“David?” I called out to the boy, trying to get his focus back. As I sat and took notes on what he was feeling, it became clear that keeping the attention of a six year old was not an easy thing to do at 4:30 in the afternoon. He played with a few of the building blocks and action figures that I had on the table. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it at all. He played the way all small children played. Spoke the way all small children spoke He seemed well adjusted enough, despite his parents’ bitter divorce two years ago. And yet…as I sit back and look at the pictures he drew in his first grade art class…I knew that this boy wasn’t as ‘average’ as he appeared. There’s no way that David could have come up with these…’horrific’ images on his own. Not without being exposed to something children that age should never see.
His mother, Katherine, brought him in because she says that he started sleepwalking. Leaving his room in the middle of the night, and not returning home for an hour or two. These pictures he draws in class, and some of the stories he tells…they seemed so independent from who he was as person. None of it fit into the cheerful and loving boy that I’ve been seeing in my office for the past few visits.
“David?” I called again.
“Huh?” The little boy didn’t even turn his dark brown eyes in my direction when he answered. More concerned with his own little ‘action theater’ on my toy table.
“Can we talk some more?”
“Sure. Ok.” He said. His mushroom topped head of chestnut brown hair spun around, and he grabbed two of the ninja figures from the table and brought it back to the couch with him. He hopped up playfully, and began to swing his legs, kicking the back of the couch with his heels.
“I was looking at some of your drawings, David. I wanted to ask you about them.”
“Do ya like ‘em?” He asked innocently.
“Oh, David…they’re wonderful. Very well done.” I said, hoping to give him some level of encouragement to keep him from shutting me out…once I got into the actual ‘questions’. “But I was wondering…what made you draw these? What were you thinking about?” At first he just concentrated on his action figures, and shrugged his shoulders. But I tried to continue to press him for an answer. “Let’s take this one, for example. When you look at this…what do see, David?”
He glanced up at the picture, and he said, “Oh, that’s a monster. And he’s kinda mad I think, so he runs up to the other man, and then ‘POW’! He punches him in the face, and then he pushes him down on the ground. See?” He pointed to the red puddle he drew on the page, scribbled in red crayon. “An’ then…an’ then…the monster is hungry, so he eats the man’s neck. And then he gets all messy, and he has to change his shirt. My mommy makes me change my shirt too when I get messy.”
He seemed to show no sense of…’struggle’ with the comprehension of what he had depicted here Neither mental or emotional. He seemed rather unaffected by the idea, as a matter of fact. As if he was just recalling the details of some animated cartoon. “Where did you get the idea for something like this? Were you watching TV?”
“Nope. My mommy says I can’t watch TV after seven o’clock. Because then I won’t take my bath, and she can’t put me to bed until I take my bath.” He answered.
“So you see these things…after Mommy puts you to bed?” I asked.
“Uh huh. Much later. Sometimes I’m sleepy, but the Shadow Man wakes me up, and he says we can go out and play.” At that moment, the little boy’s eyes widened, and he covered his mouth with both hands. “Ooops! I wasn’t supposed to tell anybody.” He seemed to be frustrated with himself, and he pouted quietly for a second or two before I spoke again.
“It’s ok, David. I won’t tell anybody you told.” I assured him. “Who is the Shadow Man, David? Can you tell me about him?”
“He’s my friend.”
“You friend? Like…and imaginary friend? Maybe he lives in your closet…or under your bed.”
His little face frowned up. “No. Why would he live under there?”
“Well maybe he says there to protect you from the boogie man.” I said with a grin. And he gave me the most adorably serious look.
“I’m six years old, Mister. Only babies believe in the boogie man. Everybody knows that.”
“Hehehe, of course. Didn’t mean to insult you.” I pulled out another one of his drawings. This one was even more gruesome than the last. “What about this one, David? Can you tell me what happened here?”
“Uh-huh…the Shadow Man caught some bad people outside my house. And he said the bad people were gonna rob me and Mommy. Robbers are mean.”
“This…Shadow Man….he didn’t want you to get hurt?”
