I heard the footsteps of someone walking behind me. They seemed to be neither gaining nor falling behind. I glanced over my shoulder without breaking stride, but saw no one. Since the footsteps were so loud they seemed most likely made by a man.
I stopped and turned. The footsteps stopped at the same time. No one was to be seen behind me on this quiet suburban street. Which wasn’t surprising this late at night. It had rained earlier, and puddles had formed on the old sidewalk whose segments were tipped up by disruptive tree roots. Yet I didn’t need to watch my step too closely. These streets walked so many times at night were well-known to me.
I suffer from insomnia. Often I wake up in the depths of night unable to return to sleep. Rather than stare at the ceiling, I go for walks. It is refreshing to be out at such hours. At that time the streets are my domain. In my neighborhood there are few others out, only an occasional dog walker or early-morning jogger. There is sparse traffic. An early riser might drive past me on the way into work, or a bar patron on the way home. I recognize the car the person delivering newspapers drives, and we wave at each other. I’ve become familiar with garbage collectors, also. The police checked on me when my insomnia first afflicted me. Now they merely slow until they recognize me then wave and drive on. Most of the time it is just me.
That is why the footsteps from behind surprised me. I had never before encountered someone else out on a late-night walk. When I resumed walking, I heard the footsteps resume. When I stopped, they stopped. Several times I turned and looked, but there was never anyone to see. Yet upon resuming my walk, the footsteps resumed.
It came to me that the person may be part of a neighborhood watch. I hadn’t heard of such a group in my neighborhood, but since the death of my wife I hadn’t been much involved with my neighbors. If this was so, I would be happy to reassure him there was no danger. I stopped in the middle of a block and waited, keeping my hands in plain sight so he could see they held no weapons. He remained hidden in the dark. Growing frustrated, I called out, “My name is Nick Reardon. I live on Forsythe Street and go on late night walks several times a week. I mean no harm.” There was no reply.
This was unnerving. I cut my walk short and started for home. The footsteps followed me. Time and again, I glanced over my shoulder. Every time there was no one. Whoever was following me was good at this.
Turning the corner onto Forsythe, relief swept over me at the sight of my house. I broke into a run. An uplifted edge of a sidewalk section caught my toe and sent me sprawling. I belly-flopped into a pool of filthy water. Soaked, muddy, with skinned hands and bruised knees, I struggled to my feet and stumbled on. I limped across my yard and pulled myself up onto my porch. In the safety of a left-on porch light, I stopped to search the darkness behind me. Not a soul in sight. Shaky fingers dug out my keys and unlocked my front door.
I stepped inside my brightly lit home and closed the door behind me, locking it and throwing the deadbolt. Sagging against the door, struggling to slow my lungs and heart, I felt safe now. My house was secure.
I kicked off my soaked shoes and peeled off my sodden socks, not wanting to track mud all through the house. My house was clean and orderly. I had let it go following my wife’s death, but after two months I cleaned it from top to bottom. That was the way she would have wanted to see it, clean. So I left my shoes on the mat by the front door and carried my socks into the laundry room. There I pulled off my shirt and pants, and pitched them and my socks into the washer. I started a load. Living alone, it made no difference what times the washing machine ran.
In just my undershorts, I walked upstairs. Planting a bare foot on the top step, I heard it. A footstep. From somewhere downstairs. He was inside my house. How? Everything was locked! I waited. Not another footstep. Maybe it had been the washer squeaking. I searched the portion of the first floor in view from the top of the stairs. Of course, there was no one. And no other footsteps.
I walked on to my bedroom. The floor squeaked downstairs. I rushed into my room and slammed the door behind me. Ran to my closet to dig out my gun. Checked to see if it was loaded. It was. I sat on the edge of my bed with my gun aimed at the door and waited.
Someone was prowling around inside my house. It had to be someone who meant me harm. Who? My wife was dead. The man convicted of murdering her was in prison. Could it be some relative of his? A brother? A son? Out for revenge? Revenge for what? My wife and her murderer had been having an affair, and she had threatened to expose him to his wife and family, so he had silenced her. He claimed he hadn’t, that he was innocent, but he had been convicted. But why would any reasonable person blame me for any of that? Obviously, whoever was downstairs wasn’t a reasonable person.
Only the madman was no longer downstairs. I heard a footstep right outside my door. “I’ve got a gun!” Silence. Did that do it? The upstairs hall was quiet. The madman took no more steps toward my room. But then he took no steps to retreat from my room, either. He was keeping perfectly still.
The doorknob turned. I fired. Again. Again. The bullets blasted right through the hollow interior door. I jumped up and threw the busted door open. No one. And no blood. I hadn’t hit the madman. I looked up and down the upstairs hall. No one. I charged down the hall, down the steps through the first floor to the front door. It was still locked. I paused, looking all around, listening. I cursed myself for starting the washing machine; it was muffling all the sounds of my house at night.
Except for the footstep I heard on my front porch. He was taunting me! Me, whose wife had been seduced. Me, who had lost his wife to a brutal murder. She had been beaten and strangled to death. This murderer had robbed me of my marriage, my beloved wife, my self-respect, my peace of mind. And now he was taunting me?
I checked my gun. It still held four bullets. I tensed, cocked, unlocked, and flung the door open. No one. I charged out into the night. “You coward!! Show yourself!!”
A blinding light pierced me. I threw my arm up to shield my eyes. Shots rang out. I collapsed on my lawn. Why was he shooting me? Hadn’t he done enough to hurt me already?
“Drop your gun!” My gun? I still held it in the hand I had shielded my eyes with. I released my grip and it fell to the grass. A policeman loomed up before me. “I’ve called for an ambulance. I was responding to a report of gunfire. What were you shooting at?”
I heaved a sigh of relief. “At the man who killed my wife.”
The police officer looked all around. “Did you kill him?”
“No,” I muttered, gurgling up blood. “But you have.”
BIO: Mike Sherer lives in West Chester in the Greater Cincinnati area of southwest Ohio. His screenplay ‘Hamal_18’ was produced in Los Angeles and released direct to DVD. His paranormal/suspense novel ‘A Cold Dish’ was published by James Ward Kirk Fiction. His horror novella “Under A Raging Moon” was published by World Castle Publishing. His Middle Grade novel ‘Shadytown’ was published by INtense Publications. Mike has published 3 other novellas and 20 short stories. He has recently signed a contract with Breaking Rules Publishing to publish his paranormal mystery novel ‘Souls of Nod’. Links to Mike Sherer’s published works are available on his web page – https://mikesherer.org – where his travel blog ‘American Locations’ is also posted.
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