The Shadowlands by Alex Finlayson

Tonight is the night The Chittermen come out to play.

When the sun goes down and the streetlights start blinking into life; the Shadowlands open doorways into the world. Small pockets of darkness creep across alleyways and under cars, beside large buildings and in parks. At the foot, and in the branches of tall trees; anywhere the light retreats from, the Shadowlands advance.

Humans tend not to see the things in the dark, though they are often aware of a presence; a feeling of being watched, of being followed, of not being alone. They say the dark holds secrets that play with the mind. Many’s the time an unwary human has crossed paths with the Shadowlands and dismissed the shivers as an overactive imagination, a play on the peripheral vision, a trick of the light.  If only they knew… it was a trick of the dark.

Pay heed, younglings. It is too late for the old ones, the ones that don’t listen; the ones that see no more. They are trapped in their world of money, rushing hither and thither, never resting longer than a minute, or however long it takes to cram their pockets full of printed paper. Even on a night such as tonight; a night of magic, they do not see. Their eyes have been closed by the pretty lights, the shiny merchandise behind glass screens, the tall trees bedecked with colourful trinkets, but more than anything else, by the demands of their younglings to bestow upon them extravagant gifts.

And you do don’t you!

You demand it of them, you send them into the streets, the streets being taken over by the Shadowlands and you leave them at the mercy of The Chittermen. You leave them there when you know the truth! You know there are really things in the dark places; you know there really is something in the cupboard and skulking under the bed. You know the dark is alive! And yet you still let them out.

For shame!

This is the tale of one such youngling. A manipulative, spoilt, snotty, pig of a child. A beast of wealth and luxury, of soft cloth and tasty food, of maids and manservants. But none are more servile to this child than the beautiful creature that whelped it.

You can see her now; walking along a darkening street. Expensive coat covering expensive clothes, passing in and out of the pools of light that fall enticingly from behind glass screens. The sky around is turning from blue to grey to black but the twinkling lights of Christmas Eve shine brightly; an illusion to drive away the creatures of the night. But you’re not fooled are you?

Look closely. She is beautiful.  See her pass under the street light; glance to the shadow creeping near her feet, touching her expensive shoe. For a moment she senses something. You see her twitch, but then she dismisses it. And moves on.

Keep looking at the shadow. See it move? Creeping slowly up the lamppost; the glittering Christmas lights on one side giving the Shadowlands power on another. A form is taking shape, it’s hard to see in this crowded street but the shadow has reached the height of a grown man, it appears to be looking over the heads of the wealthy shoppers, searching for the woman it reached for. It sees her. If you blink you miss it. The shadow leaves the post and walks among the people. Some turn to see what brushes past them but all they see is their own shadow resting on another; they dismiss the shivers and keep moving.

But you can see, can’t you.

The mist of shadows taking form, turning into a human shape…

A Chitterman.

A quick glance and what do you see? A man in a black suit? A lady in a fur coat? They jump in and out of the shadows, in and out of your vision. The Chittermen cross between our world and the Shadowlands. They are formless, they are illusion. But if you are careful; you can see.

See this one now… a tall bald male; dark suit, white shirt, thin black tie. Drifting like smoke between the crowds, closing on the woman with the red bag. Look closely, see his face; blank mask, devoid of mouth and nose, solid dark holes for eyes, leering. He draws closer to the woman, jumping in and out of shadows, riding the darkness towards her. See his hands, reaching. Not often do the Chittermen so brazenly give chase. See. He’s nearly upon her.

The woman emerges from the shadows of Stonegate; the narrow artery that leads from the crowded shops to the heart of the city: the towering Gothic cathedral. She leaves the shadows of the leaning, ancient buildings and walks briskly across the open expanse of Minster Yard, the festive lights of the season casting a warm glow across the foot of the giant cathedral. The Chitterman is nowhere to be seen, banished perhaps into the shadows of the last shop doorway, or to the darkness at the base of the stone behemoth.

See now the woman walking swiftly to the waiting Bentley. The red bag bulging with surprise decadence for her undeserving spawn.

See the waiting driver quickly crush his smoke beneath his brightly polished shoe and open the boot of the car.

See the red bag disappear into the darkness of the open mouth.

And

Look closely,

As the boot closes,

See the two dark eyes peering out from the shadows. Pinpricks of life on an otherwise cold, dead face.

15 thoughts on “The Shadowlands by Alex Finlayson

  1. Aaargghhhh!!! Creepy, mate. Sets a pretty grim description of the dark and an equally grim description of our society. Is the main character – intended for the theoretical chapt 1 – going to be child whose mother is out collecting goodies for him/her?

    1. Hey Adrian, thank you for your comment. The child will eventually be the main character, but this (and other little tales) make up a kind of prologue to the overall idea.
      Cheers

  2. A gloriously dark tale with a tunnel of mirth to look forwards to. Feels like a velvety treacle plot already Alex- great work!

  3. Do you like Kipling? I always thought it was a spooky way to talk directly to the reader so this is a very fitting use of the same poking, tormenting tone!
    You made Christmas sinister! I also have to live in York when you have finished filling it full of shadow monsters! Te he!
    I know all about the Chittermen. They used to wait on the other side of the shed in my old garden. We moved house and they haven’t found me yet…

  4. Rarely do you get writing which captures not just the mood of a physical place, but also perfectly encapsulates the feeling of the time. I can just see myself walking down Stonegate, clutching my precious possessions, being watched…

    Write this…I’d read it in a heartbeat

  5. You build a powerful sense of suspense. The Chitterman’s malevolence is brilliantly imagined. But I’m struggling with the actual name – Chitterman. To me it’s not evil enough.

    I do like the idea that the young knowingly force their elders out to walk the night when they know what is out there. I’d be interested to read more of this saga.

    1. Thank you Debb, very kind words.
      I think with the name, Chittermen, I was trying to tap into that innocent sort of fear you had as a kid… my mates used to tease me about Dr Death (a lot creepier I know!) but something so simple as that name scared the hell out of me.
      Best wishes

  6. Very ‘dark’ Al, but strangely it held me captivated. I say strangely, because it’s not my usual type of reading. So, when’s the book coming out? The movie must surely follow. 🙂

  7. Hey Alex! I enjoyed the story, and particularly loved the first two paragraphs.

    I felt like the narration last a long time before we got into a scene, but it wasn’t bad, since the narration was fairly interesting. The only real problem I had with it was that the narration didn’t feel connected to anything.

    You have a strong voice throughout, strong enough that it really felt like it needed to belong to a character, but it didn’t appear connected to anything specific. Still, that kind of thing can work for a prologue, especially if you’re planning to connect it to a character later.

    Very moody, and I like the perspective of the evil children forcing their unsuspecting parents out into the night. 🙂

  8. I love paragraph three, it’s got a real pace to it and the mood of the piece is really evocative. The use of language is brilliant and I love the clear distinction between the world children can see and the world adults can see. I also like the fact that at this stage of the story the narrator is pretty much accusing everyone of being a monster, from the Chittermen, to the adults, to the reader himself, it’s Rohl Dahl-esque.

  9. I can only echo what others have commented – it’s dark, suspenseful and captivating! I want to read more. Are the chitterman really the bad guys or are they like a karmic force – people reap what they sow?

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