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I remember the day. I couldn’t forget such a day. Michael, my soon-to-be husband, and I were on our way home from going out with some friends before going on our Europe trip. We decided to leave the party after a few hours because I was starting to feel drowsy and I had to finish packing tomorrow. By now, it was close to eleven and I was stumbling over my feet. Looking over at Michael, he seemed just as tired as I was. It was his fault after all - he had the bright idea for us to walk to the bar. It seemed like a good idea at first.
“How much further?” Michael whined from behind me. I stopped where I was and looked back at him. He was dead on his feet.
“I’d say another half mile or so. I might know a shortcut though, up ahead.” I replied. It wasn’t a lie, I did know a shortcut. I used to run up here with my friend Becca before she moved back to Derry. We would run the trails often. She would point out shortcuts, but I didn’t pay much attention to her thinking it was pointless.
“Let’s just take the shortcut. We’re both tired, it won’t do us any good if we’re worn out tomorrow.” Michael was right. We were drained and it wouldn’t benefit us the following day if we kept going.
“Up here, we’re going to turn right at the intersection and then keep going straight. We should come up on our road.” I was finding it hard to keep walking, but I had to. The lights were dim yet they offered enough light for us to see up ahead of us. This reminded me of Becca and I couldn’t help but miss her. She was my best friend, we had met in high school and clicked fast.
“Great.” Michael said with a sarcastic tone, I looked back at him confused.
“What’s wrong?” I was thrown off. Nothing seemed wrong, then again Michael was quirky and always had something to complain about despite having his dream job.
“I left my phone at the bar in the bathroom. How could this happen? This is why we don’t go out with our friends; it always involves drinking.” Michael was getting frustrated by this point, it didn’t take a genius to figure that out.
“It’ll be okay, we can get you a new phone. It isn’t the end of the world.” I knew I said the wrong thing. He depended on that phone for work and functioning with life. He had his “life” on that phone.
“You don’t understand Eileen, I had everything on that phone. I had emails, reminders, photos we were going to use for our wedding invitations, everything.” I knew he had his work on it, but not photos for our wedding invitations. I didn’t think he cared much for our wedding considering he didn’t show much interest in it beforehand.
“Hey, it’ll be okay. We can talk to Verizon tomorrow about getting you a new one and getting it backed up.” I was trying to sympathize with him.
“I’m sorry for snapping, I’m just stressed with work right now and I shouldn’t have taken in out on you. Forgive me?” I couldn’t stay mad at him, I loved him. He had been with me through thick and thin. No one could deny that.
“It’s fine, I know you’re stressed with work. Let’s just try and get home in one piece. Does that sound reasonable enough?” I was beyond tired. My legs felt as if they were made of lead, and my eyes were heavy like someone had been trying to keep them closed. The only thing keeping me going at this point was thinking about getting home, getting into my pajamas, and being in my bed. We continued walking in silence for what seemed like hours, but it was only a few minutes. I could feel my body stumble the more I walked. Exhaustion was taking over.
“Did you see that?” Michael pointed ahead making me stop in my tracks next to him. What was I supposed to be seeing? I thought he had hallucinated considering how dead we both felt.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t see anything.” I just wanted to be home in my bed asleep. We would have been there if he hadn’t suggested we walk to the bar and back.
“I thought I saw someone, I guess not.” It was quarter-past eleven by now and we were almost home, only one more turn before we hit our neighborhood.
“It was probably just your imagination. Even if you did see someone, it could have just been a homeless person.” It made sense to me, who else would be out this late at night? It was a nicer neighborhood, and it was new - hadn’t been around for more than five or six years.
