“Third time this week you’ve been late for class, Mr. Rossi.” My teacher paused in the middle of her lecture to call me out in front of the class.
First period was hard for any sixteen-year-old. Not even Ms. Haven’s gaudy clothing and oversized clanking jewelry could keep me fully engaged. Considering I wasn’t sleeping, it was a wonder I made
it to class at all. I was on the verge of failing. She’d already warned me if I didn’t turn my act around, I’d be repeating this class next year.
The truth was, I couldn’t find the energy to care. I was close to being kicked off the soccer team, things had been strained between me and my best friend for months, and my parents were worried.
I only cared about one thing: sleeping without the nightmares.
My girlfriend, Maren, glanced back with a worried look. I smiled weakly and shrugged. Looking away, I ignored the way she studied me. I’d had enough lecturing at home and from my teachers; I didn’t
need her giving me a hard time too.
I pulled out my book and gave my best impression of paying attention for the remainder of the lecture. When the bell rang, I packed up my bag with relief and almost made it out the door, before Ms.
Haven flagged me down. She handed me a pink detention slip, guaranteeing I’d be late for practice. Coach Bryan had been patient so far. I guess he understood what it was like to study late hours,
party on the weekends—and on occasion—sleep past the alarm. Unfortunately, I had repeatedly been late, and we both knew it wasn’t the studying that was keeping me up late at night.
The rest of my morning classes dragged on. When the lunch bell rang, my best friend met me in the hall. By way of greeting, Kyle collided into my shoulder with the force of a linebacker. I
stumbled, but caught myself before running over a group of freshmen.
“Seriously, I called your name like five times. Didn’t you hear me?” He adjusted the shoulder strap of his book bag and smirked.
God, he could be such an dick.
“No.” I rubbed my sore arm. “Just distracted I guess.”
Maren sidled up and grabbed my hand.
“Right.” Kyle checked out a group of girls huddled around their lockers. “Did you still want to go to Eric’s party tomorrow night after the game? I heard he’s getting a keg.”
Eric’s older brother was in college, so he always had a beer hookup. Five bucks at the door for a red solo cup and you were golden until the keg floated. Since I was usually the designated driver,
I could care less about the alcohol.
I looked down at Maren and she waggled her eyebrows. “Sienna and Valentina will be there.” I couldn’t deny her when both her best friends would be there.
“Aren’t Sienna and Eric seeing each other?” Kyle continued glancing over at the group of girls. I wondered which one caught his attention. Most were senior cheerleaders, which meant he didn’t have
a chance in hell.
Maren shrugged, remaining tight-lipped. Eric was our soccer team’s best striker, averaging two goals a game. He was a natural-born leader, exceptional motivator, and class president— the kind of
guy you’d love to hate. As far as boyfriends went, Sienna could definitely do worse.
We pushed our way through the double doors into the cafeteria. Examining the fruit and salads, I let Maren pick out our food as I tried to formulate how to plead my case to Coach Bryan. After I
paid, we joined our friend at our usual table in the back. I grabbed the cobb salad Maren selected for me, suppressing a sigh as I watched Kyle take a large bite of his cheeseburger.
“Hey, Ian, heard you were late to class again this morning,” Eric called from across the table. News traveled fast. “Maren keeping you up too late?”
Maren blushed hard. “Nah, just getting my beauty rest. You should try it sometime.” I took a sip of water as the others laughed.
“Do you see this guy’s hair?” Kyle snorted. “He probably gets up at the crack of dawn to style it.”
“You know it,” Eric fluffed the bottom of his curly hair, eliciting another round of giggles from the girls at the table. I smiled and finished my rabbit’s meal, wondering if I could sneak back
through the line for an order of fries.
After school I spent my assigned thirty minutes in detention, then booked it to practice. I struggled to get on my shin guards and cleats, then jogged onto the field and got into place with my team
as they ran warm-up laps around the field. Since Coach Bryan ran with us, there was no escaping his hard glare.
Next we moved to sprints and drills. Exercising pushed my worry to the back of mind. We ended practice with a twenty-minute scrimmage that had me drenched in sweat, because the only thing hotter
than hell was a Texas afternoon.
As my teammates left the field, Coach Bryan pulled me aside. “Care to tell me why you were late again?” He stared me down with an intensity that left little room for lies.
“I had detention.” I toed the ground with a cleat. “I got here as fast as I could.”
Coach frowned. “I don’t know what to tell you. Keep it up and I’ll have no choice but to bench you for good.”
“Yes, sir.” I lowered my head.
“As it stands, you won’t be starting tomorrow.” My head shot up, but he cut me off before I could protest. “You leave me no choice; the rules are clear. Shape up or you’ll be off the team. Do you
My blood heated, and I felt my face burn. “Yes, sir.”
Coach Bryan patted my shoulder as he walked past. I grabbed my things, and when I got to the parking lot, there were only a few stragglers left— Kyle being one of them.
“Hey, could I catch a ride home?” he called out as I approached.
“Yeah, no problem.” I unlocked the car and flung my bag in the trunk.
As we pulled onto the highway, I continued to brood.
“Why so quiet?” Kyle asked. “Did you get in trouble?”
“Yeah.” I scrubbed a hand back through my hair. “I’m not starting tomorrow.”
“Dude, that’s wack.” Kyle leaned forward and turned up the radio. ”I love this song.” He tapped his foot in time to the beat and sang a few lines of the chorus. “Why have you been late so much
lately? You got a side piece?”
