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Mystery

The vacant holler of the subway reverberated against cement walls and shook against Claire’s thudding heart. Her head swiveled to survey the other train riders, like her, they looked eager to return home as they watched wearily down the tunnel.

She breathed in a lung full of musty underground air, thankful that once again, her train was not late. She took six exhausting steps to an open seat, then changed her mind. If I sit down, I’ll fall asleep, and miss my stop, she scolded inwardly.

She stood with a weak grip on a safety pole. A handful of other riders entered behind her. Two young women gave Claire a strange glance as they passed. I suppose it's a bit weird if I am the only one standing, she thought looking at the other passengers.

The two girls sat in the far opposite corner, whispering softly and eyeing Claire. Maybe I look haggard? She inhaled deeply, the smell of booze wafted up. Oh yeah, I must smell terrible. She looked down at her sullied uniform covered by a thin jacket.

Claire lifted her head slowly and her eyes accidentally met another peering rider. An older man who halfheartedly nodded in her direction with a worried expression. Confused, she glanced slowly over her shoulder only to see a man sleeping quietly behind her. His peaceful breathing relaxed Claire as she watched momentarily. 

A sudden jolt sent Claire a few steps closer to the man, and then the subway doors opened. Is this his stop? If I don’t wake him, he might get stranded somewhere. She tapped his shoulder softly. Coal colored eyes looked up at her, a soft half-smile appeared across his face and he stood, the smell of cigarettes wafted from his dark clothing.

“Oh, sorry I must have fallen asleep, thank you for waking me.” His voice was a deep and charming tone and with rugged features, he was quite handsome. The man exited before Claire. Relieved, she began to cross the threshold after him. 

One of the young ladies cleared her throat loudly, and Claire turned to look. Fear filled the soft features of the woman’s face. She simply shook her head. The gesture sent an eerie shiver through Claire’s spine but she simply shrugged and turned toward the exit.

The subway left without a second thought. Its hollow call followed it. Claire stood alone, the man long gone. A chill fell over her as she exited the underground sanctuary onto the open street. With heavy footsteps, she traveled west along empty streets lit only by dim street lights.

The smell of cigarettes permeated the air. Claire looked around but saw no one. I hate walking through this street, it always smells, she thought as she passed through a crosswalk.

As she passed each building, she instinctively peered down its dark allies, though the orange lights did not reach within their crevasses, the action bestowed a false sense of security. 

Quiet wind brushed between the alleys and through Claire’s untied hair. A chill rocked her as the nape of her neck caressed the night air. There was a soft but audible shift behind her but she ignored it.

Then the hairs on her arms stood straight when a dark shadow fluttered in her peripheral. She did not stop to ponder the figure. Instead, the naive girl, wised and swiftly turned into an open apartment building. 

She watched through a large glass window, hoping it was her imagination. Maybe the people on the train gave me the creeps. It was probably a stray dog. Yet she waited, under the watchful eye of the apartment’s cameras. Ten minutes passed, and she saw no one. The adrenaline that filled her moments ago, drained. Her eyelids began to droop as she leaned against the lobby walls. 

“Miss? Miss, you can’t stay here. Are you a resident? Gosh you reek of alcohol. Are you alright?” A security guard approached. His expression chastised Claire. I must smell worse than I thought.

“I’m sorry no, I thought for a moment, I was being followed. I'm not drunk though. I’m sorry for bothering you.” She pushed herself from the wall and left through the entrance. The guard locked the door behind her with a sour look on his face. I’m only two blocks away, I could just run the rest. 

She pulled her hair into a tight ponytail and looked down both sides of each street beyond what she could see. There was nothing. No one. I’m just over exaggerating, she thought.

Yet her body forced itself into a medium paced jog. Keys jingled in her light jacket each time her foot met pavement. Claire felt a pair of eyes burning a hole in the back of her head, she couldn't look. Her heart pounded.

Claire reached the second block before she realized the keys were gone. She stopped. Sweat dripped from her body and Claire turned back toward the path she’d just bounced along. Fear rippled through her as she saw a slim shadow moving in the distance. Is that a person?

A soft cry came from her throat. Her gut ached. I-I can call the maintenance guy, she reasoned. Claire turned her back to Hell’s path. This time her jog became a forceful sprint.

With little energy left, she wondered, why am I doing this. No one was ever following me. Why am I so scared? The ache began again in her belly halfway to her apartment building. She fought through the pain but her pace still slowed. 

She could see the steps to her building. Her hair bounced confidently with each foot fall and a smile spread across her face. She didn't hear the foot steps behind her. Claire slowed to a tired walk. 

A firm grip caught her tied hair, and yanked hard. Tears welled in her eyes as he forced Claire into the ground. The gravel punctured her smooth cheek and blood dribbled out along the pavement as her assailant lifted her face.

The man with coal colored eyes and a charming voice surveyed his prize menacingly. Claire’s voice tied in her throat. The man held a blade in one hand and wore that familiar half-smile across his face. She winced as he tugged at her hair, pulling Claire to her feet. 

“I almost gave up on you, doll face. You were smart to hide in that building. If only you’d waited a little longer, I might have gone home. Then you decided to run, how bold. Don’t you know you’re not supposed to run from a charging bear.” His gentle voice was gone. There was death in his eyes. As long as he has hold of my hair, he has control.

Claire pulled her head forward, as he pushed her along. He seemed to enjoy the fight she raised and when she locked her legs and screamed as loud as she could muster, he laughed.

A sinister, dead laugh through snarled lips. This was not the first time he attacked a woman. He placed the knife closer to her throat. The hand that held it was close enough, Claire bit down hard against his knuckles. He screamed and the knife dropped.

The taste of blood filled Claire’s mouth and his grip on her crown loosened. She tore from his control and scrambled for the blade. The man grabbed her by the collar on her jacket. He jerked, and she released her body from its web. He fell backward with it still in hand.

She fell to the ground and fumbled the blade. He scrambled after her feet with his bloodied hand but it was no use. She kicked his face hard. The momentum sent him backwards but did not knock him off his feet.

It was enough time for Claire to stand. She prepared a strong stance and pointed the blade in his direction.

A gunshot rang out. Darkness. He’s dead now, I fought so hard. I knew someone would come help me, Claire thought as she opened her eyes. 

A frown spread across her face.

There he stood, a smile on his rugged face. Not dead, not wounded. The street was silent. Claire looked for a gun in his hand, there was none. The man looked past her. She turned to see another woman, holding a silver gun. It glinted under the orange lights. 

“Are-are you okay, sir,” she said breathlessly. She lowered the weapon.

“Hey don’t!” Clair started, but they didn’t seem to hear her. She turned back to the man who was now walking swiftly toward her. She flinched, a soft whimper left her just as he was about to reach her, his hand extended. She’ll see now. Then he stepped through Claire as if she weren’t there.

“My name is Jeffery. Thank you for saving me. Don’t worry, I’ll talk to the police, I’m sorry you had to do that.” The sinister man spoke calmly. His soothing voice worlds away from the devilish tone he’d used on Claire.

It dawned on her, finally, as she looked down. Her body lay broken and bleeding. Death, she laughed mockingly.

“Good luck getting away with it, Jeffery,” she said futilely. They would not hear an utterance of the dead as she disappeared without a trace.


July 28, 2020 22:52

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