22 Dec Mr. Shands – CreepyPasta
Tap, tap, tap. The white cane tapped against the railroad tracks, gathering spiders under the moonlight. They ran from beneath the crumbled bricks of the old smokestack, from inside the rusting hulk of an abandoned boxcar, and from the red-brick remnants of the factory itself, the spiders melding into the cane and becoming one with it.
The image of the tall, bent figure with the birch cane flashed into my mind as I sat behind the wheel of the idling squad car. I flipped on the flashing lights and punched the gas. Never before had I received any kind of psychic vision, and the force of it struck terror in my heart. I had to get home to my family. I had to get home to my son.
I’d been under incredible stress the last few days, having stumbled upon my former partner, a narcotics detective, taking a large stash of dope from the evidence room. Which certainly explained the Alpha Romeo he’d recently bought. He had no idea I was aware of what he’d done, had probably done many times before, but I was a straight cop. In fact, everything I did in my life was by the book, and not just legally. Because as a boy, I’d done something so awful I’d spent my whole life trying to wipe it from my brain.
Tap, tap, tap. The white cane tapped fences, mailboxes and curbstones, gathering more spiders from manicured lawns and short driveways.
Me and my wife had long known my son had an imaginary friend, but at first we didn’t worry much about it, supposing it was nothing unusual for a boy. We did grow more concerned when he reached the fifth grade and still carried on with this friend, and we became somewhat alarmed when we learned it was some kind of old man. But we hoped maybe he just wanted a grandfather. My wife had never known her father, and as for mine, he had died tragically with the rest of my family when I was young.
But then my son told us the imaginary friend’s name: Mr. Shands.
It was the name itself that loosened the mountain of buried memories in my head, and they’d been tumbling down in an avalanche ever since. For Mr. Shands had been the name of my own boyhood imaginary friend, and I’d never told anyone.
In the worst of the childhood memories that now came back, I was standing in the yard watching the flames lick from the windows of my old house, praying my parents and sister would make it out. Mr. Shands stooped over his cane behind me, his shadow from the streetlight stretching toward the burning house. Neighbors ran toward me from the yard next door. My mother, whose face I can barely remember now, screamed in agony. Dad cried out my sister’s name as he tried to reach her. The neighbors arrived, worried looks on their faces, prepared to shelter me protectively, but they froze when they saw what was on the ground beside me: a gasoline can.
Institutionalized for years, I eventually ended up in an orphanage, all memory of the fire and Shands buried in my mind. What remained was a driving subconscious need to live right, to balance the ledger for some great sin.
Tap, tap, tap. I saw the cane making its way up my own driveway! I burned rubber down the streets of my neighborhood, switching on the sirens, hoping irrationally that the noise would scare off Mr. Shands.
Pulling in front of the house and leaving the flashers on, I bolted through the living room toward the stairs. My wife Sandra, on the sofa watching TV, jumped to her feet.
“Jon, what is it?” she asked chasing behind me as I ran up the stairs.
I heard the shattering of glass while halfway down the hallway to my son’s door. Bursting through, I switched on the light.
My son sat terrified on his bed, huddled defensively against the wall, blood on the sheets.
Cold air blew in through the shattered window. Looking down, I saw a thousand wriggling, black spiders crawling over shards of glass, marching towards me, climbing the desk, reaching the comforter on the bed. I ran over to the bed, spiders squashing under my boots, scooped Todd into my arms, and ran from the room just as Sandra arrived with a gasp.
Drops of blood dripped to the floor from my son as we ran. Downstairs, we found his injury was very minor, a cut on one of his feet. Harry, our beagle, sniffed Todd anxiously. We let the dog climb onto the couch and lick his face, which helped calm him, and our son then tried to reassure the dog he was ok.
I called for back up…and an exterminator.
The backup showed first, of course, but they couldn’t determine whether the window had been broken from the inside or the outside. I had a dreamlike memory of the boy’s dark room when I first slammed open his door, a glimpsed white cane thrust through the broken window, tapping the sill and shooting a stream of something black onto the floor. Of course, that was impossible, so I didn’t mention it to anyone else.
By next morning, the window had been replaced, the spiders vacuumed out, those we could find anyway, and everything put back to normal.
But I needed answers and I barely knew where to begin. How could my son have the same imaginary friend that I ounce had? I wasn’t religious, but the man I sought out now had been a mentor all of my life: Rabbi Stone.
