Shallow Man

Image by Marisa Bruno

Mr Keith Credge (1943-2004) was arguably the most talented psychic in the North of England. In the last years of his life, he shuttered his parlour (which he called a “clinic”) and devoted himself to the practice of spirit-writing. He produced hundreds of handwritten notes between 1997 and 2003, believing them to be the life stories of lost souls. The narrative reproduced here is among the most striking.

Broughton Society for Paranormal Research, 25 May 2020

I know my name was Daniel, and I know I went to school on Nevile Road, but I don’t know where that is any more.

Nevile Road. It hangs in space, trapped in a bubble of gleaming grey sky. In my mind’s eye, the ends of the street are lost in glare. I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know where it goes.

Nor can I remember what the school was like. I can see it from a distance, but the windows are blanks that mirror the sky. I wish I could walk towards them and lean in to see. In my dreams, I stand by the school gates, watching dead leaves circle in the wind. I am unable to move.

I know we had a playground. On rainy days, we played a game called “Shallow Man”. There was a blocked drain that flooded, and it happened so often you could see the puddle when it wasn’t even there, because it left a stain in the dirt. When it was there, we said it was Shallow Man’s den, and that was where we played.

The Shallow Man was a local legend. He jumped out of puddles to snatch children, but apart from that, the details were vague. We thought he made himself flat like a pancake and waited for victims to walk by. Other times, we wondered if the puddles were magic portals, so he’d step in one and spring from another. I had a notion he could kneel down and reach in the water, and his arm would come out somewhere else. It made me shiver with a mix of horror and delight.

When you were Shallow Man, you stood in the puddle and waited. He had long white hands with terrible fingers, so your task was to grab your friends and pull them in. You had to keep at least one foot in the water because Shallow Man never came out of it. He wore oilskins, like a fisherman, but they were black instead of yellow, and his sou’wester hid a scowling face with terrible eyes. When you took your turn in the puddle, you pulled your jumper over your head and grimaced through the neck-hole to impersonate him.

So here we are in my memories. It’s a cold wet day in March and I am Shallow Man. The others dance by the puddle, daring me to grab them. As they do they chant my name: “Shallow Man! Shallow Man!” My shoes are sodden but I laugh as we play. Then the school bell rings and they all turn to leave.

In the very same second, there’s a brief electric flash, followed by peals of thunder. It starts to rain again. Then I wonder: what if Shallow Man is real? I imagine a wet hand reaching from the water, grabbing my leg and pulling me down. The puddle closes like a liquid trapdoor. No one knows I’m trapped below.

I shudder in the rain and run to join my friends, shaking water from my shoes.

I know there was a place where I felt safe, and in that place was a woman. She must have been my mother.

In my dreams she is frozen in time, boiling rice and shelling peas. I remember the bitter green smell of the raw peas. The lava sound of boiling water. She doesn’t turn round, which is sad, because this is my only memory of her. Her face is lost forever.

She asks about my day. I tell her about Shallow Man and she whistles in surprise.

That’s a sad story,” she says. “When I was your age we’d never heard of him. Then a boy drowned in a puddle and his mum went crazy. He’s got my boy, he’s got my boy—the Shallow Man has got my boy! It was a weird old story no one knew, but after that, well—everyone knew it again.”

I look at her in surprise.

“How can you drown in a puddle?

She shrugs.

“He used to have fits. Convulsions or something. I think he passed out when no one was looking. You can drown in an inch of water, if you’re lying face-down. I knew his sister, and—”

That’s all I remember. She disappears, blown out like a candle.

I don’t have many memories left, and I’m trying to put them in order.

I’m sitting by the window as a grown man, watching the street below. It’s late at night. Drops of rain dance in the wind, set ablaze by orange streetlight. I don’t know when the Witching Hour is, but it must be now, because the night is strange and electric.

I hear the distant sound of high heels. Clop, clop, clop. A woman appears at the end of the road, shielding her face from the rain. She’s holding a phone to her ear, and I can hear her talking, even through the glass, because her voice is loud and angry.

“Nigel,” she’s saying—“honestly—I don’t give a crap what she said, because I said—”

She stops suddenly and listens to her boyfriend in disbelief. As she does, my eyes are drawn to a puddle by the kerb. It spreads before her like a mirror, reflecting her long bare legs.

A grasping grey hand reaches from the water…

I want to shout a warning, but instead, I freeze. The fingers close around her ankle. She falls on her front and is dragged under, too surprised to even scream.

For a split-second, she claws at the kerb, fighting for life. Then she’s simply gone, and the puddle closes with a soft splash.

I sit in a daze, trying to make sense of what I’ve seen. How can a person vanish into—what—an inch of water? Even so, she’s gone. Her phone lies on the ground, exactly where she dropped it. The screen hasn’t even gone dark yet.

Before I can decide what to do, the puddle starts to churn. A dark figure rises through the ground, like an actor being lifted through a stage.

Water runs from his waterproof sleeves. His shapeless hat is almost a hood. I can see his face because he’s looking right at me. As he does, I hear (or think I hear) an echo of the playground chant: “Shallow Man, Shallow Man”—distant and shrill—almost lost in the sound of the rain.

