A lot of people say they don’t believe in things that go bump in the night, that the darkness holds no fear for them.
They’re full of crap.
Something like 83% of people on the planet have some fear of the dark and that fear isn’t simply based on the lack of light, but rather those things that lurk in that absence of light: predators… and worse.
I have mentioned before, dear readers, about some of the things I have run into in the darkness. This is another one of those tales.
About five years ago I was volunteering at a soup kitchen in New Haven, Connecticut. It is a matter of record. Because I had a day job I often worked weekends, and this was no exception. While my girlfriends were out on dates, I was serving soup and bread to those less fortunate than myself. It had been a busy Saturday evening and, as usual, I stuck around to help clean up and shut the place down for the night.
We were just about done when a man walked in. Stupid me, I had forgotten to lock the door. He was tall and wide, wearing a long coat of patched leather and cloth to keep out the chill of Fall and a hat that had probably once been a Stetson but had gotten wet so many times it now kind of hung around his head like a collapsing umbrella. All I could see of his face was his beard, a slit of mouth and a jagged scar that ran through his beard like a lightning strike. He walked to the counter, limping slightly on his left leg, and picked up one of the empty bowls and spoons I’d washed for tomorrow’s lunch.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I said. “We’re closed for the night.”
The man paused and then held the bowl out to me. “Any… soup… left?” he asked in a voice that sounded like it couldn’t get enough air.
I looked at him in his patched coat, fingerless gloves and jeans covered in things I would rather not contemplate and I nodded. I’d been there.
One sec, I think we had a little left,” I said.
I went into the back. Shari, the older woman I was working with, was just rinsing out the stock pot. She looked up when I entered and smiled but didn’t say anything. She’s a Catholic nun, I’m a Wiccan healer. We got along okay but didn’t talk much. I smiled back and went to the fridge where we kept leftovers. I pulled out a small plastic container of soup and tossed it in the microwave.
“What’s going on?” Shari asked.
“We have a late night visitor,” I replied. “He looks cold and is definitely hungry and I was stupid enough to leave the door open. I will grab a couple cans for the donation bins tomorrow.”
Shari nodded and went about her business. As long as there was as much food for the Sunday rush as possible, she didn’t care.
I grabbed a piece of bread and carried the warmed soup out front where the large man stood, waiting patiently. I smiled and poured the soup into his bowl and placed the bread on top.
“There you go, hon,” I said.
“Thank ye,” the man replied.
I waited till he had taken a seat in the darkest corner of the dining area before hopping over the counter and locking the door. I would unlock it when he was ready to leave.
Shari came out a few minutes later, wiping her hands on an old scrap of towel. She looked curiously at the large man, who had his back to us, and I shrugged.
“Will you be okay alone with him?” She asked.
“No problem, you head on home and I will lock up, no sweat.”
Shari smiled again and made her way out the back. I followed her and turned out all the lights except the dining area. I only had a key to the front door anyway.
When I returned to the dining room, the large man was gone; he’d left his empty bowl and spoon on the counter. I again hopped the counter and locked the door, crossed back and went into the gloomy kitchen to wash the bowl and spoon. I dried them and carried them back to the front where I added them to the pile by the door. I grabbed my purse, shut the lights and let myself out.
It had started to snow since I’d last been out and I could clearly see the man’s footprints on the sidewalk. His trail headed east towards downtown. I didn’t even think about it. There were a few safe places to spend the night in that direction, so he would probably be okay.
I turned left and walked the block to where I had parked the Beast, my 1966 Mustang, was parked. Her locks didn’t work so I just opened the door and slid behind the wheel. Even in the pitch dark I slid the key straight into the ignition and turned. The car’s big Vu engine roared to life and I let her idle long enough to get heat and clear the windshield. Luckily, with that car it only took a few minutes.
When she was warm I put her in gear and headed up the street towards home. I had to pass the small lot behind the kitchen and I couldn’t help but notice that Shari’s blue Ford Escort was still in the back lot. Puzzled and assuming she was having car trouble I pulled in and stopped with my lights pointing at the Escort. In their glow I could see that the car was covered in a light dusting of snow and Shari was sitting inside. I honked the Mustang’s horn, which is kind of like something out of the Mask, but Shari didn’t move.
That’s weird, I thought.
I left the Mustang running and climbed out into the snow. As I got closer to the Escort I could see that the side window was broken and Shari was inside, slumped sideways. I ran up to the side of the car and opened the door. There, in the dome light, I could see her blood covered face; her eyes had been plucked out as neat as could be.
I stifled a scream and spun, searching the lot. Whoever had done this had to be close. I could see the large man’s footprints where they crossed the lot, stopped at the Escort and then headed towards the far corner of the lot.
Now, as many of you know, I have carried a knife of some type since I was a little girl and a gun since I was legal to do so. Tonight was no exception. The only reason I didn’t have a gun was the kitchen frowned upon people carrying weapons. Instead I drew the leaf-bladed throwing knife from its sheath at the small of my back and ran, following the footprints. I chinned myself over the wooden fence that blocked our lot from the one next door and landed lightly on the roof of an old black van. The street on the other side was lit by streetlights and I could see the large man walking away like nothing had happened. I jumped off the top of the van and ran after him, my boots slipping on the light snow. When he heard me coming he turned and for the first time raised his head. Most of his face was covered with a scarf. Above that was black, leathery skin and a pair of the greenest eyes I have ever seen.
And he just stood there, watching me run towards him.
Normally I wouldn’t attack someone without knowing for sure I had the right person, but something about this guy pushed the fear-o-matic button in my spine and I instinctively threw the knife.
I’ve been throwing knives since I was about nine years old. I have done it so much that it is almost instinctive. So when I say I threw the knife, I THREW the knife, hard, straight and true. And I heard it thunk home in this guy’s chest like a cleaver into a rump roast. I followed it in, intending to slide into his knee and bring him down. Instead, the man caught me around the neck with one hand and raised me off the ground.
“You were kind,” he said. “I will let you live.”
He held me there for a second while I tried pathetically to make him let go but he was way stronger than I and he simply watched my efforts with those green eyes. He then dropped me with a rasping laugh, pulled my knife out of his chest and dropped it beside me, and continued on his way.
I sat in the snow for a while, huddling in my coat. When I finally picked up my knife and looked at it, there wasn’t a hint of blood on it. I wiped it with a handful of snow anyway and dried it with my sleeve. I’d oil it later. A lot.
There is a little more to this story, but not much and it is a matter for the record books. I have no idea what I saw that night or what it did with Shari’s eyes, but I still have nightmares about that night, and though I still volunteer, never again at that kitchen.
As always, dear reader, I am a purveyor of stories. It is up to you to decide if this is fact… or fiction.
~ hugs and snugs