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A square of light stretched across the parking lot, moving away into the heavy dark. A steady stream of people jostled their way through the double doors of the gym, distorted shadows playing across the yellow square. Young and old they chattered excitedly, blinking and stumbling around, trying to find their cars, unable to see after the harsh glare of the gym lights. A large mob of students pushed their way through, still cheering their victory, laughing and yelling. Catcalls could be heard being thrown back at the visitors standing around their team, commiserating their defeat.
Small groups broke off from the mob as it slowly disintegrated. Farewells were yelled across the tops of long rows of cars, and headlights began to move off into the dark. Following the long square of light issuing from the gym as if it were the guiding path home, they then would break off and fight their own way through the dark, their lights pitiful pinpricks in the enveloping dark.
One such small group strolled over to a beat-up car with so much dirt and grime covering it nobody could tell it had once been red. One girl laughed as they approached.
“You’re still driving this old thing, Will?”
“Hey now,” a boy with hair a color to match the car responded, “She’s got four wheels and an engine.” Will patted the hood of his car affectionately. “She gets me where I need to go. And if I remember right, that’s better than you’ve got, Marie.”
“Yeah, whatever, tell me something new. Think I don’t know I’ve got no car? But when I get one it sure won’t be a junker like this” Marie said smirking.
“Oh shut up you two.” A short blonde with freckles covered by the blue face paint across her cheeks joined the conversation with the air of one who had broken up this argument before. “C’mon Will, let’s go. I’m tired.” She pouted a little at Will and pulled gently at his arm. Will grinned at the blonde and opened the passenger door with a flourish.
“Your carriage awaits m’lady” he said grandly as he helped her in and closed the door. The blonde rolled down the window as Will walked around the front of the car.
“You sure you don’t want us to give you a ride home Marie?”
“Yeah I’m fine Stacie. â€˜Sides, where would I sit?”
“Right here baby!” One of the boys crammed in the backseat yelled jeeringly at Marie. The other boys in the back hooted with laughter.
Marie made a face towards the one who had spoken. “Yeah, you wish, Jake. No really Stacie” she said, turning back to the blonde, “I’m fine. It’s just two blocks; I’ve walked it every day of my life.”
“But Marie, didn’t you hear about the kid in Williams? He was walking home two nights ago. The neighbors found him the next morning at the end of the block. He’d been stabbed. That’s the third one since school started.” Stacie looked at her friend worried, her blue eyes wide with fear.
Will leaned over to talk out of the window as well. “Yeah Marie, I can drop off these losers and Stacie and I can swing by and pick you up in about ten minutes. You could just wait inside.”
“Guys, I’ll be fine. It’s a short walk and out of your way. Williams is forty miles from here, I’m not worried. Now go home.” She hit the top of the car. “I’ll call you tomorrow Stacie. See you guys later.” Marie started walking, the darkness covering her features, hiding the worry she didn’t dare show her friends. Behind her the car sputtered and died. Marie smiled to herself. The motor churned, struggling, its obnoxious sounds cutting over the continued din of other cars and people. Finally, it turned over and began puttering forward.
Marie turned as Will pulled alongside her. “You sure you’ll be alright?” he asked yet again.
“Yes I’m sure. No one knows if any of the stabbings are even connected. Maybe those kids had it coming. I’m sure I’ll be safer walking home anyways rather than riding in that thing.” Getting in one last jab she smiled teasingly at the riders, “Just go, I’ll see you guys on Monday.” Marie waved them on. Will shook his head, hair swinging in his eyes, but he inched forward, joining the line of cars attempting to escape the parking lot.
Slowly making her own way through the maze of cars, Marie shoved her hands deep in her sweatshirt pockets and hunched her shoulders against the cool breeze. Dashing across the street she was sporadically illuminated in headlights, but safe on the opposite side she was covered in darkness.
Marie hurried down the sidewalk, the lights and sounds dulling with each step. Already she was wishing she had taken Will up on his offer to return for her, it’s what her parents would have wanted as well. They had warned her not to walk, but to catch a ride with someone tonight. With the rumors of those stabbings, everyone was a little worried. Too late now, she thought. Stupidly, she had let her phone die and now couldn’t call Will or her parents for a ride.
Turning, Marie looked back towards the school. She could see a last pair of people, dark against the yellow streaming from the door. Then the rectangle of light slowly shrank and disappeared completely. It did not reappear. She watched as a pair of headlights appeared, glided through the dark, then turned away, the red taillights slowly receding into the dark. Nothing else to do but continue on. Marie sighed and turned, facing the expansive city park. Her house lay just on the other side of this grassy ocean; crossing it was still the fastest way home. Every day Marie walked this path, she knew it well, but tonight everything looked different. Even the playground equipment looked sinister, casting its dim shadow across the open field, ready to wrap around her ankles and pull her into its embrace.
