It’s a strange feeling, that horrible realization, of that one simple fact.
You are being followed.
You try to forget it, you provide every logical counter-argument you possibly can. You’re jumpy. You had a rough couple of days. Get home, have a nice glass of vino, just calm down.
Yet still it persists, the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, a shiver of fear goes down your spine, your pace quickens. And suddenly it doesn’t matter whether it’s real or not, every innocent noise, every twig snapping, every breeze of wind disturbing the trees, takes on a sinister unnaturalness. Your senses get clearer, alert, ready, waiting for any sign of danger so you can fight or flee.
And on the 15th of April, that night…I wish I’d fled faster.
The day started normally enough. None of the doom and gloom I’ve been alluding to since my, reluctant hiatus ended. It was a brisk Spring day, as they generally are, with the light reflected in the misty dew on the ground as I walked from my apartment over to the precinct. I generally do like to walk, rather than drive; it’s not too long away, and in this instant gratification world…we need more times where we can just unwind, put one foot in front of the other, and relax. (Plus, gas prices these days, what up? Yes, as always, I am bringing you the best in topical humor; you should hear what I have to say about airline food, it’s a doozy.) It was a bright day, and…well, I find myself always drawn back to remembering that walk to work on that day, it was just so…naive. And free. The last moment I can remember like that. Uncomplicated, expected…normal.
Normality flew out the window with the client I had waiting at my desk when I walked into the PD, however. “You forgotten about me, mate?”
I had not forgotten about him, the journalist: Mister Lance Franklin. Since our last meeting, we had been keeping online correspondence, e-mails and Skype mostly, revolving around a compiled article regarding the Slender Man Mythos. We had....mostly worked out our differences, though to be honest, this was because he had decided to stop baiting me, and had decided he needed my help. While at the start, I was…less than approving of his original idea: a scathing appraisal of the police department for not looking at the generic signallers of the Mythos, after our minor disagreement around this (as arguments on the internet tend to pan out, I was called a ‘fascist’ and I retaliated with something along the lines of “you anarchic, convict fuck”) we decided that we could work together on something purely to bring attention to the stories as an emerging frontier in new media; an entirely communal concept, loosely banded together as a cohesive whole.
“No, I haven’t forgotten about you. I’ve got the research you asked for right here.” I reached into my desk (shooing him out of my chair in the process, directing him sharply to the couch) and pulled out a manila folder with a fair amount of writing analysing the conventions of the genre. I’d show it to you guys, but you’ve already seen it: I lifted the vast majority of it directly from my blog posts, cut out any sensitive information, and compiled it under the rough guise of a thesis. It pays to recycle. And it’s not ‘re-using’ so to speak, it’s about being efficient. “I trust this will serve your purposes, Lance.”
”Lance? We’re on first name privileges now, Matthew?” The journalist’s eyes widened, and he mimed a melodramatic faint, face down on my couch. “This is the happiest day of my life.” Except at this point, he was still becoming familiar with my cushions, so it came across more as “’S iv meh ‘appies ‘ay o’ I ‘ive.”
“Names aren’t important, it’s how one distinguishes the time to use which name. First names, last names, nicknames, impersonal references…choosing to use any one of these says something about the relationship. Us, considering we are now working as equals in the same field, are most definitely on first name privileges.” I replied, as he sat himself up and looked at me incredulously. “Is that some honest-to-god homebrew psychology I hear? You just make this shit up as you go along, don’t you mate, or do they actually teach you fluff like that in shrink school?”
“Yes, I make it all up. You caught me. That’s also how I got through all my assignments, my Masters and my Doctorate. What, have you never been to university?”
He laughed, accepting my sarcasm with a wave of his hand. “Well, I’m glad to have this information. I’ve done some asking around, going to do a couple of online interviews with some of these blogger college students, so on and so forth. With your talentless hack Arts degree analysis and my immense skill at writing, this could be a damn good article. I mean, it’s hardly front page material, it doesn’t offer the incisive social commentary and exposé on police inaction that it COULD have, but hey, we’ll get a page. Maybe after the funnies.” I smiled, letting the insults wash past me. “So, when do we talk about my payment?” I didn’t hold out much hope for this, nor did I care that much; I hadn’t done much work for this, and it wasn’t as if I was strapped for cash.
