It was a quiet Tuesday night, but not so quiet as if you could hear a pin drop. It was more the type of quiet with the ambient sounds of one’s surroundings blending in the background that you could listen to your own thoughts. Outside, the light rain from the passing storm was subtle enough to stay an afterthought. It had been quite humid over the last couple days, so a night’s show was long overdue. The drizzle would soon end, and along with the clouds, would leave the sky clear for the stars and moon. Inside, the noises of the diner were typical diner noises; the clatter of dishes in the kitchen, the commentary from the TV, the periodic banter between the server and patrons. For a split second, everything went quiet, the rain stopped outside and the patrons inside all fell into a hushed silence. Without warning, a sudden growling sound crept in, only audible to the ears of a woman sitting in a booth next to the diner door.
She remained still. The woman looked around but no one else in the diner seemed to notice.
“Can I get you anything, hun?”
The waitress refilled the woman’s cup of tea with more hot water, slowly turning a rusty orange color as it steeped.
“No Dorris, I’m alright, thanks.”
“You sure? I bet we can scrounge up something tasty in the back. I think we got some cheesecake tucked away somewhere in the fridge.”
The woman sitting in the booth reassured Dorris. She wasn’t much older than the woman but had the caring demeanor someone much older might have.
“So, how’s that paper coming along?”
Dorris sat in the booth with genuine intrigue.
“You know, the one you been writing in here all week at God knows what time.”
“Ohhh, that! You mean the article?”
“Yeah, sorry hun. The article, how’s it coming?”
The woman in the booth was Lyanne, a junior journalist for the local news. She had been working on a story over the last couple weeks about the relatively high accounts of sexual harassment and rape claims go unaddressed. Many of these claims never garner media coverage, and eventually just become forgotten cases swept under the rug. It was a story she felt needed to be brought to the surface and talked about. Unfortunately for Lyanne, her editor saw this more as an editorial piece and thusly rejected her submission.
“It’s not happening.”
Both women seemed a bit dishearten at the news.
“So what are you working on now?”
Dorris noticed a notebook, figuring it might be her next big scoop.
“Some strange occurrences in the park, people say they’re seeing things. Couple people went missing last week apparently. Might be connected, I don’t know.”
The growling in Lyanne’s stomach from earlier returned, louder and more violent. No one seemed to notice, even Dorris in front of Lyanne. If she did, she was very polite about it. The woman’s eyes were closed, but she could make sense of the sound without having to open them. She reached down with her hands, grasping at her stomach.
“Ugh. Where’s Joel?”
As if being called on cue, the diner door swung open and a man in a jacket and red hoodie walked in. From the look on Lyanne’s face, Dorris could tell she was waiting for someone, but that wasn’t him.
“Hey, lemme just get you some of that cake!”
“It’s okay, Joel’s bringing food.”
Dorris looked at Lyanne with a friendly stern look.
“Is that okay Dorris?”
“Yeaaah, just this time, alright!”
Dorris got up. “Gotta go earn that paycheck hun.” Standing up, she gave a wink back at Lyanne.
She then proceeded to the man in the hoodie who had just entered, now sitting by the counter, brushing off water droplets from his jacket.
“Hey, darling what can I get for you?”
Not long after that, another gentleman, similarly wet as the previous patron entered the diner, except he carried with him a paper bag that seemed to carry a strong aroma with it. As he stood shaking off the wetness, the smell of chinese food filled the place.
Lyanne called out, waving her hand summoning him over to her. He quickly plopped into the booth seat placing the bag onto the table. Before Joel could get a word out, Lyanne beat him to the punch.
“Oh my god, what took you so long!? Nevermind. What’d you get?”
She looked at him with disdain, his sarcasm was ill received as her stomach growled.
“What CHINESE food did you get?”
She asked in a more serious, none playful tone. Joel’s demeanor quickly received the message and abruptly responded.
