Chapter 1: Out for a smoke

I always keep one ear open, one headphone off. The music might be loud in the ear it's blasting in. But that doesn't mean I'm not listening, that I haven't been anticipating the person behind me. someone who's been following down the block for awhile. Fading into shadows when I look back, his soft footfalls almost hidden by my own and the road. But I've seen him. As a passing car went by I swiveles my head, the light giving me enough to see he was still there. Black shirt, some sort of red jewelry? Shaggy black hair. I would be lying if my heart didn't speed up for the wrong reasons. Traitor I scolded it. It's always so boring. The same mundane life, the same days. I forgot what day of the week it was again. And here he is my answer. My excitement picks up, which makes me want to hurry. That would scare him off. Let him come closer and see what I have for him. Was that his breathe I heard? Or had I finally caught my own? Reality tried to break into this manic delight that had begun creeping up my back.

A strange man is following you! You should run you should scream

The trees rustle, it's dark. Texan suburbia, it's warm but not uncomfortable. I should have turned 2 blocks ago, but I shouldn't lead a stranger to my home right? For a second I could swear I him call me. And I glance back, but he's ducked out of sight again. when will this cat and mouse end? Normal people should be uncomfortable and scared. There's no good reason to come out of him following me. The hand in my pocket slides metal against metal. And a c l i c k means my knife is open in my pocket. I can feel his eyes on me, and my own spot the park up ahead. Deserted on this late evening. Cicadas should be screaming in my ears, I should be smoking an relaxing after my late shift. I even brought weed. And yet..

I can't help but look back, he doesn't duck away. He's stopped, so I stop.

There's something bewitching in his smile, though the hair on my skin raises. I smile back. Wondering what he wants really. Now that he's revealed himself. There's black half gloves on his hands, I can't tell if his eyes are really dark blue or green. A thought crossed my mind. What if theres more of them? Could there be more shadowy figures? Something in me says he's alone, and that he is more then aware of my own solitude this evening. When he takes a step forward the first time I don't move. Waiting to see what he wants to do next. Would he walk? It could give me time to prepare, or would he sprint and I'd have to choose to fight or flee? Life or death situations it seemed were just as complicated as people made them out to be. The second step was more of a toe drag, almost like one might do in a dance fashion. Infact i'm almost positive he dragged and toe tapped the sidewalk. I can't help but knit my eyebrows, trying to decipher what this means.

And then he's moving, a brisk pace in my direction. Theres intent in his eyes so I keep my own locked on his. The hand in my pocket producing that knife I had opened. Aha! I can see the waver in his step, a look of surprise. Had he expected Pepper spray? Something to easily knock from my hand? Now he had to weigh his options, did I know how to use-

A quiet, rough voice asks with a light chuckle. "Are you going to stab me with that?" His laugh catches me off guard and I reel back a little bit. Was he talking to me? Right now?? I hadn't noticed that we'd lost eyecontact, i'd turned my focus to how he was reacting.

"I dunno." I reply, shaky. But holding firm. "What was your plan here?"

His grin is a treat, and it loosens my shoulders. Disarming me with just that. "I was gonna pull a prank on you." He sounded so confident.

Its my turn to laugh, and I hope that someone heard it. "That is such utter bull shit, lets keep talking like adults. And you can tell me why you were following me." Antagonizing is asking for trouble, but when does a chance like this happen? Closer up I can see his shadow of a beard. The red beaded jewelry on a necklace and sewn into his shirt. He blends in save for his hints of red, and now I can see how green his eyes. How had I thought they were blue?

Mr Tall dark and sorta handsome doesn't seem to have an answer beyond a strained smile. And he puts his hands up, taking a few steps backwards. I don't lower my guard."

Is that it then? You're just gonna leave now?" Hopefully he didn't hear the interest in my voice.

"Well, I hate to break it to you. But I don't think I can talk my way out of this one. Not with you maybe. Not... tonight~" My hair stood on end, the knife was going to be hard to hold if my hands got any sweatier. This was beyond crazy.

