Shadow from the Past - a fictional story
Becky jerked her hands out of the warm dishwater and wiped them off quickly so that she could answer the shrilly demanding wall phone. "Who on earth could that be?" she thought, bewildered. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had called on the land line. None of her friends or acquaintances even had one these days; but her sweet, ancient little grandmother had insisted on paying for it for Becky's apartment, because Gramma still just didn't trust cell phones. "Hello?" she answered hesitantly.
"Hey, girl, I was hoping it would be you. Long time, no see," said a scratchy, unfamiliar male voice. "Remember me?"
She paused for a moment, trying to decide whether there was something about the voice that rang a bell. Tentatively, so as not to appear rude, she replied, "Well, no, I don't believe I do remember you. Whom were you trying to call?"
The voice laughed with stalkerish delight. "Oh, honey, you can't have forgotten me already! You're the one I was trying to call, of course! Don't you remember meeting me? On the bus? On the ride back from Richmond?"
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and her breath stuck in her throat. No, it couldn't be! In a flash she recalled her last bus ride back to the university several weeks earlier and that unpleasant encounter with a man whose sole purpose seemed to be to intimidate and harass any potential victim. Was this voice really the same as that guy's? Who else could it be? That domineering individual was the only man she had interacted with on the ride. Everyone else around had stayed as quiet as possible, hoping not to attract his attention. Her memory of him was actually not very clear, no doubt because her mind had tried to repress the event. She couldn't even picture in her mind what he had looked like.
"Yeah, girl, I was passing through town, and I figured we could get together and party!" The statement sounded so awful, coming from that hideous man. Becky tried to breathe slowly and deeply, to calm herself. She wanted to shriek and holler, "No! Never!" but she remembered that the perpetrator on the bus had issues about respect. He insisted on being treated with respect, and if he felt it was lacking, his offensive behavior worsened. And he always wanted to call all the shots.
Now she wanted to ask how he had gotten her phone number, but she refused to create any sort of opening for a real conversation. She cast her thoughts back – was this wall phone number printed on the label of her attaché case? Could she really have been so stupid and naive? Was it a result of Gramma's old-fashioned methods invading her life again?
She tried to sound firm and unwavering, but also polite, as she had been trained to be from infancy. "Unfortunately, I have some other plans. But then again, I don't really like to party. That's just not my style. So I'm not actually the person you want to see this evening." She paused then grinned, slightly mischievously. "You probably want an undergraduate for that."
There. That hadn't been so hard, had it?
The man chuckled knowingly. "Well, you sure do look like you're all set to party!" Her eyes widened. What the blazes? He couldn't actually be anywhere nearby, could he? Her heart started pounding, and she forced herself to think slowly, step by step, in order not to panic. He was almost certainly just trying to frighten her, to see how she would react, just as he had tried to control every facet of the conversation on the bus ride. She tried to speak coolly and nonchalantly. "Looks can often be deceiving, can't they?" She strained her memory, trying again to recall how the man had looked. That incident had been too harrowing; her self-protective mechanisms had completely blocked out his appearance.
At her words, he totally burst out laughing, as if he were truly enjoying the conversation with a friend or – ugh! – a date. "I don't think so, girl! See, when I met you, you looked like a prissy, burr-in-the-saddle, cranky piece of work. … But I don't think you're like that at all." He changed his voice to an intimate purr. "I think you're a gal who likes to have a good time. Why else would you be wearing that low-cut navy top with the lace at the neck and sleeves?" Her heart slammed against her ribs, and her breath stopped entirely. "And that way-too-short denim skirt? You're not going to the office in that outfit. Nor to class. Not shopping either. And definitely not to church!" He burst out laughing again, as though he had actually said something spectacularly funny.
She glanced quickly over at the window and realized with intense dismay that she had not shut the blinds when she got back from campus; the sheer curtains would allow fairly good visibility now that autumn meant it became dark outside this time of day . Maybe he really was somewhere close by, after all.