Marie gave herself a shake. “Get a grip” she said aloud, trying to give herself courage. But whatever her intentions, her voice came out as a whisper, barely disturbing the silent air. And yet to her it seemed those three words were magnified, echoing through the park, proclaiming her presence to whatever was out there, watching, waiting. Those words had tagged her, put a flashing neon sign above her head screaming “Here I am! Come get me!” Not the entrance she had wished for.
With one last look at the now dark and silent school, Marie crossed her arms in front of her, a last defense against the night, and took a step forward, shaking her flaming red hair in front of her. One foot in front of the other, all she needed to watch was her feet. She knew her way around the park well enough that she didn’t need to look around, usually.
Slowly and steadily Marie worked her way through the park. Avoiding shadows she stuck to the moonlit parts, following the pale silvery shimmer as if it was a path, guiding her to safety. She skirted around the dark outlines of trees, preferring the open areas, where although she would be a perfect target, at least she only had to look up to know she was alone.
Beneath her feet she could feel the change from grass to the wood shavings near the playground. If she took three more steps then turned she could just avoid hitting the edge of the slide, while still taking the shortest route through the playground.
Whack. Her shin hit the edge of the slide, sending her tumbling forward, arms windmilling as she tried to find something to catch onto. Finding nothing she threw them in front of her to break her fall. She hit the ground, inches away from a pair of black Converse. She froze. Forcing herself, she slowly looked up at the face of the person peering down at her. Marie’s breath caught in her throat; she had thought she was alone. She scrambled back up, till she was standing facing this unknown boy. The way he had come up out of nothingness had startled her. Her lungs seemed to have forgotten how to expand. She had never seen this guy, not that she remembered at least, because in this small town she recognized everyone. Her wariness increased, thoughts of the stabbings flashed into her mind. Marie tensed, ready to run, but she paused for a moment, looking at the boy’s face. It was a slightly familiar face, yet unknown. A face she thought she’d remember, yet it was instantly forgettable.
All this passed though Marie’s mind, quickened as it was by fear-based adrenaline, in the space of a breath. Then the boy flashed an incredible smile, seeming to brighten the night, banishing the worst of Marie’s fears.
“You alright? Sorry, I’m in your way aren’t I? Sorry.” He seemed to be tripping over his own words, making Marie smile. She quickly warmed towards the boy.
“No, you’re fine. I wasn’t watching where I was going.” She paused. “I don’t mean to seem rude, but who are you? I don’t recognize you.”
“Oh, well, my family just moved here Monday.” Marie nodded, understanding, as he added, almost as an afterthought. “I’m Evan.” He switched the jug he was carrying from one hand to the other and held his free hand out to Marie. She grinned at his attempted formality.
“Well Evan, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Marie.” She shook his hand with gusto, causing Evan to laugh, crinkling his brown eyes as his smile stretched across his face. His hand was pleasantly warm, not cold from the jug as she’d expected. “So, what are you doing on this fine evening?”
“Well my dad sent me to get some orange juice.” He held up the jug he was holding, “My mom’s pregnant, so heaven forbid she can’t have her glass of juice at breakfast. Anyways, I got a little lost when I decided to walk through here. I know I only live a couple blocks from the park, I’m just not sure which way to go.” Evan looked around into the surrounding dark, as if searching for something, then shrugged. “Yeah, so, I was just checking out the stars, you can see so many! It’s amazing! Then, well, then you ran into me and here we are.”
“So where do you live? Maybe I can help you find it.”
“472 Kingman Boulevard.”
“That’s just one street over from my house, c’mon, I can show you.” Marie started forward once again, anxious to keep moving. She walked a few yards then realized Evan was no longer with her. She turned around, searching for him. He was still standing where she’d left him, the silver moonlight washing out any color in his face, turning his dark hair a light grey. A slight sneer was playing across his face. But it was instantly replaced with a smile, so quickly that Marie wondered if it had ever been there at all. A trick of the light perhaps. “You coming?” she called back.
“Yeah, sorry.” Evan started slowly jogging to catch up.
“Little slow on the uptake huh?” Marie teased when he reached her. “So you started school yet?” she was sure she’d seen him somewhere, and was anxious to make sure she did know him.
“Wednesday. I just couldn’t wait to get started.” Evan replied with a sarcastic smile.
Recognition suddenly dawned. “Aren’t you in my film class?” Evan looked startled. “5th hour, Mr. Brown.” Marie prompted. She thought it could be him, the tall boy that sat in the back. But it was always dark in the classroom, so she couldn’t be sure. Could she be making connections where there weren’t any? She began to worry again.
