walked with the confidence of a pro. She knew exactly where she would and wouldn’t be seen, and wasn’t in the least bit worried about anything other than whether or not Professor Wigglebottom was lonely at home without her.

Knowing Neil would most likely be in the second floor half bath either washing his face or brushing his teeth, Leigh opened the first floor bathroom window and slid in, feet first, just has she had done months before. Once inside she stood perfectly still just for a moment, listening, making sure Neil was where she expected him to be. A toilet flushed upstairs, and she had all the confirmation she needed to make her way deeper into the home.

She ran her finger along the hallway walls as she walked, taking notice again of the photos as she passed. Nothing had changed. Everything was exactly as it had been during her first field trip through Neil’s domain. She had a feeling it would be.

She stood at the base of the stairs and listened to Neil spit out his toothpaste, turn on the water to rinse it down, then sing Alice in Chains’ song, “Nutshell” as he made his way from the bathroom to his bedroom. He had a rather pleasant singing voice, and Leigh caught herself singing along, quietly. She liked that song. It was one of her favorites.

She waited another minute or two to be sure Neil had made it into his queen size bed and snuggled inside his blue and grey blankets, before she quietly made her way up the stairs, quickly and discreetly ducking inside what she had dubbed his office at the top of the stairs. Back to the wall, eyes focused on the hall that led to his bedroom, she listened.

“Who the fuck are you,” a voice said slowly from behind her. “Don’t fucking move.”

She nearly pissed her pants. She closed her eyes and sighed, realizing Neil must have gone into his office instead of his bedroom where she had expected him to go after leaving the bathroom.

“Well, shit. Now we’re in a predicament, Neil,” she said calmly, as if they were old friends.

“How the hell… who the hell… Why are you in my house?”

Leigh turned slowly, expecting to see a gun pointed at her face but was relieved to see Neil standing a foot from her holding a letter opener in front of himself for protection. She laughed.

“Don’t use that thing on me, Neil. I’m harmless. I’m not armed, don’t worry,” she reassured him. Leigh took two slow steps over to an older looking floral patterned upholstered chair, which was more colorful than anything else she had seen inside his boring apartment, then sat.

This seemed to further confuse the already highly confused Neil, but he didn’t stand down. He kept that dull letter opener outstretched in front of himself, ready to take her on should she pounce.

“Look, I’m gonna level with you here, Neil. I’m real tired of watching you every damn night doing the same ol’ shit over and over again.”

Neil was visibly shaken upon hearing this startling revelation. 

“Wait, watching me? Why the hell have you been watching me?”

“I’m just gonna stop you right there, Neil. Here’s the thing. I have an employer, who shall remain nameless, mostly for the fact that I don’t know what the hell his name is anyway. I get a big envelope shoved under my door every so often filled with cash and instructions, and I really don’t ask questions because whoever he is, he ain’t paying me chump change.”

Leigh picked her legs off the floor and sat cross-legged in the floral chair, with her hands holding her ankles. Her curly blonde hair fell in ringlets down onto her shoulders. She was pretty, Neil thought, in that possibly-psycho-stalker way.

“But… Why?” was all he could manage to ask in this moment, caught off guard by his most recent realization.

“All I know is, he wants to know where you go on Tuesday nights at eleven,” Leigh said. 

Neil’s posture changed. He lowered the letter opener to his side. 

“That’s all you know?” he asked.

“Yep. That’s it. So tell me, Neil Glassman of 532 Hobbles Avenue, who works at Toochie’s Grille Monday through Friday, binds boring ass books on the weekends with his pops and grandpops, and hasn’t done anything that isn’t completely and totally predictable in at least eight months, one week, and four days; tell me why I’ve been watching your every move for eight months, one week, and four long ass days and still can’t fucking figure out where it is you supposedly go on Tuesday nights at eleven god damn pm?”

Neil laughed. She was quite theatrical, he thought. It was a bit endearing, although completely fucking insane.

