1 The Boy in the Shadows

Tom Corman stepped onto his porch, and felt cool autumn air rush over his body as a gentle breeze picked up. Next door, a slightly annoying wind chime was rattling out a discordant tune. With the setting sun at his back, he stared down the street. Every evening around this time he’d been drawn outside by a feeling that something was terribly wrong.  

He could feel the evil in the air on his skin, like an oily film. The feeling had become so strong that he stepped off his porch and started walking. In the distance, a figure rested in the shadows of a big shade tree. As he drew closer, Tom’s feelings of apprehension increased: the evil was definitely emanating from here. But Tom was perplexed to find a young man at the base of the tree, leaning back and cradling his head in his hands. 

Tom stepped on a twig, and the boy’s head snapped up with painful speed. The boy could barely keep his pale grey eyes open, and they stared blankly from beneath honey blond hair. The boy looked as if he might stand 5’6”, perhaps 120 pounds soaking wet. If he was 17, Tom would have been surprised. The blank look got under Tom’s skin, and he finally came close enough to realize that the young man was not resting. He was bleeding to death. 

Tom was at his side in an instant, pulling out his phone. “911,” a voice announced. 

“Yes, a boy’s been stabbed!” Tom yelled, tears beginning to flow. 

“Thank you for holding: our operators are currently busy,” the recording reported. 

“Fuck! Fucking shit,” Tom declared, putting his phone on speaker. The wound in the boy’s chest bubbled air. Tom removed his sweatshirt and pressed it into the wound, trying to stanch the blood flow. The young man just moaned, his head lolling. 

“Stay with me,” Tom pleaded. 

“911 Call Center, Mary speaking, what is your emergency?” 

“I found a teenager stabbed!” Tom yelled, rattling off a rough address. “He was stabbed in the chest, I think he has a perforated lung!” 

“Police and medics are en route, sir. Please stay on the line,” she ordered, but a siren was already blaring in the distance. Soon a police car pulled up on the curb and the officers rushed to help, but there was nothing to be done until the medics arrived two minutes later, just as the boy lost consciousness.  

“Sir! Sir! Thank you! Let us take over!” the medic ordered, grabbing Tom’s arm and moving him away, letting his partner get to work. In around a minute, they were putting the boy in the ambulance and getting ready to drive off. 

From his daze, Tom snapped back to reality. “Where are you taking him?” 

“Saint John’s,” the EMT said as he hopped in the back and closed the door. 

One of the cops suggested Tom follow them to the hospital and said they’d get his statement there, so Tom ran to get his car. The two cops led Tom to the ER, where he gave them a statement describing how he found the boy and all that he knew, which wasn’t much. The older cop, the gruff but kindly sort, went to type Tom’s statement and check in.  

The younger cop stayed behind in case someone tried to finish the job. He was handsome in his uniform. He looked like a rookie of about twenty-five, but Tom knew otherwise, as he had a few bars pinned to his uniform. His black hair was carefully maintained, and his green eyes sparkled with energy. Even in his present state, Tom couldn’t help but notice how the uniform tightly molded to his athletic frame. Perhaps Tom let his eyes wander too extensively, because the cop put a hand on his shoulder and smiled.  

“You alright, Mr. Corman?” the officer asked. 

“It’s Dr. Corman, but you can call me Tom,” he said absently. “No, no I’m not alright. I.” Suddenly the young cop looked concerned as Tom faltered and helped him into a seat. 

“I’m sorry, doctor? You look a little young,” the officer said, changing the subject. 

“I’m twenty-six, but I got my Ph.D. two years ago,” Tom said, smiling in a far-off way. 

“That’s damn impressive,” the man said, meaning it. 

“Well, you don’t seem to be doing so bad yourself,” Tom said. “You can’t be twenty-five, and you seem to have a few commendations.” 

“Call me Aiden, if Officer Reynolds isn’t around. I am twenty-five, and yeah I’ve done pretty well. I went to UT Knoxville and studied sociology – criminology. I joined the force immediately, and had a string of lucky breaks, got partnered with a few good cops. Now, I’m doing some graduate work part time at Peterson: profiling, advanced criminological techniques, that sort of thing.” 

