It wasn’t until near three that Nik the bartender pushed Earl to the street, telling him to get the hell out, casting the drunkard off into the night with the door’s glass shaking in the panes. He had spent the night imbibing, trading vulgar jokes back and forth across the bar with the bored bartender. The night was slow, weather and rumors keeping it quiet. Talk of bodies found hollowed out and frozen in the snow, deep red icicles flowing to the gutter. The inebriated love nothing more than a good story. They traded a few with exaggerated details and Earl’s glass was never empty. The more drinks he had in him, the more Nik laughed at the jokes or held onto his every word, the higher the tip would be and the both of them knew it. Once the call came, Nik let Earl nurse a couple more while he cleaned up, but once the bartender was ready to leave, to find his way to a warm bed, he showed Earl the door, all but kicking him on the way out.
Nothing like a Baltimore winter. The only warmth came from the cherry on the tip of his smoke and even that was dying in the cold. He shoved his hands deep into the pocket of the tattered pea coat and ping-ponged from one edge of the empty sidewalk to the other, everything in the world quiet except for his muttering.
The streets were empty, the snow free of footprints. Streetlights cast the world in halogen-yellow, reflected off the snow. Brighter than it should have been save for deep pits of darkness between the buildings where any old fiend could be waiting with a patient blade ready to shower the streets with the warmth of his blood. Earl laughed and spat at the image of his entrails steaming in the night.
Three blocks away from the flop he called home he heard it. Feet crunching into the iced-over snow a hint out of synch with his own. Could have been the sound of his steps echoing back to him, but that wasn’t it. Someone was behind him, following.
Earl stopped to pretend he needed to relight his cigarette, turning his thick neck just a bit and there was a form silhouetted under a streetlight. Nothing revealed beyond the shape, the darkness living and black inside.
It stepped closer as he turned completely to face it, seeing but uncomprehending. The form maintained its shape for the space between heartbeats. No depth. Shadow thin. Two arms and legs completely dark, an abyss swallowing the light completely.
Each step away from the light, closer to Earl, caused the shadow to grow, shifting like oil on water, sometimes human and then for a blink something different, wrong. A glint of light on its empty face where the eyes should be. Fingers like long branches reached out to Earl, colder than the surrounding night, passing through the membrane that contained his essence, slipping behind his eyes until he saw the world like the shadow did, as nothing. Earl wanted to scream but the darkness flowed down his throat, filling him with a gaping emptiness.
Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina. His debut collection of short fiction, Cienfegos, was published in early 2010 by Brown Paper Publishing. You can find him at www.Chris-Deal.com.
If you enjoyed this story, please consider making a small donation via the donations tab above. All money goes to maintaining the site and paying our authors. Or tell a friend about us. Thank you!