The last thing Eva expects on the prep night for her lonesome Thanksgiving is to have a shadow creature show up on her porch. What’s more unexpected is the discovery that the shadow is much more than it seems—and that it’s aiming for much more than a nibble of what it smells cooking.
I hadn’t been expecting company so late into the night. Outside, the wind howled loudly, trees shaking with the force of it. The high winds of late fall were always the best for setting the atmosphere for the holidays up north, that is if you don’t mind giant tree branches occasionally snapping off and hitting the house. That’s what I had been half afraid happened when I heard the first knock.
Things always seemed to interrupt me in the middle of working. I was halfway through preparing the first round of dishes for my lonesome Thanksgiving, making a large surplus of food in preparation in case any of my lone wolf siblings showed up at the door. I knew they wouldn’t, but I liked to hope.
The sudden sound shocked me right into the air, almost making me send my perfectly pressed pie crust to the ceiling. With a curse, I speedily dusted the flour off my hands and onto a stray dishtowel, hurrying toward my front door. Along the way, I tried in vain to fix myself up as much as possible before greeting my guest.
I already knew it wasn’t going to be any of my family, since they had called long earlier to hand in their excuses as to why they couldn’t come. Having a visitor was a bit out of the normal for me, so I checked through the peephole just in case I was being tricked into inviting in some sort of burglar or a serial killer.
Seeing nothing upon my first inspection, I slowly open my door just enough to get a small glimpse of the porch. The darkness of the night didn’t help me as I scanned the path outside, but either way, I didn’t see anything. Only the same untouched, quiet landscape I was used to seeing most of my days.
I almost dismissed the knocking, telling myself I was probably just hearing things, or maybe someone was pranking me. You’d be surprised how far kids would go to do silly stuff like that. Once a year, around Halloween, a group of teens would invariably travel two hours into the forest to mess around in a terribly haunted mansion just to win points with their peers. It was a tradition everyone around participated in at least once in their lives, and I had the scars to prove it.
It was only when I started to close the door that I spied a small dark figure huddled in the corner of my porch.
No bigger than a medium-sized dog, it stood in the shadow of the windowsill next to the door, shaking wildly. Its slitted yellow eyes glowed in the light of the door, watching me warily as it remained where it stood. The thing made no move to leave, or pounce—instead, it just recoiled and shook like a wounded animal.
I knew the general rules when it came to animals that strayed too close to civilization. Typically, if they were close to people, they were either wounded, starving and seeking anything edible that wouldn’t put up a fight, or the type that wasn’t afraid of us and more likely to just attack.
Since I had opened the door and it hadn’t pounced, it was probably hungry. Biting my lip, I considered my options. I could leave the creature out in the cold and snow, or I could risk myself and go out and help it.
Damn that holiday spirit.
Making a quick trip to my kitchen, I return with a whole slab of roasted ham. I slowly eased the door open, and cautiously crouched down to extend the meat toward the creature.
“Hey, buddy. I have some food for you,” I crooned, trying my best to radiate peaceful energy as I inched my way across the porch.
In the darkness under the windowsill, I couldn’t make out even a single feature of the thing. It was like it melted right into the shadow. It could have been a gremlin, for all I knew.
When it moved into the light, I almost shot right back into the house. Instead of a physical form, the creature moved forward with smoky tendrils of grey mist, like a living cloud. At my slight start, it recoiled slightly, only to continue its forward momentum with renewed vigor once its gaze landed on the meat.
I had no idea what bravery I conjured to keep my shaking hand outstretched. Part of me was terrified of this mysterious creature and wanted to flee, and another didn’t want to scare away the already skittish thing. Probably the only reason I stayed in place was the fact that if I turned and left it now, I would beat myself up for days knowing I left some poor creature hungry in the cold.
I had already sealed my fate when I went and grabbed the meat—a hunk of ham I was going to use for a soup later in the week. I would have to face it now, even if the thing was a demon ready to eat me whole.
The first tentative brush from one of its tendrils on the back of my hand made my entire body shiver. It was the most peculiar rush of warmth and energy, with just the barest amount of physical form to it. It was both there and not, solid and yet incorporeal at the same time.
The first touch was quickly joined by another, then another, until my entire hand was engulfed in warm writhing tentacles of smoke.
I could feel it tug at the meat in my hand, not removing it as it explored around my grip. My arm felt heavy, drooping with the heft of the creature attached to it. It seemed strange that something that looked like a storm cloud could even have weight, but that was far from the strangest thing about the situation.
It took less than a minute for the thing to finally pull away, falling back onto the porch and leaving me with an empty palm.
It even ate the bone.