A couple of weeks ago, I made the grave mistake of setting my prescription glasses on the roof of my car. I forgot them there and they went for a 45 mile road-trip…or they would have, had they not fallen off in the first ten feet and gotten crushed into a dozen little pieces. Oops.
Today I finally got my new pair in. They are exactly like the old ones in every way and I am so very happy to have them again. I can see! It’s a miracle! To celebrate, I wrote a new short story using a prompt from my very favorite prompt website. I chose to write something spooky to get my creativity flowing in the right direction for the novel series I intend to pen someday soon.
Are you ready for another short story? I know I am.
This one is definitely creepy. I was going for “creepy” as opposed to down right terrifying. I wanted more build up than action, though that is rather hard to do in a short story format.
I also played a little bit with psychological creep factors, too. Personally I am easily creeped out. I can’t read creepy stories online without looking over my shoulder every six seconds for the boogie man. I can’t handle those video clips where screaming faces pop out (no, seriously, I can’t. Don’t send me one. Please.) and I can’t handle horror movies very well either. It’s a real mystery why I like writing scary things if I can’t actually stand to read them.
I picked a couple of things that would freak me out, psychologically speaking. First there is the fear of being followed by something you can’t see. Then there is the fear of being trapped with that thing, and the fear of what might happen if you close your eyes. I tossed in a tiny bit of claustrophobia (the shower scene) because I’m claustrophobic myself. Then, I wrapped it all up in a nice, creepy, supernatural bow. Supernatural things are scary to us, likely because they have no rules and cannot be predicted. As humans, we like predictable things. Anything that defies that makes us uncomfortable.
I decided to go more with psychological creep factors rather than horrorcore blood and guts because it felt more realistic. You can imagine the things in this story happening, even if logically you know they can’t, because nothing here goes so far out of the realm of possible that it jumps the shark. For me, at least, stories that incorporate bloody, over the top murders tend to get a little less scary and a little more ridiculous. Liberal addition of blood to a story does not always make it scarier!
And finally, I wanted to go with a water theme for this story. The bad guy and water are always paired up. Why? Who knows. What is the bad guy? Who knows. It’s creepier if not everything is explained.
Here’s the funny part: I wrote a creepy story about a girl who is home alone during a rain storm and…I’m home alone during a rain storm. I creeped myself out! Well done.
Coffee Shop Creep-Out
Rain came down in a thick sheet of gray drizzle, providing a monotone backdrop to life in the city. Outside it was chilly and wet, but inside the Loaded Latte coffee shop it was warm and smelled strongly of ground Arabica and steamed milk. These familiar smells comforted Grace as she sat, legs curled beneath her in a puffy chair in the back, sipping a cup of warm frothy caffeinated caramel macchiato goodness as she browsed the internet on her phone.
She came here often enough to know most everyone by face, if not by name. So when an unfamiliar man came in from the storm and gruffly ordered a cup of black coffee, no frills, she noticed. She watched him idly as he waited for his coffee, obscured slightly by a potted plant between them and a row of bar stools along the counter. He had black hair pulled into a low pony tail and sallow skin, like maybe he didn’t get enough sunlight, or had a vitamin deficiency. He was wearing a long black coat that had seen better days and his fingers were rough and ragged. A drifter, she thought, or a homeless man. And she didn’t think any more of it until the man went to sit down in a chair across the shop from her. As he sat, their eyes met, and she felt suddenly cold despite the heater vent blasting away above her.
It was a little like looking eye to eye with a shark. Like staring into a bottomless pit, knowing people had died trying to map it, knowing if you fell in no one would find you. Her hands tightened on the coffee cup in her hands. Then the man looked away, seemingly disinterested, but she had the nervous feeling that he was not done.
Too much caffeine, she told herself. Decaff next time. She turned in her empty cup and grabbed her bag to leave, choosing to go out the back door into the alley instead of crossing through the shop, past that man, to the front door. She zipped up her hooded jacket against the rain and stuffed her hands in her pockets to walk home, splashing through the puddles down the sidewalk. Ten paces later, she heard a sound behind her like someone clearing their throat. When she turned to look, there was no one close enough to have made that sound. A few young boys playing in the rain half a block away and a car idling at a red light were all the life the street had to offer on this cold, grey day.
The footsteps started a block later. Quiet at first, barely discernible over the sound of the rain all around them, but growing in intensity until she was certain, despite lack of evidence, that she was being followed. Her heart beat uncomfortably hard in her throat, distracting her from rational thought. Someone was following her home. She thought of that man at the coffee shop and his awful, lifeless eyes and she quickened her pace. Casting a wild glance behind her, she saw a dark shape disappear out of the corner of her eye and decided right that second to take a taxi the rest of the way home. She stumbled to the curb and whistled loudly. A yellow cab came to a stop in the flooded gutter beside her.
She stepped up to the door and reached for the handle. In the wet glass of the window she saw her own pale, scared reflection and, right behind it, the reflection of the dark-eyed man in the long black coat. She screamed, spun around so fast she dropped her bag, and stared blankly, heart hammering, into nothing.
