My footsteps aren't the only ones resounding over the hard, damp pavement.
There is another pair, behind me. It is close - perhaps not more than five feet away, but I don't give it much thought.
I'm not worried, although I know I should be. It's late at night. I'm out on my own, far away from the house. And it is not a pleasant neighbourhood that I am walking through; it is dank, dirty, and the area reeks of crime.
This is the kind of place where mugging is common, where gangs crawl the streets, where poverty abounds.
This is the kind of place that has absolutely no cutesy houses with picket fences and green front lawns, only the typical brick apartment buildings with stone porch steps, separated on occasion by dim, misty alleys. Graffiti decorates every possible surface, and half of the lampposts I pass do not work, adding to the darkness.
No one is around. No one, at least other than the nameless ambler behind me.
It is quiet, cold, and every bit dangerous, I know.
But all the same, I continue to walk on. As per usual.
Coolly. Normally. Head up, and eyes roving, hands buried deep in the pockets of my coat.
I have shifted into my big-shot mode of thought. I am not scared. I am not scared to fight if someone tries to bother me.
I glance ahead. I am walking along Toledo Avenue now - I can see the street sign just up in front.
There are no cars passing by, as there have not been for the past number of minutes. The road is a quietly slick strip of rain-spattered tar. Right across on the other side, I can see an empty ballpark, closed in by high silver fence.
It's amazing; everything can look so eerie once they're under the cover of night.
I sigh, removing my hands from their pockets and rubbing them together for warmth.
This is exactly what I need. A good walk by myself to think. No crowd, no people. Just me, the cold weather and these rough, run-down streets. I know I shouldn't be sneaking out on a whim like this. But who cares?
I let my mind drift, and at some point, in the middle of my absent-minded state, it hits me that the footsteps are still behind me. Trailing as ever, maintaining that short, steady distance.
Strange, I think to myself, frowning. He's been on my tail for several blocks now. Where's he going? And when is he going to veer off?
Or .. is he .. ever going to veer off?
Taking in a deep breath, I turn my head just a little as I walk, tilting it to the side, and dropping my chin just slightly downwards, so that I am able to see the ground behind me.
All I catch is a pair of scuffed up shoes, and the edges of baggy army green pants.
It's a guy. Young, probably.
But I can barely dare myself to look at his face, and so again, I look ahead.
My mind is racing.
Suddenly, I don't feel so fearless anymore. I don't feel spunky or brave, I don't want the opportunity to chew out some jerk, loser or creep who tries to bug me. I don't want it. I don't want anything.
For the first time, I wish I was at home.
Right then, an idea occurs to me. An idea to test if I am just overreacting. Being paranoid or not.
Breathing heavily, I start to cross the street, trying to make it look as nonchalant as possible, as if for some insane reason I'd been planning all along to cross here, at this particular point.
Even though there are no cars, I look left and right as I cross, using it as an excuse to widen my peripheral vision, and capture a glimpse of what's happening behind me.
I am wrong.
It is a guy, of course, but he is much older, middle-aged.
He is white, tall, fairly muscular, and has thin brown hair sticking out from underneath the ski cap he's wearing. He's decked out in loads of thick, oversized clothing, and like me, he has been walking along with his hands in pockets.
Now, he is taking them out though. He is taking them out ... lifting his head and ..
... crossing ... the street.
He's crossing. He's ... he's following me!
For just one moment, I stare at him, in disbelief, and briefly his eyes meet mine.
Full of pretension.
And whatever is behind that gaze, whatever it is he's thinking - I don't like it.
Quickly, I turn away and I come to step upon the opposite pavement.
He's not far behind ... in fact ...
Is he coming closer?
I try to increase the speed of my pace, hoping I do not look too obvious. But he catches on, and does the same.
I swallow hard then, a sickened sort of panic beginning to rise up inside of me. I am starting to feel cold, truly cold. It's a feeling that's coming from the base of my spine, spreading through me and threatening to make me numb.
He's gaining on me!
