Not yet, but Always

Submitted into Contest #252 in response to: Start your story with a character being followed. ... view prompt


Fiction Thriller Suspense

Gray and gloomy, the day had borne the weight of ceaseless rain, leaving the streets washed and shimmering with reflected streetlights. Puddles pooled along the sidewalk, casting long, eerie glows from the occasional passing car. A gentle, cold breeze whispered through the trees, their branches rustling softly like conspiratorial whispers. The chill seeped into every corner, making the already dreary evening even more unsettling.

John tightened his grip on the leash, his dog Max trotting ahead with an unusual restlessness. Max was typically a calm companion, but tonight he seemed on edge, constantly tugging at the leash and glancing back with wide, anxious eyes.

"What's the matter, boy?" John muttered, his voice barely above a whisper. He shrugged off the eerie sensation creeping up his spine, the feeling that he was being watched. There was no one behind them, just the occasional pedestrian hurrying to escape the biting wind. Then, he noticed her—barely visible through the misty rain, seemingly on a walk, her steps light and carefree.

The girl smiled brightly as Max strained towards her, her playful demeanor a stark contrast to the oppressive gloom. She gave Max a quick pat on the head before continuing her walk, humming a tune that lingered in the air. John managed a polite nod, his unease not entirely dispelled.

As they turned the corner towards home, Max's behavior grew more erratic. He whined and pulled at the leash, resisting the direction of the house. John had to practically drag him up the steps to the front door.

"What's gotten into you, Max?" he asked, his patience thinning. Max whimpered, his tail tucked between his legs, refusing to enter the house. John sighed, bending down to reassure the dog with a few gentle pats. "Come on, it's just another night. Let's get inside."

Finally coaxing Max through the door, John quickly shut out the cold night. He set about his usual routine, trying to shake off the lingering sense of unease. After a quick shower, he changed into comfortable clothes and headed to the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of juice, the sound of liquid filling the glass oddly comforting.

Tonight was supposed to be a break from the routine, a chance to relax. He'd been looking forward to this weekend, hoping to finally watch the movie he'd been anticipating all week. He settled on the couch, the soft glow of the TV casting a warm light across the room.

Despite his anticipation, fatigue quickly claimed him. The rhythmic pattern of rain against the window and the quiet hum of the heater lulled him into a deep sleep.

John awoke with a jolt, his heart pounding in his chest. He looked around the dimly lit room, disoriented. Max was no longer at his feet but by the front door, tail wagging furiously. The door creaked open, and John’s heart skipped a beat.

The girl from earlier walked in, her silhouette framed by the dim light from the street. She carried a grocery bag in one hand, smiling warmly as she greeted Max with a treat.

"Hey, buddy," she whispered, giving the dog a gentle pat. Max wagged his tail even harder, clearly thrilled to see her.

John rubbed his eyes, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. "Who are you?" he managed to ask, his voice groggy with sleep.

The girl turned to him with a soft smile. "Go back to sleep, love," she said cryptically. She walked over, draping a blanket over him with a tenderness that was oddly reassuring. "You almost gave me away today," she added with a chuckle, ruffling Max's fur.

John wanted to question her further, but his exhaustion was overwhelming. He watched as she unpacked a takeaway dinner at the kitchen counter, her movements precise and practiced. She opened a new carton of juice, mixing something into it before placing it in the cupboard and taking out the one John had been using.

"I brought dinner," she said, her voice carrying a casual air. "Wish I could leave you some, you’d love this."

She disappeared down the basement stairs, the door clicking shut behind her. John felt his eyelids grow heavy once more, his thoughts muddled. Sleep claimed him again, deeper this time, a heavy, dreamless void.

The girl moved quietly through the basement, placing the groceries in their respective places. She changed out of her wet clothes into something more comfortable. Sitting on an old, worn-out mattress, she pulled out her phone, scrolling through John's Instagram.

The screen cast a pale glow on her face as she browsed through his life, every picture and post etched into her memory, a window into his world. She smiled as she came across a photo of John and Max, the dog’s playful expression mirroring the joy in John's eyes. She felt a pang of guilt for what she had done, but it was fleeting. She convinced herself it was for the best.

Locking the basement door behind her, she made her way back upstairs, careful not to make a sound. She knelt beside John, watching him sleep for a moment before planting a soft kiss on his cheek.

"Goodnight, John," she whispered, her voice barely audible. She pet Max one last time, feeling the dog's warmth under her hand. "You almost gave me away today," she repeated softly, more to herself than to the dog.

The basement door closed with a final, soft click. She returned to her mattress, the familiar creak of the springs a comfort. As she lay down, she continued scrolling through John's life, each image a reminder of why she had chosen him, why he was the one for her.

Her eyelids grew heavy, and she drifted off to sleep, the glow of the phone dimming as it slipped from her hand. The rain continued its relentless patter against the window, the only witness to the secrets hidden within the house.

John stirred in his sleep, a faint frown creasing his brow as he drifted between dreams. Unaware of the true nature of his intruder, he settled deeper into his slumber.

May 30, 2024 16:00

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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