Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Walk Home

Deidre had been deeply embedded in a book about Greek mythology when she felt a soft tap on her shoulder. She looked up to find the kind face of the old security guard standing above her; a kind smile plastered on his face. She pulled her headphones out and looked up, wondering what she had done wrong.

“I’m sorry to disturb you young lady, but it's time for the library to close. If you want to check that out, you had better hurry. Ms. Winifred is ready to go home.”

His smile took her back to happier times, with a man she barely remembered. Her father had been sixty-five when he died of a sudden heart attack. Dee was five, but if she closed her eyes and thought hard, she could still remember his smile. The nine years that had passed since he died had not been able to rob her of that. Of course, there were pictures, but she could still remember the real thing.

The quiet girl was gathering her things when suddenly a thought broke through the happy memories and caused her heart to ricochet around in her chest. The library closed at six o’clock at night. The sun was set to go down at five o’clock that evening. An intense shiver rocked her tiny body.

Usually, getting home after dark was not something that bothered her all that much. Especially since her mother, who worked as a flight attendant would not be home for a few more days. The trip home could go one of two ways. She could cut through the park that ran alongside her neighborhood, or she could walk around. Dee decided neither option sounded very safe, given the current circumstances.

The cops had come to her school to talk to all the kids. There was a serial killer on the loose, and the victims had all been girls between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. They talked to the kids about always traveling in groups, and making sure that someone always knew where you were. The officers also said to not be out at night alone. All the young ladies who had disappeared had all been out at night alone.

Her shoulders slumped as she walked up to the front counter to check out her book. Her cell phone had died two hours ago, and she had forgotten her charger. Dee was going to have to get over her anxiety long enough to ask to use the phone. It wasn’t the asking that was causing her throat to slam shut. It was who she had to call.

Her stepfather had not always been so bad. She wouldn’t go so far as to say she loved him, but when her mom had first married him it seemed like it would be okay. It had been acceptable for a while. Then he lost his job. At that point, he started to drink a lot, but only when her mom was on long flights. He was sober as the day he was born by the time his wife landed, so she was none the wiser about how bad things had been. Deidre had suffered for six long months in silence, just unsure of how to approach it.

She wanted to believe that her mother would take her word for it, but there was always that chance. There was no proof, and Dee had not warmed up to him. She was not rude and tried to treat him with the utmost respect in every single situation. What her mother would most likely focus on is how Dee treated her stepfather as if he did not exist. Something about him just did not sit right with Deidre, and she could not force herself past it. The only thing she could do was act as children of older times were expected to; she only spoke to him when he talked to her first.

Since her mother had left yesterday morning, Dee knew what to expect if he came to get her. He would be drunk as a sailor and three times as mean. Once, he grabbed her off her bed, and her foot caught on the part of the frame. Her three smallest toes swelled up like Vienna sausage, and she walked with a limp for a full week. It had hurt so badly. She told everyone, including her mother, that she had fallen off her bike.

Setting her books on the counter, Dee forced herself to make eye contact with Ms. Winifred.

“Ma’am, may I please use the phone? I need to see if my stepfather can pick me up.” The youngish librarian smiled and put the phone on the counter.

“I will trade you the phone for your library card.” Deidre felt a genuine smile creep across her face as she set her card on the counter, and grabbed the phone.

“Thank you very much,” she said politely. Ms. Winifred smiled. “You are very welcome Dee.”

Dee had to dig to be able to muster up her courage to pick up the receiver and started to dial her home phone. It rang a handful of times before the answering machine kicked in. “Hey Jim, this is Dee. I was wondering if you could pick me up at the library. I will try your cell.”

Her second attempt was just as fruitless. She graciously thanked the librarian again as she gathered up her books. There was no other choice but to walk. She stepped outside the doors and was immediately hit in the face with a cold wind. Dee pulled her hood up, before turning to wave goodbye to the concerned looking guard.

“I’ll be okay. It is a short walk.” He just nodded in response, and slowly shut the door.

Deidre hoped that had not been a lie. She started walking towards her home, still not entirely sure if she would go through the middle of the park, or skirt around the edges. Going around the outside statistically would be the safest. It was well lit, with traffic going by steadily. The only downside was that it would add another ten minutes to her trip. From the library to the park was already a ten-minute walk. If she cut through the park, it would shave five minutes off her journey time. However, the park was not well lit and often had rough types hanging about at night.