“I guess,” replied Michael. “There, over there. It’s back.” He said, pointing off in the distance a few hundred feet away. I had to squint to see what he was pointing at. I forgot my glasses at home thinking I wouldn’t need them. Sure enough, I saw a man walking towards us at a brisk pace. Maybe he was lost? As he began to near us, I could see more of his features. He stood taller than Michael’s 6’4 frame. He looked like he could have a desk job, adorned in a pale blue button down, khakis, and brown loafers. His shirt collar had been loosened, the first few buttons had been undone, the sleeves had been rolled up to his elbow. His blonde hair had been slicked back at one point but a few stray hairs had fallen in his face. He was pale, with dark circles under his eyes. I noticed the redness around his eyes. Had he been crying?
“Is something wrong?” I wanted to be polite to him. He could be lost or could be going through something. I tried not to yawn while speaking to him out of respect. I was concerned for him, even if he was a stranger.
“My wife, she’s leaving me, after 24 years. She wants to take my son with her and I don’t know what to do.” he said, his voice quivering as if he would break down crying at any moment. I didn’t know what to do. I looked over at Michael to see him examining the man again, eyeing him as if he knew him.
“Is there anything we can do to help? I’m sure my fiance could help too, right Michael?” I asked him jabbing him in the side with my elbow as I spoke. I didn’t want to just leave this man distraught so late at night.
“I don’t believe you could, unless you can somehow change by wife’s mind about everything.” He replied with a sarcastic and bitter tone.
“Hey, she’s just trying to help. Back off, okay.” Michael defended me. We were exhausted and becoming irritable the more we talked to this man. The man appeared to be losing his temper. I tried to tug on my Michael’s arm signifying him to let it go.
“Cut it out. I’m sorry, can we have a moment please.” I motioned to the space between Michael and I to show him what I meant. I grabbed Michael’s arm and pulled him aside a few feet away.
“Look, I know we’re both tired, let’s just say a few more words and leave. We have places to be tomorrow.” I tried not to sound rude and got straight to the point.
“Fine. I don’t like him, something is off about him.” Michael mumbled, I almost didn’t hear him.
“What do you mean?” I was confused, he seemed normal.
“He keeps looking at you in a funny way, almost as if he knows you from years ago.”
“That’s impossible, I’ve never met him before. I think I would know if I had. You’re paranoid.” Was Michael being ridiculous? I walked back over to the man and got ready to say our goodbyes and head home.
“We’re sorry to leave so sudden, we have to be somewhere tomorrow and we need to be home soon. I hope everything works out with your wife and son.” I was trying to be gentle with him to not set him off anymore.
“Okay, it’s cool. I didn’t get your name, I’m Clyde.” He seemed genuine. It was an older name, not very common nowadays.
“As you know this is Michael,” I spoke motioning to my fiance “and my name’s Eileen.” My parents had named me after the song. It had been my mother’s favorite, I hated the name.
“Like the song?” Clyde asked.
“Yes, like the song.” I was trying to be polite, but I wanted to get away from there as soon as possible.
“Hate to cut this short, but Eileen and I have to go. Hope to see you around Clyde.” Michael said before dragging me away and walking towards our neighborhood.
“That was rude you know.” I pointed out to Michael as we began walking home. When he didn’t reply, I looked back, he was gone. What sick game was he trying to play? I was already weirded out enough and didn’t need any of his shenanigans. I was over him at this point.
“This isn’t funny. Cut the act Michael.” I was scared. Had something happened to him? I began looking around, Clyde wasn’t here anymore either. Where were they? Did Clyde hurt Michael? Questions began flooding my head and my heart started to beat faster. I was thinking of all the possible outcomes that could have occurred. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t scream, I needed Michael. I looked around trying to find his 6’4 frame or Clyde’s blonde locks. They were nowhere to be seen. I felt like I was going to be sick. Was I having a panic attack? Before I could do anything else it all went black.
Hours later I came to, I looked at my surroundings, but I didn’t recognize this place. Was Michael here?
“Glad to see you’re awake Johanna.” Who was Johanna? I recognized the voice.
“Who is Johanna?” I didn’t know a Johanna.
