Wednesday, June 16, 2004
On The Hunt

A lone figure walks along the empty streets, dodging past an occasional parked car. He moves silently, with his head down, a fedora casting a dark shadow across his face. The heavy black coat he wears conceals his hands, keeping them warm in the cool autumn night.

The sounds of the night swirl around him in the wind: The constant rush of the cars on the highway nearby; dogs barking ferociously, protecting their owners from imagined dangers; the deep roar of the wind itself, as it blows through the trees overhead; the steady rhythmic crunching of the leaves beneath his feet.

The sounds are there, but he can't hear them. Lost deep in his mind, he searches for a vague memory from long ago.

He suddenly stops, nearly capturing the hazy image that has been taunting him. Then, realizing that it is lost once again, he slowly moves on.

As he steps in and out of the shadows on the street, he wonders why he is so frightened of this memory, and what it might mean.

He spots a couple walking toward him in the distance, their arms around each other. Stopping to watch them, he feels an overwhelming emptiness, their obvious love and joy emotions that he has not known. Or cannot recall.

"We can't afford it! Okay? That's it. I don't want to hear about it again."

Nick turned back to the TV and pretended not to notice her staring at him. After several seconds, she walked off to the kitchen.

Nick picked up the remote and flipped the TV on. He found a college football game on one of the cable channels, and started watching it. What was the matter with her anyway? She knew that they didn't have the money for a video camera. Another electronic toy. As if they didn't have enough already. Two TVs, a VCR, cable hook-up. He didn't even want to think about how much the stereo cost. And she never even listened to the damned thing!

The cheers on the television drew him from his anger. The game was over. Arizona 21, UCLA 13. Well, that was good anyway. He never did like UCLA.

Smiling at how quickly his mood could change, he pressed the off button on the universal remote. Another electronic toy. He got up and walked into the kitchen.

Elaine was sitting at the table, staring into a cup of coffee. She stiffened when he walked in.

"Do you want me to start dinner?" Nick asked.

"No." He couldn't tell if she was angry or just unhappy.

"Look, honey, I'm sorry I yelled at you, alright? It's just... I don't know." He paused for a moment, trying to think of what to say.

"You know," he continued, "There are some things I'd like to get, too. But we just don't have the money right now." She still didn't look at him. "Look, maybe in a few months we'll be a little ahead, and then we'll see."

They both knew that this was unlikely, but saying it helped ease the tension between them. She looked up at him, and he could see that they were done fighting.

"I promise the minute we have the money, we'll get one, okay?"

She smiled momentarily, then frowned and said, "It's just that all our friends have one. Sylvia is always coming over with a tape of something that one of their kids did. I guess I'm just jealous."

"Well, what do you want, a camcorder or a baby?" Nick said. They both laughed.

He went over to the refrigerator. "So, now should I start dinner?" "I'm not really hungry."

"Good." He grabbed her hand and gently pulled her towards him. "How would you like to go for a nice moonlit stroll, then come back here and.. .make up.?"

He tried to make a lecherous expression, but it came out looking more silly than sexy.

She smiled. "Sure," she said. "Oh, but they said it might rain tonight."

"It wouldn't dare." He kissed her. "I'll get our coats."

He went off toward the closet, then met her at the front door.

As he shut the door behind them, he felt a sudden chill.

"Wow. It's colder than I thought it was. Do you want to skip the walk and get right to the good stuff?" He made his silly expression again.

"Definitely not," she said. "Why, a nice walk might put me in just the right mood. Besides," she added, "I can keep you warm.

Nick grinned as they put their arms around each other and walked slowly down the driveway. They moved quietly through the night, each lost in their own thoughts.

Several minutes later, Elaine finally broke the silence.

"You know, honey, I was thinking about what you said."

"Oh? You want to go back to the house real quick?"

She pinched his bottom. "Not that."

"Ow!" he said, jumping, "Okay! What did I say?"

"You know, about having a baby. We've never really talked about it." She was looking straight ahead, afraid to see his reaction.

"Actually," he said after a few moments, "I've been thinking about that lately. I'm not totally against the idea."

She smiled and was starting to look up at him when she noticed some movement in the shadows a few blocks ahead.

"Elaine? I said I'm not against the idea."

"What? Oh!" She turned and hugged him. "That's wonderful!"

Nick chuckled. "Of course, then we'll never be able to afford that camcorder."

She laughed and was about to give him another pinch, but then she saw something in the shadows again.

"Honey? What's wrong?" Nick turned to see what she was looking at.

"I keep seeing something in the shadows over there." She looked at him as he squinted and tilted his head.