“You sound ambitious,” Tom said with a smile. 

Aiden shrugged and smiled, embarrassed. “You must be a little yourself!” 

“Not really. Sadly, I just had too much time on my hands! I was a scared, lonely little boy who threw himself into school. I finished high school at fifteen, college at nineteen, and grad school at twenty-three.” Tom’s smile was sad and a little weary, and Aiden looked empathetic. “But things got better, I got a life, so to speak, and got … less afraid of the world. Thanks to someone special. But then,” Tom said, choking up. “And today, today brings all that back!” 

“What happened?” Aiden asked. 

“We met after I moved here, and it was wonderful. I’d never trusted anyone completely before and, I really came out of my shell, you know? Then we went on a long weekend to Memphis. There was a mugging, and I don’t know why they decided to stab,” Tom had started crying already, but now a sob ripped through his throat. Aiden put his hand on Tom’s forearm and squeezed. “I’ve got a scar here,” Tom finally added, indicating his abdomen through his shirt. “I almost didn’t make it; Jamie didn’t. It’s been nine months and this morning was the first time I left my porch, except to go to campus and teach, or to get groceries. And I find this boy with this injury.” 

A doctor came out of the emergency room and walked up to Aiden. “Are you here about the John Doe with a stab wound?” They both nodded. “Are you family?” the doctor asked Tom. 

“No, I found,” Tom began. 

“I’m sorry, but I can only talk to the officer, unless you’re family.” Aiden looked sadly at Tom, who walked away. When the doctor was gone, Aiden walked over to him and said, “There’s nothing they can do, he says, except wait. They’ve done what they can.” Tom grimaced and punched the wall, and Aiden put a hand on his shoulder. 

Tom closed his eyes for a moment before looking at Aiden desperately. “Can you get me in to see him? I only need … a few minutes.”  

Aiden looked up and sighed. “Five minutes, and I can’t leave you alone with him.” 

Nervously, Tom nodded, and Aiden led the way past the nurse’s station, waving off her protests. The boy’s vital signs were weak. Tom put his hand on the boy’s chest without any pressure and closed his eyes, dredging up from deep memory a medieval text of an ancient prayer. Slowly, he began to recite the Hebrew melodically: “Oh Lord of mercy, if it pleases your will, send forth your healing power from the endless font of life. The powers of the air tremble at a single word, the earth shrinks before you. This mortal of flesh and blood awaits your decision. Let your Hesed, your loving mercies, shine forth upon this innocent boy….” 

If Tom’s eyes had been open, he would have seen the fear and awe on Aiden’s face as his voice unnaturally magnified in the room, and a glowing light appeared between his hands and the boy’s body. But Tom did hear the other voice, the screeching angry voice, cry out, “THE BOY IS NOT INNOCENT!” 

Tom persisted, “This innocent boy created in the image of the ALMIGHTY, whose light still shines within his breast. Oh Lord, overlook the sins of thy servant. You desire repentance, not death! Oh Lord, show mercy, oh Lord, show mercy, oh Lord, show mercy!” The light intensified, and the room felt heavy, but slowly, as the light faded, the boy’s vitals stabilized. Tom opened his eyes and retracted his hands, gently kissing the boy’s forehead. 

Tom turned to find Aiden standing slack jawed, looking at him with a mix of awe and terror. As Tom stepped toward him, Aiden took an involuntary step back and held out a hand. “What did you do?” 

Tom stepped away sadly. He had liked the young officer, who was now terrified of him. “I’m sorry you had to see that, but I did what I had to do….” 

The doctor arrived and asked, “What are you two doing in here?” 

“I came to administer a prayer, a kind of last rights. But it seems he has turned a corner, doctor,” Tom said, “if you’d like to take a look?” 

“You’re clergy,” the doctor asked absently, as he checked the boy’s vitals. “Amazing!” 

“I can wait outside,” Tom suggested. 