My dad had been an Episcopal priest whose best friend was a rabbi, ancient looking even then. My father first met Rabbi Stone when consulting him on the Old Testament, but before long the old man had become someone he sought out on personal matters as well. And the old rabbi never abandoned me, even after what I had done to my family. He visited me at whatever institution they locked me up in, and with his help, I eventually came to remember my family as the victims of some random tragedy. As I grew into a young man, whenever I experienced doubt or felt like I was drifting without purpose, he managed to help me find the strength to keep a steady path.
I arrived at his humble home late that morning and was met warmly by his wife Rachel, who ushered me into her husband’s office. Rabbi Stone had been over many times for dinner, so he knew my family well. Looking more and more like Yoda as the years went by, he sat behind a cluttered desk that dwarfed him.
After pleasantries, I didn’t waste time.
“Rabbi, I must ask you: do you believe in evil? I don’t mean bad people or bad luck. I’m talking about something outside of everyday reality.”
He pulled thoughtfully at his whiskers before finally answering. “When you spend your life reading the old texts, one thing that is striking is how much like us Yahweh seems. Jealous, angry, hurt, sometimes even annoyed. We tend to think it’s simply because those desert nomads had a very primitive understanding of God. And it’s true they did not think in terms of some grand engineer of the cosmos. But their God was more knowable. You might encounter him walking on the road, as Abraham did, or at an inn, like Moses. I’ve actually come to prefer their view. To see God as a being you can warmly embrace. But if we accept this view, we must also accept that there are other spiritual beings, some of whom are not so warm. Whereas Yahweh is strengthened by human love, these draw from jealousy, fear, and guilt.”
He rose with difficulty from behind his desk and came around, took me by the arm.
“Such spirits prey on the innocent, but it is not the innocent which fuel their power. You were guilty of no evil as a boy. It was your father who unwittingly invited evil into your home.”
This came as a shock to me. Memories of my father were vague, but I had the impression of a very moral man. I didn’t ask the rabbi for specifics, and he didn’t seem to want to get into it. What he emphasized was the boy’s innocence. The sin that opened the door to Shands was not his.
A short while later I was on my way to the station to report my old partner’s theft from the evidence room to Internal Affairs.
If you consider me a rat, I get it. But understand what I felt was at stake: my family.
Ross Clayton had been more than a partner. He was one of my best friends. Things had been more cool recently, but I still considered him a brother. The thought of destroying him crushed me, but my talk with the rabbi made me realize that it was MY guilt that invited evil into my home, MY sin that put my son in jeopardy. My father had once done something that first brought this Shands into our lives, and the being had lain dormant until my guilt brought it back.
The rest of the afternoon became a nightmare of giving statements to Internal Affairs. I would have surrendered my badge if they wanted it, and I thought I would at least face suspension while this was sorted out, but instead they made me swear to keep quiet while they did their investigation. They wanted me to go to work as normal so Ross, or anyone else involved, wouldn’t become suspicious. They told me not to even tell my wife.
That evening, at dinner, Sandra could tell I was under enormous stress. But what she couldn’t see was how a burden had also been taken off my shoulders. I would get ostracized at work once this all came out, but for now, the burden had been lifted. My conscience was clear, and hopefully we’d seen the last of Shands.
Todd picked silently at his meal. There were things I wanted to ask, but didn’t. I wanted to know everything he could tell me about Mr. Shands, but it seemed like drawing attention to it would only give the demon more power. So instead I focused on making my son know I didn’t hold him responsible, that he was innocent, all three of us were, and if we believed in that, nothing could harm us.
The look on my wife’s face told me she doubted these words. Did she somehow know that I had turned in my partner?
I went to work that night for my usual shift, 6 to midnight. The night felt strange to me now that I saw the world in such a different way, full of forces and beings beyond our understanding. Why had an entity latched onto my family? Surely we were not the only family tainted by sin and guilt.
I cruised in the squad car, absorbed in these thoughts, when tap, tap, tap, the image of the white cane again slammed into my mind. I almost drove into a parked car. This time the cane gathered flies. I saw them swarming off dead rats and piles of dog crap, buzzing out of dumpsters and barrels, melding with the cane just as the spiders had. The tall, bent figure tapped his way along the railroad tracks, and with each tap I imagined cracks splintering out across the land and poisoning the world. When the man turned away from the tracks and into the neighborhood, I punched on the flashers and hit the gas.
My mind raced as I sped to the other side of town. Why was Shands still stalking us? I had cleaned my conscience, the guilt fueling him had been cleansed.
