a long day of work and the young woman had to take a break from the rest of her life. he had asked her to stay the night and though she thought him quite the gentleman (so rare these days, she noted) she declined. it just wasn't a good idea. not now. not tonight. she might end up doing something she didn't want to do. or rather, something she desperately wanted to do, but which she knew would cause no end of problems in the future. best just to leave things the way they were.
a short walk back to the car. two blocks. why so far? she thought to herself as she buttoned her coat. why indeed when there were spaces out front. a million excuses came to mind, the worst of them being that she could use the exercise. but really, it came down to one simple little thing.
fear that someone would see. together? the two of them? she had shrugged it off in the past. i hardly ever see him these days. she would tell them when they asked. it was really just easier this way. no unanswerable questions, no awkward moments when both know that a lie is hanging in the air, and neither knows how to respond. and no accounting for the last time. when she said it would never happen again. when they had told her that she should have learned her lesson by now. it was really, well, it was really just
but two blocks can be far in the dark, after the rain, when a gentle breeze blows through the trees turning every shadow into a phantom and every leaf into a footstep. it was into this that the young woman stepped out onto the street. a beautiful night, she thought to herself. unseasonable warm for this time of year. winter. when everything is traditionally dead, the world finds life in the rustling of branches. she fished her car keys out of her coat pocket and headed for her car.
down the street one block. down the hill another. press the little button, car goes beep, doors unlock. the sequence passed through her head as she'd done it time and time again, week after week, always parking in front of the same red brick building. the same building which had always seemed out of place settled in between the church and the playground. it always seemed so big and cumbersome. as far as buildings go.
the word crept into her head. was that a. could it be a. probably just the. but then again these streets. sometimes there are stories. sometimes there are legends. and sometimes there are news reports. sometimes the imagination can run away from you. and sometimes that imagination paints a picture of something so strange that it can only be real.
she can't look back. doing so would only give in to her paranoia and wouldn't solve anything. if there's nobody back there, then you're too jumpy. if there is someone better, then you're not much better off. so she falls into a steady pattern. heavy boots against pavement of the street. and there. behind. the distinct dull drop of a boot against the sidewalk. again. and again. boot clomp. dull thud. in step with each other. phantoms don't make noise.
she jangles her keys hanging out of her left hand. car keys. the car, now a block away, still seems so far. and she can't speed up. she can't pick up the pace. she has locked herself into this sequence of foot dropping and waiting that moment before the phantom step comes. behind her. if she speeds up, the steps behind her will speed up as well. that can't happen. too dangerous. the echo of the step is still far enough away from her. far enough away that walking slowly is still work enough to keep the echo away. back. far.
the car, alone under the single streetlight on the block, the sickly orange light turning the silver vehicle into something looking not unlike a giant pumpkin. she crosses the street, slowing the pace a bit as keys get fiddled and turned around so she is ready for the car key into the door handle unlocking it getting inside. beep says the car. click says the lock. the door swings open and the young woman takes her seat inside.
she slams the door.
and waits for her phantom to pass her by.