Leigh, not finding the situation the least bit comical, crossed her arms in front of her chest, blinked profusely to show her annoyance and said, “Now why the hell am I funny to you, Neil Glassman?”

“No, no,” he laughed, clearing his throat then taking a seat at another chair which sat opposite this strange girl he had just found in his home. “No, you’re not funny, it’s just… well, the situation is kind of funny.”

“Care to explain to me which part of this,” she motioned wildly with her arms, “situation is funny? I must be blind, because I’m not seeing it.”

“Calm down,” he laughed again, “first off, I found a stranger in my own home and I’m now telling her to calm down. That’s pretty funny. Both ironic and slightly funny. Second, someone actually hired you to watch me. That, my new friend, is hilarious.”

“Still not seeing it. Either you pay me what this client’s been paying me, or shit’s about to get real ugly,” she threatened.

“Oh is it? Why am I not scared? If you wanted to do something, you would have done it,” he said confidently.

“You have no idea what I’m capable of,” Leigh said.

They stared into each others eyes until it became uncomfortable.

“I don’t really go anywhere,” he finally said.

“Yeah I know. I’ve been watching you, remember dumbass? Normal guys your age go out drinking, but not you. You stay home and play dungeons and dragons, or whatever the hell it is you do home alone. I probably don’t even want to know, do I,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“No I mean on Tuesdays. Eleven pm. I don’t go anywhere. I never leave my house, is what I mean, but you’ve figured that out already, I’m sure.”

“Duh. So why does this guy want to know then? What’s his deal? I mean, he’s sure paying a whole hell of a lot of dough for me to find out,” she said.

“She. It’s likely a woman that’s paying you, if it is who I think it is.”

“I’m listening,” Leigh said as she sat up in her chair.

Another staring contest ensued, but Neil put a quick end to it. “This is going to sound a bit… out there… at first. Just stick with me, okay?”

“Sure thang, Captain. I’m not going anywhere until I have answers,” she replied. “I’d like to move on with my life.”

Neil dusted off the front of his fleece pajama pants for no other reason than to delay a bit while he gathered his thoughts. He then sat back in his chair, crossed one leg over the other, and again stared at this strange woman, wondering why he felt the need to tell her the truth, when the truth was something he had kept to himself for so damn long.

She was awfully pretty, he thought, but he’d had a lot of pretty girls cross his path over the years and he’d never even once told anyone. She was spunky, too, which he really found attractive. She obviously didn’t take much shit from anyone, and could hold her own if the situation called for it. She was tough, and Neil liked that. There was the whole she broke into his house and has been stalking him for the better part of a year thing, and that was a big negative, but yet here he was, the words about to spill from his tongue like water from an overfilled pitcher.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“I don’t think so, cowboy. That ain’t part of the deal,” she replied, shaking her finger at him.

“It is now. You know my name, my address, my work schedule, and more… the least you can trade me is your name. I won’t ask anything else after that, promise,” he said.

He had a cute little half smirk that raised one side of his mouth, Leigh noticed. His dark hair was shaggy and tousled, and looked soft enough to run her fingers through, not to mention his big, brown, suck-you-into-the-depths-of-his-soul eyes. How had she never noticed how attractive this man was? Probably because she had always seen him through the lens of her binoculars, she realized. She bit her lip as if physically trying to keep herself from giving in, but ultimately decided a name would be okay.

“Leigh. Well, LeighAnne, but most everyone calls me Leigh.”

“Alright then, Leigh. That wasn’t too painful, was it?” he joked in an attempt to get her to lighten up.

She let the tiniest of smiles slip, but caught it immediately and adjusted herself in her seat to regain her composure.

“Go on then, tell me. I’m waiting,” she snapped.

Neil glanced at the clock, and Leigh followed his glace. 10:46 pm. 

“Well, it’s not quite eleven yet, so we have time,” he smirked.

Leigh raised an eyebrow, both annoyed and curious.

