SHADOW

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CHAPTER 22

THOMAS GEOFFREY WAS preparing a special meal in the kitchen.

It was 7.30 in the evening, and he was home alone. Most likely, his wife was already on her way back from work. He’d had to hurry up and set the table before she got back; what a pleasant surprise it would be for her. He was preparing a superb cuisine; broiled chicken, lobster soup and rice, drawing from his experience as a skilled chef before he got entangled in boardroom business.

Geoffrey had already bought the candles and bouquet earlier on from an exquisite gift shop in town. He also bought scented petals and a bottle of the finest red wine. Then there was the expensive 18-carat gold ring that he was certain was going to knock Tonia off her feet.

It was their fifth wedding anniversary and everything just had to be right. Tonia was a sweet person, but she was also very fussy, and the slightest blight could spoil the evening. Fortunately, one thing Thomas always prided himself in was the fact that he was an excellent cook, vast in culinary art because his father had been a renowned chef, even ran a decent restaurant business when Geoffrey was only a little boy. He might have done well in the hospitality business himself, except that the love for the unstable world of foreign exchange and the capital market stole his heart.

Thomas Geoffrey finished cooking and quickly set the dining table, whistling a sonorous oldie as he went about the task. Then he hurried upstairs, had a quick shower and put on fresh cologne, after which he pulled on a plain black shirt atop a pair of brown pants and red shoes. He’d always loved colored shoes.

Everything he had on that evening was brand new, to celebrate the occasion. There was a choice velvet dinner gown waiting on the bed for Tonia, when she got back. It was going to be their best night ever, thought Geoffrey to himself, as he came down the staircase with a boyish grin on his chubby face.

Geoffrey was in high spirits, combing his hair in front of the mirror when he saw, or thought he saw, a man standing behind him right there in his bedroom. He started and spun round at once, almost passing out with fright.

There was no one there.

Thomas hesitated, staring curiously with an uncertain frown. For a moment there, he was convinced he saw someone, a vivid reflection in the mirror. Oh, well, he shook off the thought after a while. Perhaps he was mistaken. He turned around and finished combing his hair.

At fifty-two, he still looked thirty-five and Tonia had often accused him of womanizing, not caring enough and forgetting important anniversaries. Well, he didn’t forget this one, did he? Now he was going to knock her off her damn feet. Geoffrey grinned slyly to himself as he thought and envisioned how the evening was going to turn out. Who knew, perhaps it would all culminate in a wild, ravishing lovemaking session to seal things up. Wow, he couldn’t wait.

Geoffrey got downstairs and sat at the dining table, checked his wrist-watch. It was now nearly 8:30. He poured himself a glassful of red wine and emptied it quickly, to get himself in high spirit before his wife arrived.

Any minute now, he thought anxiously, glancing at his watch again.

The knock on the front door was subtle, yet it startled Geoffrey. He jumped to his feet with bated excitement, fidgety.

“Hold on, Sweetheart,” he called loudly, his eyes darting back and forth across the items on the table to be sure he wasn’t forgetting anything. “I’m coming.”

Then he brought out the scented petals from their pack, spread them across the floor, from the dining room to the living room, all the way to the front door. He seemed like a nervous teenager having his girlfriend come visit for the first time. After he’d finished laying the petals, he grabbed the remote control of the sound system and turned on the soft music he’d cued in previously. Then he lit the exotic candles, set them on the dining table before dimming the main light in the living room considerably, to allow the effect of the candlelight to come through and give the interior the perfect, soothing ambience. Now everything was set.

The knock came again.

“I’m coming!” said Geoffrey loudly. Then he paused one more time, felt his pocket to be certain that the ring was there. Satisfied, the lover man straightened out his shirt as he went to get the door.

There was no one there.

Geoffrey was slightly puzzled. He stood outside his door and stared down the hallway curiously. He was sure that he’d heard someone knock a while ago. Now he seemed at a loss, taken aback and wondering if his over anxious mood had created the illusion of sound in his head. No, he shook the thought off; there had actually been a knock on the door; no doubt about that.

He hesitated a moment longer, frowning unpleasantly now. Perhaps it was the janitor, or one of the neighbors playing a prank, although he couldn’t imagine who it might be.

“Hello,” he called suspiciously, allowing his voice to settle. “Hello! Is anyone there? Tonia, is that you?”

Geoffrey waited to get a response. The place was eerily quiet, although he could hear faint voices coming from one of the apartments nearest to his. Then he went back inside and shut the door behind him quietly.

When he turned around, there was a person sitting at the dining table, on the very chair that he’d been in before he went to answer the door. Geoffrey froze on the spot, a chill gripping his heart with a suddenness that almost gave him a heart attack.

Who was this unknown person in his house and, more importantly; how did he get in?

