I’ve been thinking of him-er-her (it?) for the past week. I haven’t been able to sleep. I’ve barely eaten anything. I quit my job. Or stopped going to work is more like it. I assume I’m no longer employed there. My eyes are sunken in. I sit at my computer day and night mindlessly trying to keep myself entertained… or awake, more importantly. For if I sleep I’m afraid I may never wake up. I’m afraid he – she – or, it will get me. I don’t know what I mean by “get”. I don’t believe it was out to get anything or anyone anyway. Either way, it hasn’t left my mind since that night. And I’m afraid it never will. Afraid. I haven’t been so afraid in ages. Not since I was a child.
Coffee, energy drinks, and leftover Halloween candy have all worn out their welcome. I’m simply typing to stay awake now. I don’t know what else to do. Every time I shut my eyes I see it. It’s not threatening. It’s not even angry. But its mere presence in general sends shivers down my spine. I have thoughts running rampant in my head. I figured the only way to have some sort of peace is to type them out here. After all, it seems I have no other choice. It’s nearly 4 o’clock in the morning. My apartment is quiet. Nothing can be heard but the gentle hum of the refrigerator. It’s somewhat soothing.
So I shall explain this experience of mine. Just to get it out there. Out of my head. Perhaps whoever reads it will understand what exactly happened. Or at least take solace in what I’ve seen. Because I, for one, am still not exactly sure if the whole thing was real or imaginary. Perhaps I can get some sleep after all this is said and done.
I’ve lived in this neighborhood since I was a child. I know it well. After graduating college last year I moved back into the neighborhood into a small apartment with my mother. She’s offering me a place to stay while I buckle down and land a career job that pays decently. Since then I’ve been looking for a proper place of employment to earn some money in the meantime of looking for a career position. After working a few salesman jobs, my car starting to break down on me because of the long commutes. And I realized I needed a job that was close, seeing as my car was now unreliable. In less than a week I landed a job at a department store connected to the local shopping mall just minutes away from me. Retail wasn’t a particular interest of mine because I’m such an introvert, but I needed some sort of income. Even if this position just earned me minimum wage. In the meantime, I junked my car and used the profit to buy a bicycle, and put the remainder of the money in my savings.
It didn’t take long for me to begin loathing this job. I was out of place. I was working in a department store that was catered towards ladies. My coworkers and managers were a bunch of middle-aged suburban women with chips on their shoulders. Nobody spoke to me or even knew my name for the 3 months and 12 days I worked there. I was fed up with the situation, but I tried to look at the bright side of things: it was the most local job I’ve ever had. Not having to pay for car insurance and gas saved me a lot of money. And the hours were decent and the shifts were short.
This particular night in question, the night that keeps repeating in my head, happened a little over a week ago. It was a Friday. I was closing that night, and I knew we were going to get out late. The customers trashed the store and for some reason, we stayed open until 11 pm even though the mall closed at 9 and our business hours on our doors clearly say 10. I counted down my register at closing time and began to help the other coworkers organize and clean the departments. I remember it being an eerily quiet night. When the store closes, most of the lights go off but the music continues to play while we restock and clean. This night no music played. The store was dark and silent. It wasn’t necessarily eerie, but set the tone for the rest of the evening. I started off in the small men’s section seeing as that was the only place I was comfortable (I was often forced to fold women’s panties. Quite awkward) and began to fold the graphic t-shirts since it looked like a tornado hit the area. After fixing up the entire department, I took a quick glance at my watch and saw it was nearly midnight. Usually, we finish up by then and a manager comes over the PA system to tell us to clock out. I straightened up the nearby appliances department when, like clockwork, the manager announced to finish up and clock out.
Usually, 7 or 8 workers close the store each night and this night was no different. We all headed into the break room where the manager had a quick run-through with us before we could clock out and leave for the night. I believe the run-through consists of whether the store made its quota in credit, sales, and whatnot but to be honest I never pay attention. I usually just check my phone (which was nearly dead) and position myself near the punch-out system so I can leave.
