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SHADOWPLAY by Jim Asbury, Spring 2016 It’s past midnight, the time of night when the numbers on the clock no longer matter. Dawn is far enough away that there is no reason to check the time, and I have been asleep long enough to not care that I am now awake. I lie there, watching the blades of the ceiling fan chop-chop- chop. I blink, and the spinning blades skip through their rotation, like a film missing a frame. I inhale. The air is warm and heavy, the product of the temperature outside and the fact that this is house is in dire need of repairs. I close my eyes and slow my breathing. During the day, out in the light, there are so many things to worry about. But here, under the cover of night and behind the walls of this home, I can forget. I turn to face my husband. He sleeps on his side, often facing away from me. Tonight is no exception. I had joked about this at first—accused him of subconsciously not wanting to look at me. He had laughed, taken his tie off, and knotted it around his head like a blindfold. “You’ve caught me,” he had said. “The secret’s out. I’ll need to walk around like this from now on.” I can barely make out the outline of his shape in the darkness. Silhouetted against shadow, he nearly disappears into the black. I watch his side rise and fall with his breathing. The dark around him seems to pulse. Shift. Separate from him and lean down towards. With heart-stopping suddenness, I realize that there is a tall, nebulous figure standing over my husband. Its head—or what I can only imagine might be its head—comes down to look at me. It has no features, just a swirl of shadows. And yet I can tell that it is staring at me with nothing less than pure and utter animosity, the kind of hatred that can make your skin crawl just by thinking about it. I try to speak, but my mouth refuses to move. I hear the blades of my fan stuttering away above me. The figure stares at me, and I forget how to breathe. Then, it raises its hand with painful slowness and gestures at me. The meaning of the gesture is clear—turn around. I struggle. Part of me, the animal, instinctual part, knows that I must turn around, I must not look at this inhuman thing. But the other part of me, the lover, the wife, the fighter, refuses to turn away from the man that I love. But the figure does not lower its hand and I am helpless in the face of such obstinate evil. I turn my body, my head facing the other way, staring at the wall instead of the terrifying scene taking place only feet away from. A moment passes. Then another. And I feel a sense of relief—the figure, whatever it is, has pulled itself away from me. My eyes glaze over and I find my mind blank. The night drags on. Eventually, sleep finds me. As consciousness fades from me, I am reassured—a dream. A reminder that even at night, the problems of the day cannot be escaped. Nothing more. When I awake, my husband is no longer in bed. I rise and dress myself, opening the blinds and letting in the light. I descend the stairs to our kitchen, to see him sitting at the table, holding his head in his hands. “Are you okay?” I ask. He can be prone to migraines at times. “I’m fine,” he says. “I didn’t sleep well last night.” “What was it?” “Nothing,” he says. But the tone of his voice suggests otherwise. “It’s okay,” I say. “You can tell me.” He is silent for a time. “A dream,” he said. His voice breaks. “There was this thing. This looming, evil… thing.” My blood runs cold. I try to speak but the words die in my throat. “It asked me… no, it ordered me. It ordered me to do terrible things to you.” He looks at me and I can tell that he is on the verge of tears. “I would never hurt you,” he says. “You know that, don’t you?” I tell him that I do. He seems to accept this as absolution of some phantom wrongdoing. He rises, kisses my forehead, and walks out of the kitchen. I stand in front of the kitchen sink and stare out the window, choking down sobs. I tell myself it was only a dream. That there is some explanation for the madness that has entered this house in only one night. And after a few minutes of repetition, I even start to believe it. Until I turn to my left and see something on the kitchen counter that sends my heart into a palpitating frenzy. Every knife in the house, arranged from smallest to largest. And a gap near the end of the deadly line-up—a missing serrated steak knife, capable of slicing through the toughest of meats. I hear creaking coming from above me—the sound of someone larger than me slowly pacing the bedroom floor. My shadow on the floor seems to mock me. And I am no longer sure that I know anything at all.
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We at The Bayleaf strive to make the best publication we can with the best art and literature the campus has to offer. That is to say, sometimes we make mistakes. In this past Spring 2016 edition, Jim Asbury's story "Shadowplay" was included without its ending. We extend our apologies for the mishap. We will post the story in full on our page so the story is not completely lost.
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The Bayleaf, Marywood's premiere journal of literature and art, publishes the work of undergraduate student writers and artists. The Bayleaf is published in the fall and spring semesters.
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