THE SHADOW BEAST

Doctor Nathan Falcone was anxious. It was his first day as a psychiatrist at the Peaceful Pines Mental Institution, and he wanted to make sure he did well. He was a small, balding man, of thirty, with a circle of white hair (it had started to gray when he was eighteen, and to disappear ten years thereafter) . To make himself seem older, he'd grown a beard and a mustache (modeled after Sigmund Freud). He wore a gray suit, gold-rimmed spectacles and smoked a pipe. In appearance, at least, he was the classical psychiatrist. His office was also a stereotype. A large, wooden desk, bookshelves filled with psychological texts. Of course, there was the prerequisite black leather couch sitting across from a red chair. The typical shrink's office.


The patient before him, however, did not look like the sort of person who considered psychiatry a science, let alone frequented mental hospitals. Yet the patient, one Mister Anthony Jones, had been checked into the institution by his family. By all reports, he had been happy to go. Jones was a big, burly man, with black hair, brown eyes, and the beginnings of a beer belly. He had been a police officer, on the homicide squad, and in his thirty years of life, he had never exhibited any signs of mental imbalance. That is, until Christmas three years ago.


When he suddenly developed a paralyzing fear of the dark.


It had begun slowly, with troubled sleep. No one, particulalry not Jones, had thought much of it. Soon, however, Jones became a severe insomniac, despite a life time of peaceful slumber. He jumped at shadows, and finally became so irrational in his terror, a babbling hysteric, really, that his family admitted him to Peaceful Pines.

Apparently it was still quite severe, despite three years of treatment. Jones refused to sleep without a nightlight on, and even then, he dozed fitfully. He became exceptionally nervous at night, even if all the lights were on. And the mere idea of leaving the house after sunset sent him into hysterics.

Well thought Falcone a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Falcone began the session. "Well, Anthony. I'm new here, so I'll probably go into some things you've already discussed with my predecessor, Doctor Jameson. Let's begin. First, why are you afraid of the dark?". Jones replied, in a small, frightened voice "It ain't the dark I'm scared of, doc. It's what's in the dark that scares me.". Falcone was intrigued. From his reports, no one had ever asked the question directly before, since many patients here at Peaceful Pines responded better to indirect queries. Falcone had not expected a response, and, having received one, decided to push further. "What is in the dark that frightens you, Anthony?" he asked, not letting his excitement show. What a way to start my first day! He thought.

Jones looked at Falcone. His eyes were full of terror, so pure and unhidden that Falcone actually had to look away. Then Jones whimpered, in that same small, frightened voice, "The shadow beast. At least, that's what I call it. It's waiting for me, in the dark. Waiting to kill me." . And with that the big man started to cry. He put his head in his big, calloused hands aand wept like a baby. Falcone saw he wasn't going to get any further that day, and ended thte session.

Three weeks later, Falcone was still puzzled by Jones' bizarre delusion. The poor man honestly believed he was being stalked by some hideous beast that was thwarted by light. Now this Falcone thought one night over drinks, is a fascinating patient. Apparently, the whole thing had begun over a year before, at the scene of a particularly gruesome murder. Scrawled on the walls, in a mixture of bile and blood, were the words "Hello, officer Jones. See you soon!". This had struck Jones as odd, given that he'd never met the victim. Still, he was able to write it off as mere coincidence. Jones was, after all, an extremely common name.

Shortly after that, however, Jones had begun to see things in the dark. He could never quite make out the shape, but he did know two things. One, its eyes were red, and seemed to glow in the dark. Second it had very long, sharp claws which left marks on hard wood floors. It was after two weeks of nightly visitations that he bought a nightlight. Eventually, his problem grew worse, at least at night, but because he lived alone, and because he could sleep with some form of illumination, it went unnoticed. Unnoticed, that is, until he went to spend Christmas with his family. After a few nights of sleeplessness he confessed his problem to his brother. His brother consulted the rest of the family, and they decided to have him committed. He thanked them for it.

Over the next six months, Falcone tried everything he could think of to treat his patient. He used psychoanalysis, hypnosis, and a variety of other treatment methods in an attempt to treat Jones' disorder. Nothing seemed to work. He couldn't even find the source of the problem. Jones had had a nearly perfect life. Nothing he uncovered in his mind could possibly account for this bizarre fear.

Over time, Jones became more than just another patient to Falcone. It seemed to him that, if he could cure this seemingly incurable ailment, it would validate his life. I suppose THIS is my mid-life crisis he thought to himself. Jesus. Why couldn't I have just bought a motorcycle?


After six months of unsuccessful work, Falcone got desperate. He decided to try drastic measures, namely immersion therapy. There was a special room for "problem" patients. It was isolated, with no windows, lights, or electrical outlets. It was here that Falcone decided that Jones would spend the night. Now, at this point, it must be said that Falcone had not been sleeping well lately. He was plagued by nightmarish visions, of horrific beasts and screaming patients. As such, he was acting in a very unusual fashion. Ordinarily, neither he nor any self-respecting therapist would attempt this, particularly not with a patient as volatile as Jones. But, Falcone was not thinking properly. He called in Heintz and Lord, the most experienced orderlies at Peaceful Pines, and close friends of his.

Ernest Heintz was a big, bearish man. He wore a crew-cut, a souvenir from his days as a marine. He was known and respected through out the facility. John Lord was his co-worker, brother-in-law, and physical opposite. He was a thin, wiry man, who did not appear at all imposing. Particularly with his glasses and bald head. But, he was an ex-Green Beret, and could kill a man six different ways with his bare hands. They should be more than sufficient to 'escort' Mister Jones to his room.