“When I was a little boy, I’d see shadows in my bedroom,” he began.

“What do you mean, like ghosts and shit?” she interrupted.

“Leigh, if you want to hear it, then hold your questions. Let me talk.”

She held her hand to her lips and pretended to zip, lock, then throw away the key. She sat back in her chair exaggeratedly, and crossed her arms in front of her once again.

“So these shadows; it all started when I started seeing this tall shadow that looked like a large man wearing a tall hat, you know, like the tall hats Abraham Lincoln used to wear. Then I started seeing shadows in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’d look like just blobs; without any form, and they’d sort of slide along the walls and floors,” as he spoke he retraced their motion with his hands.

“Sometimes I’d think they were animals, like a dog, only to realize ours were locked in their crates at night so it couldn’t possibly be them. When I was real young I’d pull the covers over my head and convince myself if I couldn’t see them, then they couldn’t possibly see me, so I was safe. That worked for a few months, maybe even a solid year, until once while I had the covers pulled over my head… something grabbed my ankle.”

“No shit… you’re yanking my chain, right? This is bullshit. You’re not giving me the truth, Neil,” Leigh combatted.

“I swear to you, LeighAnne, every word I’ve spoken and every word I’m about to speak to you is the absolute, unequivocal truth. So, I beg you… just listen.”

She threw both hands up as if to say she was sorry, then settled back into her chair. Neil decided it might be fun, after all, to let someone in on his secret. 

“I had a really hard sleeping after that, as you can imagine. After my mom would shut all my lights off at night, I’d get up and turn them all back on. It didn’t matter though. These shadows didn’t need dark rooms to exist. They could come around whether the lights were on or off, there was no way to keep them away. For a few years early on they seemed to just watch me. They’d watch me all night long, from sunset to sunrise. They never made any noise, they’d just stand and stare. Sometimes there would be just one; the guy in the tall hat. Sometimes my whole room would be filled with up to thirty or more of them. The room would be so crowded I could barely breathe. I pissed the bed for years, and my parents always thought it was either me drinking too much before bedtime, or me just being too lazy to get out of bed to use the restroom in the middle of the night, but neither were true. I was absolutely petrified of stepping out of my bed and running into one of these… shadow things. I mean, to see them is one thing, but I felt like if I touched one and it had physical mass… it would have brought my fear to a whole new level that I just didn’t think I was strong enough to handle mentally.”

Leigh was on the edge of her seat and hadn’t blinked in what seemed like several minutes. Neil checked the clock again. 10:52.

“One night when I was about fifteen,” he spoke a bit more quickly, “the shadow with the tall hat came into my room and stood at the foot of my bed, which by itself wasn’t out of the normal, but what was abnormal was that he spoke to me,” Neil said, and a chill went up Leigh’s spine, standing the hairs on the back of her neck on end.

“What did he say?” Leigh caught herself saying before bringing her hand to her mouth again, and repeating the zip, lock, and throw the key away motion.

Neil smirked. “That’s the thing… it wasn’t words, really… it was more like a high-pitched noise. Like a buzz, but with a chime to it. I can’t really put it into the proper words, but I’ll tell you it hurt my brain. It made me feel as if there were a million insects inside my brain biting away at the tissue. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before,” Neil stopped briefly to catch his thoughts.

He glanced at the clock again. 10:58.

“We’ve run out of time, but you’ll be able to figure out the rest. Just please, don’t be scared, okay?”

“Wait, what? Are you kidding me? You can’t just leave me high and dry like that,” she said.

10:59.

He got up from his chair and got on his knees in front of her, taking her hands into his, and staring imploringly into her stunning green eyes.

“You’ll be safe. Okay? Trust me. I’d never let them hurt you. You’re far too pretty.”

And with that, Leigh was either pacified or rendered completely speechless, one of the two. She didn’t care which. 

Suddenly, movement behind Neil caught Leigh’s attention. 

“He’s here,” Neil said calmly.

