Writing Prompt: Someone is following you. Who is it? What does the person want?
I stepped out of the gas station and was hit in the face with hot, muggy air. It was suffocating and the last thing I wanted to do was walk home in it, even though my destination was only 15 minutes away.
“Damn this habit,” I muttered, pulling a cigarette out of the fresh pack I’d just bought. I put it to my lips and lit it as I began the walk home. I can’t breathe out here anyway, what’s the difference?
As I rounded the corner of the gas station, a bit of movement caught the corner of my eye. Puffing on the cigarette again, I saw a man lingering by the side of the building. He looked right at me and something about his gaze made me nervous. His dark hair was disheveled and his grungy t-shirt stuck to his body, soaked in sweat. I figured he was homeless, and while I harbored no ill will towards those unfortunate enough to live on the streets and would usually stop and chat if asked or even buy them some food now and then, this guy made me uneasy.
I looked him dead in the face as I moved on towards the street and took note of his features and what he was wearing just in case. Perhaps my extended gaze made me seem more interested than wary though, because after realizing I’d seen him he stepped down off the curb.
I immediately picked up my pace and took another drag of my cigarette, already preparing to have to put it out on this guy’s face. He hadn’t called out for me, so my stomach turned upside down when I glanced over my shoulder and saw he was still following me. I increased my speed to a power walk.
My heart was pounding as I neared the entrance to my apartment complex. I lived all the way in the back, so it would be a while longer until I was safe inside my building. I contemplated knocking on someone’s door and asking for an escort to my apartment, but hoped the complex would discourage the man behind me. The sun was only just setting so people were still out and walking around – I doubted he would follow me in here.
He did follow me in, though. As I continued towards my building, I looked for anyone outside that I might be able to stop and talk to as a deterrence. I had no such luck and he was gaining on me. He had graduated to a jog and I tossed my cigarette butt aside so I could have both hands free.
I am not a fast runner. Running would only exhaust me for when he inevitably caught up. I could run up to someone’s door and bang on it, hoping for a savior, but the resident might not be home. The only viable option I could see now was to stand my ground and hope I could incapacitate him enough to flee to safety. He was still jogging towards me, so perhaps I’d have the advantage since I wasn’t winded.
In one swift motion, I through my purse off my shoulder to the ground and spun on my heels to face him. I brought my fists to my face and prepared for a fight. I waited for him to increase his speed and try to barrel me over, so I ensured my balance was stable enough to move in any direction.
He was only a few feet away from me when I turned. Shock spread across his face and he skidded to a halt, raising his hands in surrender. I straightened, confused as hell. I opened my mouth to ask what he wanted, but he beat me to it.
“I’m sorry, I really just need a light,” he croaked. His voice was low and raspy, barely above a whisper like he was sick and had lost the ability to speak.
I lowered my hands and eyed him skeptically. “You followed me this far for a light?”
He nodded and wiggled the cigarette between his fingers as proof. “No one has even acknowledged me all day and I found the cigarette this morning. I really just want to smoke it. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m sick and I lost my voice last night so I’m having trouble calling out to people and they just keep walking away. I guess I got desperate. I’m really sorry.”
Suddenly, all my fear was replaced by shame. I pulled my lighter out of my pocket and handed it to him. “Keep it. I have another at home. How long have you been sick?”
“Thank you so much,” he said, immediately lighting the cigarette. He inhaled deeply and savored it for a moment. After the second drag, he answered my question. “I’ve been sick for about two weeks now. I think it’s just a cold from being out in the rain, but it’s taking a bit to ease off.”
His struggled to explain his situation through the raspy whisper and I got a bit worried for him. He sniffled and then coughed before dragging on the cigarette again. His cough definitely expressed congestion and I grew concerned for him. If he got pneumonia, he could die.
“Would you like me to take you to the hospital?” I asked. “I’ll go with you so they actually take care of you.”
His eyes lit up. “Would you do that? Thank you so much.”
I smiled. “Sure. Wait here and I’ll go grab my car.” He nodded and I hurried to my apartment, glad for the ability to help him and grateful the situation wasn’t what I had initially taken it to be.
As I pulled up beside the man and he got into my car, I was glad he had picked me to chase home. I was glad I was there to help him.