The Shadow Man

 His life, or what passed for one, encompassed three tree-covered acres of overgrown gravestones and monuments. He was the Watchman of the Night, the Guardian of the Dead. He hadn’t chosen the job, but it was his. They were good neighbors, the resting souls. Quiet and didn’t ask questions.

      How did he get there? He hadn’t been sure. According to any law written by God or man, he should be in Hell. But he wasn’t. He was at Redemption Park Cemetery. A restless spirit amongst those resting in peace. It hadn’t always been that way. Once there’d been Becky.

      Was it a cruel trick of fate or divine intervention? He’d been interred in the same consecrated soil as she. The killer, and his victim, trapped together forever. It was a sacrilege the holy ground couldn’t abide, and it squeezed his soul from the grave like pus from a boil. Dooming him to wander the stone-walled enclosure, unwelcome but unable to leave.

      Redemption Park became a refuge for the birds and wild creatures displaced by the city that surrounded it. Its inhabitants were long forgotten. Its graves became overgrown. But not hers. Becky’s grave was tended. It was the girl who did it—the girl who wore black eyeshadow and fingernail polish. She would sit next to the ornate stone and write or sketch on her pad and smoke clove cigarettes. She spoke to Becky like she was alive. Leaving a perfect red rose when she parted.

     He was nothing but a shadow—a thin gray outline of what was once been a human being. While Becky, well, Becky was as she’d been in life. Brown-haired, chubby-cheeked, and fair. A perfect little seven-year-old girl. He’d watch her play with the animals that emerged at sunset. Deer, rabbits, and even the fox were her playmates. The cemetery, their sanctuary. The dead, their protectors. Unafraid and comfortable with her inhuman touch.

     He was jealous. Envious of her laughter. Desirous of how real she was. But tormented too. She was the reminder of what he’d done, and he was the reason she was there. It had taken years before he could watch her. More years before, he asked why. Why was she there? He was a murderer. He deserved to be forgotten and forsaken. But she, she was an innocent child. Certainly, she could move on.

     It was The Girl In Black who settled the question. Not that she tried to or even knew that a question was asked. It was her actions, her desperation that provided the answer, and Becky’s cries for help that held the key. He’d only heard them once, the night he’d murdered her. The night she’d breathed her last breath.

     He raced to the sound and found The Girl lying on Becky’s grave. The Girl who spoke to her. The Girl who kept Becky real. He was just a shadow—a shadow of a man. But there was enough, just barely enough of a man to recognize the writing on The Girl’s notebook and the label on the pills.

     He rushed to The Girl In Black’s side and felt the closeness of death. Becky screamed, recoiling in terror at his appearance. His world went silent, and time stood still. He couldn’t bear it. The Girl In Black was Becky’s only hope. Once she was gone, Becky would fade. If he didn’t do something, it would be as if he’d condemned her to the grave for a second time.

     “No!” He screamed to the silent stones and mute trees.

     “No!” To the stars and the moon and the sky.

     “No!” To the only being who was listening. It wasn’t a prayer, just a word. But somewhere in the vastness of space and the infinity of time, someone had been expecting it.

     He was a shadow. Then he was a man. He picked the silent girl from atop Becky’s grave. Outside the cemetery’s walls, a city lived. Outside, there was help. Outside, there was hope. The ornate gate that had barred his escape opened before him, and the world of the living surrounded him. It hadn’t been chance. He knew that now. It couldn’t have been. Help was too close. A hospital just across the street. He placed her by the Emergency Room door.

     He was just a shadow, the shadow of a man perched on a vine-covered stone on a neglected grave. A forgotten grave in a little visited section of Redemption Park Cemetery. Her appearance took him by surprise. She’d never come this way. Becky had always stayed away. Now she was there.

     “I can never forget what you did,” she said, in a voice much older than her years. “But that girl in black was my family. My great niece.” Becky looked at the man who’d killed her. She looked at the man who’d saved her. The man of shadow. “I can never forget.” She said quietly. “But I will forgive you.”

     Becky transfigured into a bright light with her last words. . . “The gates are open.”

     I am the Watchman of the Night, the Guardian of the Dead. I am the Shadow Man. I have been redeemed. I have been freed from my Hell. I have been forgiven of my sin.

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