Falcone gave them their instructions and added "Men, before you go, I just wanted to say this." He reached behind his large desk, and turned on a tape recorder. Speaking loudly and enunciating, to insure that the machine picked it all up, said, "I, doctor Nathan Falcone, hereby order Heintz and Lord, to place Mister Jones in the holding room. I also hereby absolve them of any and all responsibility in this matter". Satisfied, Falcone turned off the machine and faced the orderlies. "I know you both have families. I don't want you losing your jobs over this. After all, if you did, how could I play poker with you? You'd have no money to take!". Heintz smiled, a strangely chilling sight in and of itself, and said, in his surprisingly gentle voice, "Thanks, doc. Appreciate it". Lord said nothing, but smiled and nodded to show that he agreed. Both men then exited.

A few minutes later, they were dragging Jones down the hall to the area designated "bad boys town". This was where the institute housed its more troublesome 'guests'. Everyone hated it. It felt somehow worse than the rest of the asylum. Oh it looked the same. The walls, tiles and ceiling were the same immaculate white. The air was filled with same mad screams and laughter, and still reeked of disinfectant and cleaning supplies. But there was a feeling of…malevolence Heintz thought. Yeah. This place just feels wrong. . Whenever Heintz came to this wing he always felt wrong, like he was the REAL prisoner. "C'mon. Let's go Jones. It won't be so bad" he said in his most reassuring, 'there-there' tone. He used this on his kids when they had nightmares, too.

"You don't understand" Jones pleaded, tears actually coursing down his cheeks "None of you understand! If I go in there, it'll get me!". The big man was shaking with terror. Geez Lord thought, with more than a little pity this poor guy's really f***ing terrified. But, the doc knows best, I guess.

As if on cue, Doctor Falcone appeared. "Now, mister Jones. This is precisely why we are doing this. You must realize that there is no Shadow Beast. It is nothing more than a delusion, created by your mind to explain the horrific killing and the message on the wall. But, don't worry. We'll have you on the road to recovery soon". Falcone was confident that a stay in the dark room overnight would make Jones confront his irrational fear. Then they'd make some progress in therapy. Falcone figured the whole thing should take about a year.

That night Falcone slept badly. He dreamt that it was forty years in the future. His colleagues were honoring him for his numerous achievements, and he was going up to the podium to give an acceptance speech. As he was about to begin, he looked out at the audience and saw some thing strange. In the middle of the front row, there was a creature. It had the body of a gigantic rodent, with sharp claws, and teeth that looked like they'd be more at home on a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger than on this hideous animal. But what held his attention were the eyes. They were almost like human eyes, and betrayed a spark of intelligence. Yet the irises were red. Blood red. Falcone closed his eyes, and shook his head as if to clear it. When he looked again, the monster was still there, but now the rest of the audience had changed into numerous copies of Mr. Jones. As one, they said "It was after me doctor. It got me, but now it wants you. It's judged you, and says you must die". And the Jones' started to laugh, a deranged, braying laugh. Falcone awoke screaming. He did not go back to sleep, preferring instead to wait out the two hours 'til dawn convincing himself that it was just a dream.


The next morning, Falcone had all but forgotten his nightmare. He was still haunted by those eyes though. It was as if it looking into my soul. Judging me. He thought over breakfast, and gave an involuntary shudder. When he arrived at Peaceful Pines, he rushed straight to the bad boys wing. He wanted to see Jones, partly because he wanted to continue treatment ASAP, but also partly because he wanted to prove to himself that it had been a mere dream.

"Come on, Heintz!" he said to the big man, who lagged behind him as they strode down the corridor "You're holding us up!". Heintz picked up his pace and smiled "You're real frisky today, doc. New vitamins? Or just a new lady?". Falcone laughed, and Heintz laughed with him. It was the last good laugh Falcone ever had.

They reached Jones' room five minutes later. Falcone looked at the guard. He'd placed one there to keep people out, and had also told him to ignore any screaming that Jones might do. There was nothing in there he could hurt himself with, so it would only be screams of fear. Precisely what Falcone wanted. "Anything I should no about, Ralph?" he asked the guard. "Naw, nothing important. He screamed until about 12:30, an' then just stopped. Guess he knew no one was gonna help him, huh?". Falcone was a tad concerned. He had expected Jones to have been screaming a lot longer than that. "Open the door" he said. Ralph did.

What the group saw next haunted them for the rest of their days. In the corner there lay a heap which had originally been Anthony Jones. He was recognized only because he was the room's sole occupant. The body itself was unrecognizable. It's face was missing, and the skull had been cracked open, the brain removed. The chest had been torn open, and the ribs were splayed. One arm was missing. The floor was covered in blood. In a last ditch effort to keep from screaming, he tore his gaze from the grisly scene and focused on the rear wall.

That was a mistake he would pay for all his life.

What he saw there not only made him scream, but annihilated the last vestiges of sanity that he possessed. Scrawled there, it what could only be Jones blood a was a message. The letters were jagged, as if they had actually been slashed into the wall (this was later confirmed), but he could still read it. It said: "You dont believe in me docter. That's OK. Jones didnt beleve eyether, but I got him. I'l be coming for you, tuu. Bewair.". It sure has bad spelling Falcone thought and he started to laugh. Just like Jones had in his dream. Then the laugh turned into a scream.

Not one of those three men came out of that incident unchanged. Ralph quit his job the next day, and he currently works as a garbageman. Heintz fared the best of the three. He was able to put the incident from his conscious mind, and is still working at the institute. But he never did sleep soundly again, his rest troubled by visions. As for Falcone, he's also still at Peaceful Pines. Only now he's a resident. And his therapist, doctor Ethan Faust, is starting to consider drastic measures...