by Afreen S., 17
Missing a bus is just another typical nuisance in a commuter’s life but what makes it worse is the way back home.
For all the bravado you displayed, deep down, a spring was spurting tiny doses of anxiety and dread at every testosterone that walked past.
Be it cars or dirt bikes, the presence of men made things worse, the reassuring grip of the cell phone the sole force surpassing the inertia; prodding you to take the subsequent step.
The time of the day rarely did any favor; daytime too wouldn’t be of any help for your situation, the only difference being the astronomical object functioning above.
It would have been fine if you could walk head-on to your Street, but it so happened that today was the deadline for submitting the grant proposal you had been working on for the past six months.
Hailing a cab would be the very last thing you would do after discerning that a woman was kidnapped by a cab driver.
Can we just live, please?
The vast blanket that stretched across the sky, glittering with stars, had decided to hold back its tears for the night, somewhat solacing you. Just an assurance that if something did happen to you and you did scream, your voice wouldn’t be muffled by the thundering hail.
Apart from a few cars bustling past, the night was rather silent but hostile and intimidating as ever. You might think that it’s the dark that scares you, but in fact, it is the oblivion. Not knowing what lies ahead of you.
A sedan careered past you, and for an instant you doubted that it would stop and lug you in before firing away.
You know you are being paranoid, but you cannot stop yourself.
Footfalls a few steps behind startle you and you are tempted to turn back, but your fear prevents you from doing so and you walk, trying to subtly quicken your pace, hoping whoever it was wouldn’t notice.
Maybe it was just your imagination, but the footsteps did take a few quick strides.
For a moment, you stand still, dazed.
“Excuse me,” he said, jolting you, slipping past. The breath that caught up in your lungs liberated itself. You are both relieved and annoyed at yourself.
You are done worrying. All you ever need is some space to breathe.
All the resolution crumbled into consternation when you see a man walking towards you, an angry frown etched into his face.
You flinch when he glances at you, scrutinizing his every movement, preparing yourself for whatever would come. But all he did was just walk by.
Twice beguiled, you laugh at yourself. Maybe all you are is too prudent. Your face doesn’t look like you are doing official business; more like you just stepped out of a haunted house.
But ghosts and vampires did nothing to scare you.
It was humans.
Ironic that your very race is endangering your life, but what men do to you is even more barbaric than what vampires do.
Vampires feed on our blood, while men prey on our pain and humiliation. Vampires kill us which would have been less painful, but men agonize us to our death.
You reach the office and climb up the steps, the empty foyer triggering a set of new threats and dangers. Hollywood features a scanning gizmo that analyzes the threat levels and dangers of a person or place, but all you get is your instincts.
Pulling the file from your satchel, you nervously accost the receptionist, who wasn’t quite in a flavor to greet applicants.
“Are you here for the internship program?”
“Yes, I’m here to submit the grant proposal,” you nod, the stark setting nagging at your head.
“Follow me,” he almost yawned, casually rubbing his eyes.
Threat level: Low to very low.
The sound of your sneakers tapping the linoleum flooring echoed across the halls, melding with the faint whirring of the air conditioner.
He nodded in acknowledgment, turning a corner to an elevator bank.
Your heart squeeze again and you need the reassuring grip of the cell phone.
Flourishing his hand to permit your entry, he waits until you secure yourself.
Edging away from him, you ensconce yourself within the warmth of the corner, but you look out for any change in his mien.
Does he think you’re paranoid?
Claustrophobics would be the most relieved to exit an elevator, but you are an exceptional case; you are more than pleased.
A passage encrusted in granite led you both to the head office.
He opened the door to let you in.
“Good evening, Sir.”
A man who had just entered his forties, his salt and pepper stubble accentuating his polished aura, turned, smiling at you.
“Lindsay, I almost thought you ditched the project,” he grinned.
“I would never,” you shake your head.
“Do sign here, please,” he proffered a pen.
Scrawling on the dash provided, you return it.
“Well, then, best of luck!” he wished, extending his hand towards you.
“Thank you,” you beam at him and depart, wishing him a word of farewell.
You heave a sigh of satisfaction, which was immediately extinguished by dread; the walk back with him. The elevator.
Back on the first floor, you walk out of the building, contemplating the long way home.
The receptionist swung a laptop bag around his shoulder and followed in your wake.
A few yards away, you are startled as a Chevy sluggishly crawled to a halt beside you. Images whizz through your head.
“I’ll drive you home, hop in,” the receptionist beckoned.
“Oh, no thanks, it’s fine. It’s just a few miles away,” you try to brush him off.
“Don’t bother. You’re not safe out there.”
I am not safe in there, either, your conscience spoke. Longingly, you look at the red Chevy, trying to operate your scanning system–but all it showed was a blank screen.
If only you could trust him.
If only you got the grant.
The reassuring grip of the cell phone was all you had.
Notes from our interns on selecting this piece: In this story, horror is reimagined. Instead of describing monsters, it explores an even greater terror: the fear women carry with them every day. Our narrator evaluates threats every other sentence, perfectly capturing a life that’s spent anticipating violence.