I can hear him. He's coming even closer; he's almost right behind me.
I don't know what to do, my mind is now both a blank and a blur - will he grab me? Point a gun into my back? Stab me? Push me on the ground?
And, for God's sake what do I do? Run?
Stop and scream?
Suddenly, movement catches my eye. But not from behind. Up ahead, in the distance.
A group of guys have just emerged, rounding a corner and appearing on our sidewalk. There's quite a few of them, probably five or so. They're smoking and talking, clad in leather and denim, adorning tons of silver and a multitude of tattoos. At first they don't notice me, they are just laughing and cussing, passing a beer bottle amongst themselves.
Then they all look in front, realising that we are coming towards each other.
All of them fall quiet, and they slow down, their eyes trained in my general direction.
I can still hear Weirdo coming up as if to approach me, but he seems to have slowed too, now that there are other people around.
As I look on, the first guy in the group, short and thin with a shaven head, comes to a stop, and he cocks his head sharply in my direction.
"What the fuck?" He remarks loudly, his voice carrying over the space between us, past three shuttered-up shops right beside.
My eyes widen, I shake my head in confusion and fear, and out of instinct I jump off the walk, returning to the road. I am so edgy and clumsy, I nearly slip.
But as I recover myself, at the same time staggering backwards in an effort to get away, I notice something.
The punk gang wasn't looking at me. They're looking at Weirdo. They're looking at him in a really bad way, and he knows it. In fact he seems to have forgotten all about me. He's all frozen stiff, staring back at the bunch of guys in the way a cornered animal would.
Stopping, I straighten up, my gaze shifting between him and the group. What is going on? Do they know him? Are they looking for him or something?
The leader of the group, as I assume the short one is anyway - the one who'd spoken - takes a step forward, casting a steely gaze on the lone man. By now, he is glancing around him, his eyes darting, as if he wants to escape but isn't sure if he really should or not.
"Get that piece of shit!" The short guy yells out then and all of a sudden, the next thing I know, everyone is breaking into a run. The group of punk kids are chasing Weirdo, who of course, flees desperately, but unfortunately, he's just no match for so many of them.
They all don't go one block before the gang catches him, and to my horror, they knock him down to the ground, beginning to pummel him.
Vicious kicks and punches fly, I can hear the man shouting and crying at them to stop.
But they don't.
They beat him down still, and I inch back, away from the scene.
This is too much. This is just too much for me to take. I have to go, now.
In a moment of panic, I whirl around, meaning to run, but before I am able to, I inadvertently collide into someone's body, yelping out in surprise as I shoot slightly backwards.
Hands reach out as if to steady me, and I look up in both anxiousness and annoyance, meeting the person's face.
A teenage boy, probably a little older than me, is staring very calmly back at me. He is tall, five eleven, I would guess, with thick dark brown hair that falls into his forehead and over his ears. His eyes, locked on mine, are a clear green.
He says nothing as he looks at me, but his gaze does flicker momentarily to what's going on behind me, eyeing them carefully. Strangely enough, he does not appear scared, or even stunned in the very least.
And that is when I realise it.
He's one of them.
Those are his friends.
I don't know why he stayed behind, not joining in the violence, but he did, and now he's holding me.
Alarmed, I make a sharp movement of my wrists, releasing his grip on me.
He seems surprised then, frowning at me, looking at me with question.
I am confused, but nonetheless, I have no desire to stay and try to find out what is going on. All of this, for sure, does not concern me.
Quickly, I glance over my shoulder for a moment, wanting to know what has happened. The rest of the group is just about done with Weirdo, he's alive still, but his groans and laboured coughs indicate the kind of pain he must be in.
I remind myself how dangerous the situation is - and is becoming - and so, without lingering any further, I finally break into a run, rounding the strange boy and shooting past him.
"Wait!" He calls.
But I don't stop. I don't care.
I keep running, running, all the way down the street.
I will not stop, I tell myself. I will not stop.
Not until I have made it home.