It was only a shadow. 

A shadow, that was all—globular and black, spreading across the distant roadway like a drop of ink amid the darkness and fog.

A mirage. An illusion. Only a shadow.

I blinked, squinting my eyes.

But would a shadow move like that? Writhing across the pavement in deep swells and jerks, like bones continually popping in and out of joint… 

For the first time, my excitement faltered, and I questioned if a college history paper was worth this. 

Drive a quarter-mile past the old stone church until you see the marker for the historic town hall ruins. Make a u-turn. Drive back about fifty feet, then pull over. You’ll see him for sure. Everyone does.

The Tar Man. The revolutionary loyalist, tarred and feathered for his crimes, then dumped in the swampy Lowcountry with no hope of escape. His skin blistered and peeling, his eyes blinded by pitch, left to die alone, screaming and moaning beneath the shadows of cypress and moss. His tortured soul struggles on, it’s said, searching even in death to escape his boggy prison.

But this was just a shadow, a trick of the light. From the moon, surely… 

But there was no moon. No light to cast a shadow. This place was darkness—darkness and fog and still, fetid air. 

In the distance, the Tar Man rose.

My eyes had seen enough, but my my limbs had turned to stone, my gut to ice, too afraid to move, to breathe—to look away. 

I fought to hold a reasoned thought. A shadow is all. Some vapor from the swamp—rising and elongating to resemble a man…

But shadows had no sound, nor voice. And the sodden slap of flesh on pavement broke my breathless trance as the specter collapsed to the ground, shattering the silence with an otherworldly howl. 

Fear shot through my veins like fire. I was running—stumbling toward my car, my numb fingers slipping and fumbling over the night-dampened handle. Another wail rose behind me, tearing an involuntary whimper from my throat. But then the door was open—closed again, locked. My headlights bloomed, blazing down the deserted roadway—

…Showing nothing. Nothing but swirls of low, thick, silent fog. 

I stared, breathless, eyes raking the empty street before daring to wipe the cold sweat from my brow. 

A shadow—that was all, see? A shadow and some wild animal. A bobcat, a cougar… Yeah, cougars could sound like that…

I swallowed my irrational fear and took a calming breath. Steadied, I focused on sliding my key into the ignition, the sound of the engine fortifying me further as I checked my rear-view mirror. 

…It’s only a shadow. 

The smell of hot pitch seared my nostrils.

It’s only a shadow!

Blackened fingers curled around my headrest.

Oh, God—it’s only a shadow!

Darkness rose up, opening its purulent maw. 

I screamed.

It screamed…

About Rebecca Johnson

Nurse by day, writer by any other moment that presents itself, Rebecca has devoted herself to the study of writing as a form of art. Though lacking any formal education on the subject, Rebecca has risen from a closet-writer, to a platform writer on Inkitt, to an award-winning Inkitt author, to earning her first publication through Bewildering Stories eZine. Her devotion to ferreting out the subtleties and nuances of authorship have earned her a seat as a panelist and educator in the 2023 Imaginarium writer’s conference where she will be teaching workshops based on her ongoing Inkitt novel, Becoming a Published Author, Roadmap to Rejection. 

Winner of Scribbler Editorial’s 2021 character contest and 2022 dialogue contest, Rebecca maintains an active role in Main Street Writes and on her social media where she frequently posts contest opportunities for others.