a short story
Strolling back from the store, the bottle firmly in his grasp, he could hardly wait to return to his nook. Some music, maybe an old film. This night was his own and the bottle of wine now swinging by his side was a key piece of the equation. Chardonnay, he didn’t even know the name, he chose it based solely on the label art. No bag, he carried the bottle like a carpenter’s hammer. It was the only thing he purchased, the only reason he was out this late at all.
The humid air made him sweat and grip the bottle harder and think. He was still about ten minutes from home base. Walking alone, at night, his mind always drifted to the worse case scenario. He swiveled his head around. Not many people out right now, not in this part of the city. He couldn’t help but ponder the scenario in which he is accosted by someone in the dark: what would he do? Fight or flight? Thinking on it, it would have to be flight. He was in shape, but of slight build. Why chance trying to overpower someone? He believed, or rather knew, his great advantage to be speed. He could run. When the adrenaline kicked in, he was confident he could outrun most anybody, even a madman probably. That was how he would play it. Of course, he would need to see the threat before it was close. That’s why he considered it so important to keep his head on a swivel. If the mugger or the murderer got the jump on him, then it could all be over before he even started the engine.
He turned a corner. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a lone figure sitting on a bench. But when he looked back over his shoulder there was no one there. He upped his pace. In fact, it was eerily quiet on the streets this evening. There was practically no one, and even though it was late that did seem unusual. Some people took these streets to head downtown and into the bars for a night on the town. It was around the time some people might be returning or heading out for last call. But there was no one. Just him and his bottle.
Now he was about 5 minutes out. He waits at a cross walk, no cars coming through. He looks both ways and begins to cross. He senses something, hairs on the back of the neck type sense. Turning quickly to the side and then behind, he sees nothing. Starting back across the street he sees something. A man standing in the street. He’s tall, wearing all black, head down. He isn’t moving, but faces towards him. Heartbeat quickens, grip tightens. He begins to jog down the parallel street, his route just changed. Keeping his eye on the man in the street for several moments, the shadow doesn’t move but its head does. It turns and continues gazing at him while he gets further and further away. Panic settling in, now he turns and runs.
His adrenaline is flowing full force, his mind is racing faster than his feet. Wanting to move quicker than his body allows, he almost trips over himself. He hears something behind him again, it is close. He doesn’t have the time or the courage to look back. He continues to run. And he still holds the bottle, a death grip. It’s weight gives his body momentum. He turns at the next stop light, he glances into the street and sees no oncoming traffic. Before he takes a second step, the man is in the crosswalk again, directly in his path somehow. The glow of the streetlight basks him in an unearthly glow. The figure walks towards him slowly. With horrific and sudden realization, he can’t move. Something like this has never happened in his life but he is struck with a fear so great that he is completely immobilized, unblinking. The shadowy figure doesn’t even seem to be in a hurry, he approaches at a modest pace. He still cannot blink. In the light of the crosswalk’s embrace, he can only make out the silhouette of the figure. A faceless monster. His heart beats out his chest while he thinks inexplicably only of the bottle and the warmth of the hearth waiting back home, and of his own mortality.
The streetlight backing the shadow flickers and cuts out. He falls backwards as the man disappears. He looks frantically but somehow there’s no one around him in the darkness any longer. He realizes he can move again and begins to run oncemore. Emboldened by what had to be a near death experience, his feet carry him over block after block. He should almost be there. He doesn’t even seem to be taking breath anymore, as if the running alone can sustain him. Blood pumping at maximum, he doesn’t stop running for a long time. But in his dashing daze he realizes something is wrong. He looks around, the buildings, the streets, the trees — he doesn’t know where he is. He has lost his way.
He begins to hear something, behind him, some thing getting louder. He keeps running, not even willing to contemplate the return of the shadow man. Continuing to turn corners, there’s nothing he recognizes. where is he, where is he, what does he do. The shadow appears on the street before him, he cuts through a back alley, hoping it’s a shortcut. But it’s not. It’s a dead end. He was running so fast he doesn’t even realize he is staring at bricks, encompassed by high walls on all sides. He knows it has to be too late now. He turns around quickly to get out of the alley, but the silhouette is already there. He stands in the glare, waiting. He doesn’t approach, just waits.
The young man takes a deep breath and stares at the figure for several moments in a standoff. He thinks of a way, a way out or a way to defend himself. The shadow’s shoulders begin to heave, a strange sound emanates from its mouth. Heart beating with a velocity untested in his young life, he reactively presses his toes to the soles of his shoes and tightens his knuckles in an attempt to brace his wild nerves. The bottle! he conceives. He still has it in his right hand. He forgot about it, but his hand never did. The shadow moves in. The speed and ferocity is nearly blinding. The young man follows his instincts and dives to his left while bringing the bottle up and around with his right. He delivers it with everything he’s got. It smashes full force into the shadow’s face. He hears the sound of the bottle shatter upon impact. The wine spills all over his arm as he continues his roll out of the way.
Staggering back against the wall, he hears something terrible. Inhuman roar — a pale descriptor. He remains seated while he watches and listens in terror. He sees smoke emanating from the shadow sprawled out onto the ground. But the sounds dominate his attention. The agony of its scream is unbearable. He stares breathlessly at the figure writhe and crumple on the ground. It isn’t long before there’s no more sound at all, save for the hiss of steam still emanating off what is left of its form.
“For them, wine is as deadly as holy water.”
A voice proclaims from the opening of the alley to his left. Slowly he stands and looks out into the glaring light. There is a man in a coat. He wears a hat and smokes a pipe patiently, eyes closed for a moment, then intensely open and staring directly at him. He slowly walks towards the young man, arm outstretched.
“My name is W. Are you alright?” he says with sincerity. His accent the young man cannot quite place. He takes the hand, the older man’s grip is steely.
“I would say you are lucky to be alive, but you showed great resolve. Not many people that have encountered one of them, have lived to tell about it. You are the first I have seen in a very long time. Tremendous potential. But of course, it isn’t by chance our paths have crossed this night,” the coated man turns as he speaks.
“Come, Maximillian. I have much to explain and you have much to learn if you seek to,” he walks slowly out of the alley and towards the light of the street.
Max takes a deep breath, smelling the aura of the wine all over his shirt. No longer squinting against the glare, he follows him. ~