Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
Gotta be honest. I think the worst day I’ve had all year was the day the voice in my head told me to keep running. I’m not schizophrenic or anything, I mean it in a more gut feeling sense. The day it screamed at me to keep going, to sprint as fast as I could in the direction of home, was the day everything went wrong.
I jog every night. I like the cool air that a sunless sky brings, and I like how there aren’t many people around. I don’t really gel well with the neighbourhood. A lot of nuclear families and sheltered suburban homes. The neighbours gossip and chat across picket fences, have barbecues with each other’s families, and can probably remember the names of each and every person on their street. I live on my own and barely talk to anyone, so I stick out like a sore thumb. I hear people whisper about me behind the fences as I pass by. That I’m some sort of creep, that mom was a paragon of neighbourliness and I was just waiting for her to die. It’s bullshit of course. I would love to leave if I had a job that paid enough, but I don’t. I work in a Walmart where I bag groceries, stock shelves, and get paid dirt. So. I’ll probably never leave.
Still. Asshole neighbours aside, jogging is nice. The local area’s got lots of really nice parks and everything’s well lit, so I don’t feel particularly scared of being jumped. No jerks, no worries, no need to stay in the house and brood about it all. It’s nice.
Well, it was. As I mentioned, my gut kinda ruined that whole deal.
I had a really shitty morning which transitioned into a really shitty afternoon yesterday. Heard the same old shit from the neighbours and a couple of assholes were yelling for my manager at work (they held me personally responsible for their favourite soda being out of stock). I was ready to have a real long jog that night. I began my regular circuit; heading out the front door, down the street towards the park. There’s this one bench by the entrance that I mark my progress by as I do a whole lap round the place. On a good night I can lap past it at least ten times. There was a guy sitting there last night. He didn’t look like he lived in the neighbourhood; in fact, the poor guy didn’t look like he lived anywhere, really. His clothes looked ripped up, like he hadn’t found some new ones in a while. He was sitting, smoking a cigarette, his back bending forward like a weight was hanging from his head. We noticed each other. I nodded at him and he nodded back. A nice change. Usually people didn’t respond when I tried to be polite; either that or they scowled. A nod was nice.
I did my first lap. The leaves on the trees on either side of the park path blew gently in the wind. A gentle white noise to numb the anger that’d piled up throughout the day. Past the little lake, where a couple of ducks slept, heads curled into their wings. Back to the bench. The guy had begun to get into a sleeping position. He was rolling out a newspaper, and he’d placed his backpack at the end of the bench. We nodded again.
Second lap. I noticed the little hum from lights that ringed the path this time around. That, mixed with the wind through the leaves, created a gentle ambient soundtrack for the jog. The ducks still slept. Back to the bench. He’d wrapped up, his head was on the backpack. I could imagine this was a rare night of peace for him. The air was cool, but not too cold. It was nice. We could share in that peace here.
Third lap. Humming lights. Brushing leaves. Nothing else but gentle noise. Who could worry about today on a night like this? It was so peaceful. I felt peaceful. No need for anger here. I could’ve jogged forever and it’d be ok. I could be ok. I got to the pond. No ducks. They must have headed off to find a spot without the sound of jogging feet. Back to the bench. He was sleeping soundly still.
Fourth lap. I listened to the hum and the wind. Or I tried to. The wind had died down by now. The leaves were still. The lake was still too. No ducks. No ripples. Just the hum of the streetlights. It was quiet. Another pass round the bench. Like everything else, the man was still. He was enjoying the quiet.
Fifth lap. No wind, No leaves rustling, no humming lights. No humming lights? I looked up. There they were, bright as ever, yet they made no noise. Not a sound. I kept jogging. The air was dead, not a noise to be heard, save the sounds of my shoes hitting the path and my breathing. I was aware of it, then. The way I was breathing heavier, a little harder than usual. I looked to the pond, saw nothing but the still water, and breathed a little heavier. And heavier. I was scared, I think. I didn’t know why. It wasn’t like the stillness was going to kill me. It just felt wrong, like the night’s heartbeat had stopped. I was breathing harder as I rounded the bend and headed back towards the bench, before I stopped in my tracks.
I listened. I could hear something else. Something in my breathing. I took some air in and held it.
Something else was breathing with me. A hacking, moaning, breathing from across the way. It sounded like a cat being strangled in slow motion. The guy on the bench. Maybe he was choking or something. I stole my nerves and kept jogging.
