It is dark when you leave class today: twenty minutes late out of what is already a night class, having stopped to ask the professor a question about Murphy’s Law. The campus is empty in a way that you’ve only experienced once before at 5am on a Saturday morning, when you walked to Dunkin to get picked up for an early lacrosse tournament. In this ordinarily teeming place the silence is stunning. The sound of your footsteps reverberates between the math and science buildings, and the night wind runs its hands through your hair, lifting strands lightly off your shoulders. In this moment you are filled with a cool, all-encompassing sense of purpose, a sudden, warm sureness of yourself — your life is in order. Your teacher likes you, you’re going to ace this class, and in two months you’ll be graduating, moving on to bigger, more impressive things. You’re almost there. You repeat it like a mantra in your head as you walk. Almost there, almost there.
When you turn the corner of the Engineering Tech building, you see one more person out in the night, a burly guy who has just turned off an adjacent path about fifty meters ahead of you, headed the same direction as you are. For a moment you wonder if he lives in your apartment complex. Then you marvel at the lights parallel to your path, strung along the tree line to your left. The top branches of each tree are illuminated, and then the line of lights dips gently as it travels from one tree to the next. You feel yourself dip with those lights, and then rise, guided forward by the twinkle. When you look ahead again, the man in front of you is standing as still as a statue in the path, looking down at something in his hands that you can’t see. It must be his cell phone.
You look back up at the lights. In this new tree you are passing, their twinkle has faded. They only give off a dull glow. You look behind you to see if the previous lights were brighter, but your eyes catch on the empty path. You look back at the man. He has not moved as you walk closer. Something quivers in your stomach, and suddenly the peace of the night floods out in a wave, back in the direction you’ve come. You are struck by a sudden, certain realization — what that man holds is a knife, and what he means to do is stab you with it.
Of course this can’t be. You’re making things up, letting your mind run wild. This is just a thing that could be, but of course it isn’t. He must be reading something on his phone, a text message perhaps. Logically, that’s what he’s doing. You’re making up a silly story, and scaring yourself with it.
You check behind you. There’s no one, and you’ve already passed the turn you could take to walk a different way, unless you want to turn around and backtrack. But that’s illogical. This man isn’t going to hurt you. Anyone can stop in a path anytime they want, and stand as still as a statue, staring at something in their hands. It’s not unusual.
You try to remember self-defense, just in case. You never took a class, even though your parents said you should, because there was never time in your schedule. But when you read Twilight in middle school, there was a scene where Bella was cornered by some creepy men outside a warehouse. You remember what she thought: all she needed to do was shove the heel of her hand upwards into the man’s nose, and that would smash the cartilage back into his brain. And then run. You could do that, easy. Not that you’ll have to.
You’re getting kind of close to him now though, almost there. You’ll just walk by him, and not even look at him. It’s illogical, too, that you made up a knife, of all the weapons he could hold. Why not a gun, or mace, or a sharp stick? Hey, if he really wanted to hurt you, he could do it with his bare hands. So his standing there with something in his hands doesn’t mean a thing. It’s really a wonder how dim the lights along this path have gotten.
You’re just behind him now. Obviously he’s heard you — your breath alone sounds like a tsunami in your ears, never mind the repetitive crash of your echoing steps. You imagine your mother sobbing over your casket. What if he’s blind, and he has to stop to hear where you are so he can grab you? Ridiculous. Almost there, almost there. You see one of his arms moving back and forth. For a moment you imagine he’s jacking off. More ridiculous. He’s probably typing. He’s obviously ready, stroking his knife. Almost there, almost there, almost there.
You pass him. He’s holding a cell phone; you can see its glow as you go by. His head lifts toward you, but you don’t turn. You’re five feet away, ten feet away, fifteen. Your breath goes out, and calm rushes back in. How ridiculous you are.
“Nice ass,” he calls.
Rebecca Mae Hill writes in Middlebury, CT, USA.