It was the sound of her footsteps, too heavy for such a slight person, the way she walked so stiffly, as if waiting for me. I suddenly had the feeling that as I passed she'd turn and I'd see her face was not young as I'd assumed, but old. The ravaged face of an old woman would stare back at me with hollowed eyes, a mouth like an ax gash in a tree.
She was just a few feet ahead now.
She was going to reach out, seize my arm, and her grip would be strong as a man's, ice cold
I ran past, but her head was lowered, hidden by her hair. When I turned again, she'd already stepped beyond the light and was little more than a faceless form cut out of the dark, her shoulders outlined in red.
I took off, taking a shortcut as the path twisted through the dense shrubbery, branches whipping my arms. I'll stop and say something when I pass her againtell her to go home. But I logged another lap and there was no sign of her. I checked the hill leading down to the bridle paths.
Within minutes, I was approaching the North Gatehousea stone building beyond the reach of the lamps, soaked in darkness. I couldn't make out much more than a flight of narrow stairs leading up to a rusted set of double doors, which were chained and locked, a sign posted beside them: keep out property of the city of new york.
As I neared, I realized in alarm, glancing up, that she was there, standing on the landing, staring down at me. Or was she looking through me?
By the time her presence fully registered I'd already run blindly on. Yet what I'd glimpsed in that split second drifted in front of my eyes as if someone had taken a flash picture: tangled hair, that blood red coat decayed brown in the dark, a face so entirely in shadow it seemed possible it wasn't even there.
Clearly I should've held off on that fourth scotch.
There was a time not too long ago when it took a little more to rattle me. Scott McGrath, a journalist who'd go to hell just to get Lucifer on the record, some blogger had once written. I'd taken it as a compliment. Prison inmates who'd tattooed their faces with shoe polish and their own piss, armed teenagers from Vigário Geral strung out on pedra, Medellin heavies who vacationed yearly at Rikersnone of it made me flinch. It was all just part of the scenery.
Now a woman in the dark was unnerving me.
She had to be drunk. Or she'd popped too many Xanax. Or maybe this was some sick teenage darean Upper East Side mean girl had put her up to this. Unless it was all a calculated setup and her street-rat boyfriend was somewhere here, waiting to jump me.
If that was the idea, they'd be disappointed. I had no valuables on me except my keys, a switchblade, and my MetroCard, worth about eight bucks.
All right, maybe I was going through a rough patch, dry spellwhat- ever the hell you wanted to call it. Maybe I hadn't defended myself sincewell, technically the late nineties. But you never forgot how to fight for your life. And it was never too late to remember, unless you were dead.
The night felt unnaturally silent, still. That mistit had moved beyond the water into the trees, overtaken the track like a sickness, an exhaust off something in the air here, something malignant.
Another minute and I was approaching the North Gatehouse. I shot past it, expecting to see her on the landing.
It was deserted. There was no sign of her anywhere.
Yet the longer I ran, the path unspooling like an underpass to some dark new dimension in front of me, the more I found the encounter unfinished, a song that had cut out on an expectant note, a film projector sputtering to a halt seconds before a pivotal chase scene, the screen going white. I couldn't shake the powerful feeling that she was very much here, hiding somewhere, watching me.
Excerpted from Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Copyright © 2013 by Marisha Pessl. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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