Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fully Accounted For

The man walked carefully down the dark street. He had been out with friends and was still a little drunk, so they had dropped him off a few blocks from home to walk it off. Even after midnight, his neighborhood was notoriously safe.

He marked his progress by the halogen streetlights that gleamed periodically through the slight haze. His door was only three short blocks away and the cool wet air felt good in his lungs.

Another figure emerged from the dark ahead of him--a woman, he thought. He strained his eyes to make her out. She looked vaguely like his mother, he realized. No, more like his ex-wife. His daughter? His girlfriend? The waitress at the corner cafe? She seemed familiar but he knew he'd never seen her before.

The woman was almost on a level with him now and he openly stared at her. Her face was slack and expressionless, her eyes unseeing. Dark hair hung lank to her shoulders. Who was she? What was she? A feeling of apprehension swept over him.
Suddenly, never slackening her pace, she swerved into his path. "Are you fully accounted for?" she asked in a hollow voice.

"What?" He slowed for a second as his mind replayed what she had said. What did it mean? His heart started pounding loudly and a frisson of fear shook him.

The woman glided by him with no sound of footsteps and he knew without looking that she had turned and was now walking only a few feet behind him. He picked up his pace a little, but not too much. It was important for some reason not to show fear. After all, only two more blocks and he'd be home.

Another figure materialized out of the mist and he was somewhat relieved. Safety in numbers. He smiled. The sidewalk was unusually well populated tonight.

His blood ran cold. It was another woman, similar to the first--in fact, identical. She swerved in front of him as before and repeated in a voice from the tomb, "Are you fully accounted for?"

"What do you mean?" he sputtered. But she didn't answer, just glided by, and he knew she had joined her sister behind his back.

He walked even faster and another woman appeared out of the mist. My God, what was going on? Was he being stalked? Why? Who?

"Are you fully accounted for?" she asked, turning her pale head in passing. He felt her join the pair behind his back.

The pack was gathering, he thought. Were they vampires? Their mouths seemed strangely cavernous and gaping, but there was--as yet--no attack. He rolled up his collar as he walked. Maybe it was all his imagination. Maybe he was still drunk, drunker than he had thought.

Another woman appeared out of the dark. "Are you fully accounted for?" she asked, then passed him by to join her sisters.

Why were they all the same? Was he going crazy? Haunted by quadruplets? What had he done to deserve this? Why him? Another woman joined the throng, and another, each with the same cryptic question.

What was he supposed to answer? Would they leave him alone if he answered? Why didn't he turn around and confront them?

He was almost at a trot now, but the women were coming thick and fast, as if to match his pace, and each one with that same damnable question. How many were there behind him? He'd lost count, but he knew they were there, like a tribe of madwomen.

Ah, he was safe! There was his door. He felt in his pocket for the key and had it ready as he mounted the stoop.

This was the bad part, having to stop as he unlocked the door. Damn, it was the wrong key. He could feel the women gathering around him. They seemed to suck all the air up. No, don't look up! Don't acknowledge them! He went through his key chain, finally found the right one, then inserted it in the lock. The door opened smoothly and he swung it open, turning to give the women a triumphant grin.

The street light twinkled onto an empty street. He breathed deeply and stepped into his dark, quiet house, flipping on the dim hall light as he did so.

From the end of the hall a female figure materialized. Her lank hair framed a pale face. Her eyes were shadowed and her mouth seemed cavernous.

"Are you fully accounted for?" she asked as she glided past him.

No comments: