Shadows Among Us

The Paranormal Investigator Book 7

by Christopher Carrolli

The shadows are always watching—and waiting.

Beneath the blazing desert sun, Tahoe Manoa has opened a strange puzzle box. The box is an odd inheritance passed down to him by his great-grandfather, a long dead Cherokee warrior. As the box opens, the desert atmosphere suddenly changes. Struck by sudden fear, Tahoe stands helpless as dark, shadowy figures surround him in the desert.

After fleeing the shadows, Tahoe realizes they are haunting him. The shadows, poltergeist in nature, have even made physical contact. He immediately boards a flight to Pittsburgh and enlists the help of the paranormal investigators, but before arriving in room 208, Tahoe learns the shadows have followed him.

Growing up, Tahoe heard legends of such entities—shadow walkers, more commonly known as shadow people. Soon, the shadows haunt each of the investigators, spreading their presences like a contagion. Their intent is the theft of human souls. Now, Tahoe and the investigators must discover the origin of the shadows and vanquish them forever—before it’s too late.


Chapter One
Shadows in the Desert


Tahoe Manoa twisted and turned the strange puzzle box from left to right, sliding its panels up and down and side to side, hoping to open the small mystery he held in his hands. He stood on the desert floor, allowing the blazing sun to highlight the task before him. Seeing the box clearly beneath the soft interior lights in his house had been difficult. It was too dark, and his eyes were too old. The rectangular box had been handcrafted of solid wood, oak by the looks of it. Its length elongated as his hands worked feverishly. The box’s panels clicked and clacked as he slid them in frustration.

The unfamiliar hand-me-down was an odd inheritance, one that nagged at him once he realized it was a puzzle box. It once belonged to his great-grandfather, the chief of a tribe long gone. The great chief’s son, Tahoe’s grandfather, had stowed all of his father’s belongings, preserving them as reminders of his heritage. In time, they were passed down to Tahoe’s father, and then to him. Like his father, Tahoe was a modern man, a man born of the twentieth-century, though he valued both his history and his Native-American heritage. He’d kept the various artifacts and relics stored in his attic until recently.

A friend who worked as a curator for a local museum of Native-American history asked if he’d be interested in donating anything of historical value. He agreed. After all, to whom would he pass on these valuable legacies? He had no one, and his family remained distant and scattered. What better place to keep them preserved, where the world could experience them? Tahoe had inventoried things like an old drum made from cattle hide, tools and utensils, and homemade instruments like knives and tomahawks. Yet one artifact caught his attention and provoked a nagging feeling inside him, one that persisted like the jagged pricking of a sharp thorn. It was a long, rectangular puzzle box.

Tahoe spent hours trying to open it. It was a piece that seemed out of place amid all the other time marked relics. It displayed no particularity, no sign of its origin. He’d gently lifted it from his father’s old trunk, held it up to the light, and examined it closely. Then, one of the panels slid through his fingers, yet the box hadn’t opened. He’d known right away what it was—a puzzle box. He’d spent days trying to discover what was inside. Now, Tahoe ignored the flare of his arthritis. His fumbling fingers flipped the panels in different directions. Sweat drenched his face in the blazing sun. His efforts were futile; the box wouldn’t open.

Then, something happened when his hand accidently brushed the bottom part of the box. The box’s base turned horizontally. Earlier, it remained unmovable. It moved now because he’d slid an upper panel up and to the right. Slowly, he turned the bottom part of the box, and the panels on both sides opened.

He’d done it. Tahoe stood stunned beneath the desert sun. Suddenly, surprise turned to confusion, and then frustration. The box was empty. He could see through it from one side to the other. That was the strangeness of it. What had this artifact once held or hidden? Why had his family held onto such a thing for so many years? It was senseless; there was nothing inside it. He would give the stupid box to the museum; let them admire it as a priceless piece of Native-American handiwork. It wasn’t worth any more of his time.