“Who’s here?” Leigh asked, confused.

“The shadow with the tall hat. Don’t be scared. Just don’t let go of me,” he said to her.

Leigh began to notice a low hum in the room, but couldn’t tell from where it originated. It seemed to come from the walls, floor, and ceiling all at once. Neil spun around with his back to Leigh, but continued to hold her hands tightly, giving them a light squeeze to let her know everything would be okay.

The hum grew much louder, and began to weave other, more highly pitched frequencies into its rhythm. She could feel the vibration of it through the soles of her feet at first, and as its volume increased, she could feel it inside her chest and inside her head, god did it hurt, until it became so loud and the pain so overwhelming that she closed her eyes tight to try to block it out.

A few moments later the humming subsided, but Leigh’s ears continued to ring. She opened her eyes and immediately realized they were no longer inside Neil’s office, but instead in a vast, open forest with thin trees that were unlike any she’d ever seen, and a brook with turquoise waters which ran alongside them. 

“What the f-” Leigh started to ask, but Neil quickly covered her mouth with his hand and told her with his eyes she needed to stay quiet.

This is where I go.

Leigh clearly heard Neil’s voice inside her head, yet was staring directly at him and his lips hadn’t opened.

This is where I go on Tuesdays at eleven pm. I’m going to take my hand off your mouth now, but you have to stay quiet, okay?

Neil’s big brown eyes were staring deeply into Leigh’s as if this were a legit, out loud conversation they were having, but Leigh knew that to be inaccurate because Neil’s mouth was still very much closed.

Yes, my mouth is closed, but you can still hear me, right? In this place, you only have to think a thought in order for it to be heard. Try it. What’s my address, LeighAnne?

Leigh instantly thought, 532 Hobbles Avenue, Hempstead, Virginia, and your eyes are fucking incredible.

Neil smiled and held back a laugh, then lowered his hand from her face.

Don’t be scared of this place, LeighAnne. You’ll see scary things, but try not to be scared.

Neil, how the hell did we get here? Where are we? How do we get back?

Don’t worry. I make it into work every Wednesday morning at my boring job in my boring life, don’t I? We’ll make it back. Try to just… observe.

Leigh held his hand with a grip so tight you’d think if she let go she’d plummet ten stories to her death. Neil walked along the brook’s edge, seeming to know exactly where it was he was headed.

They reached a waterfall which, Leigh estimated, was about thirty feet across but only chest height. Neil began to take his socks off and motioned for Leigh to remove her socks and shoes as well, to which she obliged. He stepped into the cold waters, which rushed around boulders and pebbles but was only mid-calf high at its deepest, and motioned for her to follow. He led her to a giant boulder in the center of the stream near the base of the waterfall which had a wide, flat top, large enough for a handful of people to sit on comfortably, which is precisely what they did.

Leigh started to say something out loud, but quickly caught herself and instead nudged him to get his attention.

What are we doing here, Neil?

You’ll see. Be patient, and remember, try not to be scared. We’re safe here on this rock. Think of the water around us as an electric fence of sorts, keeping the bad things out. 

Wait, bad things? What bad things?

Neil held his finger to her lips, and she obliged.

Then she noticed his eyes lock onto something behind her. She spun around, and alongside the edges of the brook were dozens of shadow beings. They weren’t the fuzzy edged shadow you’d see of your own silhouette painting the ground beneath you on a fall day; these beings were a shade of black much darker than the deepest black she’d ever seen, almost as if they were more void than shadow. They were quite obviously every bit as solid as the rock they now sat on. She scrambled backward until she was nearly seated in Neil’s lap, and he wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug to show that he would protect her.

The shadow beings grew in number, and soon there were easily hundreds of them lining the shoreline. Leigh turned to look at Neil and discovered there were just as many, if not more, on the opposite side of the waterfall as well. 

What do they want, Neil? Why do you come to this place?