Geoffrey paused to pull his wit together, gasped apprehensively, craning his head sideways to get a better view of the person. But the poor reflection projected by the flickering candlelight wasn’t helping, coupled with the fact that the figure appeared cloaked in black and was wearing a hooded garment. Geoffrey couldn’t make out the features of this person, and it further terrified him.

Then quite oddly, in a way that he couldn’t make sense of, Geoffrey sensed that the shadows within the house seemed to be expanding ominously, spreading out like dough to overwhelm the dim light of the chandelier and the flickering candle lights. As the darkness grew, taking on a grotesque, diabolic form before the horrified stock broker, the oxygen in the air suddenly began to thin out.

Thomas Geoffrey gasped again, shrinking back dreadfully. “Who…are you?” he asked, unable to hide the fear in his low voice. “What d’you want here?”

The person got up slowly; a tall, shadowy character, and began walking forward without uttering a single word. He had a small, sharp blade in his hand and was scratching the tip of it on the surface of the glass dining table as he walked forward.

Geoffrey took a terrified step back. “Please,” he whispered, almost near tears. He realized painfully that he was trapped in the house with this evil-looking figure, no way was he going to make it out in time before the knife dug into his back. In any case, his limbs appeared stiff, unable to move. “I have…money.”

Silence.

The figure only came forward, slowly yet steadily, with his dark gaze trained on his would-be victim. When he got closer, Geoffrey saw that what he had in his hand wasn’t a blade, in fact; it was his fingers! Geoffrey shrank back in panic, mortified as he saw that this person in his house, whose face was cloaked in darkness, had thick, blade-like claws on both hands.

“Who…?” he began to say, but the words caught in his throat like a thick, hard lump. He grasped his throat in a feat of agony, trying to breath, the color leaving his face sickeningly. Then he coughed explosively, spraying his new shirt and floor in front of him with thick blood.

Now he really freaked out, a litany of confusing thoughts flitting through his mind in seconds.

“Oh, God…!” he tried to speak, “What is this…?”

More blood from his mouth poured onto the floor like vomit.

Now utterly spooked beyond words, Geoffrey turned to run, tripped on the slippery tile occasioned by his own blood, and fell heavily on the floor but picked himself up again quickly. He found his way into the kitchen, dreadfully aware that the nightmarish presence in his home was closely behind him.

Frantically, with feverish, unsteady fingers, he washed out his mouth in the sink, which was an unlikely thing for anyone in his situation to want to worry about presently. But for some reasons, Geoffrey wasn’t thinking clearly just then. So dazed and terrified was his mind that it had buckled and become delirious.

The blood kept pouring, and not only from his mouth this time. Geoffrey was now bleeding through his nostrils, eyes and ears. It was bizarre as it was horrifying.

What in God’s name was going on?

Retribution, you filthy scumbag!

The words felt like the force of a powerful blunt hammer striking his skull with such brutal impact that nearly crippled him. He clutched his head and groaned in anguish.

Retribution? For what? What had he done?

Thomas Geoffrey again turned to run, to get out into the corridor and call for help. But the shadow had overwhelmed the entire apartment by now, cloaking it in an obscene blanket of evil. Too terrified to think clearly, Geoffrey stood on the spot, his face furrowed in an expression of dismay and desperate plea for mercy.

And as he stood there, the darkness began to slip into his body through his nostrils in a surreal manner, like serpents crawling up a tree. He couldn’t stop it, couldn’t shake himself free, was powerless to do anything at that point except to watch and let the horror run its course.

He felt his blood growing cold, felt as though there were a million ants crawling about in his gut. His eyes stared morbidly with the stark realization that death had come for him.

With the fear growing inside his head and the sheer fact that what was happening wasn’t a dream, the man began to scream in excruciating pain. He clutched his head in anguish, writhing about in delirious agony and punching at the nothingness around him in futility. His voice grew more high-pitched until he was sure that his skull was going to explode with the madness that had gripped him then.

It did. A dull, cracking sound that caused his eyes to instantly cloud over, and he fell face down on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. But just before he took his last breath, a series of horrendous images of blood, deaths and violent accidents and people burning up in flames reeled through his mind in lightning succession, filling his head with more pain and torture.

It felt real, so real, in fact, that he felt the extreme agony of the people he saw in the ghostly scenes playing out in his head like a horror movie. By the time his brain shut down finally, Thomas Geoffrey’s body was broken, twisted and crumpled in the middle of the kitchen, like the victims he saw screaming in an accident in his mind.

The darkness found its way out, oozing from the body in the same way it had gone in. When the shadow in the house lifted, the dark visitor was gone. The soft music was still wafting through from the speakers, serenading the atmosphere with the perfect love medley that Mrs. Tonia Geoffrey would find no doubt sensual as soon as she walked into the home.

Until she would come into the kitchen and find what remained of her beloved husband…

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