She knew there were no monsters.
And yet, when the lights were out, she also knew that there were.
It's why she screamed when she heard the footsteps. There was a quick flurry, someone runningno, darting, that's the way it sounded, definitely dartingand then there was a crash, glass being shattered, a piece of pipe, perhaps, swung against the ugly overhanging fluorescent light. Everything turned shadowy; the whole room was suddenly fifty percent darker than it had been. Then, almost before she could register what was happening, there were more footsteps, on the other side of the garagehow did he get over there so fast? It didn't seem possibleand another crash, another light smashed, and then it was dark. Not just darker this time, but completely dark. She couldn't see her hand right in front of her face.
It was absolutely quiet, too. Black and silent.
And suddenly there it was.
Even under normal circumstances, when things were calm, when she was tucked safely in bed, under the down-filled covers with the lights out, Maura Greer was overwhelmed by the dark. Even in her own room there was nothing she could do to stop her imagination from running wild. To stop her heart from beating madly and her throat from drying up and that thing inside her head from saying: Be afraid. Something bad is coming. Something really is there, inside the blackness. . . .
And now something really was there.
She could hear someone breathing.
She thought she was going to faint. Her whole body was shaking and, despite the freezing temperature and dankness of the garage, hot, clammy sweat was starting to drip down the back of her neck.
Maura had lived with this fear for so long. Maybe her whole life. As a child she needed a night-light. When she went away to college, got her very first apartment, she used to leave the light on in the hallway outside her bedroom. She told her roommate it was so she could find the bathroom when she woke up in the middle of the night, but that wasn't true at all. It was because the darkness terrified her. Filled her with numbing, paralyzing dread.
That's what she was feeling now. She was stuck in the underground garage of her apartment building with some madman who had shattered all the lights and was, she was positive, going to stalk her and catch her and rape her. So the dread was deep in the pit of her stomach. A physical sensation. A pain. As if she'd been injected with a drug that was quickly taking effect, moving upward from her feet, through her legs, clenching her stomach, wrapping around her throat, choking her. It's not fair, she thought. Not today. Not now. Not when, in less than an hour, her whole life was about to change. And it was going to change. She knew it. Today he was going to tell her he loved her. He was going to tell her they could be together. Finally. And she was going to comfort him and assure him that everything would be all right, and make him understand he'd made the right decision, and . . .
To her left. He was all the way to her left, maybe thirty feet away. There was a door there, leading up to her apartment building; it was the way she'd come in. But there was another way out. An easier way. The driveway. That was maybe fifty or sixty feet to her right. The metal door, the one that rolled slowly down from the tracks on the ceiling and guarded the ramp the cars came up, was shut. It shouldn't have beenit was supposed to stay open until 7 P.M. She didn't have the clicker that opened it, either. She would have, normally, but she hadn't brought her purse. He didn't like her to carry any ID when they met. He didn't want them to be seen together in public, and they always took extra-careful precautions, but he didn't want her to have any identifying papers in case anything happened, so she just took to leaving her purse and her wallet at home when she saw him. She could picture her bag sitting on the kitchen counter. And in it was the goddamn clicker. She'd thought about taking it, decided it wasn't important, she wouldn't need it, not before seven. So she left it. Her ticket to freedom sitting on the goddamn kitchen counter. . . .
Copyright © 2004 by Peter Gethers.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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