No man stood behind her. The cab driver rolled down the passenger side window. “You okay?” he asked, his accent placing him as an immigrant from somewhere east of Egypt. Normally she would have thought that detail very interesting, but she was shaking so hard she could only nod mutely, snatch her sopping wet bag off the sidewalk, and pile into the cab’s back seat. She gave the man her address and spent the rest of the ride afraid to look out the windows and unable to stop.
They arrived at her apartment, a single bedroom flat in a four story building that was as wet and as cold as anything else today. She paid the man, stepped out onto the curb, and took a deep breath. “You’re imagining things,” she told herself, attempting to infuse her voice with the stern tone her mother used to use when she would insist there was a monster beneath her bed. “Nobody followed you home.”
Nevertheless, she felt eerily uneasy walking up between the buildings to the tenant’s entrance just off the street. She kept glancing around, determined not to let her guard down, determined to see this man if indeed he had followed her. Her fingers were cold and numb and not working right as she dug in her bag for her keys. Momentarily distracted, she jumped a foot in the air when a trashcan rattled a few feet to her right.
If a black and grey tabby hadn’t just ambled out into view she might have died of a heart attack imagining what had rattled the bins. “Fishes!” she snapped, and grabbed the tabby under the belly. He let out a mewling sound of dislike and hung his claws into her coat. With one last glance behind her, Grace unlocked the door and let herself into the hall, making damn sure the door locked behind her.
Still carting the tabby under one arm, she climbed the stairs to the second floor and let herself into her apartment. Once inside, she felt considerably less jumpy and a little bit embarrassed. Here it was warm and familiar and there was no creepy coffee shop man to rattle her nerves. She set Fishes down and he sauntered off, leaving her to flick on lights and adjust the heater up a notch. She scrounged in the fridge for a bottled water and sipped it, watching the rain fall, trying to shake off the feeling that someone, somewhere, was watching her, too.
“Start dinner, will you, Fishes?” she asked. The tabby settled on the back of the sofa and stared at her indolently, refusing. “Fine.” She set the water bottle on the counter and went into her bedroom, pulling off her wet coat and shoes in favor of something drier. She heard the soft buzz of the heater kicking back on and it melded nicely with the patter of the rain into a soft, comforting white noise in the background. She contemplated a hot shower, something to soothe her nerves, when she heard a sound like hell breaking loose in the next room.
Fishes was shrieking at the top of his lungs, the way cats do when something is horribly, terribly wrong. Every hair prickled on the back of Grace’s neck and she rushed to the living room in time to see the cat arched and spitting on the back of the sofa, ears flat to his skull, teeth on display, eyes wild. Her bottle of water was rolling across the counter top, spilling its contents before it fell over the edge and splashed across the kitchen floor.
It felt a lot like being struck by lightning, the way her fear returned so swiftly and so violently. Her heart was beating so hard she couldn’t breathe around it. “Shhh,” she hushed the cat, reaching shakily out to pet him. But Fishes hissed and dove off the couch, disappearing into the bedroom under the bed. Alone in the kitchen, Grace bent slowly to pick up the water bottle. It was dented in, as if someone had been a little rough with it, and she didn’t remember gripping it so tightly when she had gotten it from the fridge. She set it gently on the countertop and stood there for a long moment, trying to figure out what had happened.
Fishes knocked over the bottle, a rational voice in her head told her. But he wasn’t anywhere near the bottle, a scared little voice protested in return. She shook her head, silencing them both. Again she felt as if someone were watching her and she remembered the man at the Loaded Latte and his abyssal eyes. In a fit of paranoia most unlike her, she made sure the door and windows were locked, and barred each window with a wooden dowel so they couldn’t be opened from the outside. With one last glance around the kitchen and living room, she retreated to the back bedroom with thoughts of a hot shower and a nap to clear her head.
She undressed and stepped into a steaming shower, but the hot water and gentle massage of the shower head didn’t have the effect she had hoped. Now she felt nervous and paranoid and jumpy. And worse, she felt claustrophobic in the little shower with its opaque glass doors. Twice she thought she saw something move in the foggy glass and twice she had a mini coronary trying to see what it was. Twice it turned out to be nothing.
You’re a freak, Grace, she told herself. Shampoo foam ran into her eyes. She’d had them wide open, trying to spot the abnormal in her own damn bathroom. She closed them, forced herself not to panic in the darkness behind her eyelids, and dunked her head under the shower stream. She ran her hands through her hair, detangling it, rinsing the soap out. She began to calm down.
Then her hands felt something in her hair that was not there before. Something warm and thick and rough and before she had a chance to figure it out, she felt a man’s hard, cruel fingers twist into her wet hair and drag her head back. She had one brief, terrifying look into a pair of black eyes before the single light bulb over the sink hissed and popped, exploding glass everywhere and plunging her into darkness.
She screamed. It was incomprehensible, mindless, too-scared-to-think screaming. That man was in her shower. He was in her shower. He had grabbed her by the hair and forced her head back. She had not imagined it. She had seen his eyes. Those awful, godless eyes as black as a demon’s soul.