“Excuse me?” I coughed.
“It would be cool if you did. Maren seems like a prude.”
I punched him in the arm, not sure if I was defending her honor or mine. Kyle didn’t understand how I could date someone for a year and still be a virgin. Maybe that’s why he was single. Kyle was a
good-looking guy— lean and tan from spending hours on the soccer field. He had wavy brown hair, clear blue eyes and dressed well.
If only he could keep his mouth shut.
“Maren’s not a prude, and I don’t have someone on the side.” Half the time I think Kyle said things just to get a rise out of me. Like an obnoxious little brother, he knew just the right buttons to
“It's cool. Just thought I’d ask.”
I pulled into my empty driveway, and Kyle got out. We grabbed our bags and split ways. I walked into the house and found my little sister Ariana on the sofa watching her iPad.
“Hey, Ari. Where’s Mom and Dad?”
“They went to Aunt Maxine’s for dinner. Remember?” she replied without looking up from her YouTube station.
Ah yes, I vaguely remembered that. “Did Mom leave dinner?”
“Yeah, there’s leftover ziti in the fridge.” Ari gestured towards the kitchen. “I already ate.”
I dropped my bag in the mudroom and went straight to the shower. As I stood under the spray, washing off the dirt and grime, I wondered if other people thought I was seeing someone on the side. Of
course, it was absolutely absurd, but now I was paranoid.
I admit that I’ve been a little distracted lately, but I wasn’t ready to confide in anyone. They’d probably laugh at me if I told them I was having nightmares— like a kid scared of the boogeyman.
The thing was, I wasn’t entirely sure the boogeyman didn’t exist.
After drying off and redressing, I quickly ate dinner like I hadn’t seen carbs in a week. I finished my homework, and set the alarms on my nightstand and phone, determined to wake up on time.
Dialing Maren’s number, I waited as it rang.
She answered on the second ring. “Hey, Ian. How was practice?” In the background, I heard the sound of running water and clanking dishes.
“It was good,” I lied. “Although Coach was pretty mad I was late again. He’s not letting me start tomorrow.”
“I am so sorry! I know this is a big game for y’all.”
“Yeah, well I understand why Coach’s did it.” I played with a loose string on my fraying jeans.
“Still sucks. Did he tell you who’s starting instead?”
“No, but I have a few ideas.” There were four other second-string defense players and three more on the field he could shuffle around if needed.
“Do you still want to go to Eric’s party tomorrow night?”
Even though parties weren’t my scene, a little distraction was exactly what I needed. “Sure. I can pick you up after the game. Does eight-thirty work?”
“Yeah, Valentina will be getting ready here. Do you mind driving us both?”
“Not at all.” I was used to driving them around. Maren didn’t have a car yet, even though her father kept promising.
We talked a little while longer, then she let me go to study. When we hung up, I felt a thousand times better. My fears had been completely unwarranted. I just needed to get Kyle out of my head; he
was poisoning my thoughts.
I heard my parents come home sometime later. I was already in bed with the lights out, willing myself to sleep. As a teenager, the body needed an average of eight to ten hours a night to wake fully
Logistically I knew this.
There was nothing I needed more than rest. I had a history test in the morning, and if I was late again, Ms. Haven would lock me out- I’d seen her do it. The only problem was convincing my brain to
shut down long enough to fall asleep.
There was absolutely no reason to be afraid.
The light in the cave was uncomfortably dim. Around me the air smelled stale with a faint hint of brine as if blown in from the sea, though I had never found an exit. My other senses went on
immediate alert as they registered where I was. For months this place had been the main setting in my dreams, and I the star. Well, me… and the shadow man. My eyes swept the far recesses of the
cave, ensuring I was alone.
The hard-packed earth beneath my feet muffled my steps as I began to explore. The cave walls were made of polished stone that gleamed like onyx and rose three stories high. The rough-hewn sheets of
rock gleamed like an unfathomable ocean, their depth endless.
Shaking my head, I continued ahead to where the walls began to split into underground passages. I chose the far-right path, looking over my shoulder one last time before entering the narrowed
opening. Almost immediately the ceiling began to lower, closing me in. The weight of thousands of pounds of solid rock above my head weighed upon my thoughts, making me feel claustrophobic.
Other than a faint trickling sound of water ahead, silence reigned. It was so acute; it was deafening. The deeper I traveled, the darker it became until I was forced to feel my way along the
cool rock with both hands. Light slowly began to pulse ahead like a beacon, and a small amount of relief began to bloom, pushing down the niggling fear.
At least until he appeared.
Where there was light, there were shadows.
Trying to pinpoint his exact location was like trying to catch firelight. Flickering in and out of view, the darkness seemed to absorb him one moment and eject him the next. Those moments he
separated from the surrounding darkness, he looked vaguely human. With a thin body and discernible head, he stood over seven feet tall. The most unsettling thing though, was long arms that hung
down past his knees.
The second I spotted him, my breathing halted. A paralysis took hold and held me rooted, unable to escape. Panic began to build at an alarming speed, causing my vision to dim at the edges, until he
was the only thing I saw. I opened my mouth to yell, but no sound came out— not that there was anyone to hear me.
That was before he began to advance.
As my heart thumped like a frightened rabbit, the only option left was to close my eyes and pray to every god and deity I could think of.
Please wake up, please wake up, please wake up.
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