"No, right there," she said, pointing. "Just after the... third streetlight. Under that tree."

"I don't see anything. It was probably just a cat or something."

"No, I don't think..." Her heart nearly stopped as a figure suddenly stepped out of the shadows, coming toward them. "Oh, I guess you were right." he said, starting to walk again. Elaine didn't move.

"Come on, hon. What's the matter with you? You look terrified. It's just some guy out for a walk."

"Then why was he standing in the shadows for so long?" She lowered her voice to a whisper. "I think he was watching us." For some reason she didn't understand, she was really frightened by this dark figure.

"Okay," said Nick, puzzled by her reaction. Elaine wasn't usually so jumpy. "Do you want turn around?"

"No, if we go back he might follow us home. Let's just walk by him as fast as possible." They began to walk quickly. Nick put his arm around her, as if to protect her as the stranger neared.

He was not a large man, but he did seem to be heavier than Nick. He was wearing a long dark coat. He also had on a black fedora, which seemed strange. Not many people wore those anymore.

When he was about a half block away, he walked under a streetlight. As Nick and Elaine stared, he looked at them and smiled. For a moment, Elaine thought his eyes seemed to glow. She knew it must have just been a reflection from the light, but her heart thudded loudly in her ears as they moved past him.

She never understood exactly what made her feel this way, but she told her friends later that she was sure that man was dangerous. From the moment she saw him step out of the shadows, she was more frightened than she had ever been before.

She didn't tell Nick what she read in the paper a couple days later. It was just too eerie.

He looks back at them, and wonders about their obvious fear of him. It is a reaction that he has seen often, but has never understood. Some people seemed to fear him instinctively, the way one fears a snake. He had always tried to ignore such reactions, but found it difficult to do so.

As he walks, he accidentally kicks a rock. Then he kicks it again, keeping it in front of him. He continues to kick the rock every few steps as he makes his way down the street. Feeling like a kid again, a rare smile creeps onto his face.

Soon, though, his thoughts return to the couple. He tries to imagine what it would be like to be in love. To have someone to walk with on a lonely night like this. The tears nearly come now, but he fights them back, as he kicks the rock too hard, and watches it roll under a parked car.

The rain begins lightly, and its sound quickly envelops the night. He takes off his hat, and turns his face skyward, letting the soft sprinkle wash away his pain.

He stands there, alone in the night, silently cursing his life, and wondering where it went wrong. Gradually the self pity fades and is replaced with anger, both at himself and at the world around him. He sets the fedora back on his head, and begins to walk once more.

Suddenly there is a rustling sound a few feet ahead. He quickly looks up and sees a cat speeding off into someone's yard. His smile returns as he wonders who was startled more, himself or the cat.

For the first time, he begins to look around at the houses as he moves past them. He thinks about these homes, each with its own family sitting safely inside. In his mind he can see them, gathered around the television. Safe and warm and dry. As he tries to puzzle together thoughts of his own distant family, something in his memories doesn't seem to make sense. But, like the elusive image in his mind, he can't quite put it together.

The rain begins to let up, and soon stops completely. He notices an old man resting on a porch in front of a large white house. The man's eyes are closed, and his legs are stretched out on a footstool. Listening to the distant sounds of the city, and the cool breeze swaying the trees, he seems to be enjoying life. He looks content.

Jacob slowly pulled himself out of the reclining chair, wincing from the pain. He walked over and switched off the television. He had always thought that TV was just a waste of time. But now there was so much time to waste, and little else to do.

He shuffled into the kitchen and turned off the stove. The screaming from the tea kettle slowly died away. He poured the water into his cup, filling it about halfway. Opening the cupboard above the stove, he reached up for the coffee. His daughter had been trying to get him to drink decaffeinated, but Jacob had lived seventy-eight years with a generous supply of caffeine every day, and didn't see any reason to change now.

He dropped a spoonful into the cup and stirred. He put the lid on the coffee, but left it on the counter, figuring he would want more before bedtime. Besides, who cared about a messy house now?

Opening another cupboard, he grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels. He filled the cup nearly to the top and stirred some more. Then he slowly lifted it to his lips, being careful not to spill. Satisfied that it was strong enough, he turned and walked to the front door, leaving the whiskey on the counter, too.

The screen door squealed loudly as he pushed it open and stepped outside. He stood on the porch for a moment, thinking what a nice evening it was. The kind of night that he and Ed used to enjoy, just sitting and talking.