W-what?" I ask dumbly, not getting what he's saying all the way. He keeps walking backwards. He's almost reached where he'd started. This time, I back up too. Our eyes lock. It seems I wont get an answer anyway, he raises a hand and gives me a single wave. Curling his fingers up and down. I respond with my own wave, before quickly dropping my hand. My ears burn, and I watch him turn and vanish back the way he followed me.

I think.... I'll still go have that smoke.

It wasn't until my foot had stepped past the cracked concrete and into the grass beyond, that my desire to relax had dulled my paranoia. I should have gone home, work was bad. Smoking at home was also the smarter decision to make, but all the same I wanted the open space and dark sky. I shook off the encounter for nothing more then a weirdo. My phone was plenty charged, I walked deeper into the darkness of the park. Finding my way to a bench to settle down on, using the light of my dim phone screen to illuminate for a moment to make sure there was no bugs. When I was certain I was okay, I took my seat and slung off my pack. Producing a blunt from the front pocket. Ears straining into the silence beyond for something.

He had been handsome, it was almost thrilling for a moment. Feeling like I had been in some sort of crime show. Had he decided- what the fuck is wrong with me??

Honestly it had to be the boredom, fresh out of fucks to give to the boring world around me. It made my chest ache. I hadn't grown out of that desire for the fantastical, and it had left being an adult boring. Old thoughts plagued me, ghoulish daydreams that didn't entirely make me forget... that the world slowly turning on me, and I was feeling like I was back in that house. Staring out the window because I couldn't leave. Because there had been supposed to be more then what was in my house. But when I finally left it was clear I'd been wrong. The world was incredibly.. normal. Already been done. Waiting for the end it was slowly climbing to. Since it had been self destructing for so long.

I lit the joint, taking in a hit as I wallowed in my misery of the past, then exhaling out my defeat to reality. Then there was that other thing. They all treat me like my family does, but I don't know why. And that gnaws at me. I forgot to inhale, having spaced out into my thoughts. Relighting, I take another drag. Wondering if I should pull out my music to help. It would only upset me more, my fingers would find worn out songs to make me cry and ruin my high. Even now, trying to take time to myself. Its eating at me. Lifting my hand I wipe a few tears that fell from the frustration I was holding in my chest. A dread that told me to give up. And that long gnawing feel that I wasn't real. Someone's dog was making some noise behind me.

Had he wanted to hurt me? And why? What would he have..?

Shifting in my seat, the weight of my pocket reminds me of what's inside. Shaking my head I take another puff on my joint. A frown tight on my face.

"So this is where you were going?" Its his voice, back in my ear. I choke, pulling away in surprise as I cough up a lung of smoke. "Come here." And then there's something else choking me, my mouth opens and closes. Trying to gasp for air as my hands grab at his around my neck. It had been too dark to see him launch over the bench for me. Up close he smells like clove cigarettes. My lips twitch. Head pounding, with the world looking less dark and more of nothing. I give up, grabbing onto the knife in my pocket. "Nothing to saayAHHHHH"

Air, cold burning air re-enters my tight throat. Gravel breaks my fall, knife still death gripped in my hand. I didn't know where I'd stabbed him, but blood was wet on my hand. My expression freezes, pulled tight. Eyes wide.

"FUCK" The stranger bitched. Wasn't this a hill? My free hand pats at the grass, feels the incline. Every inch of me pulls in two different directions.

Run you stupid bitch! My brain is screaming, my lungs beg for more air. But I have to move. And move now. Rolling onto my side, still gasping I roll once more. Twice.

