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It was my friend Tommy’s 11th birthday and my first sleepover. My mom dropped me off at his house in the afternoon. It looked modest from the front, but when Tommy led me inside, I discovered that it was actually fairly big, with at least five large rooms on the first floor alone.

“My mom set us up in the basement.” He said, leading the way to a small door just off the kitchen pantry.

I envisioned a dingy cellar like the one my family had. Ours was a single, tiny room that looked like miners were still in the process of digging it out. Nobody spent the night in our basement unless they had eight legs and six eyes and shot webbing out of their ass.

Tommy’s basement was like a whole other house. There was a small room with a couch at the bottom of the stairs, but in the far wall was a swinging door leading into a kitchen almost as big as the one we had just left. In the basement kitchen there was another door leading out to the back yard, and a long hallway that extended deep under the house.

“Jesus,” was all I could muster.

“The basement was set up as an apartment to rent out by the people who lived here before us.” Tommy explained. He pointed down the dim hallway. “The first door on the left is the bathroom. Second door is a closet. We’ll be sleeping in the bedroom on the right.”

“What’s the door at the end?” I asked.

The hallway stretched far past the closet and bedroom, and the door set into the wall at the end seemed very dark and forbidding. The only hall light was between the bathroom and the bedroom, and it barely illuminated all the way down to the end.

“I’ll show you that later tonight,” Tommy said ominously. He walked down to the bedroom and then stopped at the door and turned to look at me as I stood in the kitchen with my backpack and pillow, feeling somewhat nervous.

“After you.”

I walked up to the bedroom door and opened it cautiously. The room was dark.

“ARRRRRRRR!”

A zombie lurched toward me out of the room. I screamed and threw my pillow at it in a half-assed attempt to save myself. Tommy doubled over laughing hysterically as our friend Sant pulled the mask off and guffawed at me.

“Haw haw, ya fucking pussy!” Sant declared, throwing the mask at me. “Baby nearly pissed himself!” He flipped on the bedroom light and turned to look back at Fred who was sitting on the bed, watching it all casually. Fred shrugged.

Sant was the troublemaker of our group, always the one to play a practical joke. Loud and belligerent… a true leader. He was kind of a hero to Tommy. I considered him a borderline dickhead just a couple school years away from being a pure asshole.

Fred was aloof, one of those types who rarely spoke, but when he did it was always thoughtful and worth saying. I preferred to do things with Fred because he never felt the need to insult people like Sant did. He was always content to just be there to watch things unfold and then say a word or two about it later that would put the rest of us in stitches.

The bedroom had been set up with three beds: a double bunk, a captain’s bed, and an air mattress. Tommy got the captain’s bed, Sant and Fred had each claimed a bunk, leaving me the air mattress. I tossed my pillow on it and set down my bag.

We spent the afternoon playing video games and running around in the back yard. At dinner, Tommy’s mom brought down pizza and we ate it in the den while watching Predator on VHS. Cake and presents followed, a few party games, then his parents told us good night and went upstairs, leaving us to our own devices.

I lay on the air mattress, reading a comic book from Tommy’s stash. Sant and Fred were having a pillow fight from their respective bunks. Sant’s pillow had a strange habit of hitting me in the face on his back swing.

“You guys wanna see something freaky?” Tommy looked at each of us as he pulled a flashlight out from under his mattress.

“You got two dicks?” Sant asked with a snort.

Fred raised his eyebrows.

Tommy ignored him and looked at me with a serious expression on his face. “I told you I’d show you that room at the end of the hall, remember?”

I nodded.

“Is it a sex dungeon?” asked Sant.

“You’ll see,” Tommy replied, hopping off his bed and heading into the hall.

“I don’t want to see your sex dungeon,” Fred commented.

“It’s not a sex dungeon.”

I followed Tommy into the hall, Sant right behind me, poking me with his finger every time I stopped. Tommy walked down the hall, pitch black now except for where the beam of his flashlight went. In the dark, it seemed even longer than it had with the light on. I turned back for a second to look for the bedroom light and Sant shoved past me.

