Everywhere I go, I see them. I can’t get away from them.
Last night when I was bathing Mama in her tub, she said Go close the curtains, son, I’m in my altogether. So I went to the bathroom window and got hold of the curtains, and I saw them again, down in the street below our apartment, looking up at me.
Why won’t they leave me alone?
I’m not anybody. I work at a little shipping place for UPS and FedEx and DHL. I put foam peanuts in boxes and tape them up. I print labels and send faxes for people.
What do they want with me?
Mama wanted to try fancy coffee the other day for her once-a-week treat, so I went to the Starbuck’s on the corner. Not the north corner; the south one across the street. Lots of people out walking because it was a nice afternoon, humidity down below swimming-through-the-air levels. The asphalt from the street was radiating off the low sun like the radiator in our apartment does in the winter. I’m skinny, so the heat doesn’t bother me as much as it does Mama, and the hot street felt kind of good. I was getting nice and relaxed, not thinking about anything but getting Mama’s coffee.
And I saw them. Again.
They came in behind me in the line for coffee orders. They were looking at me. I turned forward again, but I could feel their eyes burning into my back hotter than the asphalt on the street outside. I can tell you, soon as the Starbuck’s girl called my name at the counter I grabbed the cup and hustled out of there. I looked over my shoulder the whole way home. I never saw them, and by the time I got home I finally relaxed.
But later that night, Mama reminded me I’d forgotten to fetch her mail out of the little brass box down in the lobby, so I went down to get it.
And there they were, in our lobby, looking at all the names on the little brass mailboxes.
Thank stars they didn’t see me! I caught sight of them just as I hit the last step into the lobby—I don’t like the elevator—and jerked back. I lost my balance and fell on my hinder on the steps and hurt my tailbone, but I hardly noticed, since I was peeking around the corner at them. They were muttering to each other and looking at all the boxes, like they were trying to find somebody.
What did I do to them? Or to the people they work for?
I’m scared. I think they’re going to do something to me. I haven’t been able to sleep for days now. I got dark splotches under my eyes, and even my boss—who hardly ever looks at me except to tell me do this, do that—asked me if I was sick or something.
My heart races all the time now. I looked it up on the internet on our old Dell—they call it “fight or flight”. They said if it goes on too long without stopping, you can get really sick.
I already feel really sick. Last night after I saw them looking up at me from the street, I had to ask Mama in the tub to turn her head while I crumpled to the floor and upchucked in our only toilet. She said What’s wrong with you, son? Not my food, is it? No, Mama, I told her. I love your food.
After I puked I felt better, and finished giving Mama her bath. But I only felt better a little while, because when I went to bed the room started spinning and my belly heaved. I barely made it to the toilet that time.
I didn’t want to go to work the next day—really, all I wanted to do was stay in bed and pull the covers over my head—but no work, no money. Mama can’t get around so good anymore, so it’s up to me to bring home the bacon, as she calls it. So I went.
It was busy at work, being right before the big December holiday and everybody shipping presents to their families, and I didn’t have much time to think about them following me, so by lunch break I started to feel more relaxed. Boss told me to grab a quick lunch and get right back to the counter. I went to the back and ate the bologna and Kraft American cheese sandwich with mustard and mayo Mama made me that morning, and drank the Diet Coke that she put in the bag. She also put in a Twinkie, which she hardly ever did because we didn’t have money for treats too often, but she must have felt sorry for me for barfing all over the place last night and did it special.
I started feeling halfway decent after the Twinkie, and cleaned up my trash and headed back to the counter. But something made me stop and look around the corner of the doorway from the back room to the front.
There they were.
Both of them, standing at the counter, talking to my boss. One of them was waving their arms like they wanted something. The boss turned to look at the door to the back, and I jumped out of sight. He hollered for me, said Some people here you need to help.
Out the back door, I stumbled into the alley and fell over a milk crate somebody had left by the dumpster. I scrambled up, and ran smack into the steel dumpster, cracking myself good across my forehead. That cleaned my clock for a minute, and when I came to, I was lying face down on the dirty asphalt, an old diaper stuck to my cheek.
I leaped up and staggered best I could to the end of the alley on the block behind the shipping store, then ran all the way home. When I got there I raced up the steps, into our apartment—Mama yelled from her chair in front of the old Sylvania TV What’s wrong? But I shot to the bathroom.
This time there was blood in my barf with the bologna and Twinkie.
I couldn’t go on like this. If I didn’t do something, I was going to die, I knew it.
I called my boss and told him Sorry, I got some weird stomach bug, and I didn’t want to puke all over the customers. I’ll be back as soon as I can. He wasn’t happy, but when I had to puke again while he was on the phone, I think he believed me.
This time it was mostly blood.
I huddled in bed most of the next two days, and watched out the window when I could. And I saw them on Friday afternoon.