By the time she reached the park, Deidre knew what she was going to do. She needed to pee so bad her back teeth were floating. Her mother hated it when Deidre said that, but the memory was distinct. It was a saying that was picked up from her father, and the stubborn girl would not ever let it go. She also had this nagging feeling in the very back of her brain that said she needed to get home as quickly as possible. It was not a feeling she planned on ignoring; Dee would be extremely vigilant and move quickly.

The teenager both loved, and loathed this park. During the day, it was a place of magical weeping willows, and ethereal smelling eucalyptus. At night, it was something ripped from a nightmare, or any scary movie she had ever seen. Street kids had broken every other street lamp. The rest were out of order. Older kids who ran with street gangs like to hang out there to drink and get high. Sometimes some dull people wandered over from the nearby hospital after they were kicked out of the psychiatric ward once they convinced staff that they were not a danger to themselves or anyone.

Once again, she wished her stepfather had answered the phone. Dee did not have to wonder why he did not pick up, even though she had called ten times in a row. He was either passed out or too drunk to care that there was this incessant shrill screaming coming from the phone which sat next to his armchair.

She looked up at the cloud clogged sky and wished that the full moon would break through. It would provide light through the areas where the overhead lights were out of order. Pulling her books closer to her, Deidre took a deep breath and started down the path that entered the city park. Every step with no incidence brought with it a small reward of a confidence boost.

The sound of crunching leaves behind her brought all that crashing down onto the cold winter ground. Deidre’s heart stopped beating for a few seconds, and she forgot to breathe. A sense of dizziness washed over her, which forced her to stop walking. Before she knew what was happening her knees buckled and she felt herself moving towards the ground. There was nothing she could do to stop it.

Moments before she thought she would strike the ground, Dee found herself being swept up into strong arms. It took her a few deep breathes to figure out what had happened. Completely mortified, Dee allowed him to help her onto her feet. Once she was steady, she slowly extracted herself from his arms.

She managed to swallow the hard lump in her throat to open her mouth, and make words.

“Thanks,” was all she managed That was okay with her. It was better than her saying something mortifying. That was her strong suit.

Dee forced herself to look up and look him in the eyes. She immediately wished she hadn’t. He was gorgeous. She found herself being pulled deep into the profound depths of his brown eyes. The characteristics of his face reminded her of a statue she had once seen of a Spartan soldier. The angles were very masculine and pleasing to look upon. His brown hair was cut stylishly short. The shaken teen forced herself to hold the eye contact while she introduced herself. Anxiety was not going to get the best of her tonight.

“I mean it. Thanks. I don’t know what just happened. As silly as it sounds I thought you might be the serial killer, or whatever,” she said with a nervous laugh.

“I might be,” he said with a wink and a hearty laugh.

Deidre started to relax, but not so much that she forgot that she needed to get home. “Well, either way, I appreciate you not letting me face plant onto the filthy ground.”

He made a formal bow and then held out his hand for her hand. Dee eyeballed the extended hand for a few seconds before offering her own. The handsome boy gently cradled it in his own, kissing the top.

“My name is Nick. It's very pleased to meet you. Given that there is a danger in you being alone, can I please walk you home?”

Dee was sure she did not want to be alone in this dark and mostly empty park alone, while there was a serial killer on the loose. She looked at the young man who had so graciously made the offer. She knew that serial killers their age existed, but the cops were looking for a much older man. They doubted a teenager would have the stomach or strength to carry out the mutilations they were seeing. Deidre felt it would be safer to walk with him.

“Ok. I just live on the other side of this park. I appreciate the offer. It's scary in this part of town at night. Especially in this park.” He nodded as if he understood.

“Well, I am happy to escort you.”

They started to make small talk as they walked down the path that meandered through the park. Though there was nothing abnormal about the topic of his choice, something about him was setting her teeth on edge. His words seemed hollow, and there appeared to be an effort to seem sincere. The more they talked, the more Deidre felt he was overly charming like he was attempting to disarm her. Very suddenly she wanted to be far away from him, locked in the safety of her home.

When she saw the bathrooms up ahead, she let out a relieved breath. That was the two-minute marker to her house. She searched for the words to thank and dismiss Nick.

“Thanks for walking with me. I’m just going to go to the restroom; then I can make it the rest of the way. If my stepdad sees me with a boy, he will freak.”

