I was angry.
This was probably the seventh time in a month that the Buick took a shit.
And for the seventh time the car sat lifeless on the shoulder of the road, releasing its soul in the form of dirty, gray clouds floating skyward from under the hood.
So yeah: I was angry.
And the real tasty icing on the crap cake was rolling in from the west: dark purple clouds with that unmistakable stain of ugly tan swirling around beside the oncoming wall. Thunder argued its location from the horizon and the flickers of lightening announced the bigger storm to come.
Angry. But at least I had an umbrella, because yes: I had to walk. The road ran the rural outskirts of the city and from where I stood there wasn't a restaurant or a gas station for at least a mile. I was definitely walking.
The drops began as soon as I shut the door; heavy, loud, and with a fury like the rain was mad at the ground. I popped the umbrella just in time as the downpour picked up speed sounding now like a waterfall splashing on a tent. I began my walk.
The rain continued to pelt my meager covering like a barrage of water bombs. It was torrential for one minute, and an outright deluge the next. As I looked around with stunned wonder, I noticed immediately that the road's edge quickly became a running, muddy mess. And so I plodded on.
Soon it became all too apparent that the arm not holding the umbrella - I rotated as frequently as my aching hands desired - was rapidly becoming a sodden sponge. It might have been an umbrella, but with the downpour, it was doing very little to deflect much of the torrent and bare!y kept me dry. I did my best to keep my mind off the drenching chill, and so I let it freely wander.
I thought of my wife and kids warm and dry at home. I thought of my phone with its useless, dead battery. Why did I listen to music all night at work without charging? And so I walked and thought.
Just then, something that most definitely wasn't the relentless rain caught my attention. I cocked my head as I continued my march through the deepening puddles. Then I heard it again. It sounded like footfalls beating in opposite rhythm to my own. Worse yet, they sounded agonizingly close.
I breathed deeply and collected my thoughts. There was obviously someone behind me; someone near enough for me to discern their sounds through the ceaseless storm. I wanted nothing more than to stop and turn around, but half of me said not a chance, and forced me to keep walking even more quickly.
My breathing came more rapidly, too, not only because of my pace, but largely because of my fear. Why was I so scared? I'm a grown man... And a big guy! So what if someone was following me? This was not the plot of one of those Slasher flicks In was so fond of. People don't just go around stalking and cutting up pedestrians! This was stupid!
But that was just a bunch of macho bullshit because as the footsteps continued to match my pace, panic and blinding fear sank its claws even deeper. I swallowed hard enough for it to click in my throat and instinctively coughed, cleared my throat, and spoke aloud,
"Guess I'd better call my wife!"
There was no way my trail had any idea my phone was dead. I mocked dialing - knowing full well the lighted display wasn't glowing - and waited, pretending to listen to the nonexistent ring. And all the while the footsteps never faltered.
My heart was hammering in my chest as I began to talk to no one,
"Hi honey! Guess where I am!"
I prayed for the plodding footfalls behind me to slow; to edge a little off their pace. But even as I carried on my fabricated conversation, they never once wavered.
If possible, the darkness seemed to deepen around me. It felt as though its inky cloak was enclosing me so tightly I'd never be able to free myself. I tried to slow my laboring breath and forced myself to continue the charade I'd begun on my dead cell phone.
"No, I've been walking to town. Yeah, it's crapped out again. No, I should be the..."
I was abruptly cut off as the thing following me let out what could only be described as a laugh; a low, guttural chuckle.
A cold bolt of fear lanced up my spine and I could feel its chill ring in my ears.
I missed a step and nearly tripped. The night around me suddenly grew far warmer as the sensation of absolute dread made sweat bead all over my face and body. I juggled my umbrella from one hand to the other as my sweaty palms threatened to drop it entirely. I had sense enough to put my phone away before dropping it, too, since there was no reason to pretend any longer.
I kept my pace, as did my persuer. By now my fear-heightened senses could clearly hear it breathing through the still-pouring rain. By now, the aching need to see what was back there was almost overpowering my natural fight-or-flight sensibilities. I had to know.
I slowly - without breaking stride - turned my head.
Just then my balance gave out and I stumbled over a rise in the road. My feet tangled and I fell over myself. I landed hard on my hands, both of which I managed to throw out in front of me to brace my fall. The umbrella cartwheeled down the road, and everything I had in my pockets jingled noisily across the blacktop; my key chain with my antique amulet bottle opener, my phone, my wallet... it all spilled onto the soaking wet street. I could feel the gravel as it stung deeply into my palms as the blood began to pool and trickle out.
As I sat there on my knees, stunned, I looked desperately around trying in vein to locate any shadow or glimpse to show just who or what had been following me. But even as I shot my gaze as far as I could into the dark, rainy night... I saw nothing. I heard no sign that anything was ever there. By the time I scrambled to my feet and gathered my sopping possessions (the umbrella was a lost cause), I was drenched to the core. Heart thumping a hole in my chest, shivering from head to toe, and on edge like a startled cat, I continued fruitlessly to survey my surroundings. But still I saw and heard nothing.
Nothing except my salvation:
Headlights and an engine.