They Are In The Shadows

My husband said my stories are getting too similar. So here’s my attempt at something a little different…

Yes, I do like to be in the light. I like it when there are people around. What I don’t like to do is think about why I prefer the light and people. My favorite place is this café, Beauregards, just off Sixth and Main, you know, smack dab in the heart of the city, right by the business district so there’s all these businessmen and women having lunch in the afternoons and evenings but it’s near the science museum and the farmer’s market, too, so there’s old people in the mornings and kids after school lets out. I like that. Lots of stuff to see-hear-touch. Kids shouting, people talking, the smell of coffee and the grilled paninis and the way the ironwork of the outdoor table feels under my fingers.

I only drink seltzer water in between meals. I don’t do stimulants. A little bit of caffeine and I can feel my heart making triple beats in my chest, and then if somebody notices I might have to lay down or they want me to rest which would mean I would have to go away from all the people, and I’d have to go be alone, and I don’t want to be al—no, I’m not going to think about that.

I already have to think about being alone, every day at nine PM. I do my work on a laptop outside Beauregards, unless it’s raining, and then I do it inside. That’s another reason I picked Beauregards, is that it stays open latest of all the cafes. For a while I thought it might be better to go home earlier, when it was still light, at least in the summer, because I am so tired, so, so tired….but—no, light or not light doesn’t really matter to them, not like you’d think it would. Not once you’ve seen them. Not once they’ve seen you. So I stay as late as I can, and I work as long as I can, and then—I said I wasn’t going to talk about that. I’m not. I won’t. It’s not nice. I wish you’d stop asking about it. I don’t want to talk about it. Please leave me alone, everybody else does.

I’ll tell you about my days instead. There’s one barista, a girl who dyes her hair in purple and black stripes. She talks to me and is nice to me. The others call me “the crazy corner guy” and they think I don’t hear, or they don’t care if I hear, but she is different. She still thinks I’m crazy though. I was stupid one night and told her why I don’t want to go home. She kept being nice to me, but I can see she feels sorry for me because she lets me stay after closing until they’re done cleaning up sometimes. I don’t know why nobody believes me. Someday I’m afraid I’ll be tired and just decide to believe that I’m crazy, like everyone else thinks. It would be so restful, so nice to know I was wrong. But then they would get me for certain. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth it just to give up and let them have me. I don’t know why I’m the only one who sees—No! I am not going to talk about them! I’m talking about daytime things, people things.

Today, I am going to stay here at Beauregards, in the panini grilling -talking people-dishes clinking-cars honking-buses hissing world as long as I can. When I was leaving my apartment today I looked into my bathroom—I wear my pajamas to the subway and get ready in the public bathroom, but sometimes I look into my real bathroom on my way out—I don’t really know why—and—I saw writing. Writing on the mirror. I didn’t write on the mirror. They wrote on the mirror.

I’m not going back. I’m going to sleep on a park bench tonight, sleep on the subway, sleep—never again. I’ll go to the worst bars that stay open all night. I’ll take a bus out to a Walmart. There have to be people, and noise, and doing, constantly, keeping away the silent pockets, the empty parts of the world, the quiet. They’re coming for me. They’re going to get me. I can’t be alone…I’m so tired…

But Rilla, the nice barista, is cleaning up now. She keeps looking at me funny. What if she wants to drive me home? I try to smile at her and she just looks more worried. I tell her I prefer the bus, but she laughs, because she says nobody prefers the bus. No, no, she’s coming over to me now. She has a kind look on her face. If I tell her I’ll ride with her, maybe I can stand at the door till she leaves, go away, hide from them. I’ll do it. She won’t know. She’ll think I’m just mentally ill. Oh, I wish I was.

_____

Two people stood at the peeling door of an apartment at a seedy apartment complex. The parking lot light buzzed and flickered, casting a yellowish glow on alsphalt lined with cracks and filled with weeds. The taller of the two people at the door was talking. “Are you sure you’re okay, Mr. Stevenson? I’m afraid you’re sick. I’ll just see you inside, okay?”

“I’m fine.” The man whispered, shoulders hunched, his hands shaking as he lifted a key to the doorknob. “Just fine. Please, go. It won’t be safe for you once they see you.”

The door clicked open, a black sliver of darkness showing, cold air slipping out.

The woman with the purple and black hair sighed. “If you insist. You call me if you want a ride in the morning. Or if you need a ride to the hospital. Seriously, Mr. Stevenson. You were looking bad tonight. I know you say there are ‘things’ out to get you, but I think it might be your own mind or your own body that’s causing you problems. Will you call me? Is that a promise?”

Mr. Stevenson was staring with trembling lips at the black line between the door and the doorframe. It slowly crept open. “Yes.” He whispered.

“Okay, well I’ll see you tomorrow, alright? Same place, same time?” She grinned at him, and thumped him on the shoulder before walking back towards her car. Stevenson never took his eyes off the crack.  He moved his lips in what might have been a goodbye or might have been a plea for help.

Her car started and drove off, the headlights coasting over the parking lot, bouncing at the exit, and vanishing down the road.

Mr. Stevenson stared at the open door in front of him. Like a man in a dream, he stepped forward, one step, two steps, and shut the door behind him. He flicked on the entry way light and saw the familiar coat hooks with a single jacket, the dusty fake fern sitting by the door, the brown linoleum. Somewhere past the glow of light, the refrigerator hummed and clicked. The air conditioning cut off. But Mr. Stevenson stood perfectly still, his keys dangling from his fingers. In the living room, a dark shape separated itself from the shadows. Another dark shape separated itself from the shadows. And another. They began to walk towards him. In the silence, their footfalls were loud.