She swallowed and did her best to hide her fear. "What I'm wearing doesn't change the facts. I am not interested in partying, and I am not interested in getting together with you for any other reason. I have to say goodbye now, and I am going to hang up the phone. Goodbye." Instead of slamming it down as she wanted to do, she replaced the phone in its base on the wall, vaguely noticing that her fingers actually wanted to push a button to terminate the call. That made her smile a little bit, but she immediately jerked her thoughts back to her situation.
She walked with a confidence she did not feel over to the apartment door and checked to be sure the dead bolt was engaged. Seeing that the door was secure, she walked, still unhurriedly, to close the blinds. How could she have been so stupid and careless, so comfortable, as to forget to close them earlier? Her mind raced wildly, bouncing between self-reproach and self-preservation. She walked into her bedroom to check for danger. No problems there. She made sure those blinds were closed too and then checked the same way in Ramona's room. Ramona should be back from her work in less than an hour. Please God, let it be soon! Very soon!
Becky mulled over her situation. Should she try to act normal? continue to wash dishes? ignore the horrifying possibility that had arisen? Should she perhaps try to call the police? What would she tell them? Had there actually been a threat of any kind? Was a feeling of danger the same thing as a threat? Maybe she should call Ramona and warn her about the phone call and all that it implied.
As she started back into the bedroom to get her cell phone, Becky heard a knock at the door, and feelings of panic swallowed her attempts to act cool and confident. She hated the fact that the apartment door had never even had a peephole installed, much less a door viewer. She couldn't check to see who was standing outside. Should she even bother to answer it? She walked close to the door, wondering whether to speak.
"Becky? Are you there?" Ramona's voice came muffled and echoing through the entrance door. "Can you open for me, please? My hands are full. I stopped by the grocery." Even though Ramona's voice sounded a little bit different from usual, Becky grabbed her keys from the kitchen table and hurriedly unbolted the door, then opened it to see her roommate standing there, wide-eyed and empty-handed. "Ramona?" she began hesitantly, trying to piece this new information together with everything that had happened in the past fifteen minutes.
Before Ramona could answer she was propelled from behind into the living room, followed quickly by a ragged-looking, greasy-haired, foul-smelling man, whose exposed skin seemed to be completely covered with tattoos and piercings. He had been concealed in the shadows outside the door, just waiting for it to be opened. He quickly turned and bolted the door again, pocketing Becky's key, then pushed his way across the living room to an easy chair facing the windows and sat down.
Becky's heart lurched even more strongly. With dismay, she realized that her usually creative mind was suddenly blank and devoid of ideas for how to proceed with this intruder.
"I… I'm sorry…," she began stammering, "I thought I told you that I wasn't interested in getting together this evening." As Becky said this, Ramona looked enormously puzzled. She had no clue what was going on. "Hush this instant!" the man hissed. The women were silent for a moment, then Ramona asked quietly, "Why are you here? what do you want?"
He hissed again in an undertone, "I want you to shut up and do exactly what I say! I had thought about other plans for a fun evening. I guess I'll just have to enjoy it with both of you two instead." Becky hated the way that sounded. This creep could not possibly contribute anything meaningful to their weekend. They had to find some way to get rid of him.
Becky looked around her: forest green drapes and seafoam sheers, nature photos on the walls, brushed brass lampstands, glass-front cherry bookcase between the windows, cream couch with pillows, maroon-green-cream plaid easy chairs, drum tables, dumb-cane plant. Nothing out of place. No heavy vases or ashtrays. No fireplace with a poker. No bags full of heavy books. Nothing weapon-like, as far as she could see at first glance.
No Need to Feel Defenseless
She noticed Ramona trying nonchalantly to edge her way around to the kitchen. Their captor immediately noticed too. "Get back in here, woman! You have to stay where I can see you!" he muttered raspily. Ramona walked towards the back of his head, trying to stay hidden, apparently having realized that she and Becky should be able to overpower him, if they could take him by surprise.
