It was the start of another quiet morning. The sunlight poked around the edges of the window blinds that were always kept closed. Tobias had just poured himself a bowl of cereal and sat on the living room couch looking at the blank space on the floor where the television used to sit. He and his mother had spent the past week packing up everything from their small, two bedroom house into a rental moving van on the curb outside. They were heading west, that was all that Tobias’s mother had told him. It was because of her job, they needed her to help set up for some sort of housing development. The specifics were something he could not cajole out of her.
The move must have been stressful for his mother though, ever since she told Tobias of the move it seemed impossible for her to relax. She was always looking out the window or pacing about the room. Tobias could swear that he could make out the path in the carpet where his mom has worn the fibers down with the constant movement back and forth. But at last they were in the final stages of packing and should be on the road the next day.
It was always just the two of them, Tobias and his mother. He never really knew his dad, he left when Tobias was only a toddler. It wasn’t anything that Tobias lost sleep over. It was the past and his mother had always told him that there was no use dwelling in the past.
As he crunched away at his breakfast Tobias looked around the living room and adjoining kitchen, looking to see what else he could pack before his mother woke up that evening. His mother had worked nights for as far back as he could remember. There were days when she would be off and spend time with him but even on these occasions she would go out in the evening or go to bed early though she spent those evenings reading till dawn or working on some sort of crafts project. Her room was always lit by candlelight, she had lamps and even occasionally turned them on, but she said that she always enjoyed the flickering dance of a candle’s flame. As a result her late nights, working or otherwise, she slept in till the late afternoon and that suited Tobias fine. He liked the independence and would venture out of the house on weekends or after school to see his friends. He never really got into trouble, as long as he was home before his mother awoke, all was well. There was no real chance of Tobias seeing any of his friends today however, there was still plenty of packing to do and he didn’t want to leave it all for his mother.
Tobias took another bite of his cereal and found the taste, off. At first he thought the milk had gone bad but the expiration date was a good six days away. Besides, the cereal didn’t really taste spoiled just, not right. Pop Nuts had always been his favorite breakfast, but for some reason it was not doing the trick for him today. He was still hungry but decided to pour the remains of his breakfast down the garbage disposal in the sink and start with the days packing. The morning air was cool but crisp, Tobias maneuvered the couch he ate breakfast on from the living room out into the yard. He opened the back of the moving van, sliding out the metal ramp so he could push the couch up it.
A chill ran down the back of Tobias’s neck. It was a sickly feeling that came along so suddenly, he thought he might be ill. The crisp morning had suddenly turned gloomy and dank. The clouds seemed to darken and the sunlight seemed to dim. Tobias looked around. Maybe someone else can explain just what was going on, he thought. He peered out through the ever darkening street and out of the corner of his eye he saw the shadowy form of a man. At least that was what Tobias guessed it had to be. It was shrouded entirely in darkness, standing three houses down in the shadow of a tall leafy tree. A foul stench filled Tobias’s nostrils. He felt he was in danger, but yet his body refused to move an inch toward the house. He thought whatever this man was, had a malicious presence to him.
Tobias stared at the shadowy figure for a solid minute. The figure did not move, yet its very presence terrified him. He still did not retreat into the house but continued to peer into the growing darkness. He looked straight at that figure in the shadows and he knew it was starting right back at him.
The sky was darkening still as if a storm were suddenly rolling in. Tobias’s eyes managed to pull away from the shadow by the tree just long enough inspect the ever thickening clouds overhead. But they weren’t clouds, not really. everything darkened and dimed still, but the clouds remained high, white and fluffy. Quickly, Tobias turned his attention back to the tree three houses down but saw nothing standing next to it. Everything seemed to brighten back up and the day seemed wonderful once again. For a moment he debated waking his mother to tell her of the incident but decided against it. He wasn’t all that sure how he could explain it without sounding insane. Besides, he could just have been overreacting. It wouldn’t have been the first time he saw something that wasn’t there. It seemed that he was always seeing something out of the corner of his eye.
“Too much of an imagination is what you have Toby.” His mother would say to him.
It was settled and Tobias continued loading the couch into the moving van. The couch was cumbersome but he had no real trouble lifting it, he had always been strong for his age though it never really showed on his physique. After the couch was nestled away in the confines of its temporary home, Tobias loaded several boxes containing books, clothes and old toys that he had long since outgrew but his mother refused to throw or give away.
The morning became afternoon in no time at all and the house was all but packed into the van. Only the food in the fridge and the baubles in his mother’s room were the only things left in the house. Lunchtime had come and Tobias was more than ready for it. He entered the house and washed the sweat off his face in the kitchen sink. His stomach panged with hunger, it was a deep sinking pain that only had one cure. Tobias cracked open the refrigerator and spotted only the milk, two left over pork chops and a can of diet cola that he dare not drink or face the wrath of his mother. There were also some condiments and salad dressings but it was the pork chops that drew the attention of his hungry eyes.
Tobias unwrapped the leftovers and retrieved one of the chops. He dug his teeth into the cold pork and pulled away a sizable bite. But, like the cereal this morning, the food just wasn’t right. Well it wasn’t really the taste it just wasn’t what Tobias wanted. It was like he had a craving without exactly knowing what it was. But he still needed to eat so he chewed his way through the unsatisfactory lunch complete with a few quick gulps from the milk jug that he more needed rather than wanted. He wiped the film from the milk off his mouth and leaned against the kitchen counter. He worked his tongue in his mouth in an attempt to dislodge a lingering piece of pork chop that had wedged itself in his teeth. Tobias had packed all he could and would have to wake his mother to grab the remainder.
