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September 26, 2022

Fevered Dreaming 01

By Sand Pilarski

He was everywhere. The mad, glowing eyes stared at her from every corner, every shadow. If she walked down the street, she could hear him rustling behind the hedges of the neighborhood houses, following her. When she dined out, the tablecloths barely concealed his crouching form, and people slipped and fell on the puddles of drool, profiting only the local legal offices.

Where he had come from, no one seemed to know. One day Red was skipping blithely through Central Park to take cookies to her eccentric, reclusive grandmother, her trademark hooded cloak swirling charmingly in the breeze, the next, she was a creature hounded by her stalker, finding him peering in the windows of her house, turning suddenly to see him duck behind boxes of produce at the grocer's. His appearance in the town could only mean that he had left some other place. Had he been run off by a vigilant police force for harassing some other innocent? Or was he running away from the scene of a violent crime whose particulars had not yet been revealed? At first Red thought that perhaps he had been someone she had met long ago and forgotten, but no amount of introspection brought such a memory into focus.

The first time he had approached her, he'd stepped out of the lilac bushes at the far end of the park. "What's your name, Little One?" he had inquired, grinning amiably.

"Red," she'd answered him. "What's yours?"

"My friends call me Lupe, when they call me anything at all," he replied, chuckling.

"Ah hah. Well," Red had said, walking around him to step onto her grandmother's street, "How do you do. Nice meeting you."

He'd turned and followed her. "What have you in the basket, Little Red?"

She'd picked up the pace a notch. "CD-R's for Grandma. She's writing a book and needs to back up all her documents. And a bottle of Jim Beam for her rheumatism." As soon as she'd said that, she'd felt a change in him, and had realized the wisdom of her grandmother's nagging admonition not to talk too much.

"Your poor grandmother can't get around much? So you visit her often, helping her by buying her groceries and taking her mail to the post office? What a helpful little granddaughter you are!" His voice had become tight and twittery, as though he knew a secret.

"Um, something like that. Thank you." Red had begun to sweat lightly in spite of the cool spring air. She began to mount the cement steps of her grandmother's porch. "Here I am at Grandma's! Bye-bye!"

He'd hurried up the steps and blocked her way to the door, and had begun to reach out towards her. Red had taken a step back, reaching into her basket for the Jim Beam, thinking that if he rushed her, she might be able to hit him on the head with the bottle. At that moment, the front door of the house had opened to reveal Grandma with her forty gauge shotgun.

As he had turned in surprise, her grandmother had thrust the double barrels nearly into his nostrils. "I don't care what you may think you're selling, Buddy, but we don't want any. Now get off my porch."

It had seemed like a close call, and Red was glad her grandmother had been so eagerly watching at the window for her arrival.

Since then, he had never spoken to her, but there was never a gathering of citizens, never a party, never a Sunday go-to-meeting that Red didn't see him. And he was always watching, smiling in satisfaction when she would startle at the sighting of him.

The need for constant vigilance wore on Red, and she began to lose her sunny, trustful nature. Gone were the days of sitting out on the porch to watch the sun go down and see the lightning bugs blink their merry dance in the darkness. While the sun was still high, Red double-checked the locks on the windows and the doors; she ran the air conditioning rather than risk an open window. Money that she should have spent on summer shoes went to purchase a new dead bolt, and women and girls of the town whispered behind their hands about the lack of style that Red had sunk to, wearing black shoes after Memorial Day.

"This is exactly how it all started with me," her grandmother told her one day over lunch. "You get to the point where the all the stares and scares just aren't worth it. Then you just tell everyone to get lost, have DSL installed, and order everything over the internet. If it wasn't for the fresh vegetables and the Jim Beam, I wouldn't even let you in the door."

Red's haggard appearance was noted by the townsfolk, as was the bitterness in her voice. They observed her nervous glances over her shoulders and trembling hands and concluded wrongly that she had acquired a drug habit, though she seemed too tired for cocaine yet too alert for morphine. Small children were told not to linger in front of her house, and no one wanted to invite her to their get-togethers.

Her stalker began to draw closer. Where before he had kept a discreet distance between them, now he openly followed her through the marketplace closely enough that she could hear his voice as he greeted passers-by. When she would turn to see him, he would smile, and lick his lips.

The only place in town with adequate security was the card room. Once a week, Red took twenty dollars from her checking account and splurged, playing nickel games and sipping free drinks and relaxing, knowing that the bouncer was keeping her safe. Gradually, Red became more adept at the tables, and was able to quit her day job as a telephone operator to spend her evenings safe and sound at the card room.

There came a day when she cleaned out her opponents, and held in her hands the largest wad of cash she had ever seen in one place. It was enough. She could go to the travel agency and buy a ticket to anywhere, anywhere far, far away, any place that those insane glowing eyes would not follow. She could start a new life, one that was free, perhaps even change her identity. She was angry about that; her old life was really all she wanted.

Then she saw the bouncer check his Rolex, and she knew what she had to do.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-04-30
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