Then, he felt it. Heat surrounded him, as if the temperature had suddenly climbed. Hot wind began to blow. A pain shot up his arm, and then it was gone. Inexplicably, he felt an overwhelming sense of fear, as if unheard voices whispered omens in the desert wind. He looked around. Something occurred in the atmosphere as soon as he’d opened the box. The wind suddenly intensified, blowing tumbleweed past him.

He winced as drifting sand assaulted his eyes. The sting of the blowing sand blinded him, causing him to squint. His rubbed his eyes, and then opened them slowly as the desert sun suddenly darkened. A dingy grayness blanketed everything around him. Something had changed, as if all the light in the world had abruptly been hidden by shadows.

He brushed more sand out of his eyes and tried to focus. The sunlight brightened as the sudden darkness moved away from it. The great shadow that had blocked out the sun now split into human figures that danced across the desert floor. Shadows of people—people who weren’t there. That’s what he saw. He watched them move in different directions, a strange parade of shadows seeking a destination. Then, the shadows turned and moved toward him. Tahoe’s heart pounded a beat too fast for his age as they came closer. He tried to back away, but the shadows swiftly stood behind him, in front of him, and beside him. They stopped moving and formed a circle around him.

A chill like death enveloped him in the midst of the desert, as if the blazing sun had suddenly froze. The surrounding shadows silently watched him, awaiting his response. The beings stood still, examining him like a specimen. Tahoe gazed at the shadows, his eyes moving from one to another. Each of them appeared differently, as each and every human is different, but these were shadows, dark masses devoid of flesh, faces, or identity. Then, Tahoe caught something from the corner of his eye. Glowing red eyes peeped quickly from the dark figures, flaring and then fading, all too fast for his eyes to catch.

He would have to make a run for it to get back into the house. He hadn’t far to go, fifteen-feet at most. Tahoe’s third eye showed him nothing about the beings in front of him, but all of his psychic instincts told him these figures were evil and that he must run. He turned and dashed to his back door. In his mind, he saw the shadows pursuing him. His heart raced even faster. Finally, he gripped the back door’s lever and pulled hard. The door whooshed open.

Tahoe turned, pulling the door closed. There was nothing behind him now. The shadows were gone, as if he’d imagined them. He stood staring through the glass door to his back porch, and farther out to the vast desert floor. Nothing stirred. There was no raging wind, no sudden darkness. The sun beamed as brightly as it had when he stood in the heat of its glare.

He glanced at the puzzle box in his hand. Opening the box caused the disturbance he’d experienced; he was sure of it. The wind, the darkness, and the shadows all began when he’d opened it. Had he unleashed the shadows? Suddenly, the strange foreboding fear he’d felt lifted like a veil. Tahoe was not old or stupid enough to think it was all in his mind. He was eighty now, but his mind would never fade. Like a sacred heart, his mind would be the last thing to die.

Whatever it was that besieged him outside was gone now. Tahoe turned away from the door, and a shadow shot fast from the corner of his eye. It ran away from him and toward the northern part of the house. He turned his head and caught another shadow moving quickly to the west. The shadows were inside the house. They had followed him inside.

Tahoe stepped slowly. His eyes scanned every inch around him but saw nothing. Then, he closed his eyes, lifted his head, and focused his third eye. A white flash like lightning exploded in his mind, revealing darkness in its wake. Yet the darkness was not pitch-black; it was a dim, shadowy realm through which Tahoe’s third eye searched. In his vision, he saw them. Shadows multiplied, and then spread apart from each other, shedding their coexistence within a strange black mass. They danced, ran, and moved about freely. Then, the shadows stopped and stared at him once again. They saw him in the vision.

He opened his eyes and looked around the room, seeing nothing, but he could feel them. The strange sensation of being watched by invisible strangers who stirred somewhere within overwhelmed him. The chill he’d felt outside wrapped around his shoulders and trickled down his spine. They were here.

He had let them in.

