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Paranoid Claire

Paranoid claire


Estimated reading time — 7 minutes

The rusty black Sedan crept along the road opposite Claire, moving at under 10 mph. Claire stopped walking and pretended to check her phone while ignoring her shaking hand and rising heart rate: the signs of an on-coming panic attack, worsened by alcohol.

The Sedan finally stopped, but she heard the engine was still running, omitting a dull sounding screeching noise that she thought all un-cared for cars omit during their last days on the road. She thought about coolly crossing over to rap on the window and demand to know who it was, taking the upper hand in the situation and becoming the dominant woman she sometimes dreamed of being.

Instead, she pocketed her phone, took a deep breath (in and out), and continued walking.
Her night of drunken fun had come to a boring, painful end: the guy she had her eye on all night had been dragged to the bathroom by Stacey O’Connor (that slag). Instead of just shrugging it off and getting a taxi home while she still had her brain power, she instead downed as much wine and beer as she was offered from co-workers and horny strangers (sometimes a rare horny co-worker).

It was now 2:00 AM, her head was banging, she couldn’t walk straight, she couldn’t talk well enough to get a bus or a taxi, and she badly needed to vomit again.

And on top of all this: a black Sedan had been tailing her since she left the pub.

And even further on top of all this: she was now getting bombarded with texts from her sister, perfect.

She turned to see if the Sedan was still following her. It was parked in the same position it had stopped. Was it even following her to begin with? Or was it all in her head? Paranoid Claire always DID over think things…

She stopped again and squinted up at the row of grey buildings next to her:

A closed spa, a closed Chinese restaurant, 2 grey cottages, a closed betting shop, and an… OPEN bar.

Her body decided to go in before SHE did.

The bar was completely empty, although someone was obviously in the bathroom; a half-empty pint of beer and an open newspaper were sitting on the counter.

The barman was staring into space before he noticed her. He was bald with a ginger beard and must’ve been about 35-40. He was wearing a white shirt which showed off his slight beer belly.

He winced when he noticed Claire and stood up straight, pretending he never noticed her at all.

She sat at the bar and attempted to ask for a beer. He smiled and said: ‘No problem’ with a slight smirk and a wink she would’ve noticed, had she not been staring at the closed sign attached to the men’s toilet.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket. It was her sister. Claire figured she was drunk enough to stomach talking to her.

She found that suddenly she had regained her voice.

‘Hello?’

There was heavy breathing and a slight high-pitched moan down the line.

‘Kerry! Hello?”

No response. Just muffled noises and then then the line went dead.

She stared at her phone in disbelief for a second.

‘Weird…’; She murmured to herself.

‘Pint of lager, miss.’ The crisp pint was placed in front of her, the recognizable smell both making her feel sick and excited.

She immediately took a big gulp to kill the sizable foam head.

Suddenly she said: ‘Do you get a lot of people in at this time?’ It was then when she noticed the lack of music or television, nullifying the need to speak loudly. ‘Wasn’t that usual at this time of night?’; she thought. She dismissed it almost as quickly as she conceived it.

‘Not really, miss. The regulars shuffle out at twelve usually. Though I do get a few people like yourself coming in at this time, miss. Your night out, is it?’

She took another large gulp and wiped her mouth.

‘Yeah. Someone in the loo?’ She nodded at the half-empty pint glass.

The bartender frowned at it, smirked to himself, and then turned back to Claire.

‘Oh yeah, him.’

Her phone started to vibrate again. She tutted and sipped her beer before answering it.

‘Yes?’

‘… Claire? Oh, hi darling. Look, sorry to wake you. You got back safe, yeah?’

It was Stacey O’Connor, clearly finished with her business in the bathroom.

‘Oh, uh… Yeah.’ Claire debated briefly about telling her she was in another bar but decided against it. Surely, Stacey would sneak off with either the barman or the mysterious drinker, and Claire had made up her mind to get off with either.

‘Good good. Your sister called. I don’t think she sounds too good. Sounds a little too drunk. It was just groaning. Do you know where she could be? Or is she just taking the piss?’

A sinking feeling started to grow in Claire’s stomach, though she wasn’t sure why.

‘She’s fine. She knows how to handle her booze. It’ll be her boyfriend or her messing with us because she knows we’re drunk. You know her…’

Claire took a silent gulp of beer while Stacey said: ‘Yeah. I do. Sorry to wake you. I’ll speak to you tomorrow or Monday. Bye!’

The bartender was pretending to be cleaning glasses while he listened to the whole conversation. He glanced at Claire. She looked at him and noticed he looked much better looking. She took 2 big, long gulps of beer and noticed it was almost done.

‘Don’t know why he’s not out now. Hope he’s alright.’ the bartender said to no one in particular.

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‘Who is he?’