He took another sip and then turned and set the cup on an old metal table. He slowly sat down and leaned back, his thoughts turning to better times. Back when there was no constant aching in his bones. Or in his heart.

Ed and Jacob had been neighbors for over forty years, and good friends for nearly as long. After both of their wives had died, only a few months apart, they had become even closer, rarely spending a day without talking. They would spend hours sitting on Jacob's porch or in Ed's kitchen, just talking, about anything and everything.

Jacob took another sip of his coffee and thought about the day two weeks ago, when he had found his friend on the floor, clutching his chest. He thought for the thousandth time that if he had just known mouth-to-mouth or something, Ed would still be alive. If he had only known what to do.

"Why did you have to die, you stupid son of a bitch?" he whispered.

He grabbed the cup and slowly got up. He turned and went into the house, never seeing the silent figure that had watched him for so long, before moving off into the night.

He had stood watching the old man for a long time, somehow feeling sorry for him. Perhaps he saw a picture of himself fifty years from now, still alone.

The thoughts of his sad life, and its inevitable lonely end, began to upset him, and he had hurried away from the old man's house, as if running from his own future.

Now he walks on, trying again to find the image hidden in his mind, and the memory behind it. A memory he's not sure he wants to know. Nevertheless, he stops in the street and concentrates, frightened of what he might recall, but feeling he must try to make sense of his memories.

He thinks back over days, months, years, trying to make some connection in his mind. Soon his body begins to shake with emotion. The rage and the fear and the helplessness, all building inside him. He feels like screaming out into the empty night, thinking it might release the tension. He slowly turns his face skyward, as if to do so, and then suddenly drops his head low. The tears finally come, rolling silently down his face.

He begins walking again, his step slow, his eyes on the pavement at his feet. He doesn't wipe his eyes or his running nose. He isn't worried about someone seeing him like this. The people around here don't know him anyway. That's why he came here.

Now he remembers.

Abby shut the car door, and then leaned in to say goodbye.

"You sure you don't want me to drive you the rest of the way? It's really no trouble," said Vince, smiling.

"No, it's just a few blocks from here. The walk will do me good. Thanks for the lift, though."

"Oh, sure, anytime," he said. "Well, I guess I'll see you on Monday. Bye."

"Goodbye," Abby said.

She watched him drive away, thankful that he didn't insist on taking her all the way home. There was just something about him that she didn't quite trust.

She waited until she saw him turn the corner, and then started walking up the street. It began to rain lightly, so she pulled her coat tightly around her neck, trying to save her dress, and started to walk a little faster. It had been raining off and on all evening, and she hoped she could make it to her apartment before it started to pour again.

She didn't.

As the image clears in his mind, it becomes a horrifying one. And as the floodgates open, he realizes that this is just one of many such memories, over many years. He also now recalls having this memory loss before. In all the years he had been, there were a precious few times when, for a while at least, he was able to forget who he was. And what he was.

Walking on, he hears her long before he sees her, the click of her heels carrying over the hill between them. Suddenly instinct takes over, as his guilt and shame quickly disappear. Now there is only his hunger that must be fed.

The rain comes down harder now, and the wind begins to gust, as he runs up the side of the street, and then steps back into the shadows.

He is silent as she approaches.

Abby hurried up the hill, the wind blowing fiercely against her as she reached the top and started down the other side. She saw a shadow suddenly move towards her from behind a tree. She spun quickly, swinging her arms at it. But it was too late.

She screamed as he grabbed her, the sound echoing deep into the night. But it was cut short with a slap that rocked her head back.

Pinning her arms behind her with one amazingly strong hand, he grabbed her jaw with his other hand and firmly turned her to face him. Looking into his dark eyes, she could see that there was no compassion there.

In shock, she stood mesmerized, as he tilted her head to the right, and brought his mouth slowly to her throat. When he pierced the skin, she tried to struggle again, but his grip was strong, and grew yet stronger as her energy flowed freely into him.

Soon it is done, and he gently lays her body on the wet pavement at his feet. He absent-mindedly wipes the blood from his lips with the back of his hand. Then, looking around to see if anyone had heard her cries for help, he quickly walks back the way he came, staying in the shadows.

He stops at the foot of the hill and looks back at the body lying on the cold hard ground.

Another image to be forgotten.

The End
Copyright ME 1990

Posted at 09:19 am by Greg

June 25, 2004   10:58 PM PDT
awesome short story! have you written any others? i would love to read them. scary, dramatic, and a wonderful spin on old city lore. i have a thing for vampire tales. brilliant.
June 17, 2004   06:17 AM PDT
this gave me chills as it did the very first time I read it.

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