She flung herself out of the shower, knocking the glass door entirely off its track so that it hung askew, dribbling water out onto the tile floor. She scrambled for the bathroom door in the darkness, able to see it for the grayish light coming through the cracks at the jamb, but unable to find the doorknob in her panic. The two seconds it took her to claw helplessly up and down the door seemed to take an hour, so that when she finally found it and threw herself out into the well-lit bedroom, she was in a full blown hysteria.
Beneath the sound of her own panicked gasping she could hear Fishes hissing beneath the bed. It only served to cement in her mind that something was happening here. Something real. Not imaginary; real. Naked and sopping wet and still a little soapy, she grabbed her cell phone off the bed and dialed 911. The operator’s calm voice was greeted by a young lady fair shrieking: “There’s a man in my apartment!”
“Can you get to a safe place?”
“There a man in my apartment! He was in my shower!”
“I understand. Is he still there?” The question jarred Grace. He had to be…didn’t he? There was no window in the bathroom for him to escape through and he had not come out the door behind her. He had to still be standing in her shower. She could hear the water running as she stood, shaking, at the far end of her bedroom.
“Hello?” asked the operator.
“Is the man still in your apartment?”
“I…I don’t know.” Her voice came in a quiet, raspy, terrified whisper. She clutched her phone in her hands, trembling, watching the bathroom door through which she could only see the sink and the cabinets. He had to be standing there, just out of sight. The very idea made her heart quiver in her chest, skipping beats at random.
“Can you safely exit the apartment?” The operator’s voice sounded distant, alien, and unacceptably calm.
“I don’t know.”
“Stay calm. Try to get to a safe location while the police are on their way. What is your address?”
“Five-twenty-two North Cambridge Way…apartment number two-oh-seven.” Her voice shook. A soft electronic beep interrupted the call. Fear drenched her more thoroughly than the shower. “My phone is dying.”
“Do you have a charger? Don’t hang up the phone.”
“It’s on the other side of my bed…closer to the bathroom…I can’t…I don’t want to…” But the deafening silence on the other side of the line said that her phone had died, and the call was lost. Fear gripped her, icy and absolute, and she made a mad dash for the bedroom door. Get out of the house, she thought wildly. Run. Hide. It didn’t occur to her that she was naked.
The bedroom window slammed wide open with such force that it splintered the wooden dowel holding it shut. A harsh blast of cold, wet wind blew in, and the draft slammed the bedroom door shut just as Grace reached it. Her wet hands slipped on the door knob, trying desperately to wrench it open. It wouldn’t budge. “Please,” she sobbed, banging on the door, screaming, hoping a neighbor would hear her. “Please help me!”
She turned and pressed her back against the door, suddenly acutely aware that the man was in this room, and unwilling to turn her back to him. The room was empty, silent except for the sound of the rain outside, and filled with a cool wind that drove rain across her bedroom floor. In the vanity mirror directly across from her, she saw the man.
He stood motionless, silent, gaunt and staring with dark, haunted eyes. She saw those eyes and all reason left her. It bolted, shrieking like a banshee, and vanished out the window. With nothing left but fear and desperation, she flung herself away from the door and into her closet, climbing in among the shoes and clothing and huddling in a dark corner, as if in doing so she would be safe.
In the semi-darkness she felt a breath on her skin and tears rolled down her cheeks. “Please…” she whispered, and the words fell almost silently into nothing. She saw his eyes in the dark. They gleamed like light circling a black hole, ever drawn in, never escaping, doomed and helpless and dying. It was the last thing she remembered seeing.
The police arrived ten minutes later to find the front door locked from the inside. When no one answered, they broke it down, and charged into the apartment ready to stop something awful in progress. But all they found was a puddle in the kitchen, a very unhappy tabby cat hissing in the corner, and a lot of wet footprints on the bedroom floor. They followed the footprints to the closet where they found Grace sitting, huddled and naked, on the floor.
She seemed dazed, disoriented, and utterly unaware that the police had been called. They questioned her for an hour, but in the end they were forced to conclude that drugs must have been involved. She refused to go to the hospital to be checked out, so the police left. On their way out the front door, Fishes bolted between their legs and disappeared into the rain. He didn’t come home.
In the morning, Grace got dressed and left her apartment. The city streets were gleaming wet from the rain the previous day and dark clouds threatened an encore as she walked, purposefully, from her apartment to the Loaded Latte coffee shop. She had a five dollar bill in her pocket and nothing else. No phone, no keys, no ID.
She stepped in to the coffee shop and ordered a black coffee, no cream and no sugar, and sat down in a corner to observe the room. Kevin the barista said good morning to her and she only nodded to him. After a moment, her eyes met those of a young man sitting across the room and held them the way bear traps hold a hunter’s game. The young man gathered up his laptop and his iPad and left shortly after, and Grace stood up, discarded her half-drunk coffee, and followed him out into the gathering storm.