Written for the WDC Short Shots competition, May 2020
I wouldn’t usually walk the streets at night. Even lit up like it’s Christmas it’s still taking a risk, especially when you’re a girl alone. But the fact is I have to get out.
For days I’ve been stuck inside one room and those four walls have begun to close in on me. Usually I’d go out during the day, but lately it’s been too hot. Not a nice heat, but a searing one; airless and merciless. No one has been going out, not if they don’t have to. I need to get some food, some drink, but I’ll be safe. There’s bound to be lots of people out there with me.
At least that is what I’d thought, but as I head off towards the high street I appear to be alone. Even now I can feel the sweat breaking out on my forehead. Partly it’s because the temperature’s still way too high, but it’s more than that. Something... I don’t know how to explain it really. I feel like I’m walking through an invisible blanket of fog and it’s scaring me.
It’s all I can do to keep on putting one foot in front of the other when every sane part of my mind is telling me to go back to my room. I might be hungry and thirsty, but at least I’d be safe.
I can hear the sound of traffic in the distance, but the street is empty of cars as well as of pedestrians. It’s silent. It shouldn’t be so quiet; I know that and I know there’s something very wrong.
My body stops moving, refuses to take another step. My brain is screaming at me: ‘Go home! Go home!’, and without even consciously deciding to retreat I find myself spinning round.
This can’t be right. I’ve just walked along this stretch of pavement and yet now it’s changed. There should be street-lights but instead I’m seeing blue neon that swoops and swirls as far as I can see. It’s so bright that it’s giving the sky an almost khaki tinge. It looks almost as sick as I feel.
That blue becomes so bright I can’t stand to look at it a moment longer, drag my eyes towards the ground and find myself bathed in cerise.
Have I been drugged? I can’t have been for I’ve not eaten anything, drunk anything. Is it the air itself that is making me sick?
A bomb of some sort, germ warfare? I’m I the only person left alive?
Panic! That’s what is taking over me now and I’m hyperventilating. If I don’t get a grip now I’m going to pass out or something. Breathe! Breathe! It’s just my mind playing tricks. I keep on telling myself that and my racing, adrenaline-flooded pulse begins to calm to a manageable level.
The problem now is that I’m lost. Less than a mile from my home and nothing looks familiar any more. I can’t even tell if I’m facing towards home or town. There’s only one way to find out and that is to get walking, even though I feel more like I am swimming through treacle. One step, two step. I’m getting into some kind of rhythm and then it’s gone in an instant.
He appears from nowhere. This guy, he’s got to be the scariest person I’ve ever seen, crouched down near the ground in front of me. He’s dressed in black and his hair is cropped short; maybe he wouldn’t be so threatening if it wasn’t for his face. A black mask... it’s got to be a mask, hasn’t it for no one can have a face like that. Neon yellow crisscross eyes. No pupils, no eye-holes either. How can he see? Maybe he can’t and has not even noticed me at all.
I’m grasping at straws. I know I am, for I can’t get my eyes to move away from his mouth. Yellow, fluorescent; a thin-lipped smile that’s full of teeth. I take a step backwards, just a small one, making sure that my tread is silent. He’s still in the same position, hasn’t reacted to my movement.
I’m being set up! That’s got to be it. Quinn, I bet he’s put one of his mates up to this and is skulking away somewhere, filming every second. I can see it now, my horrified face all over the internet for everyone to laugh at. I’ll call him out, let him know that I’m onto his game but my voice has deserted me.
It’s no good, I can’t do it. I turn round and run, only I can’t... I can’t, for he’s there in front of me again, crouched in the same position as though he has not moved at all.
“Let me go,” I say. “Please, just let me walk on past.”
Nothing. No response. Not even a flicker of an eye, although those eyes, they’re not real. He could be killing himself laughing behind the mask.
I whirl around again, too quickly for him to have had a chance to get in front of me and yet there he is. Two of them? One in front and one behind? I turn my head to look over my shoulder and there’s no one there. Can I run in reverse? If I keep my eyes focused on him he won’t be able to get behind me... I don’t know...
I try, but running backwards is so much harder than walking that way. I can feel myself loosing balance and there’s nothing I can do to stop my fall. My head hits the pavement with a bang that makes my teeth rattle. I close my eyes but I don’t lose consciousness.
Perhaps the knock will have cleared the nonsense from my mind. Slowly I peel my eyelids apart. If anything the pinks and the blues have intensified. I push myself painfully up into sitting position and there he is, grinning at me.
“Who the hell are you?” I ask in not much more than a whisper.
“FATE!” The word echoes around my head, coming from all directions. Fate? What kind of answer is that?
Suddenly the air is full of playing cards, spiraling down to the ground in a flurry of hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades. One card seems to be targeting me, getting nearer and nearer until I see it quite clearly. The Ace of Spades! The death card!
He’s right above me know, leaning down, reaching out. “And there’s no escape,” he says.