A man's guilt becomes an obsession.
| A Shadow of Guilt
Cheri’s shattered and broken body did not test the strength of the pallbearers. The minister prayed for her soul, her friends mourned her loss, and then the earth received her. On the surface everything was as it should be, but for her husband, Will, for him there was nothing but living with the guilt.
He chose to walk home from the cemetery, vowing never to ride inside a car again. It was a good vow, a vow he intended to keep. Besides, the distance between Cheri’s new bed, and her old, was only a few short miles, and the afternoon was mild. He lowered his head to hide his shame, and then started off.
He knew that by walking he would delay his arrival at home, a place that had grown strange to him; a place in which every noise seemed to echo as though through vast caverns.
Even though he was leaving his wife’s body behind and six-feet under, he was at the same time taking something else with him, something that felt as heavy as his pain and suffering, something unbearable. The something knew Will very well, intimately, in fact, and longed to be reunited. Over the past year it had lost its hold on him. Now it was back, stronger than ever, and determined to prevail. As the creature oozed from the ground beneath Will’s feet, it followed him; discreetly at first, dodging in-between gravestones and cypress trees, and then as Will headed out the front gates it pursued him in earnest.
He walked for several hours, and when he finally noticed that twilight had come and gone, he realized he was lost. Without even knowing it, he had walked miles past his house and out into the neighboring woods. He had only the vaguest recollection of the journey, but he assured himself that among the many things that no longer mattered, the concept of distance and time were nothing he cared about anymore.
Now he looked around, tried to gain his bearings.
Black pines spread bristled arms through the charred night, and the moon cast down a jaundiced glow that seemed more to obscure than to illuminate. The death of his wife left him with nothing, so even the dark was but an inconvenience.
He heard a sound then, just off the road and creeping in silence through the underbrush, unseen but undeniable, gliding as fluid and as cold as moonlight. He strained his eyes to see in the darkness. Whatever it was, he knew it was stalking him.
The knowledge made him jump inside his skin, and his heart knocked so hard he half expected to hear his bones rattle. Suddenly the surrounding night felt sinister, evil.
He labored to push the thought out of his mind but it was like a splinter under his thumbnail. Abruptly he turned around and walked back toward town, although faster now, as if he could out-run a wickedness he could feel but not see.
When he finally got home, the house was empty, silent; as tired as he was he still had no desire to be there.
He trudged upstairs to change from his black suit and badly scuffed shoes, then sat on the edge of the bed and opened the nightstand.
In the drawer, nestled between old socks and handkerchiefs, was his all-too-familiar pistol that he bought for home-defense. Why did he ever bring the damn thing home? It had brought nothing but misery. He stared at it for the longest time, trying to decide whether to go downstairs and make a sandwich or just simply kill himself.
The gun brought back old memories and he sensed a terrible splintering of his mind, even heard an internal cracking, like when warm water is poured over a glass of ice cubes.
Determined now, Will took the pistol from the drawer, hefted its weight in his hand, gripped it, and then jammed the barrel beneath his chin.
He thought about simply living to die. That wasn’t much of a life to live, but it was all he had. His thought was, if you can’t feel anything anymore . . . what’s the difference?
Looking up, he asked his wife for forgiveness, and then it dawned on him that there was still an outside chance he’d see her again. Plus, he was a coward. He didn’t have the guts to do it.
Chilled and trembling, he put the gun back into the bedside drawer.
He decided to skip the sandwich, and instead took a handful of extra-strength pain reliever. Then he stripped for a hot shower.
Even though he was full of self-reproach, the scorching water temporarily soothed some of his pain, and his mind began to focus again. He figured that this was probably as good as it was going to get.
As he came out of the bathroom, he wrapped himself in his terry cloth robe, and then stared at the nightstand drawer again.
His thoughts of suicide were interrupted by a banging at the front door, and then the shattering of broken glass as if something had jumped through the window.
He took two steps toward the stairs when something screeched. It was an ungodly sound, a sharp, penetrating eruption of rage and hatred, and then all the lights went out from one end of the house to the other and Will’s flesh trembled.
He quickly closed the bedroom door and locked it.
His first thought was that whatever had been following him, had finally arrived. He wondered then what had taken it so long.
Will wasn’t afraid to die, in fact he welcomed it. It was all he ever wanted. He had felt this way ever since his six-year-old son had discovered the handgun and had accidentally shot himself. Besides, it wasn't his wife who was supposed to die in the car crash, it was him. He had only been trying to kill himself. She just . . . got in the way.
Something pounded up the stairs, stopped short of the bedroom door, and then waited.
Will quietly went to the nightstand and retrieved his gun.
He heard scratching at the wood as it tested the strength of the door.
It would all be over soon.
He realized then that there were just some things you could never outrun, and guilt was one of them.
Taking a deep breath, he moved to the door and unlocked it. The knob turned, and the door slowly swung open.
The thing was on him instantly, a black shadow darker than night, heavier than humanly possible. It climbed up his back, clawed its way up his spine and tried to smother him with its sheer weight. He grappled with it until he felt his knees begin to buckle.
There was only one thing he could do.
He fired off a shot into his own head, and then crumpled to the floor. His guilty conscience fell on top of him, twitched for a moment, and then realizing it had been tricked, followed him to Hell.