Card Challenge: Day 31
I’m not too happy with today’s. I had a lot of trouble finding an idea I liked, and this is actually the third piece I started. It is paced all wrong, and I’m not super happy with the ending, but it does have its moments. Just a kind of mixed bag of feelings about this one. If you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments. As always, happy reading!
Card Day 31: A boy walks along a field, throwing seeds. Behind him, Venus fly traps and other carnivorous plants snake towards him.
Steven felt certain he was being followed. There was something about the way the shadows drifted across the walls that made him think of some predator slouching behind him, waiting to pounce once he turned down the wrong dark alley or side street. Yet every time he looked back, nothing was there. Just empty streets and foggy yellow pools of light.
“You’re paranoid, man,” he mumbled under his breath, the words spilling out into the night in a cloud of fog. Determined, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket and strode on, trying not to look at the fun house mirror shadows parading alongside him. His fingers ran over the wad of cash in his pocket, feeling the smooth surface on unvalued bills, the harsh edges where they folded in on one another. He let his mind wander over how he would spend it, trying his best to ignore the feeling of unease creeping along his back. Just keep walking, just keep dreaming.
The city rested and he walked beneath the closed lids of so many houses. Occasionally, one light would be on, or a window would spill the pale blue illumination of television into the world, but for the most part, he hopped from one streetlight to the next, his head low. Up ahead, a car suddenly backfired, a sound that pierced through the night and froze Steven in his tracks. For a moment, he was reminded of the sound of a gunshot, someone yelling, spit frothing in his mouth. After the spell lifted, Steven began jogging along the sidewalk, trying to hurry home without drawing undue attention. The feeling of being watched, of being followed, intensified, raising the hair along his neck as his shoulders knotted in upon themselves.
Unable to shake the feeling of eyes on him, Steven turned again, spinning around quickly and hoping to catch the perpetrator ducking behind some trashcan or staircase. But there was nothing on the street, no movement besides a windswept chip bag crossing the road.
Seeing the bag, Steven laughed at himself. He had managed to work himself up over a single piece of litter tumbling down the street. “Almost wet yourself for some trash,” he chided, shaking his head. After pausing on the street long enough to convince himself he was no longer afraid, and that he was being silly for giving in to the paranoia, Steven walked on, a confident measure to his slowed steps. He held his head high, breathing deeply of the night air and blowing heavy clouds into the sky. No stars shone here; the light pollution burned them away years ago. He had seen the stars before, in person, on a couple of family vacations, but tonight the streetlights were his stars. And he could see his fame written in them.
The feeling returned to him after a moment, but he did his best to ignore it. Ignorance was a skill that Steven had spent much of his life honing, and so the requirements came easy. He had practiced his ability to ignore feelings of sadness, fear, and guilt, and the same tools kept him moving down the empty streets toward home.
It was a long walk to his apartment. He knew that was the point, so that he did not have to worry about running into someone he knew, but his body was beginning to feel the delayed effects of adrenaline rushing out of him, leaving his muscles tired. His feet ached with each step, and his pace slowed to give his wearying body a break. It was only a few more blocks, but he felt suddenly very tired. His arms hung in his pockets like paperweights, dragging all of him toward the dirty pavement. Each step was like lifting a bag of sand, slinging it forward, and dropping it. Steven felt himself lurching along, leaving a trail of fatigue glazing the ground behind him. The exhaustion weakened his defenses, and all his attempts to avoid the eyes crawling up his back began to give way.
A gust of wind and he swore someone breathed down his neck, the wind growling in his ear. The air was warm and sticky, not the winter breeze he expected this time of the year. Despite its heat, chills danced up and down his spine, giving him an involuntary shiver. Somewhere in the distance, a police siren ripped through the still night. Steven felt his blood freeze solid in his veins. It was far away, but something whispered that it was not far enough. His fingers played over the sticky spots on the bills in his pocket, trying hard not to remember what that was.
Steven ripped his hands out of his pockets, brushing the sticky red remnants on the brick of a nearby building, half aghast and unbelieving at the sight of it. With renewed energy from an unknown source, he ran. The sound of his sneakers on the pavement snapped after him, a rapid, tapping echo that pursued him down the empty streets. He no longer cared who saw or thought about his trip home, but he simply wanted to arrive to his waiting apartment, collapse inside with the locks thrown, and hope to outsleep or outdrink his guilty conscience.
Beneath the sound of his pounding steps and thundering heart, Steven imagined he heard another sound. Someone breathing deeply, another set of footsteps mirroring his own. Just the echo between city buildings, he thought, just the breeze whispering through the balconies. From an open window spilled the sound of some couple fighting, voices rising to a fever pitch and fading as Steven rushed past the window. Nevertheless, the yells and anger were enough to snap him back to that moment.
The lights—cheap, dull, buzzing loudly—hurt his eyes as he stepped out of the night and into the store. Steven raised the pistol in his hand, pointing towards the lone cashier. “Just the money.” His voice was loud, demanding, spittle flecking his lips with the force of the command. But the man reacted, moved quickly, yelling something Steven did not have time to comprehend. Steven’s fear jumped, pulling the trigger with sudden decisiveness. The man froze, toppling like a child’s tower, his eyes wide and staring. The smell of gunpowder and blood filled the room as panic began to set in. Trying to salvage the plan, Steven rushed to the cash register and grabbed the cash he could. The cool air outside, the strange peace that was so different than the muted chaos he had just experience, made him feel as if he had entered another world. And so he set off towards home, pretending his life was not in shambles, letting the cold numb his raw nerves.
Now he was certain. There was another set of footsteps. And he could smell the blood again, suffocating him with the sweet, iron scent. Steven stopped, breathing in ragged gasps after his flight through the streets. He turned around, expecting nothing yet again, but instead found himself face to face with a man. He was dressed in shadows, and the light from the streetlamps seemed to recoil from him, leaving a heavy patch of darkness around his feet.
“I think you’ve got something that’s not yours,” said the man, his voice flat but drawling. “It ain’t right to take what isn’t yours.” Steven’s struggle was short, and soon the only evidence left was a roll of bloodied dollar bills and the scent of blood hanging in the air.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.