I awoke with a strangled cry, startled to find him standing over me.
The Stalker, dressed all in black like always.
Sure, I’ve seen him before, but never up close. Watching me from a darkened doorway, peering through the slats of the dingy blinds in an abandoned house, sitting in the next car over on the subway, standing on the opposite curb as I waited for the Walk signal.
For the most part, I’ve gotten over being afraid. In the beginning, I was terrified. Double- and triple-bolting the doors, nailing the windows shut, willing to take my chances on burning up in a house fire as long as he couldn’t get me. I'd worry that he’d gotten in the house while I was out, check every nook and cranny, places he couldn’t possibly fit, my frenzied imagination granting him superhuman powers. Maybe he could shrink himself to the size of a mouse, wait for me to let my guard down, reassume his normal size and come after me as I soaked in the tub or watched TV.
I bought the gun a long time ago. I used to carry it everywhere, even around the house, but it’s lying in a drawer now, gathering dust. Who knows if it even works anymore? Do bullets have an expiration date like medicine and batteries? Guess it’s a little late to go Google it now.
You know what they say: after awhile you can get used to anything, even a hulking stranger all in black stalking your every move. Okay, nobody says the last part, but I’m saying it. I mean, I still have a life to live. Work, bills, parties, dates. Although my dating life’s not so great—it’s hard to be intimate with someone when there’s always someone else watching. I know people are into that, but for non-exhibitionist me, it puts a damper on things.
After awhile I started imagining that The Stalker was a guardian angel. On the whole, my life runs pretty smooth. Like even though I live in a not-so-great part of the city, I’ve never been mugged, not even in the dark subway tunnels late at night. Maybe The Stalker’s a good guy. Maybe everybody has one; they’re just too wrapped up in themselves to notice.
He isn’t looking so benevolent right about now, looming over me. How’d he even get in? Have I gotten so complacent that I forgot to bolt the door? Now I feel invincible, telling myself he’s protecting me? Does he stand watch every night, and I’ve just never woken up before?
In all these years, I’ve never seen his face. Even now, it’s too dark. He’s too dark. Maybe he doesn’t have a face, just blackness, like the Grim Reaper. I’ve never seen him with a sickle...surely that would’ve caught my eye. Maybe the sickle’s a myth, artistic license to make Death look more interesting. Maybe he hired some fancy advertising firm to spruce up his image.
I can just picture the brainstorming session for that gig.
It needs something. It’s so blah—I know! It needs some color.
But it’s Death. Death doesn’t do color.
I’ve got it! A sickle. He needs to have a sickle.
Then everyone else would just stare at each other, not knowing what a sickle was. Once they figured it out, the guy who came up with it would get huge kudos, a raise...wish I had something like that on my resume. Designed the official image of Death—that would have the job offers rolling in for sure.
Has he been watching me all this time, just waiting to punch my ticket? Surely Death has a pretty full schedule; he couldn’t afford to spend all his time on me, unless he has a staff of underlings on the payroll, like all the Santa Clauses at Christmas.
Maybe he pals around with Santa, picked up the idea over a round of golf. There is all that business about Santa being an anagram for Satan...maybe he’s part of the dark side, too.
I glanced over at the clock. 3:47. Time to get the show on the road or call it a night. Death or no Death, I’ve got work in a few hours.
“Get it over with, or let me go back to sleep already.” That didn’t come out nearly as forceful as I intended, voice hoarse and scratchy. Still, The Stalker turned and walked out with a rustling sound, like leaves scraping in the wind.
He closed the door behind him; I heard the sound of the lock sliding home.
I rolled over to go back to sleep, smiling, finally figuring it out:
All this time, he’s had the key.
Vela Damon grew up in the rural south and now resides in The Lone Star State. Her short stories and poems have appeared in 101 Words, Dark Dreams Podcast, Leaves of Ink, The Subterranean Quarterly and several other publications. She has work forthcoming in Hogglepot and Blackout City Podcast. Find her online at www.veladamon.com and www.facebook.com/veladamon