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4. The Shadow Man


Sophie was looking forward to seeing her old friend Howard again, and with any luck maybe he’d know what Ryan was up to. She was currently avoiding direct contact with Ryan, especially after what had happened last year.
She carefully held her newly acquired tabby cat under one arm and then knocked on Howard’s door with the other.
‘Hello Sophie,’ smiled Howard as he opened the old wooden door, ‘look who else is here.’
Sophie hadn’t been expecting to bump into Ryan so soon, and was temporarily stumped when seeing him standing near the doorway. A brief glance into his intense green eyes quickly confirmed that he was not pleased to see her.
‘Hi Howard,’ said Sophie, now purposefully ignoring Ryan, ‘I found this cat further down the lane. I’ve decided to call him Howard, after you.’
‘Oh the poor thing,’ said Howard stroking his namesake. ‘Someone must have forgotten to take him to the animal compound. Have a cup of tea with us Soph, and then we’ll drive him down there.’
‘Aw, can’t I just keep him?’ protested Sophie.
‘Well, he’s not really yours to keep now is he,’ said Howard.
‘Whatever then,’ huffed Sophie, throwing the cat onto the sitting room sofa. ‘Have you got any whisky?’
She sensed Ryan rolling his eyes, but it didn’t matter because she was ignoring him.
‘Well,’ said Howard awkwardly, ‘yes, but perhaps a cup of tea would be more sensible at this time of...’
‘Whisky is better though,’ interrupted Sophie. ‘Is that Derek I can hear snoring upstairs?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ confirmed Howard from the kitchen as he poured a small amount of whisky into a glass for Sophie. ‘He does tend to snore all winter.’
‘You’ll have to let us meet him one of these years Doc,’ interjected Ryan in a desperate attempt to enter the conversation.
Howard laughed. ‘Well, there’s nothing I’d like more, but the pair of you never even so much as call me during the Waking Time.’
Sophie and Ryan said nothing.
‘Here you go Soph,’ said Howard passing Sophie the glass.
‘Yum,’ said Sophie, downing it in one. ‘Got any more?’
‘Perhaps later,’ said Howard. ‘Anyway, why don’t the three of us all stop standing around like giraffes, and sit down by the fire eh?’
‘Three of us?’ asked Sophie, looking around as if Ryan wasn’t there. Then she suddenly decided to notice him. ‘Ryan!’ she exclaimed, ‘Sorry, I didn’t see you standing there in the corner. How are you, you old scallywag?’
‘Just fine,’ replied Ryan, ‘until you turned...’
‘So Ryan,’ interrupted Howard, ‘why don’t you go out and fill up the kettle again eh? And then we can all have another nice cup of tea.’
‘With pleasure,’ sneered Ryan, snatching the kettle from Howard and stomping out into the garden.
Once Ryan was gone, Howard turned to Sophie and stared straight into her eyes.
‘What’s all that about then?’ he asked.
Sophie could feel her face reddening. ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ she said.
‘You were both getting on fine when I saw you last year, better than fine in fact...’ said Howard scratching his head. ‘Hang on, did you have sex with Ryan?’
‘Maybe a little bit,’ shrugged Sophie.
Howard shook his head in dismay. ‘And I suppose Holly knows nothing about it?’
‘How would I know?’ asked Sophie obtusely.
‘But what about that guy you were seeing back then, Jason wasn’t it?’
‘He was a dick,’ said Sophie, ‘he threw me out last month. I’ve been living on the streets since then.’
‘Living on the streets?!’ exclaimed Howard in shock. ‘You should have come to me.’
‘Awakers don’t see other awakers during the Waking Time,’ said Sophie, ‘you know that.’
‘Poppycock and piffle,’ said Howard. ‘If you were in trouble you should have come to me.’
Their conversation abruptly halted as Ryan re-entered the sitting room with the refilled kettle and passed it to Howard.
‘Here you go Doc,’ he said. ‘Listen, there’s some...stuff I need to sort out so I’ll have to go now. Let me know what you find out about that orb. Cheerio.’
‘Um bye...’ said Howard, but the door had already shut behind Ryan.
Howard sighed. ‘Fancy some more whisky?’ he asked Sophie.

Ryan had been feeling distinctly low after arriving back at his apartment. As the sun finally set, he wrapped himself in his blanket and looked at a framed photo of himself and Holly in Tenerife from just a few months earlier. Perhaps he should have just told Holly about what had happened with Sophie as soon as she had woken up in February. Then he wouldn’t have been carrying the guilt around with him for all these months. However, he knew what such an admission would do to their relationship, and more than that, he knew how it would have made him look – like the cheating scum bastard boyfriend that he was.
Now the Hibernation had started again and he wouldn’t have a chance to admit anything to Holly for another three months. Meanwhile, he hadn’t expected to bump into Sophie so soon. Now all the old feelings had come back to the surface again. No matter how much he tried to deny it, he just couldn’t deny that Sophie was pretty – and pretty annoying as well – a seductive combination it seemed.
Suddenly his internal anguish was interrupted by a loud banging noise from outside.
‘Ryan, Ryan are you in there?’ came the voice of Howard Rutherford, sounding unusually upset. ‘You need to let us in!’
‘Shit, what now?’ muttered Ryan under his breath.
He walked down and opened the front door of the building. Both Howard and Sophie suddenly piled their way into the corridor, looking petrified, and slightly drunk.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Ryan.
‘I’m fucked if I know,’ panted Howard, stumbling backwards against the wall.
‘It was this thing, this horrible shadow...Thing!’ exclaimed Sophie virtually jumping onto Ryan. ‘It came into the cottage and killed Howard!’
‘Well he looks alright to me,’ said Ryan.
‘No, not that Howard, the other Howard!’ screeched Sophie.
‘Eh?’ asked Ryan with increasing confusion. ‘You stink of whisky Soph.’
‘She means the cat,’ said Howard, still shaking. ‘We found the cat, dead in the kitchen, and when we returned to the sitting room...there was this entity, a sort of shadow man. It had no features, it was just some kind of three-dimensional silhouette of darkness. Ryan...it was holding the orb!’
‘OK you guys seriously need to lay off the whisky,’ huffed Ryan.
‘We’re not making this up Ryan!’ shrieked Sophie. ‘We only just managed to get away on Howard’s golf cart!’
‘You came on the golf cart?’ asked Ryan incredulously.
‘It had just enough charge to get us here,’ said Howard breathlessly. ‘Oh shit! Derek!’
‘What about him?’ asked Ryan, starting to get tired of the hysterics.
‘I can’t believe we left Derek there with that Thing!’ exclaimed Howard. ‘We have to go back!’

***
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