They pulled up in a dark blue Chevy Caprice and parked it out front of our apartment building. One of them stayed in the car while the other one ran into the building, looking for me, I imagine. The one that got out of the car was wearing tights and a jacket and a cap. And hiking boots. I caught a glimpse in the back when the door was open, and saw backpacks and hiking poles.
I got an idea.
Mama, I said as I ran past, I have to go out awhile. Okay, she yelled back over Doctor Oz talking about constipation on the TV.
I grabbed the keys off the hook in the kitchen and ran down to the parking garage under our building, hoping I hadn’t missed them. And when I got to our thirty-two-year-old Datsun in the garage, I prayed that the old car would start, because I kept forgetting to run it and hadn’t fired it up in a couple of months. But that old Sears DieHard battery Mama insisted I put in—because that was what Dad had always used before he passed—turned over right off the bat.
It rattled and spat and barked from the exhaust, but I got it moving and went out of the garage as fast as I could to the street, and waited. The one who jumped out of the car was just coming back out of the building, unhappy look on their face. Yeah, because you couldn’t find me. They got in the Chevy, and after a moment it drove off.
I followed in our Datsun as close as I could without them noticing me or the plume of blue smoke coming out of the Datsun’s tail pipe. They went out of the city and started towards the country.
We drove for three hours, and I kept glancing at the gas gauge, hoping there was enough, hoping they would stop before I ran out.
I knew I could not take another night of them watching and spying and plotting, so I kept following them up into the hills. The Datsun started to complain about the steep road, but I kept it in low gear and stayed behind them.
After awhile they pulled off into this park I’d heard about years ago but had never gone to—Dad had a heart problem, and did good just to get to work and back, so we never did camping and hiking when I was a kid.
The trees were pretty, all green and lush, and the birds were singing like the ladies in the church chorus while the sun got lower in the sky. Other than that it was quiet, something I wasn’t used to from the city with all its car noises and sirens and people yelling and drunks and all.
I stayed back down the steep road and watched them, pulling the Datsun off to the shoulder even though a sign said No parking. They parked in a little lot and got out, pulled their backpacks and hiking poles from the back seat of their Caprice, and shrugged into the packs. I wondered where they were planning to go, since it looked like they were getting ready for a long walk. Then I saw a little wooden sign just to the left of their Chevy—it said Calder Trail 4.6 Miles Strenuous. I looked harder, and finally saw where the trail started, in a break between the trees.
They telescoped out their hiking poles and started down the trail. I crept the Datsun forward and watched till they were out of sight, then parked at the other end of the lot and got out. I rummaged around in the trunk till I found what I was looking for, then went down the trail behind them.
Following them, for a change.
I walked for about twenty minutes and started to panic, thinking I’d gone down the wrong trail or lost them somehow, but after another five minutes I heard voices. I was out of breath, and felt my stomach start to flipflop as I ran to catch up with them—I wasn’t used to hiking. But I was determined this time would settle it.
Hey! I yelled as I rounded a twist in the trail up a steep hill and saw them.
They turned, looking confused. Yeah, how do you like it, being followed, I said as I got close.
Followed? they said. What are you talking about?
I swung the tire iron I’d carried from the Datsun’s trunk and slammed the man a good one on his left temple. He went down like a pile of bricks. Before the woman could do anything to stop me, I flipped the iron over in my hand and stabbed the pointy end that went in the car jack, into his chest. I heard and felt bone cracking like when I take apart a chicken carcass so Mama can have the back pieces. A whole bunch of blood came gushing from his chest—I guess I got him through the heart.
The woman screamed, and I yanked the tire iron out of the man’s body and swung around, catching her in her shoulder. I meant to hit her head, but the pointy end had been buried pretty deep, and I had no idea something could get caught in a body like that. But she went down anyway, grabbing handfuls of dirt and leaves.
Why are you doing this? she hollered at me, crying.
Because you were going to kill me, I said back. But I got here first.
Kill you? she sobbed. We don’t even know you! You killed my husband!
You won’t follow me anymore, I said, rearing back with the tire iron.
We never did! she shrieked. We just moved into your building last week!
I brought the iron down on her skull, and it did this weird thing where it cracked kind of like an egg, but with lots of bone shards that broke into her brains. Gooey blood and pieces of pink-white. She started twitching and spasming like she was doing an old Three Stooges imitation, and then I smelled pee and shit.
I shoved the two of them off the trail, and watched as they rolled down the steep hill into the ravine, the blood on their bodies sticking to the fallen leaves and making them look like big leaf snowballs by the time they reached the bottom.
I wiped off the tire iron on my shirt and put it back in the trunk when I got back to the car, in case I had a flat on the way home. That old Datsun started right up and I headed it back to the city to make Mama’s dinner.
I was going to sleep really well that night.
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