It’s a foggy night. I know, lame, right? I only mention it because it’s a particularly dense fog. The street I’m on has only two lights, adding to the ominous feeling that someone is behind me. There are no foot steps, but I hear a sort of odd breathing. A noisy breath in…pause…loud breath out, over and over. I decide to slow down. I want to know if whatever is behind me in the fog, is trying to catch me or stay well behind. The noisy breathing sounds get closer and closer.
Right about now, you’re wondering if this is the set up for the twist ending. Is the hunted really the hunter? Is this a red herring to throw you off the trail? Nah, it’s legit. I mean, I am a ritualistic killer. Except my victims are usually bottles of scotch. Sometimes, if I’m desperate to feel life slipping through my fingers, I may attack a bottle of vodka. There was one hedonistic night involving tequila, but it’s so gruesome I can’t bring myself to talk about it. Nope, it’s not me doing the hunting this night.
The breathing sounds grow louder and louder. Whatever it is, it’s right behind me now. I step to the side to let it pass. It’s a young kid; I’m guessing eighteen, nineteen years old. He must be a college freshman, just moved out of mamma’s house; trying to teach himself how to smoke. He takes a sloppy drag on his cigarette, pauses, and noisily breaths out an offensive cloud. I doubt the smoke even enters his lungs.
A second before he disappears into the fog ahead of me, he stops and turns. He has a young face. Round and blemished like an apple that’s fallen off its tree a couple days ago.
“You know where I can get a pack of smokes?” he asks. His voice is deceptively deep. It throws me off.
“Around the corner, there’s a 7-Eleven.”
“Yeah,” he says stepping toward me. I stop walking.
“You got any smokes on you? I’m a little short.”
My old schoolyard weapon, humor, kicks in on instinct, still sharp after all theses years.
“You look about average height to me.”
The kid grins. I still think he’s a kid. He turns and starts walking away again, then he stops and turns toward me a second time.
“Oh, um, is there a bus stop around here?” I notice gravel in his voice. Maybe the smoke is hitting his lungs after all. Still, he seems awfully young to sound like that.
“No, but the 7-Eleven has a phone. I’m sure they’ll let you call a cab.”
The kid grumbles then makes to leave again. He turns to me once more. I expect it this time and cut him off.
“I don’t have a cell phone, sorry.”
One of the street lights kicks off and I can barely make him out; in fact I’m only pretty sure that the shadowy bulk in front of me hasn’t moved.
I hear him breathing in on his cigarette. He’s inches from me. I can smell something rotten.
I take a reflexive step back and pull my hands from my pockets.
I hear him blow out his smoke. It attacks my nostrils and temporarily mutes the rotten meat odor. I cough right in his face.
“Oh, uh, sorry ‘bout that, friend.” His voice is just above a whisper.
I think, no feel, I should run. If I can surprise him I might be able to make it to the 7-Eleven. I make my move and beat-feet to the store. I can feel him right behind me. I can picture his hand, outstretched fingers barely missing my coat. I sense him on my heels. I hear his raspy laugh behind me. I can’t turn around; if I do it will slow me down. My neck hairs are standing up, every hair is standing up. I pour everything I have into going faster. The 7-eleven fades in through the fog. A shining beacon of hope. I crash through its doors, screaming.
The clerk jumps up and grabs a bat from behind the counter as the kid, guy, Jesus, what the fuck is he anyway, bursts in behind me.
“Holy shit!” the clerk looks about as surprised as you would imagine he would, given a screaming man has just been chased into his store. “Martin, what the hell are you doing here this time of night?”
I know my name’s not Martin, but in the heat of the moment I think he must have me confused with someone else.
“Just out for a snack,” my gravel voiced assailant answers before winking at the clerk.
“Aw hell, are you fucking kidding me?” I say in exasperation. I grab the nearest thing I can use as a weapon. A bottle of scotch, great. I smash it on the counter and hold it up in front of me.
“Let’s fucking dance, assholes!” I said. Actually, I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it was something just as awesome and masculine and didn’t involve me pissing my pants. Alright, maybe a little.
It’s at this point in the story when the cop looks from me, covered in blood, to the broken bottle of scotch next to the two dead bodies, then back at me. He gives me one of those, lift-one-eyebrow-‘cause-you’re-talking-bullshit, thing cops do.
“So, you’re saying this was self defense?”
His partner calls him over to the bodies before I can answer.
“Hey, Bill, come check this out.”
They kneel by the body of the young kid. The first cop looks back at me.
“You’re one lucky son-of-a-bitch, mister. I don’t know how you did it, but you killed two doppelgangers, with only a broken bottle. Pretty impressive.”
I don’t know what to say to that. So I go with, “Your god-damned right it’s impressive.” Well, maybe not exactly those words, but I’m sure they were just as awesome sounding and masculine.