It is 8:53pm.
“Are you sure I can’t give you a ride home? It’s really no trouble.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I will be fine.” I say.
“Well if I can’t convince you…good luck. Stay safe.” My coworker grabs his bag and leaves the building. I watch as the headlights of his car turn on and he pulls out of the lot. The lot is empty.
I continue to work, cleaning tables, counting contents of the register, doing inventory. I talk myself through chores in the silence, the fluorescent lights buzzing above me.
I check the time. 9:24pm. Last bus leaves at 9:50pm. I grab my bag from the closet, grab my keys, and scurry to the door. I shut off the lights with a Click! The air outside hits me cold as I lock the front door behind me. I turn away and hoist up my coat, blanketing myself in its warmth.
I walk straight down the center of the parking lot. I hear the sound of dogs barking in the distance, alongside the tapping of my shoes against the cement. There are but a few street lights high above the lot to light my way.
My mind runs to my bag. Where is my taser? I carried one with me at all times, that was the good news. Bad news: it was buried with the rest of the junk in my bag. I can’t stop now. I should start carrying it on me. Idiot.
I am approaching the street. As I walk under the light of the lamp up ahead, I glance around me for any sign of life.
Call me paranoid, but I am a young Caucasian female. No more than 5’3, 98 pounds. My town isn’t the worst, but it is not great. Shootings are an everyday occurrence and crime far outweighs the resources law enforcement has. A person like me is screwed. I think to myself everyday, it’s only a matter of time. I have already accepted my fate, for whatever it may be.
I made it to the street and I check my phone. Only 10 minutes left, and that’s if the bus doesn’t come early. My breathing quickens as I power walk down the street, my exhalations transforming into a foggy mist in front of my face. My purse swings precariously at my side and I grab it with my free hand, holding it close to my body.
I manage to pass the parking lot and enter the neighborhood next door, a line of small pastel-painted houses across from the gas station and elementary school. Yard after yard, I hustle past each crack in the cement ahead of me. You know when it is one of those nights where no one is out and it is freezing? You can hear, what is it, the air? The wind? Swirling through the streets with a soft, helicopter like noise and — Stop.
There’s a large dog, lying on the dead grass in one of the front yards. I almost passed the house entirely, as the dog was a deep, black color, blended with the shadows cast by the surrounding fence. I hear a soft rustle as he lifts his feet off the grass and stands up. I stare at the dog and he stares at me back. His eyes are completely dark. I start to back away from the large dog and,as I feared, he slowly follows, his feet dragging through the grass
I just need to pass his house, I think to myself. He’s only protecting his property; when I leave he will go back home. I quickly and carefully continue to walk down the path, away from the house. His feet hit the cement as he enters the sidewalk, calmly following behind me. I have never seen a dog act this way before. The funny thing is, I don’t see his shadow.
I reach the end of the block. I’m about 6 houses down from where the dog first saw me, and he’s still there, trailing behind me. His feet dragging against the ground, his snout raised straight towards me. He is about a house and a half away from me. I hasten my walk.
He speeds up to a trot.
I slow back down. If I run, he will chase me. I just need to get to the bus.
I cross the street and step onto the sidewalk ahead.
He scampers off the end of the block behind me. I can hear his nails hit the cement.
I look ahead. Just two more blocks to go. I can see the bus stop lit up ahead of me.
I am so close. And– oh no.
In the distance opposite of me I see a faint glow and a shape of a large vehicle. It’s the bus. The bus stop is another 20 yards away from me.
I look behind me; the dark shape of the large dog still pacing behind me. I know when I run, it will chase me. But I have no choice. The bus is getting closer, rounding the corner ahead and approaching the bus stop. I run.
My heart had never beat so fast and my few inhalations of cold air hurt my sore lungs. I glance behind. The dog is running, chasing me.
“Stooooppppp!” I scream, flailing my arms in the air madly, hoping the bus driver sees me. I’m getting closer to the bus stop. I can hear the dog’s nails and his paws pounding against the sidewalk, closer, closer.
The bus is going….going….
I reach the bus stop, arms swinging, frantic. The bus…keeps going.
I look helplessly at the bus driver, staring ahead at the road. He doesn’t see me.
“No!” I yell, coming to a halt. But then I look behind me…and the dog is still running.
I pick up speed again and continue to run passed the bus stop. I scream as loud as my icy, exhausted lungs will allow, but there isn’t any sign of life anywhere. I look behind me again– smack!
I yell as my shoe stops against a crack in the cement, and I fall to the ground. The dog halts and positions himself to pounce. I dive towards the ground to protect my internal organs from attack. He pounces. I close my eyes.
I open my eyes and look around me. Nothing there. I struggle to catch my breath and stand up best I can on my shaking legs. Everything is silent and there is no sign of the dog. I take a breath of relief and continue to stand in place, trying to process the series of events.
Bing, Beep-ba-beep-beep, bing-bing!
I gasp and totter back a step, then grab my vibrating purse. I yank open the zipper and grab for the glowing light of my phone.
“Hey it’s Hannah, are you ok?”
“Are you okay? You never texted me to tell me you got on the bus.”
“Yeah, I am now.”
“Long story, I’ll have to tell you later. I missed my bus though.”
“Well, I guess I’m on my way. I’ll meet you at the bus stop so…just hang in there.”
“Ok yeah, that would be great. Thank you.”
I turn off my phone and slip it back in my purse. As I look down, I notice something. My shadow. It looks…different. Bigger. I step back and my normal shadow backs away with me…leaving behind something else.
The shadow glides across the ground to the front of the house next to me. The shadow is as tall as the two story house. It has long, thin arms. Long, thin fingers. Long, thin legs. And…that face.