The short answer is: they want me. Well, now they want both of us, I think.  As far as what they are, well I haven’t really figured that out yet. All I know is that this is an in-between world. It’s not theirs, and it’s not ours. It’s like if earth is one dimension, and where they come from is another dimension, this would be the one between where we can both exist. It takes a lot of energy for them to exist in our dimension, which is why so few people see them. This is the place the shadow in the hat brought me to when I was fifteen. It took me several days to find my way back home, but I made it back safely. What’s odd is time hadn’t continued as it does on earth. Everything was exactly how I had left it that night he took me. I woke up the next morning, mom made pancakes like she does every Wednesday morning, and then she drove me to school. It was like nothing had ever happened.

You poor damn thing… Leigh said.

Since then, for some reason on Tuesday nights at exactly eleven pm the shadow with the hat comes and takes me back to this place. I think it has something to do with the way time works in his dimension, but that’s only a guess. As far as we know, he’s leaving this dimension every single night to come for me.

Why does he want you so badly? What do you have that he wants?

I’ve read a lot of books on this type of stuff over the years. I mean, the truth is no one really knows the answers, otherwise the world would be a different place where ghosts were as everyday normal as we are, I think. The only thing I’ve come up with so far in my research is that humans, living, breathing humans, carry more energy inside our bodies than all of these shadow creatures combined – and they want that. They want our energy. They seem to feed on it like we feed on spaghetti and meatballs, except the more they consume, the more powerful they become. I only know this to be true because over the years during my time here in this in-between place, I’ve sat on this rock and watched them grow so restless and furious in their pursuit to get me that they turn on one one another. The larger ones can consume the smaller ones, like some sort of weird ass cannibalism.

Then he said aloud, “We can talk now, we’re safe in the water.”

I want to go home. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m sorry I broke into your home. Twice. I’m sorry I watched you. I’m so, so sorry, and I just want to go home and forget this ever happened, Neil. Please take me home.

Leigh closed her eyes tightly and pressed her head to Neil’s chest. “Please take me home, Neil,” she said aloud.

“I will, I promise. I can’t control when it happens, but it will. Until then, just trust that you’re safe. That time when I was stuck here, I discovered pretty quickly that the shadow things can’t go into the water. They have a definite aversion to it. Something about it. I don’t really know what it is, but I know that here on this rock we are safe. I’m brought back to this place night after night, and as long as I can make it to the rock before they know I’m here, I’m safe… until she shows up.”

“Who? Who’s she? Another person comes to this place? Another human?” Leigh asked.

“Yeah, and if I’m right, it’s your boss. Ha. The one who’s been paying you to spy on me.”

Suddenly the dark creatures calmed. Underneath the sound of the waterfall beside her, Leigh could feel the vibration of the same hum from back inside Neil’s office. Her grip on Neil tightened.

“He’s here. The shadow with the tall hat. I think he’s the… like, most progressed of all of them. Not exactly their ring leader, but the most powerful, by far. They all act different when he comes around.”

Leigh watched as the tall shadow man emerged from behind a tree, gliding effortlessly over to the brook’s edge just feet from where Leigh and Neil sat. Leigh trembled. Neil hugged her tighter.

“He can’t get you.”

“He gives me the creeps. He makes my skin crawl. I don’t like him,” she said.

“I don’t either. He used to give me terrible nightmares. Things like murdering my family with horrific detail. He is pure evil. I don’t know where he comes from, but I sure as hell hope I never go there.”

“Maybe he was so evil they cast him out, and that’s why he’s stuck here,” Leigh proposed. Neil had never considered that theory. “Were you ever able to understand them? Like what they were saying?”

Neil sighed, “Yeah, kinda, but I don’t like it.”

“What do they say?”

“It’s more what I feel. I can’t really understand words when they speak, but I can feel them. I can feel what they’re thinking. It’s mostly about all the fun-filled ways they want to rip me limb from limb and devour my soul. Once though, I thought one of them was talking, or thinking, about a girl. A human girl. A few months later, they brought her to this place.”

