Rumpus Original Fiction: shadowman


jose says a man’s in the closet. he’s lying. his cotton-ball-brows say so, so do his eyes—wide & open like a porcelain doll. should have seen this coming when he came into the room. when he had to open the closet door to find something. something he could not describe or even pretend to know. liar. liar. L-I-A-R. the closet’s empty: nobody’s in there.

jose must be out of ideas to use shadowman again. he lives in closets, stalks young kids, & takes them in the middle of the night. which is what shadowman’s doing right now: standing & staring & waiting. waiting for the room to go dark.

jose must think himself so clever with what happened last time. last time, he was so believable—jumping up & down, looking into the closet, face an owl with fear.

jose screamed SHADOWMAN, turned off the lights, & slammed the door shut. tried to teleport to the light with super speed but didn’t. a cool breeze monkeyed around on the back of the neck before moving was possible. so so cold. the scream that cartwheeled out was a deep belly roar.

seconds later, jose opened the door laughing—hahahaHAHAHAhahaha. chased him round & round. until, mom said she was gonna get the chancla, give a good beating.

he wants the same reaction & would have. but, shadowman scares no more. took care of him two days ago. magic stopped him. grandma showed how.

last week, was said to be sicker than a storm punching down on the world by dad. couldn’t even stand up without the world playing tricks. up was down & down was swimming. wanted nothing more than to be out of bed playing. was not allowed to move a muscle. REST WAS NEEDED, that’s all anyone said. felt so much like a toy—always under the eye of a bigger person, never allowing to bloom alive like when left alone.

was sick & sad & mad in bed when grandma came. she wore a new tangerine wig; her face was done-up in light colors resembling grinning clouds; her eyebrows were drawn in straight black raindrops; & she smelled of masa & perfume. her first action was to touch some skin. hot. too hot. if the heat did not cool down, then the body would cook itself. become like papas. so scary she was then, but grandma was going to take care of the sickness.

out of all the things she could carry in her bag, she brought an egg. thought it was nothing more than her breakfast or part of one of her diets. mom said grandma was a ‘yo-yoer,’ but never, not one single time, saw her with one, not rolling up a string & throwing it out.

grandma palmed the egg & sat real close. then, she began rubbing the egg into skin, starting at the forehead. she started muttering, quiet. her words seemed strange, important. the type of words to dig into the skin & make a home.

asked her what she was saying, but she didn’t reply. grandma told me later she needed her prayers to drip into my egg so she could absorb all the badness, all the evil in the body.

grandma lied though. she was not praying. she used magic! there’s no other explanation for the fever fading the very next day. for allowing the meeting of sunlight, the first time in four days, without having a stomach nightmare, throwing-up chunks.

took the egg out of the trash & put it in the closet. leaving it in there would take care of shadowman. & it did: the air felt less heavy, less mean.

jose doesn’t know any of this. this is why he takes a step back for drama & points to the closet: SHADOWMAN’S THERE! RIGHT THERE!

fear forces a glance at the closet. what if the egg couldn’t capture all the badness? what if shadowman broke out? look hard. is that… an arm? a turtleneck. eyes? buttons. the closet’s dark & empty, & jose’s a liar.

jose runs out of the room after turning off the lights & slams the door shut. scream. loud. mean it. don’t laugh. don’t smile. winning will come later: when the lights go out, after dad gives jose a beating for messing, when jose goes to sleep & doesn’t notice the egg is underneath his bed. the egg will clean him & he’ll be the older jose, the jose who liked to play without hurting. who’s the tricker now?


Rumpus original art by Madeline Kreider Carlson.

jj peña (pronouns he/they) is a queer, burrito-blooded writer. jj's work is included in the Best Microfiction 2020 anthology and Wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions (2020). jj is a 2021 Periplus fellow, holds a BA in both English and Anthropology, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. jj's stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Washington Square Review, Cincinnati Review, Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. jj serves as a flash fiction reader for Split Lip magazine. More from this author →