The boy smiled. “Are you sure? I was hoping to see you again, and I can’t do that if you get kidnapped.”

Deidre felt herself blush deeply. “I’m sure. I’m seriously only two minutes from my house.”

He tilted his head to the side and studied her face in the limited light. Finally, he shrugged and nodded his head.

“If you are sure you are ok.”

She felt her apprehension lessen. It was nice to have company, but she did not want the strange boy to see where she lived. Giving a little wave, Dee walked into the women’s restroom. By now her bladder was painfully protesting against the waistband of her jeans. She had managed to not pee on herself in front of the cute, but weird boy, and she prayed she could just hold it for a few more moments.

Once she entered, she immediately remembered why she had always hated this bathroom. The city had painted it several times over the last year, and probably used more cleaning solvents than was approved by the EPA. The smell of urine was still as strong as it had ever been. Additionally, there was one row of lights above, with two fluorescent tubes in there. Only one was still able to produce light down the middle of the aisle. Above the sink hung one bare bulb on a wire. It swayed back and forth, like a pendulum. Dee didn’t feel any wind.

One of the faucets dripped, and the sound urged her further into the bathroom. Her bladder would not withstand another scare. As she approached the first stall, the hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up. Her stomach filled with a deep dread that she had never felt before; not even when she knew a beating was coming her way. Gathering up what remained of her courage Dee entered the first stall and quickly locked the door behind her. Once she could empty her bladder, she started to feel some semblance of relief; until she heard the creaking of a stall door.

Her blood curdled in its veins, and Dee resisted the urge to scream. Once again, she cursed her stupidity. It had been a mistake to send Nick away. Finishing up, she tried to convince herself it was just the wind. The same wind that was causing the slow creak of the bare bulb swinging back and forth on its wire. Flushing the toilet, she took a deep breath and grabbed her purse. At the last second, she pulled her house keys out, and fitted one key in between each finger, with the sharp ends facing out. If she had to, she would go straight for the eyes.

Taking a deep breath, she sped out of the stall, ready to fight. Chest heaving with anxiety, Deidre took a few seconds to realize she was alone. Feeling drained, she slid her keys into the pocket of her pants so that she could wash her hands. The cold water shocked her system into an odd sense of calm. Drying herself off on the old air hand dryer, Deidre pondered what might have given her such an unsettled feeling about Nick. He had been stunning, and she was slightly sad that she would probably never see him again.

As Dee walked out, she was surprised to see Nick still waiting.

He was casually leaned against the side of the building, nonchalantly whistling some unknown tune. When he heard the girl approaching he stopped to plead his case. “Don’t be mad. I’m sorry. I couldn’t leave. You know what the kids at my school say about the murders?”

She shook her head. Deidre didn’t hang out with anyone from her school. She had no idea what teens her age thought. The closest thing Dee had to friends were the adults that were often met as the teen wandered through life. There was no way she would ever tell Nick that. He looked like the type to make friends every single place that he went.

“They say there is a werewolf running around these parts. The beast seems to have a taste for cute girls, out late at night. And you are both.”

She was flattered but put off. The combination of not knowing why she didn’t trust Nick, along with offhand jokes of being a serial killer earlier in the night was too much for her. She was starting to feel very uncomfortable.

“You don’t believe in werewolves do you,” Dee stammered as she stepped back.

He threw his head back, and let loose a full-bodied belly laugh. As if on cue, the dark and heavy clouds above started to part. The full moon broke through like a spotlight, illuminating the entire park. With growing horror, Deidre watched his face and body began to morph as he answered, “I don’t know. I just might.”

The young girl froze in place. Every fiber of her being wanted her legs to move her towards her home, but it was useless. Deidre couldn’t turn her eyes away from the horror that was unfolding in front of her. It was all happening in slow motion. It began with the elongation of his face, to form a snout and wolfish ears.

A warm stream of liquid ran down her leg, as his skin started to split; allowing a thick pelt to break through. The beast began to look less like the handsome boy who had been escorting her home, and more like what she had read about the last time her mother had to leave on a long flight. Long arms now covered in fur supported a solid body, which was cut with striated muscles.

The transformation was complete, and the werewolf sprang at her. She could see the gleam of saliva on the canine teeth as the monster flew through the air. She opened her mouth to scream, but it was cut short as her windpipe was crushed.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent build and character development in the short span of time, it gave her death impact even though I saw it coming. Great job!
    -Heather Anable