* * *

Later that evening, Tahoe reexamined the relics and artifacts he’d prepared for the museum. All of the pieces remained fresh in his mind as he’d carefully inventoried and cataloged each one of them. Rummaging through an antiquated history once again, he hoped to discover anything that might give him answers about the puzzle box. He found nothing. The box was the only relic that seemed out of the ordinary among all other items. Tahoe’s first impression had been that the box was some type of toy, or a piece of craftwork made by one of the many tribesmen in the past. He thought better after opening the box.

After leaving the attic, he entered one of the spare bedrooms he’d renovated and used as his personal library. Hundreds of books were stacked side by side on numerous shelves set against the walls. Tahoe retrieved a few books from one shelf, all of them dealing with Native-American art, artifacts, and relics, anything that might help him in his search. He sat down at a small table and flipped through the pages, staring at pictures of pottery, designs, tools, utensils, weapons, and even dolls. Nowhere did he find any pictures depicting handcrafted puzzle boxes. He slammed the last of the thick volumes shut in frustration.

There had to be another route, some other avenue to begin to understand this mystery. Tahoe rarely used the desktop computer he’d kept in this room. He didn’t trust internet research. He discovered much of it to be repeated encyclopedia facts and convoluted information written by amateurs. He rose from his chair at the small table and went back to the shelves.

The Native-American culture held many strange legends and tales. Legends and Folklore, that’s where he would look. As a child, he’d heard legends of ‘shadow walkers,’ but that was a long time ago. He would have to think back long and hard. He retrieved a thick volume from the shelf and flipped through pages of information, primarily searching for words such as “ghosts” or “shadows.” He walked back to the table with book in hand and sat back down.

Then, the air around him turned cold.

Tahoe felt a presence in the room. Slowly, he lifted his head and saw the dark shape standing across the table from him. The shadow watched him, motionless and daunting. Tahoe’s heart pounded like before, but no pain besieged him this time, only a sense of dread that his sharp mind quickly overruled. Mind over matter. All things in the real world held dominance over that which remained hidden, especially something that refused to reveal itself. The shadows outside in the desert had surprised and overwhelmed him. A lone shadow stood before him now, one he’d been expecting.

“Who are you? What are you? I’m not afraid. I have faced worse than you.” Tahoe stood from the chair, confronting the shadow. “It is I who released you. Go back to the Hell from which you came!”

Tahoe cried out in pain as an invisible claw slashed his right hand. He threw his head back in a whiplash motion. His left hand clasped its bloody mate. He glared back at the shadow and watched as bright red eyes glowered and then faded within the looming blackness. Slowly, the dark mass dissipated, until Tahoe could see the wall behind it. The shadow was gone. The room’s normal temperature returned.

After applying pressure to the wound, he cleaned it, and then wrapped his hand in a bandage. The slash was not that deep, but enough to become infected if untreated. His wounded hand was not what bothered him. The shadows he had inadvertently loosed were capable of more than he imagined. These were not ghosts. They were shadow people, beings that had made physical contact with him, contact that could have turned deadly.

Did they seek vengeance because he’d released them from their slumber? Tahoe now sat in the light of his kitchen, wondering what he’d unleashed upon the world. Something moved within the corner of his eye. A shadow ran quickly in front of him and was gone.

Tonight, he would sleep with one eye open, as the old saying advised. He would rest, but not enough to lose consciousness. Remaining vigilant in case one of the shadows tried to harm him while he slept was the best he could accomplish at this late hour.

Tomorrow, in the light of day, he would pack quickly and take another unexpected trip to Pennsylvania. He’d done it twice before on brief notice. The first time was to help Leah Leeds confront demons in Cedar Manor. He had first encountered her when she was a child with a powerful psychic ability. Her friend, Brett Taylor, had tracked him down after many years. She needed his help. Later, his dire visions of Brett Taylor forced him to return to Pennsylvania. This time, it was he who needed the paranormal investigators’ help. This time, he was in imminent danger.

"Shadows Among Us" - Christopher Carrolli


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