My heart pounds, fit to burst. He points up at me with a long wet finger.

I see you, comes a voice in my mind.

The fusebox bangs on the wall behind me, making me jump in fright. The flat is plunged into darkness. Then he sinks in the water and is gone.

It’s the middle of the day. I’m standing at the end of Nevile Road. The ground is wet but the sun is warm. The clouds in the sky are brilliant white, like shirts in an ad for washing powder.

Before me is a rundown house. The first floor cladding is rotten. Salt blooms white on the bricks. Beneath a broken gutter is a beard of black mould, like the shadow of an icicle. It’s not a nice house. It seems more rained-on than its neighbours. You could squeeze it like a sponge and water would come gushing out.

I go up the drive and knock on the door. No one answers, but I hear a brief sort of panic in the hall.

“Hello?” I call through the letter box. “Mrs Shaw? I want to ask you about—Shallow Man.”

The silence continues, but it seems different now. Curious, rather than fearful.

“I heard you know about him,” I say, “and the thing is”—I look over my shoulder, checking the street is empty—“I think I saw him.”

There’s a stained glass window in the door. Her face appears on the other side. Her eyes are hidden by a red rose.

If that’s true,” she says through the glass, “he’ll never leave you alone. It’s been thirty years for me. Every time it rains I close the curtains so he can’t see in. I won’t have drinks any more in case I spill ’em, I just eat ice lollies.”

My heart sinks.

“What can I do?”

“Nothing,” she says bluntly. “All you can do is hide. Don’t go out when it’s raining. I think it’s safe in the day but don’t risk it. Lock the house and stay inside.”

“Can I come in?”

“No. I’ll give you some advice though: he can’t leave his puddles. He can reach out, but he can’t come out.”

My mind recalls the game we used to play. That was the rule. One foot in the water.

“Remember that,” she says, “and you’re in with a chance. Now clear off.”

I thank her for her time and walk away, avoiding puddles on the pavement.

Half way down the street, I glance at one and start with fright. There, in the water—just for a second—is a terrible face with two wide eyes.

They stare up at me from the ground. Once again, his voice enters my mind: “I see you!”

Then the wind blows a ripple through the water, wiping him away.

The next memory is my last. The rest of my mind has blown apart, like seeds from the head of a—what’s it called? The yellow flower that turns to fluff. My mind has turned to fluff.

I’m in the same flat but much has changed. In the living room, the whole back wall is covered with newspaper clippings. Half of them are about missing people. Key passages are underlined. The rest are cutouts of the five-day forecasts.

I don’t know how much time has elapsed but I know I feel older. Maybe just tired. I put the telly on in time for the weather.

“It’s a mixed day tomorrow. Low pressure heading north, bringing cold wind and more showers—”

The windows are boarded up but I can still hear the rain. It’s like the sound of cellophane. A car goes by with a liquid roar.

“—and here, in the northwest, it’s going to be very wet indeed. Looking ahead to Friday—”

I inspect my stockpile of food, flipping tins to check the dates. Apart from the tinned food I’ve got some bottles of gin, porridge oats, long-life milk, Monster Munch and dried fruit. I can stay inside for weeks if I have to. I drink the gin to mortify my fear of the rain and the rest is for sustenance.

This is how I live now. I don’t know how I get money, but it’s something to do with—diagrams? I think I write, or maybe proofread, the instructions for kitchen appliances. Whatever it is, I do it from home. Nothing else would fit my lifestyle.

I put the last tin down and go to the bathroom, running the shower till it starts to steam. When I get under it, the warmth is a great comfort. For a second, I could be anywhere. The Brazilian jungle. The Kingdom of Bhutan.

I look down and see water draining slowly. The plughole must be clogged because the shower tray is full. Inches of water slosh around.


The fusebox blows a fuse in the next room. I’m plunged into darkness. The shower head slows to a trickle.

Then I hear a soft splashing at my feet, and I know I messed up, because I didn’t think he could get me in shower—but it’s too late for regrets.

A cold hand grabs my ankle. He pulls me down into a bottomless sea, and that’s the end of my memories.

I’m in another place now.

When I woke, I was on a dark beach, and the Shallow Man stood over me. He dragged me from the sea and onto the sand.

The moon was a vicious hook, sharpened by the bitter wind. It wasn’t the moon I knew. It was much too big, and the light it gave was eerie green.

He bound my hands and led me inland. We walked for days. In all that time he never spoke.

After days of walking, we came at last to a barren plain with one bent tree. He took me to a palace on the far side, where the Smiling Ones were waiting to greet us. They took me in without a word and led me to my place in the choir.

Here I sing forever. When I do, I retreat into my mind, and what remains of my memories.

I know my name was Daniel, and I know I went to school on Nevile Road…

Ellis Reed, 19/07/2020

2 thoughts on “Shallow Man

  1. Great stuff. Fantastically macabre. Some wild poetry in the reflections and the fragmented memories. Shallow Man is a great creation (or I take him to be your creation). I’m not entirely sure about the afterlife coda. Yes, it’s needed to make sense of the narrative perspective and it hints at a very enticing wider mythology, yet it also seems to explain too much. I’m divided about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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