I called Sandra. “Get upstairs and check on Todd! There’s something wrong.”
Another minute and I’d be there. In my mind came the image of Todd’s second floor window from the outside, as though I was viewing it from a ladder. In the reflection I saw not myself, but a hooded old man with cracked skin like withered concrete. It felt like the old man was looking at MY reflection in that window, and a slight smile curled on the corners of his mouth.
As I pulled in front of the house, I saw a male figure slip out the sliding-glass door on the side of the house and scamper off in the direction of the homes behind ours.
No time to chase him, I ran into the house. Pounding came from upstairs, my wife yelling our son’s name.
I bolted up the stairs, heart pounding so hard it echoed through my whole body.
My wife, pounding on Todd’s door, was in full panic.
“He won’t open it!”
I checked the knob. Locked. Shook the door, shouting my son’s name.
Already I could hear buzzing from within.
Stepping back, I launched into the door with my shoulder, splitting the lock through the wood.
We both rushed into a swarm of flies.
Almost impossible to see through the back cloud.
We brushed them from our eyes, choking, my wife shouting Todd’s name.
I noted the window was intact, but open a couple of inches.
No one was in the bed. No one under the desk.
Then I noticed flies gathering like a living sheet on the closet door. I ran over and whipped it open.
Todd sat inside, a blank look on his face, flies crawling across it.
As I started to reach for him, I noticed something in his lap so covered in flies there was no way to know what it was.
I pushed my hand into the squirming black mass, swatting the flies away until the head of our beagle, Harry, become visible. The dog was dead.
Todd didn’t resist me when I pulled him out from underneath the poor dog and ushered him out of the room with Sandra. Still brushing flies off him, we walked him downstairs.
I put in a call for backup again, telling them to search the area for a male lurking in the yards nearby. I almost said an ‘old man’, but I wasn’t sure that had been what I saw.
We couldn’t get Todd to say a word. He seemed catatonic. An ambulance arrived, and the paramedics thought he should be taken to the hospital. We would go with him, of course.
But before we boarded, one of the officers came down from Todd’s room.
“Broken neck,” he whispered.
Harry had died from a broken neck. Could Todd possibly have been strong enough to break a beagle’s neck? It seemed unlikely.
I decided to let Sandra go with Todd to the hospital and I would meet them there shortly. I wanted to have a look around the neighborhood first.
Out back, I found shoe prints in the dirt. Snapped photos with my phone.
I followed the trail into the yard diagonally behind ours, which belonged to the Drummonds. A couple of other cops were still nosing around. Watching nervously from the window of the house was Ned Drummond himself, whose demeanor changed when he saw me. I could see him making his way to the door. I got there just as it opened.
“Bill,” he said. “What’s going on?”
“A little incident at the house,” I told him. “Did you see anyone come through here?”
“I was asleep until I saw the lights.” Drummond looked around nervously before continuing. “But my wife set up one of those door cams. Might have picked up something.”
“Let’s check it out.”
“The feed runs to her phone, she’ll be home from work in about an hour.”
Rather than wait, I decided to go to the hospital to be with my family. On the way to return my squad car to the station, I called Rabbi Stone.
“I’m sorry to wake you, Rabbi.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Now tell me what’s wrong?”
“This Shands thing hit my family again. No one is hurt, but the dog is dead and my son on the way to the hospital for what seems to be a psychotic episode.”
“I can be there in a half hour,” the Rabbi offered.
“Thank you, but that’s not necessary. I’m just wondering if you learned anything else.”
“I did,” he replied. “Shands is possibly another name for Samael, one of the Fallen. Early Christians equated him with Satan. The ancient Hebrews considered him the Angel of Death. But you have to look further back, to the Sumerians, to find the first encounters with this being. They depicted it as a serpent, the whisperer of lies.”
“How do we fight it?”
“Only by removing the sin that empowers it.”
I thanked him, and took my own car from the station to the hospital. I found Sandra watching over Todd, who was sleeping comfortably in a private room. We slipped into the hallway to talk. I touched her arm, and she pulled away. Did she blame me for what was going on with our son? There’d been a distance between us lately, and as I thought about it, perhaps there had been for some time. I had a tendency to get absorbed in problems at work, and I didn’t let her inside my world. She could be such a source of strength at times, at other times so vulnerable. By shielding her from my troubles, I had left her feeling cut off. By not leaning on her for help, I had made her feel unneeded.
“I’m sorry,” I told her.