“No way. The Shadow Man says he’s always gonna look after me and Mommy. And he wants us to be happy, and have cool stuff, and then he said that one day, when I’m old enough, he’s gonna take me away. And then I can be a Shadow Man too. But I have to wait til I’m old though. Like eighteen or maybe even TWENTY. That bites.” He said. “But he’s gonna be real close until then. That’s what he said. And when those bad robbers came to our house, he beat them up real good.” David then leaned forward, and cupped his hand by the side of his mouth to whisper. “He doesn’t think I saw…but I did. He said, ‘David…don’t you look’…but I peeked. And he ripped one of the robbers’ arms off, and he bit the other one on the shoulder. And there was soooo much blood. They were screaming, so I got scared and stopped looking. But I saw that part.” He pointed to his drawing. “See? That’s the robber, and that’s his arm waaay over there. And that’s the bad man after he fell, and the Shadow Man turned his head backwards. It was gross.”
I took some more notes, discussing the boy’s vivid imagination and attention to detail. Naturally, this was a very violent fabrication of his mind. Perhaps an expression for some other deep seeded problem. It’s always best to catch these things early. Before the poor kid wakes up one morning with the need to torture small animals and start wearing his mother’s panties around the house. I’ve talked to the mother about the divorce and I can imagine how a household with so much anger and conflict could tear down a young boy’s sense of reality. It’s an escape. A way to deal with the heartbreak of having his family unit dismantled right in front of his very eyes. It’s a hard subject to approach, but one that he’s eventually going to have to face.
“Can I ask you a question, David?” He seemed to be re-involving himself with his action figures, now almost frustrated at another interruption.
“All you DO is ask questions, Mister.”
“I know you want to play, David, but just a few more questions, ok? We’re almost done for the day.” He stuck out his bottom lip a bit, and I tried to sweeten the deal. “I’ll tell you what? You answer a few more questions…and you tell me the honest ‘pinky swear’ truth about them…and I’ll let you take the ninja men home with you tonight to play with. Ok?”
“Really? Ooh, can I???” He said, completely re-energized by the idea.
“You can, but ONLY if you tell me the truth. Ok? You promise?” I said, and held out my pinky for him to give me a very enthusiastic pinky swear and a bright double-dimpled smile that could outshine the sun itself. “Alright. Tell me…do you remember leaving you room at night? When Mommy tells you that you’ve been missing.”
“Uh-huh. Of course I do. Mommy says I was walking in my sleep, but I wasn’t. The Shadow Man came and got me. And he told me to put on my shoes and long jammies…and sometimes he tells me to put on a jacket so I don’t catch cold.” The boy said
“He…comes to ‘get’ you?”
“Yep. I know it’s him because he taps on my window, and he whispers my name. And then he takes me out and we talk and stuff.”
“What do you and the Shadow Man talk about?”
“I’m not supposed to tell. It’s a secret.” He said, then lowered his head. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you either. I’m dumb.”
“You’re not dumb, David. It’s ok. I promise not to say anything. It’s just between you and me.”
But…in a deep, almost sad voice, he replied…”It won’t matter. He can tell. He can always tell.”
Something about that statement seemed rather ‘chilling’ coming from a six year old. But as our time was coming to an end, I decided to maybe…make a slight assumption about what was happening here. “David…do you ever think thatmaybe…you miss your dad so much…that you made up the Shadow Man to take his place? Somebody to talk to you? Teach you things? Protect you and your mommy from the bad men? Maybe you just want your father back.”
David gave me the strangest look. “But I didn’t make him up. The Shadow Man’s real, and he’s my friend. I swear! No fibbin’!”
“Come on, David, it’s just you and me, remember? I won’t tell.” I said with a smile, but a hint of frustration came back to his face.
“Nobody believes me.” He sulked. “But he’s real, I tell you. I know he is.” And at that moment, our session ended and I noticed his mother, Katherine, peeking in through the door. She kept such a tight schedule. Most single mothers do. She didn’t have much time for a therapy session to run more than a minute or two over. David was overjoyed to see her, as it meant no more questions. But then he turned to me and asked, “I was being honest, Mister. Just like I promised. Can I still take the ninja men home with me? Please?”
“Heh…of course you can, David. Enjoy them.” David walked out of the room, and Katherine gave me a concerned look, asking if we had made any more progress than last week. “Unfortunately, he’s still convinced that there’s a monster outside of his window…doing these horrible things. But I think I’m beginning to scratch the surface of what’s really going on here. I’d like to talk to him some more, if that’s alright with you.”
“Please do.” She said. “All of this talk of monsters and biting people…it’s such a horrible thing for a little boy to think about. David he’s…he’s really a sweet kid, Doctor. He doesn’t usually do this.”