“Pussy.” he muttered.

We crowded up at the door. It was nondescript, just a wood door with a brass knob. Fred and I looked at each other and then at Tommy. Sant just stared at the door with his typical impatient expression. At first I thought Tommy was intentionally delaying his big reveal to heighten the tension, but I saw his face for a moment in the flashlight’s reflection off the knob and he had a genuine look of fright on his face. It made me uneasy.

“Fuck it, I’ll open the door.” Sant snapped, and then he turned the knob and shoved Tommy so that they both stumbled in.

It was a tiny, dark room, unusually small compared to every other room in the house. Some cheap shelves were screwed into the wall directly opposite the door, gathering dust. The only other items of note were an old laundry machine and drier, gathering cobwebs in the far corner.

“Thanks for showing us your laundry room,” Sant sneered. He walked over to the machines and banged on them for a bit.

“Sant,” Tommy whispered, “get back over here.” Tommy pressed his back up against the wall adjoining the door and shined the flashlight over by where Sant was standing.

I’ll never forget that moment. I glanced at Tommy, then looked over in the direction he was staring and frowned. Sant stopped his banging and looked at us, holding his hand up to his face to block the flashlight’s beam. Behind him, his shadow was cast against the plaster wall. Beside his shadow was another shadow, almost identical in appearance, but slightly taller. It was like there was a second person standing in the flashlight’s beam, but there was nobody there to cast it.

“What’s going on?” Fred asked, peeking his head around the corner. His mouth made an O and he stared at the two shadows with Tommy and me. “Whoa.”

“What is that?” I asked.

Sant finally realized we weren’t looking at him and turned around. It didn’t seem to register with him at first, but he stepped backward and out of the way of Tommy flashlight, and then it clicked. “What the fuck is that?”

“It’s an extra shadow,” Tommy said, whispering again. “It’s always in here. I’ve only come in here once before, and when I saw it I ran out. I told my parents about it, but when they came down with me to see it, they couldn’t. I don’t know why. I wasn’t even sure if you guys would be able to see it. God, I’m fucking glad you can. It means I’m not crazy.”

“It looks like a person.” I said, not bothering to mask the fear in my voice.

“Does it ever move?” Fred asked.

“I’ve only ever seen it in here.”

Sant, always the boldest of the group, walked forward and stood directly beside the shadow. He waved his arms around and we all watched how his shadow overlapped with the extra shadow. He felt along the wall, then stepped back and put his hands on his hips.

“It’s painted on,” he declared.

“No, watch this.” Tommy said, then stepped toward the wall and crouched slightly.

The shadow shifted to match the change in direction of the light, growing taller. It became less blurry too, giving us a clearer view of its features. It was definitely human-shaped. It had what looked like pants and a shirt, a head, two arms that hung down at its sides.

“What’s that in its hand?” Fred asked, pointing and then creeping a step back into the hallway.

Sant, Tommy and I all leaned closer to look.

The shadow’s right hand was normal looking with five fingers, but the left looked like a lump and extended down into a point.

Sant furrowed his brow, placing his hand up next to it and opened and closed his fist, trying to discern what was wrong with the shadow’s hand. As he did that, I realized what it was.

“It looks like it’s holding–” Sant started.

“A knife.” I declared.

Everybody took a step back toward the door. Tommy’s eyes were huge. Even Sant looked scared. They both shoved against each other trying to get to the door first while keeping their eyes on the far wall. Fred marched ultrafast back to the bedroom. I stood back while Tommy fumbled with getting the door shut tight before the three of us sprinted after Fred, shoving and yelling.

None of us talked about it the rest of the evening. Sant eventually fell asleep wearing the zombie mask. Tommy dozed off hugging his flashlight. Fred and I swapped comic books and sat with our backs to the wall, keeping an eye on the door. I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to be there at all, but I knew if I left, I’d never hear the end of it from Sant. He’d laugh at me about it every day at school.

