Horror and suspense stories are some of my favorites, and the more realistic one is, the scarier it is. It's much easier, for instance, to be frightened by a tale concerning stalking than a tale of the supernatural. What makes a story scary is detail and emotion, and the more detail and emotion that you put into a story, the more realistic it is. A good dose of the unexpected helps, too.

This story, alternately titled "The Waking Nightmare", is a short, suspenseful tale that speaks of a very realistic fear – the fear that someone is watching you and means you ill, and that somehow, they will find you.

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The rain fell like teardrops on the rough, cracked sidewalks of New Jersey, thin as needles and just as sharp and cold. Thunder rumbled ominously, promising to strike out in a flash of angry energy, and the wind howled like a ravished wolf crying for food, but the Walker was oblivious to it.

It was midnight. The suburban streets were quiet, sleeping for the night without the soft swish of tires on asphalt, and the street lights cast their pale glow in smooth, round circles onto the pavement. The only remotely human-sounding noise was the tread of shoes on cement as he walked slowly, surely, towards his destination.

He had been seeking her for months now, looking for the house where the woman lived. She had never noticed how he drove behind her to work, how he had watched from a window as she worked. She had even run into him once, at the store, when she was looking for groceries.

Then again, they never did. Not until it was too late.

A bolt of lighting struck a powerbox on a utility pole mere feet from him, and with a hideous zap and a shower of sparks, it had been destroyed. Out went all the pale, circular streetlights, but the Walker was not frightened one bit. As a matter of fact, he didn't feel anything, and he never had. Especially not on a night like tonight, so slick and smooth, like a knife's blade.

He stopped, turning to face the house in front of him. From the front room's window, the luminous eyes of a cat peered.

He allowed himself a small smirk.

Perfect.

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A loud crash sounded, waking a startled Lauren.

She sat up in bed, frightened, eyes scanning the darkness for some sign of an intruder, but failed to find one.

Lauren, you're overreacting, she thought. It was only the cat.

Lauren was twenty, and she lived alone in the house with her cat Antony. They were good friends, her cat and her – he trusted her, and she loved him more than the world itself. She had found the grey and silver-striped tabby at her door several weeks ago, and she couldn't just leave the poor thing there, so she had taken him in.

Unfortunately, as she soon learned, Antony often chose the most inopportune times to eat, such as late at night, and oftentimes, he would eat a certain flavor of food one day and not the next. Lauren had since gotten used to stocking the pantry with several flavors of canned food, and Antony would leap up and knock down whichever can sounded good to him at the time. If that didn't get his point across, he'd sashay his way into her bedroom, meowing loudly.

Sure enough, in padded Antony, meowing loud enough to wake the dead and his tail thrashing in annoyance.

"Alright, alright, I'm up," Lauren muttered, stumbling half-awake out of bed.

Antony rubbed against her legs, purring, then bounded out of the door like a bullet from a gun. Sleepily, Lauren followed him to the kitchen.

The house was deathly quiet, save for the pounding of rain on the roof and the occasional rumble of thunder, and it was far too dark to see where Antony had gone. He was probably waiting under the table at the far end of the hall, waiting to pounce on Lauren's slipper-shod feet, or already in the kitchen, waiting for her impatiently. How dare his human servant lay down on the job? He was hungry, and he needed food now, gosh darn it!

Approaching the end of the hall, Lauren reached towards the light switch. The lights would not turn on when she flicked the switch, however.

"Power's out," Lauren sighed in frustration and weariness. "Great."

Fumbling, she put her hand on the wall to feel her way towards the kitchen door.

A sudden loud crash startled her, and she jumped a good five feet in the air. Antony must be getting impatient…

She eventually found the kitchen door, but when she reached to open it, she found that it had been left slightly ajar. Strange – she thought she had closed it before turning in for the night…

Her tired mind began whirling with possible answers. Antony couldn't open doors by himself. Did she open the door and simply forgot to close it? Or was there someone else in the house with her?

She shuddered at the thought of a hidden burglar or escaped maniac hiding just beyond the door, but shook it off as quickly as it had come. It was too fantastic. She would never be robbed, not a young pretty girl like her with few things more interesting than an old Macintosh laptop and a small TV set to her name. An escaped serial killer? What were the odds?

Safe in her internal knowledge that she would never be a statistic, she carefully opened the kitchen door all the way and entered the room.

Suddenly, the door slammed shut, and Lauren gave a small shriek of fright. She looked around, scanning the dark for some sort of threat, some indication that something had gone wrong.

Her eyes fell to the knife set in the countertop. It wouldn't change, wouldn't get up and slam a door. Yet somehow, it looked different…

Antony meowed loudly, and Lauren looked to find him under the kitchen table, his eyes aglow with reflected light.

Cats have all the luck, Lauren sighed mentally, wishing that her eyes would adjust to the darkness like Antony's did. Speaking of which, where was the can he had knocked down?

Lightning flashed for a moment, just enough to illuminate the room briefly, and as the light faded, Lauren caught a glance of a shiny, metal tin on the floor. Carefully, she stumbled towards the can, fumbling in the dark.

She reached out and took the can, then carefully stood up and stumbled towards the counter, where she kept her knives and electric can opener.

As she reached to place the can in the opener, she glanced once more at the knives in their wooden holder. She had gotten them as a gift set from her grandmother, and they had proven very helpful. They were said never to need sharpening, and made of high-grade stainless steel. There was a filleting knife, a bread knife, a large carving knife, a tomato knife, a thin boning knife, and several steak knives.

Wait… One was missing.

Lauren scanned the knife holder, willing her tired mind to remember the name of the missing blade.

Suddenly, it hit her.

The utility knife was gone.

Antony gave a howl of fear as a chair was overturned, and Lauren turned to see what had caused the upset.

She never made it. At that moment, a shadowy figure lept upon her, knocking her to the ground and pinning her down beneath his weight. She screamed only once, lifting her head to at least get a glimpse of the assailant's face.

It was forced back down almost immediately, and she heard a soft laugh and caught a glimpse of something sharp and silver…

A second later, she felt something sharp slice her jugular, and she gasped in pain as she felt herself weakening.

The attacker left her and ran towards Antony, who was running towards the thin plastic cat flap in an attempt to escape.

No, she thought weakly, feeling precious red life seep from her body and stain her clothes. This is not happening. It's a horrible nightmare – it's only a nightmare…

Great weariness seized her limbs, and the final thing she saw was the killer walking towards Antony, her pet's countenance frozen in a shriek of terror…

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The Walker reached out to the cat, stroking it gently and slowly, listening to its soft purr of satisfaction. He let the heavy butcher's knife fall from his white-gloved hand, now spattered with blood.

"Yes, Shadow," he murmured to the cat. "I know… You missed me… I know…"

The cat jumped from the table, padded over to the girl, and sniffed at her pooling blood. Shadow looked up to his human, his confidant, and mewled slightly.

"We will leave the body here," the Walker replied. "It's much more fun to watch the police try to figure out my methods…"

He removed the blood-stained glove, placed it in his pocket, and fondled the cat between the ears, chuckling softly. Oh yes. Tonight had been a good night. And the next night would be good, too, just as soon as he found the next kind-hearted cat-lover, just as he had done so many times before...

Shadow stared at the girl's body and purred softly, eagerly awaiting the next woman to take him in.