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The Man in the Shadow
The building was quiet, I mean, it was the middle of the night, why wouldn’t it be quiet? I walked up and down the aisles of groceries, my tattered converse squeaking with every step. I grabbed a bag of chips off the shelf, and kept walking. I turned down the next aisle and grabbed cans of corn and beans. When I had finished shopping, I headed to the front, and paid for my stuff. “Will this be all, miss?” The clerk scanned my items then looked up at me. She looked tired, like she’d rather be anywhere but here. I nodded my head, not wanting to talk. The clerk handed me my bags and stared at my face in question. “Why are you out here so late?”
“I'm just heading back home now.” I avoided her question. I didn’t look her in the eyes, either. I grabbed my bags off the counter, turned towards the door, and walked out.
“Have a nice day,” she said, but I could barely hear her. I was out the door and down the street in a second. As I wandered down the deserted avenue, the scattered street lights illuminated the small area around me. The lightweight Wal-mart bags made crinkling sounds as I walked, brushing against my ripped jeans from a thrift shop down the street. The crisp winds of the autumn season wrapped around me, carrying along fallen leaves from the handful of trees around the town. A sharp wind suddenly came and my light brown hair flying around me and annoyingly getting in my face.
A shiver passed through me as a sudden fear of dread took over my senses, almost as if something, or someone was behind me, watching my every move. The wind was knocked out of me as something cold grabbed my arm yanking me into the darkness. I heard my bags hit the ground with a thud. A calloused hand covered my mouth so I couldn’t scream. No. This can’t be happening. Why is the world so against me? I’ve done nothing to deserve this. My thoughts consumed me and I couldn’t breathe.
When I was a child, my parents were distant from me. I was only ten when they left, I woke up one morning and their room was empty. Nothing but a lifeless room. I was forced to grow up, care for myself, and never understand what it was like to actually have parents. In school I had friends, but when my parents disappeared, I became distant from them, and it seemed like they all moved on without me. Even after nine years I still wonder what I did to have them all leave so suddenly. Did my parents not have enough money to take care of me? Was I just not enough? The thoughts of what happened that day never leave my mind, constantly poking me in the back of my head.
“What do you have on you?” A gruff voice spat out at me.
I glanced up at him and took in my surroundings. The alley was dreary and dark, there was no one wandering about anymore. No one could save me. In front of me stood two giants. Well, that’s what they looked like to me at least. I struggled to get out of the grasp of the man holding me, but he wouldn't budge. He was like a boulder. The one farthest to my right looked to be about in his early twenties. He was wearing black skinny jeans and a plain black t-shirt that contrasted with his light blonde hair, though it needed to be trimmed, as it went down to his eyebrows. The one who spoke to me a few seconds ago looked the cruelest. He also had all black clothing, dark brown hair, a beard, and looked like he was in his late thirties. He looked like he had a permanent scowl etched onto his face, from the way he was looking down at me. I continued to look around, and in the corner to my left I saw the outline of a person, who looked to be the younger than all of them. I couldn’t make out any features of him. He was standing in a shadow and appeared to be just overlooking the events as they unraveled, trying to stay hidden.
“I said, what do you have on you,” I was snapped back into reality with the sharp voice of the bearded guy.
“I don’t have anything. I was just getting groceries,” I tried to say confidently but my voice betrayed me and quivered a bit at the end. “What do you want from me?”
He looked me up and down, turned to his left to face the blonde haired giant. “Boss’ll be happy if we bring it back, don’t ya think, Ray?” He smirked to the blonde. It? I was not an ‘it’. I felt anger rising inside of me. Who do they think they are to come and think they can give me away? I mean sure, I shouldn’t have been thinking about being called an ‘it’ in this situation, but it’s not like I could do anything else. I struggled against the bind of the guy holding me from behind.
“Vincent, we got no need for her. Let ‘er go and she can live her stupid life,” Ray passively said. It appeared he wanted nothing to do with me, like I was nothing more than dirt stuck on the bottom of his shoe.