I woke up needing to piss something fierce. There wasn’t any clock to tell me what time it was, but I knew I hadn’t been asleep very long. Fred had collapsed with his face in the pillow. Sant and Tommy were both snoring soundly. I sneaked over to Tommy and pulled the flashlight from his limp grip. The batteries were dying on it, but I wasn’t going out in that hall without a light.

Stepping into the hall, I shined the flashlight down to the end. The door was closed. I took a deep breath, then walked swiftly to the bathroom, where I relieved my bladder and washed my hands in record time. All in all, it took me less than a minute. I crept back into the hallway to get back in bed and stopped dead.

The door at the end of the hallway was open. Wide open.

The flashlight’s beam was weak, but it was enough to illuminate into the room past the door. There was the shadow, cast clearly against the far wall, not beside the laundry machines, which were around the corner from the door. It stood there, just like before, not moving.

I, on the other hand, was shaking uncontrollably. If I hadn’t just peed, I’d have been leaking a puddle on the hall floor. I stood there, rooted in place, staring at the open door and the shadow on the wall and realizing that in order to get back to my bed, I’d have to walk toward it. There was no fucking way I was walking toward that door. Instead, I closed my eyes and whispered to myself.

“It’s not real. Its not real.”

I opened my eyes and st–

The shadow was bigger.

Not bigger like its form grew in stature, oh no. At first I thought that. I thought, “Wait… was it that big before?” and I squinted at it, trying to convince myself that it hadn’t changed. Then I realized that part of it was cast on the door frame.

The shadow was in the hall.

My heart lurched up my throat, making me choke for a second. My eyes bulged out of my head and I felt my legs go weak. I had to reach over and hold the wall to keep from falling over.

The shadow moved.

It wasn’t clear to me at first. I thought it was getting fuzzy, but it wasn’t, it was coming forward, down the hall… toward me. Its arms still hung down by its sides. Its left right hand still balled in a fist around some sharp-looking object.

“Tommy…” I croaked.

The shadow lifted its arm.

“TOMMY!” I screamed, stepping backward toward the kitchen. I screamed again, and again.

Fred and Tommy burst from the bedroom like the Kool-Aid guy. They both had wild expressions on their faces, total panic. They flinched as they came into the flashlight’s beam, looked at me with my bug-eyed, screaming hysteria, then turned and looked back down the hall. Of course all they could see was that the door was open. But that and my screaming was enough to get them yelling and running down the hall to the kitchen to join me. Tommy grabbed the flashlight from me and aimed it at the hallway.

The shadow had retreated back into the laundry room, but it was still clearly there against the wrong wall. It stood in the doorway, stock still just like before. Its arms were back down at its sides, but as we all watched in horror, it raised its right arm, and the door slammed shut.

“Holy shit.” Fred whispered.

“I’m not sleeping down here.” I said flat out.

“You and me both.”

Tommy nodded dumbly and we all scrambled through the swinging door and ran yelling up the stairs.

The next morning, Sant came up out of the basement and shook us awake. We had all climbed into Tommy’s bed in his bedroom on the second floor and looked like a trio of fools to him.

“What the fuck are you fairies doing?” he said with a laugh, “Jerking each other off? Thanks for not including me.”

We told him what had happened, and he listened with a wide-eyed look on his face. I thought for sure he was going to get mad at us for leaving him down there alone with whatever the fuck that was.

“Wow,” he finally said, “You guys are pathetic.”

I wish I could say that the incident led to a revelation about the house’s past, but it didn’t. Was someone who lived there previously murdered in their sleep? We never heard anything. Was the shadow a premonition of one of our deaths? Not yet. All I can say is that Tommy never had another sleepover. He told me he was never going back down into the basement. Sant made fun of us for a couple weeks before the incident was relegated to the back of his memory and only brought forth at inappropriate times, like everything else.

Me, I don’t linger in dark hallways, and I always keep an eye out for shadows that don’t belong.

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