“I’ll see what I can work out for this article, and any other followup studies you and I may compile on in the future. Seriously though, mate: thanks for this, I’d be buggered without your help,” he said, earnestly of all things, standing up and moving to the door with the folder. I was taken-aback, though I managed to keep that under lock and key. “You’re welcome, Mr. Franklin. Anything else I could help you with? Perhaps we can get a start on treating that vibrant narcissistic personality disorder that you’ve got going on there, though I will warn you, you’re going to be on the clock for that. Gotta put food on the table, don’t you know?” He grinned his trademark beam again, (the kind that made you feel dirty just to witness), and tapped two fingers on the door before turning the handle. It made a satisfying wooden, ‘thock-thock’ sound. “She’ll be right, mate. Seeya around!”
Once he left, the room went back to normal for a grand total of ten minutes. I spent this time contemplating whether or not a psychologist should have his walls painted the dull orange that mine were. By the time I had come to a completely biased conclusion (yes, yes we should), it was time for my first appointment of the day, who I thought was Detective Morrow, but no, Detective White came bursting through my door on the hour. “Can I help you, ma’am?” I asked sardonically, earning myself a dirty gaze for my troubles. “Detective Morrow’s sick. I thought I might get my appointment out of the way now so I can get back to doing work around people who aren’t a massive smartass with a degree and a douchy face.”
What is it about my non-professional relationships and this wise-cracking war of words I always seem to get myself into? Putting on some facade of urbane cruelty, to distance yourself from the fact you might actually care about people. Do I inspire this in people? I don’t know how to feel about that. It does make for interesting conversations, though.
”Because I can definitely handle you this early in the morning. Least you could’ve done would be to buy me a coffee.” I retorted, sitting at my desk and looking for a pencil. White paced the room for a moment in silence, then spoke up. “I’m fine, Doc: clear me and I’ll let you get back to staring at your walls.”
I wondered how she knew I was doing that, but I also noticed a tinge of something in her voice; a throaty catch, quite subtle, but definitely there, and not usual. “I could do that, or you could tell me why you’re so eager to get out of here.” I glanced upwards, to see what sort of a reaction that would garner.
Jess bit her lip for a moment, then sort of fell into the couch. “I’m worried, okay? I’m worried, and I’m annoyed. And it’s because of that case. How the fuck could I not be annoyed? That bastard’s gone quiet, he could be in fucking Florida sipping on a piña colada in the sun. And the world will still be spinning. He’ll get away with it, just like that.”
”That’s not the way the world works.” I said, talking out of my ass as I walked over to the couch, sitting next to Jess. She wasn’t talking to me as a psychologist, she was talking to me as a friend. She didn’t want analysis, she wanted someone to go through this with. “People get theirs. It’s karma, really. One day, he’ll slip up; he’s clearly got some choice antisocial tendencies, and now he has a taste for it. He’ll slip up, and someone will nab him.” Or so we could hope. It worried me too, but…The world will still be spinning, as she said.
“God, I hope you’re right, Matt. I really do.” She paused to think for a couple of moments, before apparently driving it from her mind, and brightening up slightly. “We still on for dinner tonight?”
”Absolutely! I’ll grab my car and drive past your place at 7. We’ll grab sushi.”
”Hey, at least I’m a healthy pussy.”
”Are you sure you’re a dude, Rivers?”
”Want to find out?”
She punched me, I flinched a little, and we both laughed. Life goes on.
It was 6:30PM. Not even that late, the sun was barely down. I pulled my coat around me further. It was a cold dusk, and I smelled rain on the approach. Down the main road for a while, then a left, cutting through a local park. Well, what passed as a ‘park’ in my neighbourhood. It was barely a nature strip, it was roughly 50% tree, and 25% pathway. High walls on one side, interrupted periodically by gates into the houses beyond, extending down a long, long path to the middle of suburbia. The sounds of traffic lessened and lessened as I walked down the path, leaving only my footsteps and the wind. That rustling, murderous wind, setting my nerves on edge. I focused on the sound of my own breath, willing myself to calm down. It’s nothing, you’re projecting your own insecurities onto the world around you.
I heard a shuffle behind me, and almost gave myself whiplash to see who it was. Nobody, just some kid. Alabaster skin, a backpack and a hoodie, which he was in the process of pulling up to protect himself from the wind. Yet my mind was still screaming for respite. I turned around and deliberately slowed my pace, breathing rhythmically, pushing the fear from my mind.
Then I heard the rusty ‘squeak’ of a gate in front of me, and the fear came flooding back. Another person walked out from one of the archways on the side of the path and started walking in the same direction as me, a fair distance in front. Nothing to worry about, he didn’t even take a second glance at you. You’re a fully grown man for God’s sake. Is Jess right? Did you lose your balls somewhere?