She looked at me with genuine surprise. “For what?”
“The only thing that really matters is the three of us,” I said. “Sometimes I forget that.”
Her eyes softened. So many things she wanted to say, I could tell. But now was not the time.
Instead she said: “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“We’re under attack,” I explained. “There are things I haven’t told you, things I didn’t even remember until recently. But I promise you, no more secrets.”
She started to cry. “Todd could not have harmed Harry, he loved that dog.”
I put my arms around her, and this time she didn’t resist. “It wasn’t Todd,” I said. “I have to go check some video footage at a neighbor’s, see if it picked up anything. I’ll be back right after that.”
I kissed her on the top of the head and left. Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the Drummonds’ driveway. As soon as I went back to the hospital I intended to come clean with Sandra about everything: my childhood, my discussions with Rabbi Stone, and even the fact that I had turned in my old partner Ross to Internal Affairs. No more secrets.
It was very late, so I appreciated that my neighbors had waited up for me.
“I think we got him!” Mr. Drummonds said excitedly.
I felt excited, terrified, and baffled. Did they really catch Shands on video? Was that even possible?
Mrs. Drummonds, who did a couple of shifts bartending in addition to her real estate job, was setting up her phone so we could watch the footage on their 32 inch monitor in the living room.
“Is your son alright?” he asked me.
“He’ll be fine. The dog was killed, I’m afraid.”
“My God,” Mrs. Drummond said, “that’s awful.”
“Wait til you see this,” Mr. Drummond said. “I think we got the creep cutting through the yard.”
I held my breath as the video came on. The Drummonds kept a well-lit yard. The camera faced the street.
A figure appeared walking through their yard.
“Pause it,” I said.
Too shadowy to make much out. Definitely male. Tall. Not stooped, however. No cane.
“Ok,” I said. “Slow motion.”
The figure did not walk like an old man. When he reached the street, he jumped into an SUV. As it pulled out, I had them pause it again so I could see the license plate. Jesus. There was no need to call it in, I recognized it right away. The SUV belonged to Ross Clayton, my former partner.
Moments later, I sat heavily behind the steering wheel and waited to start the car. I now understood why my wife had been so distant lately. How long had it been going on? I could feel the air being sucked right out of my world with a whoosh.
I started the car. My son’s life, maybe even his soul, was at stake. If you had asked me a week ago whether I believed in demons, I would have laughed. Of course, if you had asked me a week ago whether I had killed my parents and sister, I would looked at you perplexed. If you had asked whether my wife was sleeping around, with my former partner no less, I would have punched you in the nose.
Before I put the car in gear, new understanding hit me with the force of a storm front: it had not been my consuming feeling of guilt that had opened the door to Shands. My father’s sin had brought that demon into my family, but Sandra was the one feeding its strength now.
I was about to finally hit the gas and head for the hospital, when…
Tap, tap, tap. The image of the white cane tapping outside a factory flashed into my mind. My muscles were locked frozen. The scrawny, bent figure walked amid the strewn rubble. But the old, decaying factory still lived, machinery beating deep inside, a furnace somewhere within still flaming. Sprouts of fire shot from that furnace out cracks in blackened windows to become one with the white cane. Shands crept along the city’s streets, blue fire arcing from streetlights, which crashed with a pop, and jumping from cars, which stuttered to a stop, and from apartment towers, which blinked out, all of these trickles of fire streaming into the terrible cane.
He was coming, this time with fire. I remembered the gas can beside me all those years ago.
I raced the car across the town, running stop signs and red lights, swerving to the wrong side of the road to pass pockets of cars.
Anger started to rise within me toward Sandra, who had betrayed me, but I knew it was crucial that I suppress it. This being, whatever it was, turned guilt into power, and I suspected it could exploit any negative emotion.
I left the car at the front entrance, throwing the keys to the valet and running inside straight for the elevator.
Come on, come on, come on.
He was here. It was here. Shands, Samael, whatever it was.
The elevator zipped me to the 7th floor.
I ran hallways darkened for the night, my footsteps the only noise in the empty corridor.
Bursting into the dark room of my son’s, I found Sandra sleeping in a chair. No one else was there, and for a moment I felt relief, until I realized the bed was empty.
I flicked on the lights. Sandra woke up, immediately anxious.
I pushed my way into the bathroom. Empty.
“What is it?” my wife asked.
I ran back into the hallway, and from station to station until I found a nurse.
“Did you see a boy?” I asked.
She shook her head.
