horror flash fiction piece for The Grim Reaper Contest 2022
|My breath came in ragged gasps. I could catch it no more than I could catch the bus turning the corner a block ahead of me. It was the last bus of the night for my route. Now I would walk home, through an unsavory neighborhood. I had done it before, it wasn’t too frightening. The people of the neighborhood look after me, as I look after them. I find them what they need, it is my job at the community center. |
I began the walk trying to think of it as some sorely needed exercise. My job at the center was primarily sedentary and the slowing of my metabolism had begun when I hit 35. That said I had gained at least ten pounds in the last five years. It melted my six-pack into a blubbery bulge of a spare tire. One foot in front of the next.
There is nothing essentially creepy about a cloudy night. I lie to myself. The alley cats knocking over trash barrels and rolling empty cans around in the alleys was a reassuringly common sound. The shrieks of their passions made it clear they found this to be a good night.
I walked through the dimly lit streets nodding as I passed homeless clients curling up beneath their blankets for the night. All was well. The sounds and the sights are all familiar. I felt safe. Ahead the park welcomed me, just the other side of the hiking path was my comfortable apartment.
Above me, the clouds parted revealing a gorgeous harvest moon just as I reached the place in the park where the trees obscured the sky. City planners had placed vintage-looking light polls at regular intervals beneath the trees and I expected a well-lit stroll home. Up ahead the next lamp flickered and fell dark.
No big deal, light bulbs burn out all the time. Actually, I might report it to the city tomorrow morning. I continued on my walk. The hair on the back of my neck began to stand on edge. Something felt off. Where were the chirps of insects, the mewls of street cats? Where were the usual night sounds that formed a comforting accompaniment to my walk home? I reached the darkened lamp and heard the sound of breaking glass ahead on the path. The next streetlamp fell dark.
Hesitant I considered turning back to the well-lit path behind me. Then it too fell dark. What in the hell? I heard a low growl from the underbrush. It was too deep to be a cat or even a stray dog. Menacingly it grew louder and closer, then fell silent. The silence, completely lacking even in the sounds of the city that should penetrate this deep into the park sent a chill up my spine.
Surely I was being silly. There weren’t any animals in the middle of this city big or ferocious enough to be dangerous. There weren’t even big predators in the city zoo that could have escaped to menace like this. Sound returned in the form of leaves being crushed beneath large feet or paws. The sound was close.
“Enough! Shoo! Find someone else to screw around with!”
A low inhuman snarl returned in a response, “But I am hungry, and you are here now…”
I turned to face the voice. A man-sized beast with fangs protruding beyond its gum line flashed a bloody smile at me from less than a foot away. I didn’t even have time to scream.