I met him on the stairs. I was on my way from the bus station to the main city square on the other side of the road. The raw air was biting my cheeks, and I pulled my scarf farther up to my chin, burying my face in it while tensing my neck and shoulders, wanting to disappear into my winter coat. I quickened my pace towards the stairs leading down to the darker, but far less windy underground passage. I wanted to get home and into my warm bed as quickly as possible.
By the first two steps I realized I was being watched. An obscure shape of a man was leaning against the railing on the corner ahead. As I got closer, I could make out a dark hoodie, a cap casting shadow over his face, and in his hand something swiftly reflecting in the lights from a naked, fluorescent bulb hanging deserted on a nearby wall. I hesitated as I heard the sound from the bus’ motor fade away, the noise from the traffic fading in the gloomy, bleak night. I was alone. We were alone. I shivered, trying to make myself even smaller behind my scarf and coat as I kept going, feeling the reassuring grip around my cell inside my right pocket; down the stairwell, down into the deep quiet, almost brushing the man’s shoulder as I passed by. I stopped breathing. Nothing.
In the dim, wavering light, I could barely discern the white tiles on the floor, and the colourful spray paint covered walls were now only depicting vague traces and murky patterns. My breath appeared as smoky clouds in front of me, disappearing in the air like ghosts. There was still further to go, and I turned corners and passed broken light bulbs in a hurry, like a lab rat in a maze below the city grounds. The sound of my footsteps resonating in the tunnel walls only made me feel more alone.
I stopped short and turned, eyes darting from wall to wall, but twinkling lights and bodiless shadows was the only sight that met me. A little angry with myself for being so easily startled, I let my shoulders fall.
“Keep it together, Emma,” I thought, “It was probably noth.. Dammit!” My hand flew to my right pocket, only clutching the empty space inside it. My phone was gone.
Squinting to see in the scarce light I bent down to look for it, but then I heard something else: muffled footsteps. Not going fast nor slow, but in the uneven pace of someone without aim or destination. I tensed to listen, and as on cue the footsteps quickened, coming closer, closer… Alarmed, I whirled around, heart pounding in terror. I was too late.
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