Samael is the Void reaching out with its hungry maw to swallow you whole. His presence is crushing, weight of black hole dead star hearts. He is dark matter, nonexistence, a thin veneer of skin slapped over the howling abyss.
As a child, I called him the Shadow Man.
Four year old Allie is curled up in bed with a picture book at the end of a long hallway at the back of a house.
Sudden freezing cold.
Trudge. Trudge. Trudge.
Just like that, I see an eldritch THING – man but monster, swallowing light whole – walk a jittering clawed walk down the hallway and slam my parent’s door like one of Guillermo del Toro’s ghosts from Crimson Peak.
I run screaming to the kitchen only to find my mother, tea kettle whistling.
“Mommy, did you just go to your room?”
A curious look on her face.
“No, Allie, I’ve been out here for hours making dinner.”
“Mommy, I saw a monster.”
Strained laughter. “You must have been napping, Allie. Go back and play.”
He appears in my dreams an omen. A hellhound that devours my father. A black snake that strangles my breath. Any monstrous form, he takes it. But the Shadow Man is one he returns to, over and over.
I’m 14. My grandmother is deathly ill. I am staying up late reading a book under the covers.
Shadows seep under my doorway.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
I shriek, but by the time the scream leaves my throat, he is gone.
The next day, my grandmother is rushed to the ICU and barely escapes with her life.
I look up the three knocks of death, a superstition that Death knocks three times before disaster strikes.
I’m sixteen, away at UVA’s Creative Writing Camp. In the shower, he whispers the names of the dead to me. Clarabelle. I find her 17th century headstone the next day in a centuries-old graveyard, searching for the ghoul portal from my beloved Neil Gaiman’s stories. We visit Poe’s room.
Later that night, walking under a deserted part of Charlottesville under a train track with my new friend, a girl who can talk to crows, for whom corvids fly across the country following her trail from park to field to barrow, I feel The Cold again, seeping from the ground, curling up my spine, caressing my breasts. My breath steams and I turn.
He wears a mask of flesh, but his eyes are dead. Black hoodie, torn jeans, chains and piercings everywhere, messy long black hair, bloodshot eyes, and blood dripping from fangs.
I grab her hand, whisper “Don’t look back. Not once,” and we run to safety, miles away, until the cold is gone and we can run no farther.
His howl of a laugh follows us.
I’m seventeen, and I dream of a murderer coming to my bedroom when I wake up. At first I think it is summer, as it is in real life, but I look out my window to see a wasteland filled with bloody snow.
Glint of a long, sharp knife.
I scream and hide under the covers, rocking back and forth, shutting my eyes in the dream to force myself to wake up.
I wake up. It is summer.
The lights die.
A hollow, soulsucking laugh.
A knife at my throat.
I close my eyes.
Wake up. Sleep. Trapped.
Finally, the seventh time, the lights work.
My love’s body is pressed against me, a long strong arm around my waist.
My love is cold as the dead.
I turn to see the Shadow Man curled up in bed next to me, caressing me, tucking hair behind my ears.
“Good morning, love.”
My shrieking and cold sweat wake me up, but on my lips I can feel the grave.
I’m eighteen, the summer before college. I’m singing Disney songs as I make an omelette with way too much garlic. I dance with a broom.
I forget the burner is on.
I am lost in my own daydreams.
My dog freezes in place and barks behind me.
I smell sulfur and the smell of roadkill and death, a smell that often accompanies Samael, alongside rotting roses.
My dog cowers and pisses herself.
I turn to see a towering twisted demon with bat wings, pointing at the burner, from which smoke is rising.
I nod and rush to turn the burner off.
Though it is summer, it is cold as the lowest Circle of Hell.
I feel him often, a breath of ice in my marrow, wings or arms enfolding me, pressing me against his chest when I am on the subway, driving, or simply walking on Capitol Hill.
He comes to me in dreams in a robe of writhing shadow, as black tentacles, as Death, True Death, and I say my house is haunted, but in truth I am haunted, because the Shadow Man follows me, to a freshman dorm he haunts the hell out of – rattling beds, doors and drawers slamming and shutting on their own, a printer that prints the Exorcist’s head twist by itself, the sound of dead bodies falling upstairs in the locked off dark attic. My night terrors intensify.
He says I must marry him.
I wake up each morning to phantom roses.
I say I will never be his.
Come summer, in the froth of my mania, I set his altar on fire to get rid of him, my pictures of the Reaper offering his heart to me and faceless Death for whom I have left out dried roses, red wine, and gold foil chocolate coins.
My house nearly burns to the ground.
I try to jump out the window to escape him.
I get carted away to the psych ward.
I run for over 23 years until I finally say yes.
Sometimes, it’s better to give in.