David Rasey

The January Editor's Pick Writer is David Rasey

Please feel free to email David at: radarrider1701@yahoo.com

David Rasey

by David Rasey

Cassie was almost through running and she knew it, but she ran anyway.

The streetlights gleamed on the rain-wet pavement. The air was warm and moist and close. A gentle wind pulled the clouds to tatters, showing glimpses of a yellow-orange moon. The swishing of the occasional passing car in the next block over was not much louder than the chirping of crickets, and the clicking of Cassie’s shoes on the sidewalk was louder than both. A few security lights glowed from the odd store fronts, but other than Cassie, nothing moved in the two a.m. dark. Still, she knew that somewhere behind her, other feet were tapping along the grave-cold sidewalks, never changing their pace or rhythm.

Cassie scanned the street again without much hope. Everything was closed up tight and, as usual, there wasn’t a serviceable champion to be found when she really needed one. She crossed the street at an angle, straining her eyes for a little more distance. A block and a half up was an island of blue-white light that might, maybe, offer some temporary shelter. She hoped so. There was a deep, burning pain in her right side and the muscles in her legs had a strange, quivery-loose feel. Her lungs burned with every breath and her heart was pounding like a runaway machine. She slowed to as fast a walk as she could manage.

She wondered how far behind her the smiling man in the gray suit was. In her mind’s eye, she could still see his soft, mocking smile, and chills scattered down her back in spite of the summer heat. She wished again that she’d had presence of mind enough to grab her cell phone as she ran out the back door of her apartment. She hadn’t realized she’d forgotten it until she was almost a block away. Too late now; she didn’t dare go back for it until she was sure she’d shaken that, that spook, off her trail.

The lights ahead had the indefinable but unmistakable look of a parking lot. She sent up a silent prayer that it was an all-night convenience store, one with a clerk who was young, dumb, and homely; one who could be convinced by a quick sad story, some tears (and a few accidentally-on-purpose peeks down her blouse) to let her use his phone to make a call and “lend” her the price of cab fare across town. She hated doing that kind of thing, but this was no time to stand on pride. She had to use what she had. It was either that, or be caught by the smiling man.

She reached the lights. Her heart lifted when she saw it was indeed a convenience store, and fell again when she saw it was dark. For a moment, irritation outweighed her fear. These places used to be open around the clock, but since the economy had tanked, even convenience stores couldn’t be relied on anymore. She walked up to it, conscious for the first time that her feet were swollen and every step hurt. She slumped for a few moments against the brick wall, unable to go any farther. A fatalistic numbness fell over her. Maybe she would just wait for the smiling man, let him come and put his hands on her shoulders and turn her around and smile into her eyes and then… Oh, and then

“No!” she pounded a fist against the wall. “No, no, no! Maybe that son-of-a-bitch will catch me, but I’ll be damned if I’ll just give myself to him!” She pushed away from the wall and started walking – tried to walk. She could only manage a kind of drunken lurch. Her legs were giving out. After a few moments, she did better. If only she could get something to drink and rest just for a few minutes, five maybe, she could run some more and perhaps get to somewhere safe…

Cassie had gone a little over three more blocks when she heard shoes clocking and tocking along the pavement somewhere behind her. Black shoes, she knew, so glossy they looked like liquid glass, shoes as black as the soul of the man wearing them, shoes that would stop only when they had finally run her to ground. She looked around, biting her lip and drawing thin blood, unaware of it. There was an alley on the opposite side of the street. Boxy shapes showed in the dim light that fell a little way into it. She staggered across the street. The smell coming from the alley was almost sickening, and she could hear the rustle of stray cats (she hoped they were cats) in the debris piled along the sides of the passage. She took a deep breath and plunged in, leaving the light behind within five steps. There was a dumpster, and beside it an unsteady stack of boxes. She slipped around behind the boxes and crouched down, wincing as her knees made loud pops. She fought to slow and silence her breathing so she could hear.

The steady footsteps grew in volume, coming along the other side of the street. Now they were crossing over to her side. Now coming along the sidewalk, sounding almost casual, despite their relentlessness.

The crickets stopped chirping.

The footfalls approached the mouth of the alley, coming closer, slap and tap, and closer still, clip and clop… And passed on, never pausing, never slowing, clicking and ticking and clocking and tocking, a metronome tread never ceasing to mark time, mark days, mark seasons and years and walk down lives in shoes that would stride the strange, starlit streets of the world until the end of time.

The sound of those awful steps moved away, softening with distance and fading with time and finally, finally, were lost below the resuming chorus of the crickets. Cassie stood up, clamping her lips against a groan of pain as her abused muscles threatened to cramp. She imagined herself walking out of this smelly hellhole, turning left out of the alley, heading for home and waiting there for daylight to make nonsense of this whole insane night. She couldn’t make her feet move at first. At last, she shuffled out of the alley, blinking against the glare of the streetlights in her dark-adapted eyes. She turned and started back the way she had come, wondering if she could get a lift somehow.

