Through the Valley short story-First Chapter, so far

The Shadow has been following me since Reno and it hasn’t tried to kill me—yet, and the “yet” thought is what worries me. It doesn’t seem to want the food or water I keep in my travel bag (just a backpack, but I’m not a schoolboy anymore) nor do I think he wants the clothes off my back. He just walks behind me in that strange grey cloak with his hands barely reaching out of the sleeves. I wish I could say that was the weirdest thing about him, but upon closer inspection I realized something even weirder—he’s not wearing any shoes. No socks or slippers or crocs, it follows completely barefoot and yet its footsteps never make a single sound, nor are there signs of blisters or blood on its feet. Whatever The Shadow is or what it wants from me, all I know for sure is that it isn’t human.

No matter how far I walk—from my burned-out apartment in San Diego to the burning fields of Kansas—it is always there. I still don’t even know if the Shadow is going to kill me or not, if that was its goal, it could have done those ages ago. I barely get more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep at this point because I am half convinced it will slit my throat in my sleep. Nothing so far, although if it did want to kill me with paranoia and hunger, it’s getting fairly close to accomplishing that goal. I’m going to have to make a stop somewhere for supplies soon, but according to the map I picked up in Pasadena, the nearest town, Prophet, is another 2 or 3 days from Tulsa. And the Shadow doesn’t seem interested in helping me find a shortcut.

I check the skies and see the faintest dimming of sunlight beyond the gray skies and my mind wanders to the last time I saw a proper, honest-to-God sunset in the last year, before the chaos, before the screams in the night that never go away, before the Shadow. I wish I could’ve appreciated it more now that I’m never going to see it again.

The cold twilight air creeps in further around me and seeps into my bones and I shiver. I pull my coat tighter and shove my hands into my pockets to maintain some small semblance of warmth as I set my backpack down at a nearby gas station and settle in for the night. What I wouldn’t give to spend the night someplace with a free bed and warm sheets to lay down on. Such simplicities aren’t too much to ask for, yet I would literally kill for something like that these days.

I push away the dirt and broken glass that litters the floor of the station and set my bag down to take out my blanket and some dried papers to use as a pillow. I grab some dry branches from outside and a couple of magazines from a shelf by the register and set a fire. Finally warm, I settle in for the night and eat a can of preserved peaches and an energy bar I found in aisle 2. After that, I set up a makeshift bed behind the counter and dig in for a fitful sleep under an actual roof for a change. Settling in, I pull out my phone and look at the screenshot of my family I saved as my wallpaper. My mom, dad, my sisters Wendy and Mara, my brothers Caleb, Josh, and Arthur and even uncle Bert and aunt Cecelia, all settled in around a Christmas tree in the living room. This was the last time I saw all of them—that was almost 4 years ago. I barely spent time with them or talked to them before all of this madness; hell, I moved to the other side of the country to get away from them and find my own way. Now I just hope that I’ll find anyone waiting for me when I get home.

I check the upper right-hand corner of the phone and see I have only 12% charge left on the battery, and I put it away again to look at another day. The menacing howls and screams from the forest that I still can’t explain keep me company until I shut my eyes for an uneventful sleep. I do not know how long my sleep lasted before I am awoken by the faint sound of breathing and open my eyes to a surprising sight—the Shadow leaning over me…