Working the night shift at a restaurant is harder than it first appears. Most of the managers have left for the night, there’s barely any customers present and it’s up the current worker or whoever else is left in charge to log and keep watch over everything that takes place. Even the security cameras from the deepest part of the store to the outer ends of the parking lot, must be carefully watched for any sign of trouble. It’s always been unnerving, especially for me due to my own anxiety about open spaces. So, I usually call up my girlfriend to calm my nerves on particularly cold nights, such as this one. Feeling the familiar burning feeling of fear rising up in my stomach, I reach for my phone. The picture of my black cat Tuffy reads 12:46 a.m. as I unlock it swiftly, my fingers moving fast. I barely read one out of 25 messages on my phone before I dial my girlfriend’s number. As I’m doing so, I turn my head slightly. Through the glass paned doors, I can see someone standing outside, swaying slightly as if their drunk.
It doesn’t surprise me; I see people who come in this late anyway. The dial rings in my ear as I continue watching the man. As the receiver continues to ring, the man opens the door and walks right in. Getting up, I go to welcome him as part of my duties, but I stop before I get there. Behind the current swaying man, I see a woman in red walk up behind him. I lower the phone momentarily and speak a greeting, but she does not answer. Confused, I watch her as she walks closer and closer towards the swaying man. She looks oddly familiar, but I can’t place her face.
“Hello?” I ask. “Can I help you with anything?” The woman doesn’t answer as I suddenly see something shiny and metallic in her hand. My girlfriend’s weary voice barely registers before I throw down the phone onto the chair and walk swiftly towards the woman. I’m no coward when it comes to situations like this, after all. But as I reach her, suddenly I think I hear something. I sharply turn to see nothing only to turn around in horror to see the woman gone. I look around for her at once, searching outside to the best of my ability when all at once I hear the man’s scream.
A sharp, horrible pain digs into my insides as I run back inside. The man I saw earlier is now on the floor. I bend down to shake him awake, but he doesn’t move. Slowly, I begin to panic, feeling the sweat roll down my face. Thoughts race through my mind as I walk over towards my phone, dazed. What just happened? I don’t know how to handle this. I shakily pick up my phone and put it on my ear. My girlfriend’s voice comes ringing sharply from the other end, making me jump and nearly drop it.
“Nick? Nick are you there? Answer the phone damn it!” I stumble a barely audible reply.
“I-I’m here,” I say, my voice shaky. “I-I’m sorry I couldn’t answer before- “
“Nick, what’s going on?” I look back at the man on the floor, unable to answer. I can barely hear my girlfriend’s worried responses to me before I feel the device slip from my hands as I fall backwards, my head hitting the carpet below me.
“Sir, Sir can you hear us? Sir!” I slowly come to my senses as I feel someone holding my hand. I’m on my back, and through my blurry vision, I see my girlfriend’s teary face. When it clears slightly, I sit up feeling a sense of nausea as I remember what happened. As I look around again, I see police officers surrounding the restaurant with a black sheet draped over where I saw the man.
One of them, clothed in blue and black walks up to me and sits down.
“Sir, can you tell us what happened?” I take a breath before answering before explaining.
“Do you know where this woman is?” The officer asks, jotting something down on a piece of paper. I shake my head.
“She-she disappeared when she was in the store,” I say. “I looked for her outside and that’s when I heard t-the man’s scream. When I got back, he was…laying the floor and the woman was gone.” The officer nods and rises to his feet. He nods to one of my managers who walk inside. I suck my breath in nervously.
The police must have called him. My manager immediately looks around in confusion, then looks at me for an explanation. I have none, so I stutter out a logical solution.
“Y-you should check the security f-footage,” I say. “T-the woman s-should be there.” Both my manager and officers nod, then begin walking over to the breakroom office in the back. My girlfriend continues to hold my hand, not saying a word the entire time the police officers are speaking. Yet, the tightening of her grip on my hand each time my nervousness increases is more than comforting. I sit with her for a moment before I get a strange feeling. I need to see it. I have to know what it is. I try to ignore the feeling, knowing what would happen if I were to satisfy my curiosity.
Eventually, after a few moments, the temptation becomes too much. I abruptly rise to my feet, temporarily placing my hand over hers and offering a weak smile. She squeezes mine once more before nodding in confirmation. I let go of her hands as she returns to the seat. Then, I walk as slowly as possible towards the security screen, feeling my heart rate rise more. As soon as I walk inside, I hear a flurry of chatter among the officers and my manger.
“What did you see?” I ask, keeping my voice as level as possible. In response, my manager types something on the computer and invites me over with a wave of his hand.
“We were just waiting for you,” he says. He plays a sequence from 12:46 a.m. from the outside and inner cameras. A few moments later, a man walks from the opposite side of the parking lot and stands in front of the doors for a few moments.
“Is that the man?” An office asks. I nod promptly as the footage continues. A few minutes later, the camera switches to the front doors, and I see myself on the phone with my girlfriend. The man walks inside, and I get up to go greet him. But to my shock, I don’t see the woman in red. She is nowhere to be found. I see myself turn sharply and then run outside. The camera suddenly switches to the outside, and I wince as I hear the scream coming from inside. My manager quickly puts it back to the inside lobby view, but the man is already on his back. Dead. The woman is still nowhere to be found. Seeing that the woman never existed on the tape, the officers ignore my pleads of her existence. Soon after, the police take the man’s corpse away to be investigated for a potential overdose or suicide, while my girlfriend consoles me.
“Nick, I think you should stay at my house tonight,” she says. “You seem really shaken, scared and I’m worried about you.” I look at her, and sigh. I’m about to make my decision when my manager walks over and puts a tentative hand on my shoulder.
“Nick, I think you should go home tonight. Look, I don’t know if what you saw was real, but for your sake, you should go home and try to relax.” I gather my things and go to my girlfriend’s car. As I’m getting inside, I swear I hear someone walking around outside. But when my girlfriend looks, there’s no one there. During my stay at her house, my girlfriend does all she can to be of comfort during the night. She cooks for me and cuddles up against my side while we’re watching our favorite movie.
The windows are clear, meaning that the curtains aren’t covering them. Every so often, I look up, expecting to see someone there. It fuels my anxiety every single time, and I begin to think about the woman in red again. I don’t realize how close I am to experiencing sheer panic, or how tightly I’m clutching my girlfriend’s hand when I see what’s on the news.
A 33-year-old man named Richard Kutcher has been found dead tonight at a local restaurant. The cause of his death is still a mystery. An eyewitness present at the scene has identified a mysterious “woman in red” to be the culprit. According to police reports, a case going back to the 1990s details a similar case. A woman in a red winter coat by the name of Susie Miller was suspected as the culprit, but she later disappeared and was never seen again.
A week later, I get a phone call from an unknown number. I answer it, not sure what to expect.
The voice on the other line is silent for a moment, before speaking. It's a strange woman’s voice. Again, oddly familiar like the woman in red.
“Remember me? It was nice to see you again Monday.” I drop the phone, my hands shaking. No, it can't be. But there is no mistaking it. It's the voice of my former best friend, who's been missing for ten years.