The sky was darkening outside once again. “There must be a storm coming in or something.” Tobias said to himself as if saying it aloud would make it true. He thought instantly of the shadow standing beside the tree. Was it back? Was it still watching him? Tobias tried to force out a giggle, as if to remind himself that it was a figment of his imagination, though he now knew it wasn’t true. Slowly, Tobias stepped toward the front door. His hand hovered over the knob as if his brain was trying to stop the hand from opening the door. He swallowed hard in an attempt to push down the fear. Tobias lowered his hand, opting instead to look out threw the closed blinds in the living room window. He lifted one of the blinds, took a deep breath and looked out into the street.
The shadow was now standing beside the moving van, looking at the house. No not the house, at the living room window, at Tobias. Fear was quickly losing ground to panic. Tobias pulled away from the window and walked backward toward the hallway, toward his mother’s room. His steps were slow and light trying desperately not to make a sound. His eyes never left to window until his back rubbed up against the closed door to the master bedroom. Tobias raised his hand and lightly knocked on his mother’s door.
“Mom?” Tobias spoke softly at first then coughed to add some bass to his voice. “Mom are you awake?”
He heard a stirring noise from behind the door. “What is it Toby?” his mother’s voice was raspy from sleep.
“Mom, I need you to see something.” Tobias tried not to sound scared but was unsuccessful.
After a few seconds the door opened and Tobias’s mother emerged, wearing a pair of lime green pajama pants and a white tank top. Her hair was dark red in color and at the moment quite unkempt. “Is it dark already?” She asked while yawning.
“No, it’s not. There is something out there.” Tobias was sounding more and more scared.
“What, is it raining?”
“It was light out then it just turned dark.” Tobias gestured to the window. “There is someone out there watching me.”
This this point Tobias expected to be reassured that it was nothing, that it was just some storm clouds and nothing more. That is not what happened.
“What did it look like Toby?” His mother looked concerned as she had during the packing.
“I only saw a shadow.”
“Did it talk to you?” His mother held Tobias by the shoulders.
“No. What is it mom?” Tobias saw that his mother was mustering up all of her courage.
“Where is it now?”
“Out by the moving van.”
His mother let go him and walked to the door. She paused for the briefest of moments then opened the door just a crack. “Who’s there?” She asked with a shaky voice.
Tobias heard the response. “The evening approaches Vivian. I have come to guide you.” The voice was hollow and murky. Like nothing he had ever heard from another person before.
“Jerome.” The name hung in the air as soon as his mother spoke it. “Please come it.”
“First the lights, if you do not mind.” The voice of Jerome seemed non threatening yet insistent. “Have you any candles about?”
“Of course, I’ve near forgotten.” Tobias’s mother turned to him. “Toby, get a couple of candles and a lighter please.”
“What’s going on mom?” Tobias asked. This was all so confusing. Was this the man in the shadows? And why does he heed candles?
“Please, and hurry.”
He did what he was told and fetched two candles from his mother’s room. As he returned he saw his mother Vivian turning off all the light switches in the kitchen and living room. She took the candles from Tobias and lit them, handing one back to him. “I need you to do as I say and hold the candle up to Jerome as soon as he enters.”
“But why?” Tobias had grown more and more confused by the second.
“There is a lot to explain, and I swear I’ll fill you in. But for now you just need to trust me.”
Tobias looked at his mother from the light of his candle and nodded. Vivian turned to the door and slowly opened it. The sky was almost as dark as night now. The man on the other side was indeed the shadow he saw earlier, but up even up close he could make out no features, no face. The dark figure seemed to almost hang in the air, the room became as cold as winter. Tobias felt all the warmth in his body drip away. He was giving into fear.
“Toby, hold up the candle.” Vivian had noticed that her son was growing scared.
Tobias held up the candle, almost defensively in front of him. As the small flame illuminated the space between him and the shadow everything, Tobias included, began to warm up once again. The shadowy figure, upon illumination, pulled back and revealed a pale looking thin man looking not any younger than sixty. His eyes were empty but his smile was kind. Vivian also held her candle in front of her but was far more welcoming of the guest.
“Jerome, it is so good to see you again.” She said as the pale man drifted inside the room.
“I wish it were under better circumstances.” The pale figure turned to look at Tobias. Its hollow eyes seemed to peer straight threw him. “And you must be Tobias.”
Tobias didn’t respond instead he just stared at the lifeless figure.
“What does he know?”
“Nothing yet.” Vivian answered.
“I thought so. He looks quite unaccustomed to seeing a being like me.”
“What do you mean… a being like you?” Tobias managed to push out of his mouth.
“I am a phantasm, a shadow bound spirit.”
Tobias had a difficult time processing all of this so fast. Who was this, spirit? How does his mother know him? Just what was going on right now?
The Phantasm noticed the troubled look on Tobias’s face and tried to set him at ease. “I suppose it is rude not to introduce one self.” The pale old man said. “My name is Jerome. I’m your great uncle.”