The Shadow Man

The cemetery gate groaned with a thousand years of rust as I carefully pushed it open and slipped inside. Headstones gleamed in the moonlight, crumbled and forgotten, silently watching me as I picked my way through the garden of the dead. After some twists and turns, I finally found the small chapel hidden in the tangled underbrush, and my hand trembled as I knocked on the swollen door. It opened of its own accord, and I took one last breath of the night air before descending into the darkness before me.

The stairs were slick with unknown moisture, and I tried not to think about it as I followed them deeper into the unknown. I don’t know how long it took me to reach the bottom, but I eventually found myself in a small room carved out of stone. Moonlight shone in from a crack in the ceiling, illuminating a stone basin that sat in the center, and I approached it warily. It was currently empty, but I could see the dark red stain from all the offerings that had come before.

Now, it was my turn.

I drew my knife and quickly sliced my forearm, wincing as I watched the blood drip into the basin until a small pool formed in the bottom. I pulled my arm back, wrapped it with a cloth, and waited.
“Your offering has been accepted. What do you seek?”
The deep voice reverberated through the cavern, and I tried to remain calm as it shook my bones.
“I seek immortality.”
A shadow formed on the other side of the basin and slowly materialized into a very tall man. He towered above me, his eyes black in the moonlight, and he smiled as he dipped a finger into the basin and tasted it.
“Hmm. Your blood has the taste of death. Two, no, three months left. You seek a way to avoid it.”
“Yes.”
His black eyes examined my soul as he circled me. Finally, he nodded.
“I will grant your wish, but there is a price to be paid. Immortality is a heavy burden, and you will be cursed to watch those you love wither and perish. You will also walk in darkness, for immortals must not be known to the outside world, and you will be lonely. And, most importantly, you must never tell my secret. Do you accept these terms?”
I thought about my family, about how I’d feel watching them perish while I lived, healthy and invulnerable. I thought about how it’d feel to watch my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren live and grow while I remained the same. Was I ready for that?
On the other hand, if I died now, my family would forget about me in time, and I’d end up as nothing but a headstone.

No. My life was worth more than that.

I looked at the man, who’s black eyes never left me, and nodded.
“I accept.”
He smiled. “Good. Then, we can begin.”
He moved around behind me and wrapped me in shadow, bracing my body against him. I remained still as he took my arm and bit deeply into my wrist, draining my impure blood and replacing it with a unique venom that flowed like fire from his fangs. I heard a scream echo through the chamber, my scream, and I soon collapsed from the combination of pain and blood loss. The Shadow Man looked at me with pity.
“It is done. The next few hours will be painful, but I have granted your wish.”

He vanished into the darkness, leaving me alone to suffer my newfound agony. My body thrashed and writhed on the cold, stone floor as his venom coursed through my veins and burned away all traces of my old life. The pain was intense, and it seemed like an eternity before I mercifully blacked out and could feel no more.

When I awoke, I felt more alert than ever before. I could hear the mossy walls whispering to themselves as they absorbed the air, could smell the corpses that surrounded the chapel, and I could see into the darkest corners of the room with ease, despite the absence of the moonlight. I could feel the smallest breeze against my skin, and I tasted nothing but copper. I could also sense the spirits that haunted the cemetery, and I could feel the presence of the man who had given me his gift.
I turned to him with a weary smile. “Thank you.”
He shook his head. “Do not thank me, for you may soon regret your decision. When that time comes, return here. I will help you.”

He faded into the darkness and left me alone with my newfound abilities. I carefully climbed back up the stairs and opened the chapel door, marveling as the sights and smells threatened to overwhelm me. I felt like a new person, no, a new being, and I knew that he had given me the immortality he promised. But something had changed. I no longer felt like myself, like the person I was when I entered the chapel. I felt lighter, less burdened by the troubles of this world, and I was eager to explore these new feelings.

The sun peeked over the mountains, and I had to shield myself from its dazzling gaze. Whatever exploration I had planned would wait until nightfall. Now, it was time to return home.

And boy, was I thirsty.

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