"Turducken! Do you think I don't have eyes in the back of my head?" he yelled in a whisper. "I said get in here where I can see you with my face-eyes, and I meant it. Now do as I say!" Becky felt like laughing at his odd way of expressing himself, but she didn't want to give even the remotest tidbit of encouragement to this bully. Ramona walked into the living room and sat on the couch. She breathed slowly and deeply, trying to calm herself. Becky didn't know whether to be worried or relieved that Ramona's response was the same as her own.
"Please tell us why you are here, exactly," Ramona stated. "I know that I have never met you, and I don't remember hearing my friend here mention you either. Somehow I believe she would have done so, if she actually had met you before." The man growled menacingly. "I told you already that you two are to shut up and do as I say. Now quit talking, or you will be sorrier than you have ever been about anything else you have ever experienced in your entire life!"
Silence fell on the room. Mentally Becky kicked herself for failing to take advantage of her mother's offer to pay for that self-defense course. She kicked herself for failing to read the books that Mom and Gramma had provided to help prepare her for situations just like this one. She had postponed those important chores, always assuming there would be plenty of time for them … next weekend. Now she was out of time; the situation was here, and she wasn't sure what to do. Were they supposed to be nice to their "captor" or not? Maybe that would make him relax his defenses, and they would be able to tie him up, or knock him out, or call someone for help. Or, on the other hand, were they supposed to resist and scream and fight – or not? With his size and build and his bulging muscles, he looked like someone who would have no trouble fighting off these two women at the same time – unless they could surprise him – but then, looks can be deceiving, as she had said on the phone.
By the Acknowledged Leader in Danger Assessment
The silence stretched out, covering the room like an oppressive blanket. The man's eyes seemed to be starting to glaze over, as he thought through whatever thoughts he was thinking, and Becky began backing slowly towards her bedroom, inch by inch, to get her cell phone. She could easily text for help, even if a call turned out to be impossible. As she slowly drew even with the edge of the couch, he turned his head abruptly and glared threateningly at her. His eyes narrowed to angry slits, and he jerked his head backward. The message was clear: Come back in this room. Do as I say.
Becky froze. She started to open her mouth to say something and he glared even more fiercely, shaking his head. What could he possibly want with them? He certainly didn't seem to be interested in partying; if anything, he seemed too tired to party. But he wanted them to stay with him. Well, that couldn't hurt for now – at least while they figured out what to do. Becky moved slowly and cautiously to sit on the couch next to Ramona, watching him almost shyly as if asking permission. He shook his head angrily and jerked it again in the direction of the other chair that was right next to him. Becky's heart sank. She walked slowly, keeping as much distance from him as she could manage while moving. She hesitated, awkwardly aware of the denim skirt that he had labeled as being "way too short." He was watching her intently, and she hated having to sit down while he was staring at her. She averted her eyes, looking around the room for anything that would give her some ideas for how to proceed, then very slowly sat down. If only she had worn something different today! What an awful day she had chosen for moving out of her fashion comfort zone.
Minutes flashed by on the stove clock. Five minutes, ten, fifteen. No one said anything. He seemed to be thinking about something – what he was planning to do with them, no doubt. The silence in the room was overwhelming, but from time to time Becky could hear sounds of people in the breezeway outside – people coming home from work, people heading to friends' apartments for a Friday evening bash, people leaving to go to dinner and a movie. She made up her mind that the next time she heard someone, she would scream. But would anyone notice? Would anyone think it was anything different from a stressed-out university student trying to shift gears for the weekend? For that matter, would anyone even hear her? All around the apartment, the sounds of Friday evening gatherings were growing louder and louder. How could anyone hear over that noise?