He put down the glass he was cleaning and glanced nervously at the bathroom, still with the red ‘closed’ sign on it.

‘Oh him? He comes in here every night. Scary looking guy. Keeps to himself. Looks like the kind of guy to carry a knife, you know? Rumour has it he moved town after he killed his girlfriend. Well, that’s what I hear, anyway, from the other punters. Would not mess with him. I just give him his drinks and avoid eye contact. That’s another thing: he drinks like an Irish fish. He comes in usually just a couple days a week. Don’t know any more than that. Another beer?’

She nodded and went pale staring at the ‘closed’ sign on the bathroom door. He probably forced the bartender to open it just for him. She shivered and looked at the open newspaper. There was a Grey picture of a man in it, next to large words with a lot of commas and exclamation marks.

The bartender noticed she was looking at it and turned the paper round so she could read.
The words were a quotation, and the picture was of a heavily bearded old man with a Grey presence and an evil look.

‘Evil! Disgusting! Vile! He murdered my daughter 40 years ago and he’s getting released today!”

‘I read that.’, the bartender said. ‘Evil bastard, getting out today. Or… Yesterday. Butchered a girl in his 20’s and is getting out on good behaviour. Got the insanity plea. They never thought he’d get out. Fucking police don’t know anything. Better off dead. Waste of taxpayer’s money.’

Another beer was placed in front of Claire, but she didn’t feel like drinking another.

She shivered when she looked at the picture in the paper and took another long drink.
‘You alright? That your last for tonight? No lock ins here I’m afraid.’

‘No that’s alright. I’ll have this and go.’

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‘No problem.’ He noticed she was staring at the ‘closed’ sign.

‘Oh, and I was just joking by the way?’

‘About what?’

‘The bloke in the bathroom. The pint and paper are mine. It gets boring in here you know? You got to have a little fun with the punters. Hopefully you forgive me enough to allow me to ask for your number.’

She smiled and pretended to look offended, but for some reason she didn’t feel any less nervous… Although she was damn happy to get the attention of the bartender, who now might as well look like Hugh Grant.

‘I can’t fucking write anything down just now in my, ahem, current state. I can tell you my number and you can jot it down somewhere if you’d like… And I promise I WILL be calling.’

This night wasn’t so bad after all. She rewarded herself with a gulp of beer.

‘Nice one.’

‘Better finish this one off. I’ll call someone to pick me up, don’t worry.’

‘I wasn’t. You seem like a woman who is very capable to take of things on her own.’

‘Sure, but there’s some things that a woman needs an extra hand for.’

He winked at her and downed his beer.

‘Thank you for making the night shift finally worth something.’

She smiled and winked back and downed the last of her beer.

‘Is that you?’

‘Yeah.’

Her phone vibrated again:

Kerry.

‘Oh fuck. Sister. Hang on.’

She answered-

Heavy breathing.

High-pitched laugh.

A voice:
‘Hi Claire. I’m alright now. See you soon.’

Line went dead.

Claire was relieved but also unnerved; that didn’t really sound like Kerry. She must really be drunk.

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She stood up and almost fell, managing to hold on to her stool so she didn’t.

‘Whoa easy. You sure you good to call someone?’

‘Of course, honey. I’ll call you. Later, babe.’

She left the bar in good spirits. She had somehow managed to turn a shit night into a pretty good one. Not only that but all the things she had worried about (her sister, the man in the bathroom, the black sedan) had all taken care of themselves.

Paranoid Claire came out on top for once, and her anxiety was lifted with the 2 pints.
She walked back the way she came, looking for a bench she could sit at.

She suddenly noticed the black Sedan across the street, parked much closer than it was before.

Fuck. Why would the driver move like that? He was parked fine before!

‘Fuck this.’, thought Claire. ‘I’m not going to let this guy into my fucking head. I’m going to fucking go over and demand who it is. I don’t even care if I look crazy. I know this guy’s engine is still running. I’m the one in fucking control tonight.’

She jogged over to the Sedan with excitement in her stomach.

She rapped on the driver’s window.

No response.

But the engine is running!

She moved over to the passenger side, just to see the door slightly open.

That screeching noise was back, and it didn’t sound like an engine.

She opened the door to a brightly lit interior.

Her sister was tied up in ropes in the back, dead and naked, with parts of her skull showing.

A tape was playing from the dashboard: screams of a dying woman who Claire once knew and loved.

She thought back to the phone call she just had:

‘That wasn’t Kerry…’

The man in the driver’s seat smiled up at her, pointing a gun in one hand, and rope in the other.

‘…That was a man putting on a voice.’

The bearded man from the newspaper, naked as well, and covered in dried blood , pointed the gun at Claire’s face and said, in a gravely, rarely used voice:

‘Strip.’

Credit: Charles Williams

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