Those white numbers are burned into the backs of your eyelids as you blink, and after that second of absolute blackness, you return to see the screen has gone dark. You sigh and shove the phone into your coat pocket, the wet fabric cold against your already moist hands. Bending over slowly, you grip the handle of your grocery bag and lift it off of the ground, the bottom now soaked through. A slight wave of concern runs throughout your body; you still have a ten minute walk back to your dorm, and if that bag breaks, well...
You curse yourself for not having gone out earlier. But then again, you had only realized that you were pretty well out of food when you had reached into the closet for a snack, and found only a jar of peanut butter and some dirty dishes. You’d been putting it off all week, either too busy with classes, cramming for the upcoming midterms, or had just said “I’ll do it later.”
You realized that you’d need food to function, due to not having purchased a meal plan for this year - though to be fair, last year’s dining hall options were comparable to prison slop. Wondering if there were even any places open at this hour, you turned to your clock and saw that it had been 10:27. If you hurried, you could make it to the grocery store before they closed at 11. Looking out the window with a groan, seeing those snaking lines of water, you quickly readied yourself, then dashed out of your room and onto the street. It had been pouring all afternoon, and now into the eerie night a light drizzle continued on.
Oh, how you ran. Working your smooth legs until they burned, your lungs pumping oxygen until they felt ready to explode, your throat growing tight and constricted. It hurt to suck air through your nose. And then you ran some more. The falling water pricked your cheeks, like icicles falling from a starless sky. Your thin spring jacket didn’t do much in the realm of keeping you dry – the liquid just soaked right through, now clinging to your arms. But you kept running. The grocery was still within a walking distance, but not close either – and there was the time limit on top of that.
The rubber squeaking of your sneakers echoed throughout the concrete and metal walls as you rushed around, while a zombie night shifter announced the store’s closure in ten minutes. You tried to recall what you came here for, but the panic began to build and overwhelmed your mind. To and fro, spinning on your heels, rushing and shoving items into your cart, you hurried to the cash and made your purchases. You doubted that you had everything you were looking for, but at this point you’re too exhausted to care. But now, as you began to re-enter the suburbs, the weight of the bags was beginning to take their toll, after just having done your intensive exercise for the week. It hurt to breathe, and your mouth was a desert that had forgotten the slick feel of saliva, now dry and harsh. Your tired eyelids begin to betray you too, and your head swirls like greasy dish water down a kitchen sink.
Just before you feel as though you’re going to take a nap on the damp sidewalk, you feel it. Those goose bumps, roaring their way up your back and around the back of your neck. You’re being watched. You don’t have any proof, and it’s probably just your paranoia acting up, but you can’t help it.
There’s a snapping of wood. Your head whips around – to find nothing. Nothing but a stray cat running out of a bush and disappearing in the darkness of an unlit side street. You breathe a sigh of relief, then continue on, shaking your head as little droplets dance in your hair. Though it was only March, the street back to your dorm reminds you of Halloween. The only colour to be seen is orange, painting the houses in its daunting shade, and anywhere the lamp post couldn’t touch, the darkness painted it black. It didn’t help that the houses were not in the best of shape; your university was the only thing dragging money and new people into the town, but as for its non student residents, they were left to live in decrepit, paint peeling houses. The only comfort you can take is the light of the street lamps, giving you temporary sanctuaries from the eerie and unknown risks of the street.
Maxwell University and the town of Maxwell were two different beasts. It hadn’t been your first choice for secondary education, but it certainly wasn’t your last. Plus with the lower costs and bigger scholarships you had been offered, there was no way to refuse. So you said goodbye to mom and dad, and flew out here to pursue a career of computer science at one of the top places in the country to do so.
What wasn’t known before arriving was the state of the town the university resided in. You hadn’t been to many rural towns, having spent your life in the city, but you hoped Maxwell was not representative of the whole. Maxwell was not an abandoned crippled town with more empty stores than ones bustling with people, but it was little bustling either. An afternoon walk downtown showed that much; it was a zombie town, filled with zombie workers, and shops with no heart to them. Barely any form of pride about the university – that was kept on campus, in a much more potent, concentrated form. The screaming and daytime drinking had chased you away to go explore, even though the sun was not too kind to your fair yet pale indoors-y skin and poorly adjusted eyes. Eventually you’d make friends of similar minds in your classes to laugh and bitch about this over, but for now, you were quintessentially alone. The odd looks from the elderly troubled you. They were the only ones around it seemed, and all of their stares had the same tone: judgment. They probably imagined you were down here to cause trouble, likely based on past generations of students. But you stayed silent and wandered on.
You noticed a tall sign for a coffee place and decided to get a drink when a strange sensation rattled down your spine. Your shoulder blades pressed together uncomfortably, and you feel air against the back of your neck. Turning around, you’re met with the face of another older fellow, with an unkempt beard and dirty jacket, standing almost on top of your own shoes. You stumbled back and turn away again, trying to get the image of his silent moving mouth and missing teeth out of your head as you pick up the pace. You don’t want to be involved with this strange man, even if he needed something, and you decide not to return downtown for a while. The last thing you want is to become a regular face to him.