Finally, Grease-Head looked at Becky and Ramona and commanded, "Stand up! We've got to finally do something here. Time to go back in the bedroom." In that instant, Becky understood complete terror. She could taste it in her mouth. Her stomach was churning, and her legs were turning to jelly. Her hands shook violently as she slowly stood up, wanting to make sure she could balance on her ineffective limbs, straining to hear something, anything, from outside the apartment.
There. It almost sounded like someone at the door. At the very least, someone was nearby. Becky began stammering and yelling, "H-H-Help! Please help us! Help!" and she moved towards the door, but the man quickly grabbed her wrists and held her fast. "Shut up!! " he yelled, right in her face. She recoiled and turned her face to gasp for fresh air. His foul breath didn't smell any better than the rest of him. While his attention was on Becky, Ramona dashed behind him, sliding perilously on the linoleum, reaching the outside door, grabbing her key from her pocket and then turning it in the deadbolt lock, just as they heard someone right outside the door – "Police! Open up!" Ramona jerked the door open, "Thank God, officer, we need your help!"
The policeman saw Becky and the intruder, stepped past Ramona, and commanded fiercely, "Herbie, let go of her this instant. How many more lines do you want added to your rap sheet today? Burglary? Kidnapping? Assault?" The man protested vehemently, but he let go of Becky's wrists. They were red and aching from his grip. The cop continued, "What are you doing in this apartment, Herbie? We've had a call for help here."
"Wha--? A call for help? You've got it all wrong, officer. I'm here to take care of them! You don't understand!" Becky shuddered, imagining how he had planned to "take care of" them. "What?" Ramona shrieked. "He has been holding us captive, not letting us move. He wouldn't tell us why he was here." She continued hammering away at her side of the story, without attracting any attention from the officer or from Herbie. As the men argued louder and louder, Becky and Ramona noticed another man standing quietly and politely outside the door. Over "Herbie's" protests, the policemen beckoned towards the quiet man, who stepped shyly across the threshold into the living room. "This good citizen saw you watching this apartment from the bushes, Herbie. He saw you follow this young woman" – pointing at Ramona – "up here to this apartment, and he saw you push her inside. He called us and, believe me, it took quite some work for him to convince us to believe his story. Finally I came over here to check it all out, and … who should I find but my old friend, Homeless Herbie? Let's go, Herb. We've got a nice room waiting for you downtown."
Herbie continued struggling and protesting loudly as the policeman dragged him towards the door and outside. "No, sir, you've got it wrong! I was never watching in the bushes. He made that up. He's trying to …" and Herbie's voice trailed off, echoing in the breezeway, now totally drowned out by the constantly increasing party sounds all around, as the policeman made his way down the stairs, tugging Herbie along beside him. All sounds from them finally died away, and a sense of peace and calm began stealing over the young women. Their racing hearts could rest and relax. Normal life could begin again. At last.
Ramona turned to the quiet man who had watched the proceedings. What a reassuring contrast he made to the awful man who had just left. Quiet, dignified, clean-cut and definitely clean! "Oh sir, thank you so much for calling for help for us! I don't know what we would have done. I was truly terrified of that man – so erratic, so irrational!" So foul-smelling, thought Becky. She spoke up too. "Yes, thank you for your help. Rarely have I ever been so concerned about what to do. You came at just the right time!"
The man smiled in a friendly way, then turned his back to them and closed the door. He paused for a moment as they watched him curiously, then he locked the deadbolt and pocketed Ramona's key. As he turned back around he smiled suggestively and said, "Just at the right time – that's exactly what I thought too." Becky's smile faltered as he went on. "I like that: 'Just at the right time.' Now that those guys are gone and out of the way, we have the whole evening to ourselves – no interruptions, no intrusions – just our very own party."
With dawning horror, Becky saw the end of a rope emerging from his pocket; at last she recognized his features, the voice on the phone, the voice from the bus, the voice that nightmares are made of. She covered her face with her hands, before falling face downward onto the couch, and with complete abandon, completely undone, she began to scream.