“No, no, it’s fine,” the doctor mumbled. Aiden stood silently by as the doctor examined the patient, who, miraculously, seemed to be surfacing. He moaned and groaned, but his eyes flickered open. Looking around the room, he lifted an arm toward Tom, but it quickly fell. Tom closed the distance and took the boy’s hand and felt a weak squeeze. The boy smiled ever so weakly, before whispering, “Not innocent!” Tom shivered a little, and Aiden took a step forward. He’d heard the angry voice as well, and he knew the boy must have. 

“Doctor, I’d like to make sure he has what he needs. Can I give you my number for someone to call me if he asks for, or if he needs anything?” The man nodded and took Tom’s number, noting it on the chart. 

Officer Reynolds returned and Aiden shakily reported on the boy’s improved status. 

Reynolds replied, “Wonderful! We found a knife, so hopefully we’ll lift some prints. Are you okay sitting on the room, O’Connel?” 

Aiden glanced at Tom warily, and Tom was surprised at how much it hurt. But who was he kidding? There wasn’t anything there: The man was cute and probably straight. But even if he wasn’t, he was scared shitless. At last, Aiden replied, “Yeah, yeah I’m fine.” 

Soon, the three – patient, policeman, and witness – were left alone, Tom sitting beside the bed and Aiden carefully avoiding his gaze from the corner. “I’ll leave if it’ll make you more comfortable, Officer O’Connel, but only if you’ll call me if there’s any change!” Aiden looked at him and visibly flinched at the way Tom said O’Connel with bitterness. 

Maybe the man did care. When Aiden didn’t answer, Tom stalked past the curtain and down the hall. He knew Aiden wouldn’t follow him into the dark night. He was on duty.  

Tom got home and took off his bloodied t-shirt and pants, which he tossed into a plastic bag for disposal. It was nearly nine and he was desperately hungry, but he was too drained to cook. Channeling divine energy will do that! 

Tom grabbed a menu and ordered enough Chinese to guarantee leftovers, then went to the bedroom and pulled on some sweats and a white undershirt. Tom appraised himself fairly: only after Jamie had he learned to appreciate himself. Tom had started working out as a puny teen in college, hoping to look less out of place if he bulked up a little. But he never thought he looked good until Jamie. Jamie’s appreciation helped him appreciate himself: a tall, strong, handsome man, his light brown hair and blue eyes accenting a lovely face. His abs were flat, and showed a six pack after he exercised, and his pectorals were impressive. 

Tom tossed himself on the couch and turned on the TV. He couldn’t bear the news – too depressing – so he turned to some comedy already in progress and poured himself a glass of wine.  

When the doorbell rang, it announced the arrival of a cute 20 year old hunky blond guy who looked vaguely familiar. The boy’s eyes raking over his body gave Tom a confidence boost. 

“Uhm, uh,” the boy said cutely as he got caught gawking, “here’s your order, Dr. Corman!” Tom smiled and took the food.  

“Come on in, let me get my wallet.” Hesitantly, the boy did follow him inside, not afraid, but just very nervous. “I’m embarrassed! I know you, but I’m blanking,” Tom admitted. 

“Billy Thompson. I was in your intro to philosophy your first semester. Mine too.”  

Of course, Billy! Tom had always thought the kid was cute. ‘Cuter now,’ Tom thought, smiling to himself, as he fished through his wallet. He caught the boy surreptitiously checking him out and smiled even more brightly. “I remember!” 

“I really enjoyed it,” Billy added with a shy smile.  

Tom walked up close to him and put a twenty in his hands, letting his fingers linger on the boy’s soft skin. “Thank you for saying. Keep the change.” 

“Thank you, sir,” Billy said, walking to the door.  

Tom said, “See you around!” The boy smiled and waved as Tom closed the door. ‘What are you doing flirting with a twenty-year-old?’ he asked himself, smiling. At only twenty-six, he was not exactly a dirty old man, and Billy was hot. But Tom’s mind wandered back to the raven-haired O’Connel. When that man smiled, he was so damn hot! 

Tom ate his dinner and sat down to watch the TV, but, soon, the wine and tiredness lulled him to sleep. Sometime after eleven, he was awakened by a knock at the door. Strange. ‘Maybe Billy’s come back,’ he thought to himself with a laugh. But, as Tom opened the door, his breath caught in his throat.