The brick courtyard sparkled in a thousand shining rectangles, where the light bounced and danced off the more sunken stones, left slick by the morning dew. I wanted to hop over the wet ones, in a morning waltz, or perhaps more of a swing, but there were too many of them, scattered almost haphazardly but still with a sense of balanced symmetry that made it impossible. Surely, I would have fallen. Then again, some risks are worth it in this life, are they not? We are constantly striving to live safer, to live longer but does that dampen and deprive us of adventures we might have had otherwise?
The brick courtyard shimmered in a thousand radiant rectangles. The lamps cast their soft light downward where it reflected up in thin pools of water that had come to rest in the pre-dawn hours. One light above created hundreds of lights below, dancing together one with the others in a beautiful ebb and flow as I walked across the dry stones. I wanted to skip, to play, to join their dance and sing the songs of morning that were bursting from my heart…
And yet, I didn’t.
And that is something I may always regret.
The brick courtyard dazzled my eyes and set my mind racing with dreams of adventure. What might have been if only I had risked giving in to that moment? Likely nothing of great importance, no life changing epiphanies, or spiritual awakenings. But rather than telling you about that one time I saw a beautiful dance floor spread before me and I chose to walk, I would be telling you how I sashayed my way into the day instead. And who wouldn’t want to read that?
She spent her mornings hidden in the cart return of a closed grocery store. The alcove provided shade and gave her some privacy to just be, away from the judging eyes she dealt with the rest of the day and away from the predatory eyes that came out of the night. Sometimes the patrons visiting the neighboring stores would catch a glimpse of her and hurry their steps away. Other times they would stop to talk, or offer money and food and she accepted those. She never asked for their charity, though. She didn’t stand out in the open with a sign, announcing her presence and begging. That wasn’t really what she wanted even if it was what she needed.
Her only possessions were never out of hands’ reach, in an old and battered backpack she had picked up somewhere along the way. When she found herself with extra cash, for one reason or another, she would go to a laundromat and wash her clothes. Once she even splurged on a hotel room so she could have a proper bed and a hot shower. That had been a long time ago, though, and she couldn’t remember when it exactly was. Just as she could no longer remember the story that went with each of her missing teeth. She knew some had rotted out and some had met more sudden ends but that was the end of it. She kept her nails long and her hair short. Occasionally she would pal around with others like her but for the most part she enjoyed solitude. She found it hard to trust people and she had found there was usually more safety in being alone. Everyone has issues and when she was by herself she only had to deal with her own. But humans are social creatures and when she felt the craving for someone to talk to she would visit the places where she knew she could find someone. Then it was only a matter of striking up a conversation and finding someone to pal around with for a couple days.
As the foot traffic in the shopping center picked up, she would pack up her bag and wander off. There were a series of parks nearby where she could sit in the shade of a tree to pass the hottest part of the day. Then as they heat began to dissipate, when the nightly marine later rolled back in from the coast, she would head towards the spots she knew she’d be safer during the long hours of darkness. Just safer. There was never a guarantee of absolute safety no matter where she went. But, as she had realized when she made the decision to live on the streets, homes only provide the illusion of safety as well, there is no place that is and will always be completely safe.
He scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, drinking it all in with one eye on the clock in the bottom right corner. He wasn’t supposed to be on the computer but his mom had gone to cook dinner and he knew he had a few minutes to check out the response to his latest posts. He was something of an online star among his friends. In truth, he was a star for most of the school but it was only his friends that knew he was the one behind the posts on the schools social platform. At least, he hoped his friends weren’t telling anyone else. He thought he could trust them but… The rise to fame had been swift and he knew that the fall could go even faster.
His latest post was a scathing review of the school board meeting that had occurred the week before. He hadn’t attended in person. Hardly anyone actually went to the meetings anymore once they had started streaming them live online. So, he watched on a tablet from his room while he was supposed to be sleeping, scribbling notes throughout that he turned into his rebuke the following day. Two days later, after reviewing for content and clarity, and double checking some of the facts he had included to make his points more salient, he had posted the essay.
