The cool air hits my skin. I should have been home hours ago, but work finished late and I ended up walking Tracey home, drunk. I hug my body to keep warm. It’s frigid out tonight, it shouldn’t be this cold for spring. Head down, cell phone gripped tightly, I walk one more block to my apartment building. I can tell Siri to call the police.
Does that actually work? Would she even recognize my voice? I should really try it sometime but not now.
I walk home alone regularly. Night time doesn’t usually bother me. Tonight, though, I’m getting a weird vibe and I have a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. Walking these streets—I’ve done it for the last three years, since I moved into this apartment. Arriving at my apartment, I hear it. It’s distant, it’s faint, but I definitely hear it. The cry is faint, but the begging is louder. I know this neighborhood, I grew up not too far from here. I’ve heard stories of people being beaten and left for dead. It’s mostly men, and it’s weird. The authorities can never work out why it happens, or who’s behind it.
The scream pierces my ears, it’s much louder this time, and my fingers hover to unlock my cell as I look up. I can’t see anyone, so I step away from my building. No street lights shine down on me here, and I’m thankful that the night sky is dark and whoever’s doing this possibly won’t see me.
My hand touches the edge of the building, it’s rough. The brick pierces my skin as I clutch it tight and something wet touches my finger. Lighting up my phone, I can see a small trail of blood appears on the surface of my finger.
I notice a man on the ground, two men standing above him. One leans down whispering, the venom he speaks is repulsive. The man on the ground begs for mercy again, and I gasp.
My hand grips the brick building so hard it pierces my skin again, making me drop my cell. I freeze, and so do the two men hovering above the guy not too far from me. They both look my way, I step back into the darkness.
Reaching down, I pick up my cell and turn to run. My footsteps are loud colliding against the sidewalk as I try to make it back to my building’s entrance without one of them catching up to me.
I dig into my jacket pocket for my keys. My hands shake uncontrollably. Opening and shutting the door, I try to catch my breath before I manage to turn around. I see one of the men, standing on the side of the street opposite me. I still can’t make out his features, they’re covered by the night.
Looking down at my cell I press three buttons. When I look back up, he’s gone. And no one is around as I check up and down the street.
After I tell emergency services what I saw, I manage to make it to my room, hands still shaking and my body cold.
* * *
“Stop walking home by yourself,” Tracey says on the phone. She’s attempting to yell but with her raging hangover she’s failing miserably.
“I’m fine. I’m always fine.”
Tracey doesn’t know about last night, what I saw. She doesn’t need to know. If she did, she’d force me to move, but I simply can’t afford it. And a part of me is hoping it was only a dream. Maybe it was, and I won’t have to think about it. I waited up most of the night listening for sirens, but none came. After I’d calmed down, I peeked out my window to see if there was anyone around, any sort of sign that something wasn’t right. Nothing.
“Don’t do it again.”
I laugh as I look through my window again, just to be sure.
“I had this dream last night, or so I thought. Did you hear of any more bodies being found?” I ask Tracey.
“No, the last body was over a month ago. Why? Did you hear something? Oh my God, you did, didn’t you? No more walking home by yourself.”
“I didn’t. I was just wondering,” I lie.
“Okay, at least start catching a cab. Or Uber. Damn it, something!”
“Maybe,” I tell her honestly. Maybe on those nights where the streets are too quiet and I can hear myself thinking, I will. But I doubt it, since on my wage you can’t afford to be picky, you do what you have to do to survive. And for me, it’s walking to and from work.
“I’ll see you tomorrow night?”
We say our goodbyes, and I sit up in my window seat. It’s daytime now, people are milling about at the restaurants and the shops are all open. Grabbing my nearest outfit, I slide it on then grab my keys from the table. Walking the same direction I did last night, my hands do exactly what they did last night, gripping hold of the building. Even with the sun shining, my heart still pumps hard. I turn down the side street where I heard the noise—there’s nothing there, it’s like nothing happened. I expect to see blood, some evidence. Maybe even a roped-off area.
Stepping away, I really hope it was a dream. Maybe it was all in my imagination, but my cut fingers tell me otherwise.