“General Tao chicken on rice for you”
Joel handed the Styrofoam box labeled “Lyanne” to the woman before reaching deep into the to-go bag for his.
“And Shanghai noodles for me”
Lyanne and Joel had worked this hour many times before, becoming regulars at the local 24 hour diner. It was conveniently located next to a Chinese food restaurant, which was not as famous as their name suggested, but famous enough to cater to people working late or just up and about, getting cravings at this hour. It was really the perfect location, after all, the area had 3 shops open at this hour, along with a shawarma place a few streets over. It was a good place to go after a long long day at work. Aside from being a quiet place to have a late night bite to eat, it was also on the way home for Lyanne and a few blocks over for Joel, who was the one that showed her the area. Lyanne was fairly new to the station but was eager to get her break sooner than later. Joel, a camera guy at the station was more content than his ambitious counterpart, was tagging along for the ride mainly because he had a crush on Lyanna since she began working with Channel 8’s late night news team. At least that’s what Lyanna suspected. She didn’t exactly run from the idea, she did flirt with him from time to time, sometimes thinking if she was taking advantage of his kindness to accompany her on these late nights.
“How’s the research going?” Joel said in between slurps of noodles. “The weather kinda sucks, we could just call it quits early and watch a movie at my place.”
“No, I think tonight, I should finish this write up I’m working on. Also need to do some extra research on some stuff too.”
Joel knew what that meant. It was looking like another late night of scanning through news articles. Lyanne always had this suspicion that there was a story out there in the city to find. She just needed to go get it because she was tired of waiting for it to come to her. She’d been “searching” for her big break, that one story, for weeks now and Joel keeping her company had little to show for it except for a pair of eye bags and the constant need for coffee. Not Lyanna though, she never drank coffee. Joel would have suspected her of being a vampire had it not been for the fact that they worked mornings. Ooohh, how Joel hated mornings. But he noticed Lyanna always seemed chipper whenever she came to the office. “Yup, definitely not a vampire” he thought, glancing at his partner. Plus, she wasn’t feeding on blood.
After a few more sips of her tea, Lyanne sat back in the booth and looked out the window. She was looking for something, anything, on what was going on around the city. Something that might lead her to the story she was searching for. The surroundings started getting stale, like her old cold cup of tea now. The same people she’d been used to seeing all week working in the diner. The patrons all looked similar. As she surveyed the tables, her gaze stopped at the man in the red hoodie. He was sitting across the diner facing the booth Lyanne sat at. This wouldn’t have bothered her had it not been for the fact he stared right at her. His gaze stone cold without moving. He stared with such a focus, it was as if he was trying to look through her. The man must’ve been lost in a trance, because as soon as he felt Lyanne notice his stare, he immediately looked down at his cup of coffee.
Looking at his watch, Joel threw out a yawn, no longer trying to hide his tiredness. His arms stretched out. Had it not been for Lyanna, he’d be either at home gaming on his couch in front of his TV, or passed out and fast asleep on said couch. Iit was about 11 o’clock. Although it clearly read 11:12pm on his wrist, Joel always set the time on his clocks and watches about 10 minutes in advance. He liked to leave himself time for anything, whether that was to be caught in traffic, to grab some coffee, or just his general laziness that lead him to be 10 minutes late. This would have been a great idea had it not been for the fact that he was the one that set these times, thus he usually knew he had about 10 minutes to spare. He might have been late more often than early because of this actually.
This sudden train of thought that had passed through Joel’s mind must have lingered longer than he’d have liked because Lyanna somehow caught on. Perhaps it was the yawn. Perhaps it was the fact that he’d now been staring at the clock for the better half of a minute, without an attempt at being subtle. Or, most likely, perhaps it was the fact that she could see it in his eyes. The same eyes that fought to stay awake. His neck also seemed to carry the burden of his head, and could barely hold on. He jerked awake as his head twitched. Lyanna laughed as Joel’s eyes widened to the size of golf balls, trying to pretend to not have fallen half asleep.