It was only when I heard a second gate open, behind me, that I started to give my mind some credit. A man wearing a hoodie, completely concealing his face emerged from the shadows, walking briskly towards me, brushing past the kid. I started walking briskly forward, trying to catch up with the guy in front of me, but suddenly he turned around, face completely covered in a neutral white mask, personalized only with red circles encapsulating his eyes. I faltered in my pace, felt a shot of adrenaline course through my system, weighed up the situation, and broke into a dash, making a beeline for the guy in the mask. I don’t think he suspected I would choose ‘fight’ over ‘flight’, so he wasn’t prepared for the shoulder barge I gave him, knocking him over with a satisfying ‘thump’. He was far from beaten, though, and swung around, grabbing my leg and pulling me down to the ground with him. I bit my tongue as I went down and my jaw cracked on the pavement, feeling salty blood fill my mouth. “Bastard,” I spat, kicking him in the side of his head with my free foot, once, twice, finally causing him to let go with a groan of pain.
However, by this time, the other one…no, the other two had caught up to me. It was all I could do to scramble to my feet as they reached down to grab me. I managed to dodge their grasp and unleashed a swift, yet clumsy kick in one of their general directions. It connected with their side, though it didn’t seem to make a persuasive argument: He shrugged it off as his friend tried to flank me. I was having none of that, though, and spun around, sprinting like I had rarely had the occasion to before. I was expecting them to shout something, anything, but our chase scene was silent but for the pounding of our feet, and the rabid beating of my heart in my ears. If I get to the end of the path, I’m on a suburban street. Hardly the most cinematic location to have a merry old chase, but damnit, it’s wider than this death trap, I might even be able to hide.
I saw the end of the path, and I gunned it, only managing to slow down halfway onto the middle of the road. There were no cars coming…no wait, there. A Lexus SUV, the noble explorer of the suburban jungle, coming down the road. Comforting. That’s probably the best chance I’m going to have. I made the international signal for “I need a fucking ride” with my thumb, and praised the goodness of humanity as the driver slowed down. I looked behind me, my pursuers (all three of them, as it were) were a ways off, still pelting towards me. I couldn’t waste any time. I pulled open the passenger seat door and jumped in. “Thank you so much these three fucking PSYCHOS are out there and can you please drive drive DRIVE” I blurted as we moved off, and the doors locked, and I put my seatbelt on, and I wondered why the driver of the vehicle looked so terrified…
And then I wondered who was in the back seat. I turned to look over my shoulder at the cougher and felt my heart sink. A particularly well-dressed man, wearing a retro style pinstripe suit, looking for all the world like a Mafia Don if it was not for the odd hooded cape he was wearing, and the porcelain white mask he wore on his face. The mouth was covered with a strange little black box, which looked far too intricate and technological to have been a part of the simple mask, which had two tiny little red lines extending down from his eyeholes (which appeared entirely blank in this light), wavering like a heartbeat, then petering out.
Crying blood. I had seen this mask before.
“Good evening, Doctor.” The voice I heard was, not a man’s voice. I surmised that the black box was a vocoder of some description. It was cool, electronic and quite feminine-sounding.
“…Good evening.” I said warily.
”We have much to talk about, you do realise.”
”I very much doubt that.”
She…he, tutted, indicating the negative quite emphatically. “Look…we got off on the wrong foot. The pile of organs thing, the concussion…It was all very distasteful, and I did not intend for you to see that. Here, let’s be friends. Some call me The Crying Man.” He offered a hand to shake. I took it warily and shook as firm as I could manage in a surreal situation like this. “Good, we are now friends.” He said. “Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for you and the driver.”
I felt a cold, metallic sting on my neck, heard an electronic ‘buzz’, then my nervous system exploded into the pain of a million volts flowing through my system. I convulsed back into an upright position, quite possibly actually giving myself whiplash this time, and shuddered uncontrollably, my teeth clamping onto my tongue again, losing control of several bodily functions which I do not care to describe. As this happened, my seat was slowly being lowered back into a lying down position, until for the second time, I felt my vision fade as I looked up at The Crying Man, who was coolly appreciating the scene. “Don’t want you to hurt yourself sitting up so uncomfortably. And I wish you hadn’t done that, these are very nice seats. But we are friends, and friends look out for each other, do we not? I will pay for the seat, you just go to sleep, it’s all going to be fine…”
But I was well on the way already. To sleep, perchance to dream.