“You are, now you can’t leave me, you’ll be by my side forever. Michael got in the way of our happiness Johanna. I knew you always wanted to be with me, now we can.” Clyde replied stepping out of the shadows of the small room. There wasn’t much in the room, a small desk with an old wooden chair that looked like it would collapse at any moment, a twin bed with purple sheets and a white bedspread with a couple pillows strewn on top, and a small trunk in the corner where Clyde came from. I had been tied to a chair next to the desk facing the corner.
“Where’s Michael? What did you do to him? I’m not Johanna.” I was angry, hurt, and still drowsy from being knocked out I assumed.
“He was in the way of our happiness. I knew when I saw you, you were the one for me. We couldn’t be together with him in the way of our happiness. He couldn’t love you like I could.” He replied making it sound like it was a known fact.
“I’m not Johanna. I’m Eileen. Remember, my fiance Michael and I tried to help you.” I was trying to make him let me go. I needed Michael, wherever he was. God, I hoped this freak hadn’t done anything to him.
“Sure you are, see this,” he motioned to a picture on the desk I hadn’t noticed before “this is you, me, and our son Casey.” I looked at the picture. It wasn’t me. What fantasy was he trying to convey?
“That isn’t me. Please just let me go, I won’t tell anyone. I need Michael, just let us go. We won’t tell anyone. I’m Eileen, like the song.” I was pleading. Tears began to run down my face.
“Johanna, Michael didn’t love you. He was only concerned with himself, I can be what you need. I can be your soulmate, I can be everything he couldn’t be.” He said kneeling down in front of me.
“He loved me. We were getting married. I don’t love you. Can’t you see that? If you let me go, I won’t tell anyone.” I needed to get out of there. He was psychotic.
“I’m sorry, I can’t. You belong with me.” He got up to leave.
“Don’t leave me, please. I can be Johanna.” Going along with his twisted “reality” was all I had at this point.
“I knew you would remember, you always were one for playing tricks. Casey should be arriving tomorrow morning, we can be a family again.” I could get Casey to release me. This could work and then I can find Michael.
“Let me go, please. You’re hurting me.” It was true, my body felt stiff and sore. My back was stiff and hurt when I moved.
“Johanna you know the rules, I can’t. I’m sorry, you know how I feel about ungratefulness.” What rules? I was beyond done with him.
“I won’t run away. Let me go, this won’t make me love you. I have to love you on my own terms.” I struck a nerve in him. His expression changed and I became more terrified. His once kind eyes turned icy and dark, his jaw clenched. Why did I say that?
“Johanna, you love me. You have to.” He said before turning to leave. He couldn’t just leave me here.
“You won’t get away with this” I yelled out at him. He stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around and started walking back towards me.
“Who says I haven’t already?” With that he kicked my chair to the side towards the desk. Pain consumed my head, I was sure I was bleeding and had a concussion. It seemed impossible to try and keep my eyes pried open to see what Clyde was doing, but was unable to. Where was Michael? Would I ever see him again? I wanted to stay awake and continue fighting, I couldn’t. The darkness was an inviting, comforting, and peaceful place. I wouldn’t have to worry about anything else. I could let go and be free. I didn’t want to die, not like this. Maybe someone would find me before I did, the chances were slim to none.
“Eileen, come on Eileen” someone said. I could feel myself being poked in my side. Michael? Clyde? My eyes fluttered open to see I was on the pavement on the trail and saw a concerned Michael and worried Clyde next to him.
“What happened?” I asked after receiving help from Michael to stand up with his support.
“Before leaving to head home, you collapsed. You really scared us. We were just about to call an ambulance before you came to. We both think it was from exhaustion. You didn’t get much sleep the night before.” I passed out? That explained the pain in my head, I must’ve hit it when I fell.
“So nothing happened to me or Michael?” I wanted answers. It all felt real. I felt as if I had been taken and held captive. As Michael helped me up, Clyde turned toward me and asked,
“How did you know my wife’s name was Johanna? You kept repeating her name while you were out. I never mentioned her name.”