“Oh, right, yeah. You’re in that class too? Small world.” Evan didn’t seem very excited by the fact. Was he upset he was even conversing with an overenthusiastic underclassman? Or was he just preoccupied? Marie wondered. She tried a different track, trying to draw him into a conversation.
“So, how’d you get your parents to let you walk to the store and back by yourself? My parents don’t know I’m walking home. They’ll kill me if they find out.”
“Uh, I’m 18, not 8?” Evan said in complete confusion.
“You mean you don’t know? You haven’t heard?” Surprise resounded in Marie’s voice.
“About the stabbings!” One look at Evan’s face and Marie continued. “Well there’ve been three stabbings in the past few months in the area. The nearest one was forty miles away, so I’m not too worried. My parents are though. Well…everyone really is. I don’t know, at times I get worried, but at others it just seems like a bunch of nothing. I mean really, who would choose our town? We have a school, a post office, a church and a bar, not much else.” Marie had Evan’s full attention now.
“What are the police doing? Haven’t they caught this guy yet?”
“We don’t know. The police aren’t really broadcasting what they are doing. And we know nothing about the killer. Nothing is left behind. No fingerprints on the bodies, no shoe markings, nothing. And each stabbing is different, they all seem random. None of the kids are connected, they just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Marie glanced over at Evan, he was nodding in seeming agreement, but she could tell he had lost interest. He was looking around again, glancing at the trees, the ground beneath shrouded in shadow, the soccer fields on their right, shining in the moonlight. Marie fell silent and they walked on.
Behind them a swing creaked in the slight breeze. Beneath their feet the blacktop crunched with loose gravel. Their shoes scuffed and blurred chalk drawings, a heart, a rainbow, a hopscotch court. Ahead, Marie could see the inviting lights of her neighbor’s house. Just beyond it she knew the porch light of her own home would be on with her father glancing out the front window, trying not to worry,
All of a sudden Marie heard a scrape against the pavement behind them. Both she and Evan whipped around, but only emptiness greeted them. Slowly she turned to look at Evan, eyes wide. Evan’s face mirrored her own. Her eyes searched his face and the darkness beyond. He turned, looking over his shoulder to scan the field behind them. Marie tugged at Evan’s arm, “Let’s go, we’re almost there.” As she turned to leave she thought she saw movement out of the corner of her eye, but when she moved to face it everything was still. Marie started to move forward towards the beckoning safety of the lights ahead. Evan gripped her arm, hard. “Ow!” Marie tried to pull free.
Evan glanced down at his hand as if it didn’t belong to him. “Sorry” he said in a sharp voice meaning the exact opposite. “Just wait a minute.” Registering the stung expression on her face he continued in a softer tone. “I think we just heard an animal. It’s probably frozen in fright just like us. I saw a fox out here earlier and I can show you; there’s nothing to be afraid of out here.” He continued peering into the shadows to their left.
Marie looked at Evan in confusion. “But, but we don’t have fox around he...” A grotesque face loomed up out of the darkness where Evan was staring. It was holding a knife.
Marie’s world shrank till all there was was that knife. She knew she was screaming, but she couldn’t hear herself. The knife advanced slowly and she was frozen in place. Try as she might her feet wouldn’t move. Nothing existed except the silver point glinting in the moonlight, moving in slow motion. Blindly she reached out for Evan, but found her arms were no longer under her control. Finally she closed her eyes, giving in, not wanting to watch as her death approached. Never would she reach her seventeenth birthday, never would she finally get her own car, her life was ending before it had ever really started, and there was nothing she could do.
But there was no searing pain. Not even a little pinprick. Marie cracked open one eye, expecting to see the knife inches from her face. It wasn’t there. The world opened up again, sounds met her ears, she could feel the cool night air against her face again. In front of her she could see Evan standing over what she assumed to be the man with the knife, orange juice forgotten at his feet.
“Wha…what, what happened?” Her voice came out a trembling whisper. The man on the ground lay face down, unmoving.
Evan looked up at her, visibly shaken. “I…I think I knocked him out. He was just coming at you with that knife, and, I don’t know. I couldn’t let him kill you.” Something flashed in his hand. Marie glanced down, distracted, and saw the man beginning to rise, grinning. She looked back up at Evan, mouth open to warn him, but the words died in her throat. Evan’s face had formed into an awful grin and he was advancing slowly, a knife in his outstretched hand. His voice reached her as through miles of water. “It was my turn this time.”
A single scream pierced the night but was abruptly cut off. The man in the chair by the window shook his newspaper. “Those darn kids” he said to the woman with bright red hair reading in the chair across the room. He glanced at the clock then out the window.
One week later in a town twenty miles to the east.
“You sure you want to walk Chris? Didn’t you hear about that girl in Morrisville?”
“Yeah. I’ll be fine, promise. See you guys tomorrow.”