An image exploded into my mind: the hospital on fire, flames shooting from a couple of floors of windows.
It had not happened yet, though.
How could such a fire even be set? Hospitals have tremendous fire safety protocols and sprinkler systems.
Gas. Only gas could create a large fire.
And the very thought brought another psychic image into my mind: a decrepit hand, inhumanly long, charcoal-gray skin and yellow nails…turning valves.
I ran for the waiting elevator, Sandra catching up to me. I punched the button for the lowest floor.
“What’s going on!” she demanded.
I took both her hands and looked hard into her eyes, making sure I felt no anger, no guilt. I groped through my thoughts for the love I felt for my son, for my wife, and channeled all of that into my eyes.
“I love you,” I told her. “And I’m going to make this alright. All of it.”
I searched her eyes. If she no longer loved me, I felt I would see it, and I would accept it, would love her anyway, would let her go with love. But I couldn’t tell.
“It’s not your fault,” I whispered.
Before she could reply, the doors opened, and I ran out into darkened corridors normally reserved for staff only. We ran by huge carts stacked with trays of dishes. I grabbed a kitchen worker.
“Where are the oxygen tanks?”
I pulled out my badge. “The tanks, son, it’s an emergency.”
Down there and to the left.
I ran, Sandra following, into a large bay. My son stood a short distance away with a match poised to strike. I froze where I was, stopping Sandra with my hand.
Air hissed from dozens of oxygen tanks. Bins of rags had been moved close by, some strewn on the floor. Even more alarming, my son stood in the middle of a huge puddle. Nearby empty bottles confirmed my fear: rubbing alcohol.
I noticed a red door beside an alarm panel opening on its own. A water valve turned. The sprinklers. He was turning them off.
The long shadow of a bent figure reached from behind my son.
“Todd,” I whispered.
“Dad…” he mumbled.
Confusion marked his eyes and face. He understood none of what was happening.
Memory of the flaming hospital ran through my mind.
I edged closer.
“Todd, listen to me. There’s something you need to know. Shands was my friend too, when I was about your age.”
The tip of the match, touching the box, held still.
“I know,” Todd said. “He told me if you listened to him you would have saved your family.”
“He lies,” I said. “It’s what he does.”
“I just want things to be like they were,” he said.
“They will be. Just put down the match.”
It seemed like his muscles were locked and he struggled against them.
“My family,” I said while stepping slowly into the puddle of rubbing alcohol, “all burned to death because of me. Because of his tricks.”
Tears started streaming down his face.
“I can’t stop him,” he cried. “My hands won’t listen.”
I was in striking distance. One quick swipe and I could grab the matches. I focused on them, was about to grab at them, when I saw the tip snap along the box. The match sparked into flame.
And fell from his hand.
I could see the flame reflecting off the puddle of rubbing alcohol as the match fell.
My hand shot forward.
If I missed, we were all dead, and probably hundreds of people with us.
All that oxygen in the room might ignite even without the rubbing alcohol.
The lit matchstick landed right in my hand.
I squeezed it out.
Then scooped up my son and ran toward my wife.
But the danger was not over. Shands had grown powerful enough to turn valves, certainly he could produce a spark.
I handed Todd to Sandra…yelling “Go, go!”…then ran back toward the water valve for the sprinklers.
Light bulbs began to pop.
Sparks shot from the fixtures.
I was half way to the circuit breaker when the rubbing alcohol ignited.
Before I had taken a few more steps, an explosion of fire blew through the room. Fire took everything combustible: the bins of rags, cardboard boxes…my clothing and my hair.
As I reached the breaker, I could feel my skin melting.
Hot air singed my lungs.
I could barely see through eyes that had lost their lids.
But drawing on my years of police work, which included responding to fires, I focused on the water valve.
Turned it, the skin of my hand melted onto the steel.
But the sprinklers immediately sprayed jets of water.
I slumped down against the wall.
Smoke burned into my damaged lungs, making me gasp for breath.
Time flowed like molasses and I was only loosely aware that the fire went out. Some time later, rescue crews found me. Sandra stayed with me as they wheeled me away, telling me Todd was unharmed.
But recovery has been long and hard. My face and hands are badly disfigured. Sandra spends time with me, but how can I tell what she does outside of the hospital?
Todd will hopefully be released soon. Unlike me, he will not have to deal with the knowledge that he killed his family. But he will have a terrible reminder of what happened every time he sees what’s left of my face.
As for Shands, I fear he bides his time.