As the bench got closer into view I could see, clear as day, someone who wasn’t there before. As the man lay sleeping, a woman, at least seven feet tall, was leering over him. She wore this long, tattered dress, which frayed at the ankles. It was once white, I think. It now had grey, brown and what looked to be red stains across the entire thing. It was like a horrific Jackson pollock hung from her shoulders. I got closer. Her hair was as long, black, and slick as oil. I could see her shoulders rise and fall with every laborious breath, parting and closing the strands, revealing a long, pale neck. I kept jogging. There were two voices now. One told me to jog in the other direction. The other told me to get her the hell away from the sleeping man, the only guy I’d met in ages who hadn’t thrown a judgement my way. As I got within tossing distance, all of a sudden, she stopped breathing. I stopped jogging. I stared at her, waiting for her to take another breath, for her shoulders to rise again. Seconds passed. Ten. Fifteen. She had to breathe at some point. I opened my mouth to get her attention, but before I even let out a sound, her head jerked, loudly creaking sideways like a door with a bad hinge. Turning, turning, until I could make out an unmistakable eye through the strands. It was white, it was deep, and it was full of hate.
The man was still there.
“Fucking run get the fuck away from it go go go go go go go”
She was going to hurt him.
I sprinted to the left, through the park entrance. I couldn’t look back. A deep, primal part of me that’d rarely made itself aware in my consciousness just knew, for sure, that that woman was going to kill me if I did. It told me run, run and don’t stop running until I was back home in bed. So I did. I sprinted past the shop I worked at, past the police station, and to my front door. I fumbled with keyes, opened it and screwed my eyes shut as I slammed it closed. I stopped, waiting for a sound, but the only thing I could hear was my own ragged breathing. I sobbed, pained tears dropping onto my floor, as I slumped against the door let exhaustion and shock take me.
The following morning I was awoken by heavy handed knocks against the door. Jumping up, I squinted through the peephole, fearful of long black hair. I can’t say that my tension was relieved when I saw a couple of police officers instead. I opened the door, and they asked me if I could come in for questioning. Something about a person that’d been found the previous night. I didn’t say anything. I just nodded and got in the car. I didn’t care where I was going or what they wanted, I was just thankful that I was alive, that my gut had guided me right.
A few things happened next which eroded that sense of thankfulness.
First of all, the man in the park, the one with the woman. Dead. He was on the bench, white as a sheet, deep handprints bruised into his neck. I wonder now, as I did in the interrogation room, if I could have saved him.
Second, the police pinned it on me. They told me that security footage of the park entrance showed the man walking in about twenty minutes before I did. Then, twenty minutes after I arrived, I sprint out of the park. A part of me was desperate to tell them the truth of things, but they never mentioned a seven foot tall horror appearing on any of the footage, and these guys seemed pretty made up on their decision regarding my innocence.
Finally, my god damn fucking neighbours. When the police had talked to them, they’d gone on and on about how I was antisocial, a bad egg, some scumbag who only left home past midnight to skulk around and look for trouble. They were so fucking positive about how I was some nutcase, that I’d been desperate to meet someone somewhere secluded for years, just waiting for the chance to kill.
So they threw me in a cell, and it was all because my gut told me to run, to sprint home. Not to tell anyone, or call the police, or to stop the creep from hurting that poor guy, but to run. Fucking coward. They told me that in the morning my attorney was going to arrive, and that I was set to go to court within the week. At least they obliged me when I asked for some paper and a pen. I felt like I needed to get all this down. Initially, I wanted to get my story straight, maybe work with what I remembered to make a halfway convincing lie about what happened.
Now, as night rolls in, it’s for another reason. My guts acting up again. Ever since I sat down, it’s been tightening and tightening, a voice in my head telling me to run. I thought maybe the horror of being sent to prison for something I didn’t do was setting in, but now I’m thinking differently. My gut is telling me to run. To break out of the cell and run far, far away, because that ragged breathing outside the window is a little too familiar. There are two voices again. One’s telling me to make a commotion, to scream for a guard, maybe to try and pick the cell door with a loose bobby pin in my pocket. Another voice is tempting me to look out the window, telling me that it’s just a racoon or something and I’m overreacting. But that other voice rebuts with a pretty convincing retort. It’s telling me that if I did, I’d be looking into white, hateful eyes, hidden behind black messy hair.
Credit : William Harmar
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