On the dark side of town, what’s past is never really past. And what’s buried is never really dead.
Melissa Sweet is in a delicate state. She’s a clinical nurse in a small town who, after a career-ending accident and the accusations of foul play that followed, is just now starting to put her life back together. She’s got her mom, her troubled brother, and her fiancé Jack to keep her grounded, and right now she’s taking life one uneasy day at a time. But tormented by a harrowing act of violence, she makes an impulsive move that changes her life—and the lives of those she loves—forever. This unleashes a disorienting cycle of brutality and revelation as she reckons with the blood of her own past and the blood of those who transgressed against her.
And it will force Melissa to confront the fiercest, most unrelenting monster of all: herself.
Her first patient is a middle-aged black fellow named Carl Geary. Carl’s sweet and agreeable, in
a stuttery, rail-thin, bouncy-in-the-knees kind of way, but since Melissa isn’t yet an expert on
methadone or impairment assessment—which is one of the ways nurses can tell if their
patients are lying to them to secure more of those precious little ruby pebbles—the
appointment is led by one of the other nurses, a blotchy, short-haired woman named Karine.
Melissa watches as Karine takes Carl’s blood and blood pressure, his urine sample, and
administers his daily dose. The whole thing takes less than half an hour. Easy peasy, what was
she so afraid of? The shadow, Melissa reminds herself later while adjusting the height of the
stool at her desk and scanning over the new employee manual, is always bigger than the thing
Her first solo assessment is a young white guy named Seth Rainey. Seth’s folder mentions he’s
a Lothario of sorts, or at least considers himself one. Melissa’s not worried—in her past life she
enjoyed the back and forth with the patients, flirting with the old men, laughing with the salty
old ladies, and keeping the young huggers at arm’s length. She learned this jiu jitsu in high
school and college as a pretty young blonde—how to let the scouting hands scout, but not
onto her. But Karine’s warning is firm and well-heeded, Seth can be very cute and very sweet
and very disarming, he has an adorable young daughter, and he’s a proud and genuinely loving
father. It’s a deadly trifecta.
Melissa gives a quick rap on the door and goes into the exam room to find him already sitting
on the table. He’s slight, not much bigger than she is, wearing a faded Molly Hatchet concert tshirt, the kind with one of those D&D paintings on them—warriors and bloody axes and skulls.
Jack would love a shirt like that. Melissa never really understood what Southern rock bands
had to do with fantasy, but hey, maybe that’s just her. A decade or so ago she had a boyfriend
who would listen to that stuff—Matty, his name was, Matty Truitt. Matty was the one who got
her started writing poetry, he was a devotee of Jim Morrison and Charles Bukowski and he had
a gorgeous bouquet of red hair that held a curl more than any girl’s, Melissa would beg him to
let her put it in curlers, to let her put a little makeup on him and doll his pretty face up, but he
always refused. Instead, he blasted Molly Hatchet and ZZ Top and 38 Special and Marshall
Tucker in his Plymouth GXT or whatever it was, and from what she heard there was certainly no
Lord of the Rings crap in there, that’s for sure. That fantasy stuff was more the Led Zeps and
the BÖCs and the Sabbaths, but what the hell did she know? Maybe there was some
connection she was missing, she should ask Jack.
“Seth?” she says now, flashing her most practiced, most comforting but still hands-off
professional professional smile. How easy it comes back, how good it feels to use it again. “Hi.
I’m not sure how to pronounce your last name.”
Seth stares back, he probably isn’t used to having a young nurse working here, Melissa’s the
youngest by far, by decades maybe. And he really is a cute guy—baby-faced, round-headed,
with swept hair and a scraggly fringe of beard that almost but not quite disguises a pleasant
grin. His eyes are narrow and deep-set, giving him a scampish cast, which will only become
darker and deeper-set with the years. By middle age, if he ever gets that far, he’ll look
positively devilish. “You’re new,” he muses, still looking her over.
About the author
Polly Schattel a writer and filmmaker who has written and directed three award-winning, internationally distributed feature films. Her first novel, “The Occultists,” was published by JournalStone in 2020. She’s taught Film Directing, Screenwriting and Film Editing in the NC University system, New York City and elsewhere. Proudly and passionately transgender, she lives in the mountains of Asheville, NC with her wife and three wild, vicious animals who love people food.
10 winners will each win an ecopy of Shadowdays by Polly Schattel