One Walk Home

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


Two strangers cross paths on a wintry evening.

Submitted: September 03, 2018

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Submitted: September 03, 2018

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Swifter than he could make a complete turn, a woman plucked his fallen item from the pavement, hair temporarily obscuring her face. She straightened and stretched out her arm.
"I think you dropped this." 
"Thanks."
A moment between her offer and his acceptance allowed her brain to register the card's details. Without delay, he resumed walking, hand searching for another pocket to safely store his personal belongings. Some weak magnetic force became apparent after she started down her own path. They were both heading towards the bus stop.
"Sales management?"
She was keeping pace with him now.
"Yeah.
"I've never seen you before," she said, poking her chin up.
"I'm guessing you also work there?" He threw a glance at the massive office building.
"I do photography."
"That's probably why we haven't." He wasn't smiling, but his tone put her at ease.
A slew of people were scattered among the stone pavement, most of them dreary-eyed, wrapped in scarves or wool-rimmed coats. Last week he was able to see the sun before it dipped under the horizon. Today, the sun had retired early, and the horizontal strips of incandescent lights inside each building were particularly bright. The day's close was further hastened by heavy clouds dragging from east to west. 
While waiting, she thought it would be polite to exchange names. She asked him how long he had been an employee, and he responded that he was hired two years ago. He asked her why she liked photography, and she said that the emotion instilled within a picture is completely dependent on the person behind the camera, which he did not deny.
"Which bus do you take?" she asked.
"Three-sixty-one. I live in Hartford on fifty-second."
She gave a wide-eyed stare. "What a coincidence! I live in the same neighborhood." Then her surprise was overcome with mild anxiety, given the slim chance he might think she was a stalker.
Whereas, he sensed some explanation was in order. "Normally I get here earlier and leave earlier."
When the certain bus arrived, the woman boarded first. The post rush-hour timespan left a row of open seats, and she placed herself next to the window. The man, seeing her look up invitingly, took the adjacent seat, passing by several solitary riders who were either half-asleep or invested in their digital devices. The inside was warm. In near whispers, they resumed talking.
"What do you normally take pictures of?"
"Outside of work?" 
"I mean what do you enjoy taking pictures of?"
"Well, anything. People, places."
"I'd like to see."
Without delay, the woman slipped out a phone from her beige purse and began flipping through galleries.
"I like this one," she said proudly. It was a lady sporting a high-waisted skirt and black heels in mid-dash, sparing the viewer a sultry backwards glance as she skipped across a deserted overpass.
"And this one." She stopped at an image depicting three ladies on a balcony, two of whom appeared to be chatting while the third thoughtfully leaned against the railing. "This girl was actually a friend of mine." She indicated towards the distant brunette with crossed arms. These three were also fashionably attired. The woman checked for his reaction, expecting polite enthusiasm, but was met with a frown. "Are they any good?" 
"No," he sighed. "Not until I'm in one of them."
She let out a short laugh.
"Also wearing the same clothes," he added with a smile. 
The camera would approve of his face if he was not sarcastic, she thought.
"They look professional," he said, nodding. "Very editorial."
The woman thanked him and brought the flaunting session to a close. She asked him how he liked his work. In response, he explained his feelings regarding stress and its effects on short-term and long-term rewards, the result being the impression of a person who had a reasonable conscious. An avenue laced with local shops rolled across the window. On their right borded parks and apartments, cut by a narrow canal. The bus crawled to a stop to release the couple into the bitter air and quickly departed before they could regret having left the heated interior. From within their pockets they tugged their coats closer to their bodies.
Before the woman could take her leave, as she was about to say her goodbyes, the man intervened. 
"If you head this way, I'll tell you a funny story," the man said, arms attempting to entice her towards the jogger's path along the water.
"Thanks, but I'd rather not spend more time outside than I have to." She shivered dramatically.
"It'll be really short," he begged. "Just around the bend. I'll walk you back."
She looked beyond his arm at the long stretch pavement. Dim lights dotted the path until it wound uphill and disappeared behind thick oaks shedding dead leaves. The sound of tapping rubber against cement was absent. Daytime pedestrians usually enjoyed the view of the canal over the bridge.
The woman considered his disposition. He was being playful. Favoring her intuition, she shrugged and agreed. "I hope it's good."
So the two began their journey on the quiet trail. On their left, a cement fence prevented pedestrians from falling fifteen feet onto the asphalt flanking the stream. "Alright. When I was in high school, I went camping."
"That's it?"
He continued more delightfully, "I went camping with my dad, and he gave me his camera and told me to take pictures of things that we stumbled across. I think at the time it was a really nice camera. At some point, I don't know when, but I opened my bag to take it out, and it wasn't inside. I looked in the sleeping bags, in the tent, but it didn't turn up. I got kind of scared, thinking that he was going to be mad that I lost it."
The woman nodded, slipping her hair behind her ear. Orange glow from a streetlamp temporarily highlighted their long figures. "It turned out there wasn't much to take pictures of anyway."
"Not once in all those days? Were you expecting mountain lions?" she jeered.
"I probably don't have the same senses as you do. At least my dad never asked me to, except once, he asked me to take one of us standing on top of a hanging cliff, and I said it ran out of battery."
"On our way back, we took a shorter trail. I was walking ahead, and twenty yards away, sitting on a rock, it reappeared."
"The same camera," she clarified.
"Yes, and I snatched it before my father noticed."
"Lucky."
"And then I turned it on. Do you know what I saw?"
"What?"
The man stopped to gather her attention and faced his intrigued listener. "A ghost."
No trace of air was as frigid in the wind as it was in the disappointment of this conclusion. She laughed defeatedly. "That's very nice."
"I can show you it too, sometime."
"You're not going to see me again." She paused. "I'm moving. Today was actually my last day."
Against her expectations, he looked only slightly perplexed. "Really? Well." He tightened his shoulders. "Any reason in particular?"
"No. It's more like a lot of reasons not in particular." Setting her arm on the railing, she gazed around the empty landscape while her mind cycled through previously discussed conversations regarding ambitions. She searched for ripples in the water below, but the river was as black as the sky, and the blanketed moon casted little helpful light.
"I don't blame you." He mimicked her position. "It's normal to change jobs, what, ten times at least throughout a person's life?" Her bowed face caught his interest, and he leaned into the railing to trace her crescent cheeks, her red lips, down to her neck with his eyes.
"David Kirkman has only been there a year and I heard he's leaving."
"I meant to ask you something."
"I hope it has nothing to do with ghosts."
"If you died, do you think you would become a ghost?"
"I would rather not, so I don't think I would," the woman considered.
He smiled wryly. "That's good."
The night touched its residents with gentle breezes that dissipated upon orthogonal brick walls and sifted through the heads of trees. Winds with long lifespans and low speeds. The woman perceived them only slightly, in the same way something unusual disturbed her subconscious. She parted several lose strands of hair.
"I can't avoid seeing them."
Saying this, he had drawn closer, forearms resting on the cylindrical bar. He was fixed on something across the canal. Curiously, she followed his line of sight.
Along the parallel border ran a line of dense trees and an identical pathway. Farther out was the side of a paneled warehouse. A previously unnoticed glow was emanatating from the upper crest of the building, as if someone turned on a floodlight. The man hardly appeared to breathe, watching in silence.
"I'm tired," the woman said suddenly. "I'm just going to head back home. But it was nice talking to you." She smiled apologetically. Without prolonging any goobyes, the woman sent herself walking in the opposite direction, but caught sight of his gloved hand tentatively waving before she turned away.


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