“I believe you, Ms. Fowler, and don’t worry..we’ll figure out what’s going on in your son’s head soon enough.” I reached over to my desk to grab her a business card. “Now this is my personal number. You call me if you see anything strange or feel that David is acting out in any odd or irrational ways. Ok?”
“Thank you, Doctor. I owe you everything.” She said, and was almost ready to leave when David hurried back and gave me a hug around the waist. The short boy barely came up above my belt, but his little arms held me tight.
“Hehehe, what was that for, champ?” I asked him.
“I’m not gonna see you anymore. I just wanted to say goodbye.” He said softly.
“Not going to see me? What do you mean? I’m not going anywhere, David. I’m going to be right here to talk to you some more. Anytime you want. Ok? I’ll see you next week, after school.”
But David shook his head. “Unh-unh. No you won’t. The Shadow Man told me not to tell, and I told. And now..you have to go to where the angels go.”
Astonished, David’s mother grabbed a hold of his hand. “David??? That’s a terrible thing to say. You take that back and apologize this instant.”
“But Mommy…that’s what the Shadow Man told me. He said don’t you EVER tell, or he’ll have to come find whoever I told…and make him go away forever.”
“DAVID!” But I made sure to calm her down a bit.
“It’s ok, Ms. Fowler. It’s important right now that David be free to speak his mind and tell us what’s bothering him.” I looked back down at the boy, and bent over a bit. “You just promise me you’ll come back next week, and I promise to look out my window for the monster. Deal?” Even for a six year old, he felt patronized by my smile. But he shook my hand anyway, an expression of sadness in his bright eyes.
“Goodbye, Mister. I’m sorry I made you go where the angels go. But you told me to be honest.”
“I’ll be ok.”
“No…you won’t.” He said, and he left with his mother giving me the most apologetic look imaginable.
Whatever fantasies that boy had swirling around in his head…he certainly believed in them. I’d never seen anything like it in a boy so young. Strange.
When I got back to my condo apartment that night, I fixed myself a stiff drink and sat down in my easy chair. Thoughts of David’s ‘Shadow Man’ kept spinning around and around in my thoughts, and my fascination caused me to reach into my briefcase and look at his drawings again. Pictures that were…’childish’, yes, but soaked in the kind of gore and misery of a much older man. Limbs severed, splashes of blood, broken bones, faces nearly torn apart with screams of agony. They were almost hard to look at. Nearly impossible to imagine a boy as quiet and well mannered as David coming up with something that would cause vets from the Viet Nam WAR to turn away in disgust. Who is this violent creature? This mysterious ‘Shadow Man’? What does he represent? What am I missing?
It got to be late, and it was about time for me to turn in to bed. So I walked over towards my window to turn off the lamp..and that’s when I noticed something down in the middle of the small park behind my apartment complex. I had to do a double take, as it was dark, and didn’t stand out much at first. But when I looked back again..I saw a silhouette in the shadows. A man…with a long trench coat…standing silently by the swing set.
He didn’t move.
I watched as a cool midnight wind blew his long hair and coat tail gently
He didn’t speak.
Somehow, even from this distance…looking down on his position from the 7th floor…I could just tell…
…That he could ‘see’ me.
And what was even creepier…
…He seemed to be watching.
I stood in that window for a full five minutes, and the figure never moved. It was as if he was waiting for some kind of hidden signal. And just when I was about ready to reach for my cell phone and call the police to report the suspicious stranger, I noticed a pair of glowing red eyes that emerged from the darkness surrounding him. I froze. My breath got short. And with a sudden jolt of fear, I stepped away from the window.
I should call this in. I should definitely say something. I looked for my cell, and saw it sitting on top of David’s drawings on my desk. And it was then that I noticed the dark figure in the drawings once again…an ice cold shiver traveling down my spine. The long hair…the trench coat…the glowing red eyes.
But it couldn’t be. That’s not reality. It’s a little boy’s drawing for crying out loud. It’s not….it can’t…I refuse to believe that a…
But just as my thoughts and my fears began to meet on a middle ground…I saw the shadowed outline of a figure appear just on the other side of my window shades. I stared at it in disbelief. I was on the 7th floor! Who could possibly be standing outside my window??? WHO???? WHO????????
I felt a paralyzing sense of sheer terror race through me…as I heard the window slowly creep open….
And I dropped my cell phone to the floor as I held my breath in silence. To frightened to stand still, but WAY too scared to run.
And as the dark shadow tapped gently at my window, with long nails and a nocturnal hiss…the last words I was to ever hear were…
“Forgive me, Doctor….”