“It’s okay Joel, go home. We’ll do this another time.”
He shook his head.
“I’m fine. I’m fine”
Seriously, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything worth staying up for tonight. Let’s call it an evening and you can get to your bed… Or your games. Lyanne smirked.
Joel smiled back at her comment. It wasn’t like Lyanne to be anything but serious. So a bit of playful banter was a pleasant surprise. They had spent several long nights together that a slow friendship was bound to develop. It was especially pleasant that Lyanna’s began to take on a similar sense of humor of Joel’s sarcasm.
As much as he wanted to be at home, bundled up in his tiny apartment, he did want to keep Lyanne company. And as much as Lyanne wanted to move up her news career ladder, she didn’t want to exhaust Joel. She could see the fatigue in his stare.
As unsure as he was to call it quits for the night, Joel offered to take Lyanna home as they cleaned up and put on their coats. Lyanne left some money for the tea and a tip. She raised her hand behind the counter and the kitchen to thank Dorris as they got to the door.
“No, don’t be silly, we’re opposite directions from eachother. You’ve walked me home all week, with no one around and nothing to worry about. I’ll be fine for one night. Besides, I like the time to think.”
“Alright, fine. But here, take this.”
Joel handed her his umbrella.
It’s a bit more of a walk for you, and I’m not too far. It’s still drizzling a bit, try not to get sick.”
They left the diner. Lyanne felt uneasy as she smiled back at Dorris for some reason.
Outside, the rain was lightly falling. She popped open the umbrella in front of Joel and hugged him. They said goodnight and walked in opposite directions. Lyane stopped, calling to Joel and thanked him. Naturally, he wanted to say it was no problem. But for some reason, he blurted out “what for?”
“Just for being there”
She smiled and turned again to continue walking. He smiled back and waited to see if there was anything else. He waited until she crossed the road until he himself turned and made his way home..
The rain was still drizzling when Joel walked off. Lyanna had waved him goodbye, and watched him turn the corner out of sight from the other side of the street. She looked at her watch. 12:18. She wasn’t tired, certainly not as tired as her partner had been. She pulled back the umbrella and looked up at the night sky, feeling the condensation on her face and took a deep breath in. The smell of the night was enchanting, inviting even. She held out her hand, feeling the drizzle pick up. She returned the umbrella and continued walking.
She enjoyed walks at night. The neighborhood wasn’t the safest but Lyanna grew up in the area and knew how to take care of herself. She liked walking empty streets to help herself think things through. Her mind was as clear as the streets were.
She walked by familiar roads earlier from the night, passing by closed shops and restaurants along the way. She passed by the Chinese restaurant that was open late, still heavy with the aromatic scents of fried food filling the street just outside the front doorway of the shop. She passed by smiling at the front cashier who had just tended to yet another late night, early morning customer.
Further down, Lyanne approached the city park. Tall trees peaked over cement walls; their branches were relatively bare, the result of a late spring. Lyanne paused to stare at the moon and stars from between branches dripping with condensation, it was quite a pretty sight. Pretty enough, that Lyanne felt compelled to take a picture of it and share it on her social accounts. She reached in her coat pocket for her phone, only feeling old receipts and some napkins. She must’ve left her phone at work. There was no way to get it now. She would have to wait until she was back at the office in the morning. She let out a sigh of dismay and proceeded on her walk.
Rounding the block, Lyanne found the entrance to the park. The path was lit just enough to guide one on their way, but not quite bright to be as inviting to most. Lyanne was not most people, and quickly followed the path inside the park. She knew this wasn’t the smartest thing to do, being that it was quite late and she was walking alone in a not so populated area of the city. But something almost instinctive called out to her, something in her gut. And growing up, she was always told to follow her gut. Lyanne held her umbrella closer, despite the rain actually subsiding, took a breath and ventured onto through the dim park grounds.
