On an October night, the wind chilled to keep bodies alert. A man looked through holiday decorations in a department store. He thought of something, then shivered. At the end of the aisle, in his periphery, dark movement. He turned his head, quickly, and saw no one and nothing. He shook his head.
Trick of the eyes, he told himself, trick of the mind.
In the car, on the way home, a song came on the quiet radio. His skin tightened and, again, he shivered. The man glanced in the rearview mirror.
Dark movement in the backseat.
He slammed on his brakes, almost drove onto the sidewalk. Flipping around in the driver’s seat, intensely, he inspected the rear seats. His heart screamed, dully, and his eyes scanned one way, then the other.
There’s nothing back here.
The man sat forward in his seat, once again. He gripped the wheel, tightly. Breathed, soundly, methodically. Slowed his heart rate. The voice from his mouth dim and singing along with the aging song from the car radio.
Trick of the eyes. Trick of the mind… Sing along… Sing with the words, and… calm yourself…
He steered the car through the city streets. Going by homes filled with sleeping families and marauding, four-legged pets, hungry for more scraps.
Down the road, a red traffic light welcomed him. The man slowed the car to a stop. He waited alone at the intersection. Staring straight ahead, he saw something small moving on the asphalt opposite him. It was black as the street. Like the shadow of a dog using the crosswalk.
The light turned green, and the creature in the road stopped moving. The man tapped the car horn.
Oh, come on. Get movin’. Get goin’.
The black thing turned toward the car. And bolted at it. The man shrieked as the shadow jumped onto the hood and scurried over the windshield, onto the top of the car. The man whipped his neck around and watched as it slid down the back window and off of the car. The man’s body grew damp with terror and sweat. The shadow was swallowed by the darkness in the street beyond.
Trick, the man thought, his hands quaking, trick of the eyes… trick of the mind.
He forced himself to stare forward, again. The traffic light was red.
Damn it… Come on, come on, come on… Change, damn it…
The light switched to green, and the man gunned the car home. He ran to his front door, threw the keys into the lock, sprinting into his house when the door finally opened under his sweating hands.
Minutes later, standing in his bathroom, in his sleeping clothes, the man splashed warm water on his face.
Bed… must get to bed… bad night…
He soon lay under his blankets. Contemplating leaving the bedroom light on through the night.
A waste of electricity.
The man turned to his night table and pulled the short chain on the lamp. The room was black. He closed his eyes. As firmly as possible. Somehow, he fell into sleep.
And standing in a corner of the room, as it did every night, the shadow of a boy. Watching the man toss and dream and tremble with the dark suns.