Monday, January 28, 2013

The Walk Home


My fingers became painfully raw red stubs the instant I stepped outside. An icy bolt shot through me, clapping my teeth together, rocking me back on my heels. The zippers on my jacket pleaded sickly as my arms jostled up and down. That last bit of root beer stuck to my tongue, glued down by the chill air. It was such a shock compared to the toasty heat of Sacul's living room that I considered tossing myself right around and spending the night there. At leaast, until the sun could thaw out the world.

But that would be selfish. Besides, I only lived a minute or two up the street. I could be home before my toes got numb, if I jogged. No reason for Sacul to be burdened, right?

Of course, jogging was out of the question. My knees had become almost immobile blocks of ice the second the door shut behind me. With a sigh I took a stiff lurch forward, trying to move quickly without bending my legs. Suddenly I found myself wishing snowpants were allowed to be worn by people over eight. Not that they'd help much. The cold was too ravenous, even for thick pants.

The light fizzled out as I reached the end of the driveway, plunging me completely into darkness. That was the problem with living out of the way in a small out of the way town; no street lights. Usually this wasn't a huge problem in the winter. The moonlight would hit the snow and spread through it like a big, glowing blanket. Sometimes it was almost like the sun hadn't gone down at all.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a moon that night. Or stars. Everything was blocked by the greedy gray clouds. Everything but the wind, which ran wild up the streets, as though funneled in the clouds and the streets. It struck me hard, piercing my flesh with frozen knives. A small bit of drool eased itself from the corner of my mouth. With a joyful punch the wind froze it solid.

The dark wasn't the only problem with living out of the way. This was a rural town. The most abundantly populated area were the woods, and the most frequent seen of its inhabitants? Coyotes, cougars, and bears. More rare, but still there, were the bobs. As scary as all those things are, what really got me so tense were the feral dogs. They were ruthless, they were mean. And they were often hungry.

I took a hasty step forward, wanting to be home as soon as possible. Just a three minute walk, that's all it was. Up to the corner, only a couple dozen yards. But the darkness and the long tree shadows made it seem so much farther. Each step didn't seem to bring me any noticeable distance closer. It was far, long. Long, so far.

The world went up as I raised my foot, then crashed back to balance as I stomped it down. Then again with the left. Up, down, right, left. Not any close, no more closer. The cold really started to get to me then. I felt it in my nose, gluing my nostrils shut. My breathing became deep and deliberate with the air cutting a path to my lungs. It was like swallowing needles.

Crack!

What was that?

Crack! Crkle!

The sound seemed to come from all over. It was in the trees, peering down at me from the branches. It was in the sky, swooping in to take off my head. It was in the bushes, getting ready to pounce. It was everywhere, and it was going to kill me. That was it's sole purpose. To make me dead.

"No." I shook my head. "Nope. Nope."

I let myself hum. Normally I'd worry about the noise giving me away, but right then the vibrations on my lips made me feel a little more calm, a little more controlled. It was all in my head, I told myself and carried on one foot at a time. Left, right. Up, down.

Crack!

Oh God! It wasn't all in my head! It was real, the noises were real. And they were closer, louder.

Shraump. Shrmp. Shraump.

Something was in the snow by the trees. Something moving fast. My heart raced, I kept humming. Keep cool, right. It's all in your head, it's all in your head. Don't let the imagination get the better of you. One step, two step. Hum, hum, hum.

Shraump.

My spine crawled. I was dead, gone. It was right behind me. This was the end. My pitiful life, gone in a flash. Nobody would find me. My body would be whisked away by whatever it was, to be eaten, or slaughtered, or tortured. It didn't matter. I breathed fast. My vision blotted, spots of light flashed in the corners. Dizziness fell in.

Something cold slid over my shoulders. I was off. Whatever wanted me, it had to catch me first! My house was right ahead, just round the corner and open the door. All I had to do.

The pavement slapped under my sneakers, and slapped under whatever was coming up behind me. I listened hard, trying to hear what it was. A person? The wind howled in my ears, deafening everything else. I could feel it on me. It was something evil. Hands knotting on the back of my coat. Any instant it would yank back, dragging me off into the woods. Nobody would know. Nobody would know.

I rounded the corner, felt the distance between us grow just a bit.

"Don't be locked," I pleaded as the door came closer. "Please, please. Please don't be locked."

It was.

Desperately I fumbled for my keys. They started to slip from my numb fingers, but I pinched them tight and managed them into the slot. I could feel it behind me, looming up. The door creaked open. Don't let it in, don't let it in. I fell through the doorway, tossing the door shut behind me. It slammed hard, I heard the click.

Silence. Nothing pounding on the door. Nobody reaching in to grab me. I spun around, flicked on the outside light. Nothing. No dogs, no ghouls, no killers. The street was empty.

My heart slowed. I took a deep breath, letting myself enjoy the calm. I almost laughed. How stupid was I, to think something was after me. No more late night horror movies, for me.

I wobbled into the kitchen and collapsed into a chair. Home safe and sound.

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