When all was said and done, we clocked out and everyone went to the parking lot to go home for the evening. I neglected to mention that this certain department store has 2 levels. Everyone parks on the 2nd floor entrance because that’s where the main offices and schedules are. I, on the other hand, have my bike chained to the bike rack on the first floor. So I separate by myself and go my own separate way. I don’t feel like I even belong at this company, so it’s very fitting for me to end my day by walking alone from the group to my destination. Anyway, I take the escalator down and exit the now empty store on the first level parking structure. Seeing as it’s after midnight, the mall is deserted and the lights are off. I stand outside for a second and zip up my hoodie. It’s an unnaturally quiet night. And chilly, which is typical for fall weather here. I glance at the strip mall across the street and notice a seasonal Halloween store. A banner drapes across the foundation reading “Halloween City”. The windows were filled with intimidating outlines, severed limbs, and psychotic clown masks. I grin as I walk to the nearby bike rack wondering what I can be for Halloween this year, if anything. Perhaps my girlfriend and I could do a couple costume thing.
As I ponder this I unlock my bicycle, put on my hat, and hop on. I slowly begin to peddle down the sidewalk but it doesn’t take long for me to realize that the bike isn’t picking up. I glance down and notice my front tire is flat. I quickly look at the rear tire. Flat. I hop off and inspect the tires. Did I run over glass or a bottle on the way to work? I certainly didn’t think so. Nor do I have the money to replace the tires on a bike that I just bought a couple months back. As I try to deduce every possible reason why these tires are flat I see that the air caps are missing. Did I lose them? Did someone steal them? Who would steal 2 little air caps?! Regardless, I wasn’t getting home on my bike. Home was only a 20 minute walk or so, but it was the wind chill that would make it so unpleasant. So I walked my bike out of the dark parking garage and into the cold silent night. The second I exited the chilly air hit me in the face and the wind picked up. Groaning in displeasure, I tightened my fleece-lined hood and pulled down my sleeves to cover my hands. Just for kicks, I hopped on my bike once more and peddled a few feet with false hope. But I felt if I rode it anymore I would severely damage the tires. So I bundled up and endured my cold bike walk.
I walked down what is commonly a busy street towards home, but tonight there wasn’t a car in sight. Street lights changed for invisible drivers and no pedestrians could be spotted blocks down. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in this neighborhood and knew it very well. Since it was so cold I decided to cut through some back streets so I wouldn’t be as uncomfortable. Not to mention walking down a main street always made me feel as if I were on display. I decided this out loud to myself, as I usually do when I’m alone, and kept the conversation going. I came to the end of the mall block and figured I’d cut through the delivery alley that leads away from the businesses and to an actual neighborhood. The 2 story shopping mall building and abandoned bank make up the delivery alley. It’s a long dimly lit strip that would have me heading away from the major street and to a secluded neighborhood. This particular alley may come off as a bit menacing to some. The street is cracked and lined with rat traps and dumpsters. Only 4 or 5 yellowish lamps hang from atop the 2nd story of the shopping mall creating a few spotlights of sorts between the darkness. But I knew this town. It wasn’t a great neighborhood. A lot of theft and robberies. But to be honest I wasn’t the most innocent looking person either and I’m not easily intimidated. Maybe it was that attitude that led me to this in the first place.
As I slowly walk and continue the conversation with myself I approach the corner of the delivery alley. I turn myself, bike in hand, into the alleyway and continue my unwanted stroll. As I look up I notice a figure a little more than halfway down the alley. I stop in my tracks merely because I don’t want to intimidate the person. A bearded guy like me with my hood up walking down a dark alley doesn’t necessarily paint a good picture. I might just cut around the block. It isn’t too much of a troubling detour after all. As I look on, I notice the figure’s back is towards me and we’re heading in the same direction. I wait until they walk under a lamp so I can make out exactly what kind of person it is. I may look intimidating, but maybe they do too. And if that’s the case, I’ll take the detour. Better safe than sorry. I realize that they’re walking quite slowly. Maybe walking isn’t the right word. I think hobbling better fits what they were doing. In what seems like minutes they finally step into the spotlight ahead. The light illuminates their body. The light reveals something disturbing to me. I catch a glimpse and immediately see what looks like a senior citizen completely nude wandering the streets. The body looks stumpy and decrepit. The back is arched and the skin is wrinkled and loose. One arm looks to be folded in as the other just hangs at their side. Their walk, if I can even call it that, is more of a stagger now. Like every step is taking much effort. And they move at an extremely slow pace. For some reason, I immediately thought it was an old woman. And my mind went to the retirement home just a couple blocks behind me. Perhaps she wandered out in the middle of the night? She could be senile. That explains her having no clothes. I pulled out my phone and tried to light up the screen. But, alas, dead battery. That’s normal for that to happen to my phone when I work a long shift. I look around and notice not a single vehicle or pedestrian but me and this old woman. So I tuck my dead phone away and slowly walk into the delivery alley. Curiosity outweighing any other reasoning.