As expected, the replies from his fellow students were supportive in nature while the administration scrambled to provide a coherent counter-argument. They wouldn’t be able to, though, and the next day at school every social group would be abuzz talking about him. Well, talking about the anonymous poster. That was enough for now. He didn’t really care about the fame aspect of it, anyway. He was genuinely tired of the school using the “children” and the “needs of the children” to justify the ridiculous financial decisions they made. He was tired of the watching them waste money that could be better used to actually support their students in meaningful ways.
Quickly closing the browser and then erasing the search history and related cookies, being careful to leave the trail of sites his mom had visited recently intact, he locked the computer and moved back to the tasks he was supposed to be doing while his mom cooked. Riding high on yet another online victory, it was easy to finish his chores.
They say to never walk alone at night and he was the reason why.
For as long as he could remember, the urges had always been there. When he was younger he was too weak, too scared, too dumb to figure out how to act upon them. As he grew older, stronger, and smarter, he figured out how to use the system of laws and regulations to his advantage, to hide within plain sight so he could then act upon his instincts without getting caught. And once he had started, it wasn’t fear of punishment that guided his hand and ensured he followed his own, strict, code to get away cleanly each time. It was the knowledge that if he were caught, he would never be able to act on his urges again. That would surely kill him.
Not that he had always been so methodical and meticulous. His first had been clumsy despite how well he had planned and prepared. But, he had gotten away with it and over the years that followed he grew calmer, more confident and improved his technics until he was flawless. As perfect as a human ever could be. Despite the monster he was, he was still human. His tastes just ran slightly askew of what society deemed acceptable.
He relished the feel of the night, the adrenaline of the hunt. He liked to watch their eyes go wide with fear and surprise. He enjoyed the power he could wield in the shadows, stifling screams with ease, taking what he wanted. He didn’t run away from his crimes like a coward once he was finished. He savored the moments and when he was done he walked away calmly, fulfilled. And then he slipped back into the cloak he had learned to wear over the years, his shield against prying eyes and ears, his beloved darkness, to wait patiently for more prey to venture his way.
They say to never walk alone at night and he was the reason why.
She bit her lip and spat the blood onto the pavement. It splashed dark red but she didn’t notice. She was already seeing red. The day had been trying. The night before had been too short and everyone and everything seemed to be against her from the moment she opened her eyes. The house had lost power at some point during the night and her alarm had failed to go off so she woke up late. She’d raced to get ready only to find there wasn’t anything in the fridge she could grab for an easy breakfast. Her stomach grumbled its protest but she didn’t have time to fix a real breakfast. It would have to wait. She’d gotten into her car only to remember and then see the glowing icon that meant she was nearly out of gas so she’d have to take the bus from the stop up the street, which was also late and full, so she’d had to stand which became nearly impossible as she was jostled by the sudden stops and starts and sharp turns the driver made navigating rush hour traffic. Then, getting off at her stop she had collided with a man. The contact had been accidental but it had been jarring enough that she’d bitten her lip. Her mouth filled with blood, she spit it out and stepped over it. She was late. She didn’t even realize she had done it.
The morning did not define her, though. Nor was it a reflection of who she generally was. Normally, she was poised and precise. And once she settled into her desk and got caught up on what she’d missed that morning she tried to regain a semblance of normalcy. Her mind, however, kept running back over the events of the night before and all the issues from the morning. Was she losing it? Why had she agreed to stay out so late? How had she not noticed the power go out? Why had she let her fridge get empty? Why had she let her gas tank also drop so low? Why hadn’t she been steady on her feet on the bus or watched her step as she got off? None of that was like her… She was too young for her mind to be slipping, wasn’t she?
Round and round her thoughts tumbled and then, in the middle of a delicate email on an important topic, her fingers froze, hovering over the keyboard. Had she spit? Had she actually spit blood onto the pavement right in front of her office? She was so distraught by the idea that she actually stood up, ready to march back to the street and see if her blood was still sitting there, splattered and dried. Then she sat back down with a little shake of her head and completed the email.
No. Going to look for the blood was definitely something a crazy person would do. She refused to be crazy. She was far too poised and precise to let her sanity slip away.