I hear his whispered shout at me. Then the hill takes me, and its a rough roll down. Rocks scrape my clothes and cut my knees, I've gone full limp for the fall but my elbow dings against the concrete and for a moment the knife is let go. Panic grips me, blinding me as I try to urgently find my only weapon. I can hear him coming down the hill, he's a dark shape in the shadows. Red glinting from his jewelry. shit shit I'm going to do die, this it I'm going to die. The high was turning the silence into a void. No one was going to come. A realization was tingling just behind my eyes, making the spill over. Half sobbing I find that knife. He's come up behind me, a hand fisting the top of my hair. I should flail or scream. Why? He pulls my head so he could look down at my face, flinching away from the light now in my eyes. I couldn't see him now. Between it and the tears I couldn't stop; it was impossible to make him out.. except... he hadn't done anything to me-

Why??"what!?" I snap, my voice tight and raspy from the exchange we'd had. Does he want to see how miserable I am? "You enjoying this?" The impatience is clear.

"I am actually." He sounded so back in control, like he wasn't bleeding somewhere. Like he didn't see the knife in my hand. "You looked like you were about to give up."

"Oh, so you could see me in the dark?"

"So your not denying it?" His hand loosened, rubbed my head for a moment. Like he wanted me-

I had to pull away, unnerved how good it had felt. Clearly the weed had been too good. But the moment I pulled away, he turned the light off again. And I had to blink, trying to see in the dark. Something was- Pain exploded from my nose, the hand holding the knife swung wildly. Pulling my head back to keep the blood from leaving. My head was spinning, everything was electric and sharp. All hard edges and cold corners. what? The knife had not connected to anything. I was walking backwards, into arms that were warm and inviting. It was delayed what had happened, I tried to fall forward. One hand slipping under my shirt, trying to slip under the bra.. the other was holding the arm that had the knife in a tight squeeze.

Then there it was, like some dark creature whispering in my ear. "Ease up." Tightening his grip, I'm forced to drop the knife. I hear it drop to the grass. His hand gropes at- oh god... "Good, now lets not ruin you yet."

I have to give up on the knife. Clearly fighting wouldn't win here. I still had my legs. The pain in my nose and the twisting feeling in my stomach were escalating.

So I went full limp, slipping through the jacket and dropping down to a crouch. His hands dragged against my bare skin, only making me fall at an angle. There was nothing else to do but bolt. Running low and quick along the concrete of the drainage ditch. It was only a few breathes-

And then there was a knife in my calf. The scream I let out made the dogs begin to bark, my leg giving out I rolled to a crumpled stop. Heaving up onto my legs. I could hear him behind me, and I tried to crawl. To run from the terrible feeling that had been building in my body as this had all happened. I'm lifted like I'm nothing, and I have to sag into his arms for how exhausted I've become.

"Will you tell me, before you probably pass out?" He asks, a low whisper. "Why have you been smiling this whole time?"


I think it had all been a dream, his green eyes and the pain in my leg. I think... It must have, becasuse what else could it really be? And then I lay there. Starving vacant at the ceiling, reliving the moments of shuddering. Examining the detail in which I remember. When I look to my leg its fine. There are no scrapes or cuts on my flesh. I am whole now. So a dream it must have been. But he had been so warm and real when he'd held me to his chest. When he looked into my real face.

The pain from the memory dulled at the edges, I turn my head the slightest to gaze through slits in the curtains. To the fading steel blue of sky that peaks behind empty tree branches. And I ask myself the difference between there and now. What made it any less real? Whos to say I hadn't really been there? Where do we go when we dream?

Mine holds islands of cold ice and blistering jungle heat. Deep swamps and empty car lots. Tall lopsided houses that scale high into clouds. People's faces blur when you look at them directly, or move far to fast when you look away. The People I know linger like ghosts, repeating and urging. There is always something coming. I can never stop. I must run always, hiding and begging for someone to listen or help. And even there I am abandoned. Even there do they turn and I must face it. Sometimes its a monster, sometimes its me, sometimes its an emotion that has caught up to me.

In my dreams I am aware of it all, a grey smudge in the world. Black and white and blue.

When I close my eyes I try to go back to his arms, to answer. I try to fantasize of what he'd say, but its never right. He would know what better to say then me. Sleep doesn't come to me. Once my eyes open thats it. It doesn't feel like i'm awake.