I walked at a slow pace, yet I seemed to be getting closer no matter how much I tried to keep my distance. This woman seemed to be completely unaware of my presence. As I got closer, I got a better look at what I was following. I remember it in detail. Their shoulders were slanted and bony. The spine seemed like it was nearly protruding from the body in a bent fashion. Their neck was nearly horizontal and their head hung in a vulture-like manner. The body seemed to be stricken with overbearing arthritis. It was then I realized I was nearly halfway through the alley. My bike chain making steady clicks with every step I walked. Yet this being was still unaware. I wasn’t scared as much as I was intrigued. I wasn’t intimidated by this person. If anything, I felt remorse for it. I continued to follow it down the alleyway and get closer and closer. I soaked in more details. Its skin was thin and wrinkled. It was covered in dark liver spots, moles, and a generous amount of spider veins. It hung over what seemed to be its brittle skeletal structure. The legs were nearly rail thin and trembled with every step. From the arm hanging at its side, the fingers were abnormally long and the nails yellowed. The night was still as silent as ever. I had to be nearly 8 or 9 feet behind the figure. As I got closer, I began to hear a wheezing. It was soft but bizarrely unique. It instantly reminded me of the noise tubes I would sometimes get when I was a child. The tubes that you would flip back and forth and it would make a peculiar noise.
As I continued walking behind the hunched figure, I began to make out a head. From where I was it looked like it was hairless, which made me think it was a male of some sort. I began to veer off to the side to try and get a distant profile look. I almost wanted it to notice me. As I got to my desired position I glanced and saw that its head was abnormally long and protruding. I was instantly reminded of the head of a dog. Its ears were almost elf-like but drooping in a downward position. It had what looked to be a cone-like snout with a mouth gaping open to reveal a somewhat forced smile, as if it had been posing for a family photograph for much too long. Its eyes were large and black and seemed to be positioned on the side of the head.
After taking in its facial features and reinspecting its contorted body, my brain made the connection that this can in no way be a human being. It seemed like it took me much too long to realize that. That’s when the sudden rush of fear took over my body. I’d maybe only been in this alleyway for under 2 minutes but it felt like a lifetime. I slowed my walk and positioned myself behind this creature. I noticed we were almost at the end of the alleyway with one final spotlight ahead. I started to breathe faster and shake. And that wasn’t because of the cold. I was only 5 feet or so behind the creature when I thought I should just run in the opposite direction as fast as I could. I was stuck in a dark alley, behind something I couldn’t identify, with an unridable bike to slow me down. I tried to think of a way out as I almost methodically kept my stride.
When suddenly, the creature stopped.
I halted as quietly as I could. There, it stood shivering in the final spotlight of the streetlamp. Its knotted frame and wilting skin on display, closer to me than ever. Its thin contorted legs slightly shaking at the knees. Its head facing downward. Its wheezing much louder.
It felt like hours, but I probably just froze there for a few seconds. I didn’t think. But I had to do something. I had to leave. So I took a deep breath, clasped my handlebars, and began to slowly walk forward trying not to think of what I could be encountering. I stepped beside the creature. I kept my head down, but when I was adjacent to it, I couldn’t help but peer out of the corner of my eye. It stood in silence. I stared at its small yellowish sugar cube-like teeth peeking out of its panting mouth. And then our eyes met. Its large black eyes revealed what looked like cataracts under the harsh streetlight. It couldn’t look me in the eyes for more than a second or so. It almost seemed embarrassed of itself. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this… creature. As soon as I passed my line of sight with it I tried to convince myself to just slowly walk away back towards it. But I could only keep up that act for a few seconds and ended up dashing across the street to a nearby neighborhood sidewalk. I took several deep breaths and turned around towards the alley. I was at, what I felt was, a safe distance. And even though I was trembling and scared out of my mind of what I just encountered, I stood at that sidewalk for nearly ten minutes in darkness and silence waiting for the creature to emerge from the delivery alley. But it never came out.
Looking back I don’t know why I didn’t just glance down the alley from a long distance to find that distinct and distraught shadowy figure. I must’ve figured enough was enough and I needed to go home. But getting home didn’t help as I couldn’t sleep. I still can’t sleep. I also can’t make any sense of what I actually encountered that night. Part of me wants to go back to that alley, just to see if we’d cross paths again. But on the other hand, the vibe that creature seemed to give off was that of shame and embarrassment. As if being seen was punishment enough.
For the both of us, it seems.