“Is this the woman who pays me to stalk you?”

“I believe so. I don’t know who else it could be, really. We were young when it happened. She was maybe seventeen if I had to guess. I yelled for her from the rock, trying desperately to get her to come to me where she’d be safe. She tried, but didn’t make it. They got to her just as she got to the brook’s edge,” Neil was looking at the water’s edge as if he was witnessing the sad scene once again.

“I watched as they knocked her to the ground and swarmed her body like a swarm of angry hornets. A few minutes later, she stood back up, glared at me, then the tall shadow being disappeared with her. I had assumed they’d kill her, but they didn’t seem to. She showed up here in this world twice more after that over the years, but when she’d show, it was never a fully solid person. It was almost like she was dreaming that she was here, so she was only a holograph from my perspective. She couldn’t cross the water, which I found odd, so she’d stand among the creatures and just glare at me until I left.”

“What do you think she wants?”

“I think they ate her soul. I think she’s empty. I think she’s one of them now, and they’re using her to try to get to me. She must want to know how I’m getting back and forth from this place, which makes me curious if there’s still a bit of her left in there, because if she wanted to kill me, it’d be easy in our dimension. All she’d have to do is show up to the diner with a gun, and bam, I’m dead. She’s now paying someone, you, to find out more information.. which pretty damn well confirms my theory. Maybe she wants to get back to this place because she thinks I can help her restore her soul somehow?”

“Wow. That’s legit crazy,” Leigh said.

Neil laughed a bit and said, “Yeah. It is legit crazy, but wouldn’t you do the same?”

“I suppose I probably would,” she replied.

A high pitched ding, almost like that of a wind chime but much, much louder, began to resonate throughout the trees and through the brook. The beings flew into a furied frenzy just before a flash of bright light exploded from the center of the waterfall.

Leigh opened her eyes and realized they were back in Neil’s office, finally. She jumped up and immediately began pacing the room. 

“Aren’t you glad you stalked me now?” Neil joked.

“You aren’t funny,” Leigh replied. “We have to help her. The woman. What can we do?”

“What can we do, LeighAnne. I don’t think there’s really much of anything we can do to help her. I don’t know much about how any of this works, other than what I’ve told you. I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to help her, and besides, what if we find her and she tries to kill me? Do you want to take that chance, because I’m not quite sure I am.”

“Well like you said, she hasn’t killed you yet, so maybe she wouldn’t,” Leigh said.

“I’m not sure I want to test that theory,” Neil said.

“But what if we can help her, Neil? What if we can but don’t?”

“I really like how you went from committing larceny to suddenly wanting to be a saint, LeighAnne. You wear both the angel and the devil hats quite well,” Neil joked.

“Screw you. I’m not a bad person, I just don’t like desk jobs, alright?”

Repeating her gesture from earlier, Neil threw both of his hands up to signal he was backing off of the subject.

“Did your so-called boss leave you any way to get in touch with her?” Neil asked.

“Nope. Already thought of that. She just slides shit under my door when she needs me.”

“Well then, I think you should probably just go home.”

Leigh spun around to face him, confused and slightly hurt by his suggestion.

“No, no, it’s not like that. I meant go home and see if she slides something else under your door. Or better yet, what if you wrote a message to her and left it under your door where she would see it when she comes?”

“I like where you’re going with this, good lookin’… What would I say, in the note I mean?”

*

To The Lady Who’s Lost Her Soul,

I found out where he goes at eleven pm on Tuesday nights. 

He knows about you. He showed me where they took you, and what they did to you.

Meet me at Neil’s house next Tuesday at 10 pm, sharp. Don’t be late.

Sincerely,

LeighAnne McAddams

Ps… if you so much as harm a single hair on his head, what I’ll do to you will make you beg for the hellish fate those soulless creatures have in store for you.

*

{To Be Continued…}

Click here to read Elsewhere, Part II: “Cerulean Creek”

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