Thump thump!

I hear my pulse ringing in my ears as I stumble forward, struggling to keep ahead.

Thump thump!

It’s getting closer. I can hear the footsteps behind me growing louder.

Thump thump!

I see a corner ahead, with light shining behind. The hope of safety ahead, I charge into a run. As I reach the corner, my foot catches a wet stone, and I fall to the ground.

I look behind me. It’s there!

A dark silhouette of a man, top hat and all, walks slowly toward me. I hear it breathing. It knows it’s almost got me.

Just at that, I hear a voice from the corner. “Janie, watch yourself on those steps. They’re slippery.”

I inhale, drawing all my strength, and scream.

I look back. It’s stopped. Even in the dark, I see it smile. It retreats to the shadows as the light to my side grows brighter.

I hear that voice again. “Miss, are you alright?”

I look up at his face. He is older than me, with stubble and cropped hair, but not unattractive. I shake my head, and see only black.

When I come to again, I’m lying in a bed. The blanket over me feels warm, so I’ve been here a while.

I look around the room. It’s simple, cosy; I like it. Candles flicker in the corners of the room, bathing my surroundings in a flickering light.

There’s a knock at the door.

“Come in.” I croak, struggling to find my voice.

The door opens, and a woman enters, carrying a bowl and a rag. “Are you feeling better, Miss? You’ve been asleep for some time.”

I give a weak nod. I feel so weak.

The woman gives a knowing smile. “I understand. You looked so shaken up when we found you, I don’t blame you for being a little out of yourself.” She sets the bowl down on the table at the bedside, dips the rag in, and applies it to my head. “I should probably introduce myself. I’m Janie, and it were my husband, Billy, who found you.”

“Samantha.” The word fought its way out.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Samantha, despite the circumstances.”

I force a smile, and rest my head back on the pillow. I glance out the window.

My heart skips. It’s there!

Without command, my hands grip the edges of the bed, and I pull myself up. Janie presses down on my shoulders.

“Samantha, you need to rest. You haven’t eaten in almost a full day. You need your strength.”

I hardly hear her. My eyes remain locked on the window, my hands clamped on the wood of the bed.

Janie looks over her shoulder, then back at me, a puzzled expression on her face. “What is it? Samantha, there’s nothing there.”

There is! I can see it. It’s smiling at me; a horrid, wicked smile that sets my heart racing and turns the blood in my veins to ice.

Janie looks again, then shakes her head.

It reaches up to its hat, gives a quick tip in my direction, and vanishes from sight.

My heart slows, though my hands maintain their grip.

Janie tightens her grip on my shoulders, and I relax, the comforting touch of another person working its magic.

I lean back on the bed, the warmth and comfort slowing my heart even more. In such a place, it is hard to remember the horror of the outside world.

Janie replaces the rag on my head, and the cool sensation of the water on my skin lulls me deeper. I close my eyes, and rest.

I awaken to darkness. The candles in the room have gone out, and Janie is no longer with me. I take a deep breath to steady myself as I look around, then breathe a sigh of relief. It isn’t here.

The door opens, and my saviour enters with a candle. He lights a few of those in the room, filling it with light once again, then sits on the side of the bed.

“You gave us quite a scare there, Miss. I hope my Janie’s been taking good care of you.”

I nod my head.

He smiles. “Good.”

I return the smile.

For a moment, neither of us move. Then, his smile changes. The sweetness and caring dies away, replaced with hunger and need. His eyes widen, and his hair lengthens. I look at his clothes; no longer a simple cloth outfit, now a black tuxedo. He reaches behind his back and pulls out a top hat, then places it on his head. He throws a wink at me. “Got you.” He leans in. I scream.

My eyes open to a bright room, the sun shining in the window, with Janie looking terrified by my bedside.

She looks at me with relief. “You’re awake! Thank God. You were screaming bloody murder there. I tried to wake you, but you just kept screaming.”

I feel the blood rush to my face. “Sorry if I frightened you. It was just a nightmare.”

She smiles and nods. “Given the state you were in, I’d be worried if you weren’t having nightmares.”

I allow myself a quick laugh.

She clicks her fingers. “While I remember, a man was looking for you last night. He was going door to door. I told him you were here, but you needed your rest. He just smiled, thanked me, and walked away. Was he your husband, by any chance?”

I shake my head. “I’m not married.”

She shrugged. “Well, he seemed a real gentleman, all dressed up nice.”

My heart stops in my chest. It knows where I am, now.

Janie looks at me, clearly concerned. “Samantha, are you alright?”

I shake my head. “That’s who I was running from.”

Shock fills her face as realisation hits. “My God! I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

I put a hand on her arm. “It’s okay.” I sigh. “I have to go now.”

As I try to rise, she presses me back down. “You can’t go anywhere in your condition. That’s almost 2 days now you haven’t eaten, and you’ve hardly been sleeping well. Once you’re strong enough, you can go.”

I grab her arm, surprised at my own strength. “You don’t understand. He’ll kill you. You, and your husband, and everyone else who gets between him and me.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, now. It’s the middle of the day. No one’s going to try anything like that in broad daylight. Besides, I seen this man outside. My man can take care of him.”

“He can’t.” I rise from the bed, just fighting off her attempts to push me back. “I’m not going to let you get hurt because of me.”

She tries to hold me as I walk to the door, but my determination holds.

Crash!

We both freeze at the noise. Clattering and bashing follows, with the sound of tussled footsteps downstairs.

Taking advantage of my moment of distraction, Janie pulls me back and sends me onto the bed. “Now don’t you move until I get back.”

She runs downstairs. Her voice rushes up the stairs. “Billy, what are you doing down here?”

For a long moment, everything is silent. The, I hear footsteps on the stairs.

Thump thump!

That familiar feel of terror rises from my stomach.

Thump thump!

A voice lilts up the stairs; a gentle voice screaming with hatred and hunger. “Oh, Samantha!”

I leap from the bed and rush to the window.

The voice gets closer. “You’re not trying to run away again, are you?”

I yank at the window, creating just enough space to squeeze through.

The footsteps get louder.

I push my way through the window.

As I make it through onto the slanted roof, I turn to see a head appear from the doorway. It smiles at me. “There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

I take my chance, and jump from the roof. I land well, keeping my balance. I look up.

It’s at the window, smiling.

I turn and run.

Every step I take sends a shock up my spine. I run past people, all giving me queer looks.

I run through the square, past the tavern, toward the park. It’s still early, yet. People will still be in the park.

As I approach, something doesn’t feel right. The park is quiet.

I look at the sky. It’s still up. There should be families in the park. Regardless, I keep running. I can’t turn back, so forward is my only option.

I get into the park, and freeze.

My breath catches in my throat.

The park is empty of life.

I hold myself, frozen, and try to keep my eyes from the ground.

Families everywhere, huddled in fear, never to move again.

A figure steps out from the shadows. A well-dressed gentleman, covered top to toe in black. His top hat sitting nobly upon his brow. He pulls his hat from his head, and holds it in his hand. “See what you made me do, Samantha?”

He gestures around to the scene. I refuse to look. “If you had only done as you were told, this could have been avoided.”

He takes slow, measured steps toward me. I fight the urge to run.

He smiles. “That’s better. We don’t want anyone else to die because of you, now do we?”

I shake my head.

He laughs. “Well then, let’s get on with it, shall we?”

He drops his hat to the ground, and looks me right in the eye. I spit at his feet. “You’re a monster.”

He moves to my side with inhuman speed he leans to my ear, and whispers, “And proud of it.”

I feel the skin on my neck tear, I scream, then the world turns black.

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