By the time work lets out, dusk has already descended on the city. The hazy shadows slip between narrow alleyways and under the awnings of buildings. Flooding the streets with dusty darkness.
I speed up my pace as I hurry to catch my bus home on time. It is seven in the evening by now, definitely later than I expected to stay at the office. I always found the streets unnerving in the dark, like any number of things could pop out in front of me as I turn a street corner.
I pick up my phone and dial Elias, my long-time roommate, and best friend. As it rings an upbeat tune, I prepare a list of reasons why I’ll be getting home so late.
The coffee machine was broken today so my energy level is dangerously low. My pencil broke three times while I was trying to fill out the paperwork. My computer was so glitchy today, it barely worked.
Elias will no doubt be anxious about my absence.
“Hey, Elias,” I sigh into the phone, relieved to hear the sound of his voice.
“Where have you been? You said you would be home by five. You couldn’t have called, texted, anything?”
“I’m sorry, really. I didn’t mean to make you worry. Work was just… hectic today.” I tell him.
“It’s fine, I just worry with you out alone so late. The streets aren’t safe after dark,” he warns me, the same line he’s repeated a thousand times before. The streets aren’t safe after dark.
I was always afraid of the crime stories that would blare out of the television when I watched the news. If someone asked me what my greatest fear was, I would reply without hesitation. Murder.
“Nadi, are you listening?” Elias’s voice snaps me out of my thoughts.
“Sorry. I got a little distracted, that’s all. What were you saying?” I ask him.
As I pass a closed cafe, I catch sight of a moving reflection on the window. That’s strange. Usually, the streets are empty by this time of night. I stare at the glass, taking in the figure. He wears a black hoodie shading his face and he watches me intently as I walk. He follows behind me, mirroring my pace.
I stop, experimentally, and his reflection does the same. He pulls at a flyer stapled to a powerline post. Pretending to be interested in the paper announcing dance recitals at the local studio. I don’t dare turn around. It’s best not to acknowledge this stranger, right?
“I was saying, you’ve been so busy with the internship. I’ve barely seen you lately. Let’s hangout, we can order Chinese takeout and watch something boring. You can narrator the characters and make them say silly things like you always do. That always made me laugh.” Elias answers, oblivious to the situation I’m in.
I pass six more buildings, then peek at the side-view mirror on a car. The same hooded man stands on the sidewalk behind me, his dark eyes focused on me. Am I just imagining it, or has he gained on me since I last looked?
It ends up being a split-second decision, one driven by the panic of the moment.
I don’t have many options. I could continue on my way, completely disregarding the stranger trailing me. But how long before he confronts me? What will I do then?
I can’t tell Elias out loud, my voice is sure to carry on the deserted streets. The stranger will hear me calling for help and grab me before I can even try to run.
“You’re being tailgated again?” I keep my voice light and casual, burying the fear deep within. I plead with him inside my mind. Please understand, Elias.
If this man takes me, there will be no witnesses. But if Elias knows what happened, maybe they could save me. Maybe I’ll even be granted a last goodbye. At least someone will know what happened to me. The girl that mysteriously went missing one night.
“Wait, what? No, I asked if you wanted to watch a movie tonight.”
“Ugh, I hate when that happens. Just ignore the black van behind you. Don’t let the driver intimidate you, no matter how much they’re closing in.”
Black van, the kind that snatches people and hides them behind the dark, tinted windows. Never to be seen again. Understand now?
“The black van? What?” the alarm is now clear in his voice, “Who’s closing in, Nadi?”
“No one good,” I tell him, hoping he can hear the underlying panic beneath my cover of carefree casualness.
The silence is piercing as he tries to puzzle through my words. He’s my last chance at getting help. Please understand.
“Drive safe. Some bad weather seems to be headed this way. It’s not like we didn’t expect it, though, the storm is long overdue.”
You always warned me this would happen. I should’ve listened to you. Please forgive me. When you hear what happened don’t hate me for the loss I caused you. Promise?
But that isn’t a promise you could ever keep.
“The storm? You’re not making any sense. Are you okay, Nadi?” I hate how terrified he sounds, almost as terrified as I am.
“No, but I trust you. You’ve always been my best friend, we always understood each other best.”
“Of course. Can you just tell me what’s wrong? You’re really scaring me, Nadia.”
“I’m going to have to go soon. Something’s come up. You probably won’t be hearing from me for a while.”
I don’t know how long ‘a while’ is going to be. I hope it isn’t long, but then again, it could be forever.
“No- wait. Nadi. Please tell me what’s going on.”
“Please understand,” I whisper into the phone and hang up the call. I don’t want him to listen to this part, the moment that could very well be the end of my existence. I don’t want him to hear me die, to feel completely powerless like that.
I concentrate on moving one foot forward then another. Keeping my shaky gaze fixed on the sidewalk in front of me. Never once do I dare to turn around. To face the hooded man. I savor every last second before the inevitable happens.
By now I can feel his presence barely a foot behind me. Making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I shiver with fright. I don’t turn around, though. I keep my eyes fixed straight forward.
The hooded man moves in closer and closer until I can feel his icy breath on my ears. Then, with a sudden movement very unlike the slow way he crept up on me, he clamps a rough hand over my mouth. I don’t scream. I whisper a silent prayer to anyone listening, Please find me, Elias.