Cassie felt she would give anything she owned for one cup of coffee, maybe with a little brandy tipped into it, and a hot shower followed by twelve hours of sleep. And then just forget this whole night ever happened, forget the smiling man in the natty gray suit. Forget the thing he’d brought to her door and held out to her like a poisoned gift, that glittering black glass globe that was as glossy as his patent-leather shoes, a black-hole orb that had seemed to stare at her like a malignant eye. It had struck such instant and all-consuming terror and revulsion into her that she’d fled screaming before it. Just forget that, forget everything, and go back to her life, already in progress. Forgetting was easy for Cassie. It always had been. It was her hobby, almost. She wouldn’t tell a soul and she could make it just never have happened.

An impulse made Cassie turn and look over her shoulder. Beneath a streetlight at the end of the block, she saw the silhouette of a man-shape. Though it stood still, she had the impression it was laughing at her. In one of his hands, she could see the glint of the glimmerglass ball. For a moment, a numb fatalism possessed her, and her traitorous feet took two shuffling steps toward it. Give up, give over, go to him, a ghostly voice seemed to whisper in the air before her.

She closed her eyes and summoned a last bit of desperate defiance. “No!” she croaked. “Never! Never ever! Fuck you!” Her voice rose to a scream. “You want me, motherfucker, you’ll have to catch me!” She opened her eyes, then turned and fled as fast as she could in the opposite direction. Her rage powered her along for another two blocks before her legs simply gave out. She could run no more. She leaned against an office building, panting, using all her will to stay standing. When she felt under control again, she straightened and looked up and down the street. It was empty.

“Thank God,” she whispered. “Thank you, God! Please, just let me get home now, and I swear I’ll do anything! I’ll change! I promise! Just get me home and let me rest, and don’t ever let me see that… That… Oh God, please! Help me!” She listened for that horrid footfall and heard only crickets. Her legs were still burning, and her heart was still pounding, but she thought she could make it a ways now and find some help—

A hand landed on her shoulder.

She tried to scream as the hand, gentle and irresistible, stopped her and pulled her around. Her breath stuck in her throat. The turn-about seemed to occur in ultra-slow motion. She had all the time in the world to feel the air on her skin, see the light glittering on the mica specks in the bricks of the building next to her, to see that dreadful smile leering out from below the brim of a fedora hat. Eyes shone out from the shadows cast by the hat. In his other hand, the smiling man still held the black glimmerglass ball.

“Hello, Cassie. And so the game ends, and so we meet again,” the smiling man said. His voice was like his suit, smooth and gray and soft. He held the ball up. “Look what I’ve brought you, Cassie. Do you know what this is?”

“N-n-no, I… I don’t… P-please, just let me g—“

“It’s your life, Cassie,” the man overrode her. “It’s all of you, the very essence of you. Here are all the lies you’ve told and people you’ve thrown to the wolves to get ahead, here are the men you’ve used and broken. Here are the friends you gossiped about and laughed at and snitched on to impress your way into the best circles.”

His smile widened into a grin, showing teeth for the first time, teeth that were razor-edged and metallic. Cold radiated out from that grin, making her blood seem to freeze solid and her heart turn into a thumping block of ice. His eyes glowed with a soft, sickening green-black light. “And most of all, lest we forget, here is your child. Do you remember her? Do you ever think about… But of course not. You’ve forgotten her. That’s okay, here she is, in your glass. Here is the little girl you abandoned so as not to slow up your career. You’ve forgotten them all. This is every minute you’ve pushed away, every nasty thing you’ve made yourself forget. I’ve brought them all here for you.” His hand clamped tight on her shoulder.

“No, please, don’t,” Cassie whispered. “I don’t want that! I don’t want to remember any of it! Please don’t make me remember!”

He touched the ball to her forehead, light as a kiss. “Those who forget the past, Cassie, are doomed to repeat it.” His smile faded by degrees and his expression became stern, hard, dead. “Repeat it.”

The ball grew translucent, transparent, and soaked into her skin like water into a sponge. Cassie gave a sick moan. Images of her life, all her life, every second of it, flooded her mind. Uncountable memories flew and whirled in her mind in a jack-straw confusion. They crashed in on her consciousness like a wrecking ball, overwhelmed and drowned it. Conscious thought fled forever, banished by ever-cycling memories. Cassie cried out, a high keening sound of loss and despair, the last deliberate sound she would make in her life. She slumped against the building, her face as blank as that of a department store dummy, and slid down to sit on the sidewalk.

The man in the gray suit watched her for a long time. Her breathing was slow and steady. Her eyes stared at nothing. He bent down and blew in her eyes. She did not blink, or betray any awareness of his act. He straightened, still smiling. He took off his hat, reached into it, and drew out another black ball. He stared into it for a long moment, then nodded and put his hat back on. He turned on his heel and walked away, his footsteps ticking and clicking into the far distance until they were drowned by the unending chirp of the crickets.

David Rasey lives and works in upstate New York, in the hometown of Rod Serling, and is often called upon for his talent as a Rod Serling impersonator. He has been writing for most of his life and has published stories in numerous on-line publications such as The Horror Zine, Liquid Imagination, and Clockwise Cat. He has also been published in several print anthologies, and has self-published a book of short stories called All You Nighthawks.

He is the facilitator of a long-running writers critique group, president of a Toastmasters club, and second-in-command of a Star Trek fan club. He does not tweet, neither does he instagram, but he can be found on Facebook HERE