Watcher in the Alley

Her steps, high heels clicking on the wet concrete, echo off the building.

Up the street, the direction she is walking away from, the red and blue lights of the bar shine down on a car waiting for a red light. The street is mostly empty, and what foot traffic there would have been has been chased away by the rain.

He waits patiently in the alley, waiting as her steps draw near. Hiding in the shadows of the alley, he has been watching the last three nights. Every night she leaves the bar at the same time, walks home the same way. Last night, he almost grabbed her, but it would have been too soon. Tonight, though, he was ready.

Suddenly there are the sounds of running feet chasing after her. Her footsteps stop as she waits for the runner. His throat constricts as he fights the urge to peak around the wall. He takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

"Sal, you left your book," says the voice of the slightly out of breath young man. He recognizes it as one of the young bartenders. He can hear him working on catching his breath. His hand clenches, because he knows the bartender wants her. He has caught him staring at her.

"Why thank you, Bob," she says. He loves the music of her voice. If there was some way to save it, he would, just her voice. He imagines, for a moment, the things that he would make that voice say.

"Mighty dark out here tonight, Sal. You want me to walk you home?"

"Naw. I can handle a block in the rain. You have a good night. I'll see you next week."

"Yeah, next week. Be careful," he says, and then Bob's footsteps slowly start up again, receding as the bartender retraces his steps.

She does not begin walking again until she knows she's alone. And then it begins again, the clean, precise click, click of her walking. Walking his way, to where her path must cross in front of the alley.

Suddenly the moment is here. She steps in front of the alley. One step. Two steps. He can hear his heart pound in his ears. He begins to move forward, ready to grab her on the next step, but then something he never expected happens.

She turns and looks into the alley. Her eyes, somehow, some way lock with his, even though it is very dark in the alley and he is standing in shadow. She smiles, and somehow it is not the soft and friendly smile of the lady at the bookstore that he saw when he first noticed her. There's a predatory glint in the curve of the lip, in the way she holds her head. She stands there, confident, unafraid.

"Well, Gene," she says.

He inhales a deep breath when he hears his name, and suddenly his hands grow sweaty.

"Was tonight the night you were going to actually try to snatch me? Or were you just going to jerk off in the shadows again?" she asks. Her voice is sultry, taunting.

His mouth is dry, and he swallows, trying to say something. She takes a step in his direction, the click of her heels echoing in the darkness of the alley.

"I can see you, you know," she says. Her hair begins to lift in a wind he cannot feel. She steps again. "Your hunger radiates in the night like a beacon." Somehow her coat vanishes, and she stands there dressed in a gown of flowing fabric, blowing in some unseen wind. "Do you not hunger for me?"

Her skin begins to glow with a pale, ethereal light. Her gown plunges low, showing the white top of her breasts, her long white neck. Her eyes, dark and rimmed with black glitter. "Did you not dream of how you would lock me up, and take me apart, step by step, fear by fear, until my red blood poured out on the ground and you could coat yourself in it?"

Gene tries to take a step back, but finds he cannot move.

"Little man, little man, bigger men than you have tried those tricks. You weren't even a challenge."

She walks up and steps next to him. He can smell her scent, her breath, smelling of jasmine and patchouli and something else, dark and musty. Her hands, tipped by long, elegant nails draw close to his neck. She runs one finger under his chin in a predatory, claiming gesture.

"Who . . . who . . . are you?" he manages to hiss out.

"Your nightmare," she answers. One fingernail, clawlike, scratches down the side of his throat, followed by a drop of dark hot liquid. The blood trickles down to be absorbed in his shirt. She runs her tongue along the scratch, savoring the taste. "It's a shame though. This nightmare won't last as long as the one you were planning to give me." She grabs his hair and yanks back his head. "Be afraid. Be very afraid. It makes it all tastier, you know?"

Suddenly, he opens his mouth, as if to scream. Out streams a soft gray light that wraps around her for a moment, glowing in a pale opalescent cloud. Opening her mouth, she breathes the cloud in, and then it is no more. She lets go of his head and the man's body crumples to the ground.

For a moment she contemplates his open eyes, staring unblinking as the rain splatters across his face. With a click of her heels, she turns around, and leaves the world of nightmare and steps into the clean, non-magical night.