It was a cool stroll through. The rain had stopped completely, allowing Lyanne to collapse her umbrella and carry it next to her. The clouds finally retreated leaving on the moon and stars to cover the sky. There were old timey street lamps illuminating the walkway which she found to be charming. They didn’t take away from the night’s ambiance, but only added to magic. There were crickets in the background making noises and other miscreants shuffling about causing her ears to perk up from time to time. The feeling of ease began to leave Lyanne as she approached the lake in the middle of the park. A silence breaking noise, not like the ambient sounds of nature, startled her. It wasn’t very loud but it was audible to Lyanne. Her stomach had growled causing the excitement.
“Must’ve been the Chinese.”
Her nerves settled again, approaching a park bench near a lamp post. She sat, overlooking the lake. The reflections of light bounced off the lake like a distorted mirror. She could see ducks floating, as if they needed the same clear night to empty their minds as Lyanne did.
The wind began to pick up, creating small waves in the water. The ducks began swaying and moving out of their own power, being carried where the waves willed them. She marveled at the ducks unmoving despite the changes to their surroundings. Instead, they moved with the water, allowing themselves to literally go with the flow. They didn’t stress about losing control or having things out of their hands, they just let it all come to them. This was her revelation Lyanne decided. She would at this point on let everything come to her, she wouldn’t force anything. Not with work, not with dating, not with family. Nothing. She had been fighting all her life, and it was now, in the darkness, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of the night, she would just let things happen and unfold however they may.
Amidst her realization and decision to finally let go, she felt an unnerving feeling return. It was that unsettling feeling again deep in her gut. Her stomach made noises, but she wasn’t hungry. At least she didnt think so.
“What is your gut saying? What is it saying?”
She began talking to herself. Or maybe she was imagining talking to herself. Lyanne wasn’t sure anymore. Her feelings felt as if they were suddenly on overdrive, hearing things that may or may not have been there. Her own voice was made louder due to the silence that surrounded her. Bushes in the distance seemed to rustle more, not with the wind, but against it. She began smelling scents that weren’t pleasant. She no longer fixated on the smell after a storm, or the scent of Chinese food. It was a more intrusive smell, one that she was not accustomed to. It smelled like wet dog for some reason.
There was a sudden rustling of leaves. She convinced herself it was the wind, although the stillness of the water would have said otherwise. She no longer felt as calm as her surroundings, it was time for her to leave. She grabbed the umbrella she had set next to her on the park bench and began walking the way she came, back towards the path.
The lights were still on, except for the one that forked. That light now seemed to be flickering, which did not give Lyanne any sense of security. She could see it in the distance, growing large as she approached. All the security and confidence that had filled her at the begining fo the night escaped her now. She could feel something different. Almost like a presence.
Lyanne’s hearing was now being flooded with noises that were undoubtedly louder in her head than the sounds that could actually be heard in the park. Everything was exaggerated. She could her every animal and insect. But the noises that didn’t belong, those were the loudest. She could swear she could hear the sound of footsteps behind her. Ones that kept pace with her own. When she stopped, so did they. When she picked up her pace, the footsteps danced at the same beat. What was just as unnerving, if not moreso, Lyanne could swear she could hear the sound of someone breathing. It was a heavy breathing, almost animalistic, almost predatory. They say you can smell fear, Lyanne was almost certain she knew what that meant now.
Getting closer to the break in the path, the light maintained a constant glow, giving Lyanne some relief from her anxiety. The footsteps seemed to stop and the smell faded from the immediate vicinity. She took a minute to pause. Her mind was racing. “What was going on, was there real cause for concern here or was this all in her head?” She now stood next to the light post, safe in the light that surrounded her. It was difficult to make out everything outside the visible circle however. As soon as she found herself calm again, still looking towards the direction she had come from, Lyanne decided it was time to move.
