You see now. I didn’t know it would be like this. Who in their right mind would have ever taken it on had they known?
I didn’t know the thing would follow me here. I thought I was safe from its nose, always sniffing the wind and watching for movement, any movement. I hid in plain sight and moved slowly, so as not to call attention. After awhile, it had been so long I assumed I was forgotten. Wouldn’t you have? Years went by and the signs all pointed to the same thing-I was safe. No longer a hunted thing, of no particular interest to the one who watched.
What would you have done? I couldn’t stop living forever.
Man, was I wrong. Of course I was wrong. These things don’t forget, they never just quit. That would be like losing and one thing’s for sure, winning is everything. I’d given up the idea of that long ago, had settled for survival, but then I’d gotten tired of that and reached for something more.
I guess I forgot myself and who I’d been. I bought into the idea that freedom was my birthright, once I’d had a good taste of it myself. And you know, it is. But dance with the Devil just once, and you might have a hard time ever convincing him and his ilk that you are your own, ever again. They wait.
I’d danced to that darkness once, alone I thought, but of course I was not alone when my eyes opened in that dark. The thing was right there beside me, his hand sliding up my dress. It reminds me now of the one time I fell asleep at the wheel and eyes open, drove clear off the road. I guess I’d have to say I wasn’t really asleep, but in a kind of hypnosis. Leaving the road, I willed myself back at the last moment, but found it hard to resist the sweet slide to oblivion. Like the overwhelming urge to sleep, the drift insisted that I just let go.
The dance was the same-a demand to let go and just drift where it took me. Kind of hard to explain now, but if you know what I mean then there’s no need anyway. Once you’ve felt it you need no description. The only sane reaction is to jerk yourself away before being swallowed by a tree or embankment or the devastation of a car wreck. Sometimes there’s no going back fast enough, and it’s too late. Me, I’d just get the willies whenever I thought about how close I’d come.
Ah, but enough of my mixed up analogies. The point is, I got away with my life and after the heart-pounding stopped I was really careful for a while. A long while, in fact. Eventually I got braver and took some risks. I wasn’t such a secret. I let the world in. I bought a business and one day had a business card and then I was on TV and everybody knew my name. Well, I know it wasn’t everyone, so what could the harm be? No one was watching anymore, right?
Besides, the name wasn’t quite the same name then, and who watched the local news channel but local people?
It started with the one I called Cowboy. He materialized beside me in the quiet part of the day, and left me the sound of spurs though he wore no boots. Afterwards, I went about my business, focused on the work, and tried not to think about it too much.
A month or so later, when I’d nearly forgotten, I found myself in conversation with a young man who wore mirrored shades like that other. A different guy altogether, so I’d thought. At some point I realized he’d just stopped talking altogether and was staring deep into my eyes. I felt a lurch in my stomach and a chill when I knew I’d stared right back. Not out of any kind of man-woman thing on my part, but like a rabbit stays still when finally cornered, staring at certain death. The young man breathed in time with me, then smiled wide and showed a pointed tooth. I almost fell backward and wanted to run but could not.
“You have a nice day now, Ma’am” was all he said then, not breaking eye contact, and slowly backed up before turning away and showing me that he walked on hooves.
Was I imagining this? Had my mind finally broken? I most certainly had done some damage to myself somewhere, what with the life I’d once led. Maybe I’d finally lost my grasp on reality.
But I knew it wasn’t true. Things were insane, this was insane, but it was real. I was going to have to deal with it; somehow I was going to have to find a way to not go crazy.
I did what I did the first time. I went back to work. I smiled, made money, looked like I was supposed to look. I looked good. At least good enough to look like I belonged where I was.
Summer came. I’d always liked summer best. Everything’s more relaxed and I’m not cold all the time. I like driving, and I like to put the window down. I didn’t miss the bad weather. I’d been out looking for treasures and trying to keep cool, and my guard was down, like before.
He wasn’t there when I pulled into that gas station. And I know the sound of a Harley Davidson as well as I know anything. But then he was there, astride the big hog, across the drive from me. He was next to the gas pump, though I knew he wouldn’t get any gas. And he was grinning.
His voice came across silky smooth and honeyed in my ear, while he still sat grinning across from me without saying a word.
“Yes” I smiled. Why was I smiling? I knew it was wrong, but I was scared so I smiled. Girls are dumb that way.
“Why don’t you get out of that truck and come have a seat? We’ll go for a ride.” The warmth dripped off him in waves.
“No thank you” I whispered. The sound of his voice filled my head. His lips hadn’t moved but for the smile. I looked towards the highway and stared, cold all over though it was at least 100 degrees. Maybe I could just drive away and not get stopped for taking the gas nozzle with me. It was taking forever.
Now he was in my face, still on the silent bike. His face was in my window. How had he gotten so close?
“Just get on.” Grinning. A tiny fleck of saliva at the corner of his smile.
I don’t know if I said no, if I whispered it, screamed it, or only thought it. It didn’t matter; he could hear me and he could smell my fear. Still his smile could melt butter.
This time I’d said it aloud and I wasn’t smiling; I’d said it strong.
He tilted his head like a beguiling child might, all charm and wistfulness, even looked a little hurt, and said “Well Honey, you don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Yeah, I do” my mind spoke. And like that, he was in my ear again, only this time it hurt, each word like a blow; “Get. On. The fucking bike.” I turned towards the right, the passenger side, the side my ear was hurting on, and he said there from the seat, “Last chance.”
I didn’t know what it meant, what last chance I drove away from, but I watched him ride off away from me too, heard the bike’s roar, at the same time he spoke from the passenger seat. A tail brushed the gearshift and I flailed at it in terror, a live snaking thing that didn’t belong there. And then there was nothing there at all, no one beside me now. And no one was watching and no one had seen a thing. I could hear the bike circling the block and wondered if he would come back for me. I knew no one would think a thing if he came back and cornered me, not in this neighborhood. But I also knew he didn’t have the need; he’d made his point. He’d find me.
So, you see. I would never have started this had I known it would come. I really did believe I was safe. I’d survived the dance and got really strong but I never guessed at what didn’t get undone. And I knew I had to stop waiting, it was crazy to keep waiting when that shit had all stopped for so long. It was time to start living again. What I didn’t know was that IT waits, and can outwait me.
I’m sorry I dragged you into this. I really wish I could pretend it wasn’t happening, but I’d be lying. Maybe if we stood together I’d have a chance, but I wouldn’t blame you if you split. Knowing what I know, I would.
Then again, you haven’t left me yet. Maybe it’ll get tired of chasing me after all. And maybe, just maybe, Ill be stronger than I think.