That’s why your heart begins to race as you see a figure standing solemnly understand the streetlight on the other side of the road. You couldn’t be sure that it was him, but the puffy jacket and tuque matched. You don’t think much of it, until a certain question comes to mind: where did he come from? He wasn’t there just a minute ago. Did he just leave his house or apartment, if he actually had one? No, he couldn’t have – you would’ve heard the doors, or the sounds from inside. Did you just not notice him? Perhaps; it is hard to see when everything is in orange and shadows, with a light rain reducing your visibility even further.
Was he waiting for you? Now your throat closes once again, and dread begins to climb onto your back, weighing down your mind. Had he been lurking behind some tree, a hedge, a house, waiting until you returned? Perhaps he saw you running to the store, and knew that he’d have a good chance at on your way back.
Don’t be ridiculous, you think to yourself. He’s just going out, like you, to a destination of his own choosing. You almost laugh at how jittery you are. So strange that, despite being surrounded by houses of other people, you’re anxious over one guy walking on the opposite of the street. One guy that probably has no quarrel with you. But his sudden appearance still toys with you.
You enter a dark section of the street, the spot between two streetlights. Your eyes slowly try to adjust to the dark after waiting under that last light for so long, but even then it’s hard to make out his figure in the dark. For a second, he seems to disappear completely, and you squint your eyes, wondering where he is. Entering under another light, you can get a better look at him, and now he acknowledges you. You can make out a beard, and you watch as some glinting object is quickly concealed in his pocket. You swallow nervously, then turn away and try to pick up the stride some more, leaving him gawking under that orange glow. That’s all you need know; it’s time to get home.
Your heart continues to do the Indy 500, accelerating harder than any of its winners. You want to look again, to check and see if he’s still there, still watching you, but you’re scared of what he might do should you do so. The rain begins to fall harder, and you can no longer make out the sounds of his footsteps against the pavement. The pace of your breathing quickens. The air feels sharp, cutting the inside of your nostrils with every intake. You can’t take it anymore. He could be right on top of you and you’ll be dead if you don’t know to run. Your head whips around to see him there, under a different streetlight – trying to catch up to your pace. Panic takes your mind while dread continues to cling on. You walk faster still, trying not to cry out. Don’t look again, don’t look again, you tell yourself. Just keep going.
Just then, in the distance but approaching; a low, hefty grumble. A car. Someone is passing by soon. That’ll keep him away from you. He can’t do anything if there are other people near. And plus, you’re almost back on campus. Surely you can find a security patrol and ask them to escort you back to your dorm.
The two white beams cut their way through the rain and orange glow of the lamps, growing larger and brighter as the car comes closer. You look back quickly once more, just to see his reaction. The man is looking back at you, his pace slowed. You feel your heart lift as the car passes, realizing you are about to escape. Water sprays from the wheels and nearly touches you, and you hear the sound of rubber rolling away quickly on wet asphalt. Relief slowly returning to your body, you turn to check on the man – and find he isn’t there. The clapping of shoes rushes up to meet you from behind, and you turn around completely to find him striding behind you. The noise of the car had blocked out his feet, and now he had closed the gap.
Trepidation overwhelms your senses. You turn back around and walk faster, holding back fearful tears. The rain wetting your face takes their place. You swallow your heart over and over again, trying to get out of there, and that’s when you hear it. The running. His footsteps speeding up behind you, to get you. You lift your feet and start to sprint – as the parka man runs past you and up the wet, grassy hill of your campus. You watch in shock as he slips, shouts obscenities at the mud, then gets up and hurries into a nearby building after exposing his university key to the scanner. For a moment you catch his face – far younger than the man from downtown. You stand there in the rain, dumbstruck yet allayed about the situation. You drop your bag to the ground and laugh hysterically about getting so paranoid – he was just rushing to get out of the rain.
Too bad you never noticed me. Then again you never did, not any other time. Taking that break to laugh gave me a chance to move in, unable to hear me approach over your own idiocy, to knock you out and drag your rain covered body to my car. I was already quite anxious; that cat had nearly given away my position in that bush. But I was successful, and managed to bring you here.
Hmm? What was that? Why? I thought I said; you never paid me any mind. I tried everything I could to make you care, and you just used me. Used me to get all your little papers done and ace the class while I, the local boy who worked his ass off to escape a life of shovelling pig shit and grass, got to fail. All for you. And you never even thanked me for it.
One night. One night was all I asked. Couldn’t you have just given me that chance? Was it so difficult for you to just give me a shot? Maybe so. Maybe I should’ve known from how you treated me. Maybe I should’ve just respected my precious angel’s request and left you alone. Maybe I should have let you go. Maybe I still should. No… what are you thinking, Hamish… going through all this only to let your darling go? No… never mind that.
It’s so weird, you know? To love someone so much, and yet to completely despise their existence at the same time. So, this is going to be my last gift to you; a lesson. Just a small one, an easy one, I’m sure you won’t need any tutoring or cheating to understand. It’s a lesson on why you should watch your back at night.
Let us begin.
Written by RedNovaTyrant