At this point the wind was picking up, it had gotten colder and the moisture on the trees fell off, flying sideways. She could feel the droplets mimicking a light rainfall from earlier in the night. Her eyes now adjusted again to the dark with the lamppost in the background. For some reason, she felt more confident now in the darkness than in the light. It was as if in the light, she was a target.
She grew yet again aware of her senses as they picked up on familiar feelings. The noises returned, footsteps again, but she wasn’t afraid. The scent returned, she was well aware. There was an underpass she had to walk through before she’d arrive at the exit of the park. The footsteps picked up pace. She did the same, clutching her umbrella tightly. It was now as if she could hear the other’s breathing as well. She could see the small bridge ahead. Then, as if out of nowhere, the footsteps stopped. There was no time to pause as she could feel the anxiety build up in her gut. She just wanted to be out of the walls of this maze. She wouldn’t be home, but she would know she would feel better.
The blackness of the underpass was contrasted by the light of the moon, which now was bare from clouds and free to aid her eyesight with clarity. She felt safer than before as she approached. She slowed down as she drew nearer, stopping completely right before it. She looked inside, but could see nothing distinguishable in the utter blackness. She reached out her hand, seeing if she could feel anything, hoping to feel nothing. She watched her hand swallowed by the shadow while bracing with fear. And a second later, with the appendage lingering, she thought it safe to proceed. She could see the other side of the underpass, a bit of light providing just enough hope to get her home. It wasn’t too far, but far enough to hold unknown terror.
Suddenly, from behind Lyanne, she heard a voice yell out.
Lyanne made a dash straight on through. If she could she would have closed her eyes. But they remained open, fixed on the other side. Her footsteps echoed as if someone chasing her. She never acknowledged the sounds. She grew closer and closer to the exit. She let out a momentary sigh of relief out.
Then she stopped. Dead in her tracks.
There was a silhouette. A man stood, just outside the tunnel, undoubtedly staring into where Lyanne stood. He raised his hand, and with the flick of his thumb, illuminated the dark tunnel. His lighter revealed the face of the man from the diner. The hooded figure stood and stared in Lyanne’s direction. Her breathing was heavy and she could hear it. She held her breath immediately, hoping the man standing outside wouldn’t be able to hear. She stood frozen, unsure what to do now. The man began walking towards her.
“You shouldn’t be out here by yourself. It’s dangerous this time of night”
Lyanne swallowed, feeling her throat dry. Sweat dripping down her temple, she slowly walked backwards, her arm outstretched to the side to keep a sense of her direction. She kept an eye on the man. She felt a break in the wall, and immediately slipped into it, hoping to hide herself.
Suddenly the man’s pace picked up. His voice grew louder in the darkness, echoing down the path.
“I can help you. Just come with me. I’ll take you home.”
It was quiet, not even breathing. There was no response.
The man continued forward, creeping his way to where Lyanne was.
“Where are you?”
The last word of that phrase lingering, as if to push as sense of fear onto his victim. He reached the wall where the crack was. He could hear the breaths. A smile stretched across his face. He stopped.
“Are you scared yet?”
It went quiet. The breathing stopped except for the hooded man. He held his lighter up and turned to face Lyanne standing in the corner, her eyes fixated on him with no fear, but with an intensity he had never before witnessed.
She looked at him with a stone cold, devious stare. Her eyes glowing bright amber.
“I’m not the one wearing red in this story little girl”
The man raised his lighter to her face as his own expression changed to own filled with horror. Lyanne looked at him, and smiled, a mouth full of fangs.
Lyanne arrived to her apartment, closed the door, turned the lock and put the latch on. She hung her coat on the rack in the walkway, propped her umbrella against the wall and took off her shoes. She made her way across the room and woke her laptop from its sleep. Still open was an email she’d been working on. It was the article for the newspaper, addressed to her editor but not yet sent as it lay in the saved folder. She took a quick glance at it, titled, Mysterious Murder in the Park.
Lyanne smiled, wiping blood still left from the side of her mouth, and hit SEND.