Vincent whipped his head around to glare at Ray. “I’ll cut yer throat if ya test my authority again. Carlos, grab the b**** and let’s go.”
Carlos tightened his grip on me, and my feet were swept off the ground from the shock that this was actually happening. The mysterious guy from in the shadows stepped out a little and suddenly what was happening began to slow down to the point that it seemed time had disappeared. The movement behind me stopped and I looked up to see that the world seemed to be put on pause. When I looked around I could see all the dust particles swirling around and floating up into the sky. As terrifying of a moment this was, it was beautiful and almost phantasmagoric. Vincent and Ray were still in front of me, but they were frozen, just like Carlos. I slipped out of his grasp, and backed away from the group of strange men. I took the only chance I believed I would get and sprinted out of the dark alley past my forgotten grocery bags. As I glanced back into the alley, I saw a blur of something before time became relevant again.
I continued to run home and never looked back again in fear that they were chasing me. What had just happened? Did I do that? Who was that guy? There’s no way that time could stop. It just isn’t possible. As I arrived at my run down apartment I hurried through the door, slammed it shut. I locked the door, not relaxing until I heard the click of the door locking. I slouched back against the door, the chipping paint crunching behind me, the only sound except me breathing heavily from all the running I had just done. With my eyes closed, I tried to relax, when suddenly the creaking noise that appeared every time I stand up from my torn up couch, made its familiar sound. I snapped my eyes open in fear, and saw a young stranger standing up from my couch. “What are you doing in my apartment? Who are you?” My voice quivered and my hands shook. Why is everything happening tonight?
He stood up, walked over to me and I pressed my back farther into the door behind me. He said, “My name is Ashton. You don’t recognize me? I only just saw you about fifteen minutes ago.” So there was a guy in the shadow beside me. His huge figure looked enormous next to my small frame. His sandy blonde hair looked as if he had ran his hand through his hair every minute, and his icy blue eyes pierced into mine. My eyebrows furrowed as I processed what he said. He was there? Why didn’t he help me? Questions came flying out of my mouth before I could even try to stop them.
“If you were there, why didn’t you help me? Do you know who those people were? How did you get here so fast, and in my house?” I was confused. When I was running, there was no one following me. I needed answers to soothe my mind. I felt like I was going insane and need to be put in an asylum.
“I can’t answer those questions now except those people were gang members and they would have hurt you. We need to go now they’re coming here.” He spoke hurriedly but stopped when there was a pounding on the door. Ashton inhaled sharply at the sound and quickly turned to me. “Where’s your back door?”
I pointed to my right in the direction of my back door. My throat felt clogged as the people outside of my home continued to pound and rattle my door. The door shook vigorously and muffled shouts came from the other side. “What’s going on? I don’t understand.” My voice shook as I asked the question I feared the answer to.
“You need to run out the back door and get away from here. Run as far away from here as you can. Don’t look back. No matter what.” The seriousness of his voice made me not question him as he directed me what to do. Thunderous bangs shook my fragile apartment. “I’ll hold them off as long as I can.” It was that last sentence that threw me off. I couldn’t figure out what he meant by hold them off. How would he do that? I heard my front door being broken down and at the same time, I could see the dust rising from the ground again. Time slowed down until it was going at a sluggish pace. I bolted out my back door, not even bothering to close it, and into my dark neighborhood. I started weaving my way through the trees, light posts and bushes as I stumbled out into the street, trying my hardest not to trip.
There was a lone red truck on the street, as it was half past eleven at night now, and it seemed to be going at a sluggish pace, because time seemed to have stopped, so I could run across the barren street without getting hit. As I sprinted in front of the truck, a loud gunshot rang out in the air. All of a sudden, the truck zoomed behind me, returning to the speed a car should normally go, and missing me by mere inches. I took a brief second to think about what that gun shot could mean, and why everything so quickly went back to normal, just like it did before in the alleyway. I didn’t think about it long, as I remembered that Ashton told me no matter what, I needed to leave.
And that’s exactly what I did.