It remained nothing more than a shadow, and barley even that, I suppose, since no one else appeared to notice it. Part of me hoped dearly that anyone who found themselves standing next to a form of smoke roughly the size and shape of a human wearing a cloak would freak out just a little. Of course, this was Boston. If it had been New York, they certainly wouldn't be freaking out. I'm sure they have freaky pillar of smoke people there all the time, on every street corner, but not here. At least, not on any of the street corners I frequented. Not that I frequent street corners.
Keeping my eyes on it as I drove, I was startled out of my ghost watching when I heard a loud horn honk. Turning back towards the road, I found I had drifted into the other lane, slightly, and was about to meet another car in a most unpleasant, if intimate matter.
Fortune shone upon me, and I managed to pull my little car back to my side of the road. The little stunt had gathered a small group of watchers along the sidewalk on either side of the street, and the car zoomed past me, it's horn still honking, even as it sped behind me, the horn fading off into the distance, fading into the rest of the background noise of the city, lost in the other horns, and the jackhammers from the construction just a few blocks away.
With just a quick glance back over my shoulder, and double checking in the rear view mirror, I saw that my follower had disappeared from the corner it had been standing at, and still no one but myself had seen it.
I found myself briefly wondering if it had just been a hallucination, more bad food before bedtime, still sitting poorly in my stomach. Or worse yet, I'd started going crazy in pieces. A bad dream here, a little vision there. I wasn't quite ready to accept that possibility yet, though.
As if to confirm my suspicions, to question my sanity, as I rounded the next street, there it was again. Standing at the corner, watching me. At least, I thought it was watching me. It's always hard to tell when something doesn't have eyes at the moment when you can feel them on you.
Making sure to avoid any further vehicular incidents, I kept my eyes on it in the rear view mirror, but remained more focused on the road. When my watching of it slipped, it disappeared, and I briethed a sigh of relief. Relief which didn't last more than a few seconds, as it once again appeared in front of me, once again just standing there, the shadowy tendrils blowing in the wind, and no one around it even noticing it existed.
I even saw people walking towards it, and even sidestep around it. They may not have conciously seen it, maybe they couldn't, or even worse, maybe they wouldn't acknowledge it. Maybe something buried deep in their subconcious recognized this thing, this creature for what it was, and made sure the people either remained unaware of it, and avoided it for their own safety, or maybe it was all coincidence.
No, not coincidence. Now that I'd seen someone do it, I could see that everyone was avoiding it. They didn't see it, but part of them, deep down knew that thing was there, and made sure they steered clear. A group stood at the corner, waiting for the light to turn, and they completely encircled the shade on all sides.
If this was any other circumstance, I would have almost found the thought of a human doughnut with an evil hole funny, but when that dark force seemed to want me dead, even with my jokes, and my humour, I found it hard to find too much to laugh at.
Once I had seen everyone avoiding it, I knew it had to be real. I couldn't be crazy. Not unless my crazy waves were spreading and causing everyone in the city to help fuel my delusions without their noticing it, making sure to avoid the spot where the crazy person was seeing evil incarnate.
I decided to ignore that little voice in the back of my brain that kept telling me that if I was crazy, I could just be seeing random empty spaces, and filling it with some apparition from some deep dark corner of my own mind. I liked the theory that supported the not crazy me. Besides, no one who realized they were crazy, ever really is crazy, right?
The rest of my trip continued on like that. It would stand, and watch me, until it was out of sight - definitely not out of mind - and then reappear a few seconds later, front and center in my view, until again it fell away from view. It must have happened about ten times, until it stopped, or so I'd hoped.
It had disappeared for several minutes, and I found myself dreading the reappearance, dreading when it would come back to haunt me by just watching. And I just knew that it knew it was slowly driving me mad. The other kind of mad. Not the certifiable kind that I may or may not have already been at that point.
I decided that I really needed a breather. I was already late for work, what would be a few minutes more, right? I pulled into a Dunkin' Donuts I often stopped at - before, during, and after work, usually - and sat for a few moments, eyes darting all around. No shadowy visages made any appearances yet, so I made the bold move to get out of the car, and get some coffee, and a bagel to replace the one I'd somehow lost, probably when I was yelling at Chevy Boy.
The brick facade of the building, only coming up to my neck, and then shifting to an almost completely solid wall of windows across the entire front, broken only by the doorway, was quite comforting. The familiarity of it was soothing in its way. Almost like a little haven amidst the sea of insanity my morning had become so far.
Once inside, I looked around, taking in the familiar sights. The mauveish countertops, the orange trimming. Part of me wondered who thought to use such a bizarre colour choice, but I suppose we were stuck with it now.
Continuing with the recognizable aspects of the place, I heard a voice I knew all too well. When you frequent one place long enough, and if they don't manage to have an absurdly high turnaround on employment, you get to know at least a few faces. Sometimes even recognizing a few customers.
I'd yet to see him, but I heard his voice, "Hey, Shiv!"
Sounded like it was coming from somewhere back behind the counter. "Jay?" I called out. "What have I told you about calling me that?"
A young man came into view from behind the counter, and the coffee pots where he'd been hidden. He wasn't much taller than myself, so it was easy to lose him in a crowd.
He took off his uniform cap, and tossed it on the counter between us, and ran a hand through his dark brown hair, scratching his head. Jay had told me several times how much he hates wearing hats, and took any excuse he could find to remove his.
"I believe your exact words were, 'Don't ever call me that, or you'll feel the burning terror of scalding hot coffee flung in your face'."
"And so, why are we risking permanent scarring and mutilation?"
"Because you don't have any coffee." He smiled. I hated the nickname, it made me sound like a bad prison movie cliche, but I let him get away with it. He was one of the few people I'd found with a similar sense of humour. Dark, and inappropriate at all times. The two of us teased each other's destruction and murder on a frequent basis.
I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill, and slapped it on the counter. "We'll be fixing that little deficiency right now. I'm having a hell of a morning, and it's not even seven AM yet. And fix yourself something too, on me."
"The usual? And do you wanna talk about it?"
"Yes, and no." Jay ducked back behind the coffee pots, and I could hear him getting my cup ready. When I bought coffee out on the run were the only times I used sugar in it anymore. Just easier to ask for it that way. "I'm going to be late as it is, but maybe later, if I can make any sense of it."
"Ah," he said, "one of those days. Gotcha."
He came back with two large coffees, and handed one over, sipping from the remaining one. "You know where to find me, Shiv, if you want to talk. And coffee is a social drink."
I growled at him and glared, only half jokingly. As much as I let him get away with it, it wasn't good to let him get used to it, and I could do without too many jokes at my expense right now. But the lighter mood had definitely been infectious, and my friend seemed miles away. Which was about where I left her, thankfully.
"Not Shiv. Siobhan. It's not a terribly difficult name to get right, you know."
"Oh no, it's quite simple. Quite simple and quite unpronouncable!"
"You're in Boston! One of the cities with the larger Irish populations in the country, it should be second nature to you!"
"What, it's not like I'm Irish! Your name is unpronouncable amongst the majority of the city!"
"Jay!! You are Irish, Mister Leary!"
"My mom was French..."
I had been flailing my arms, comedically emulating anger as we yelled at each other, and grabbed a napkin, wiping some splattered coffee that had seeped out of my cup's lid. With that done, I crumpled it up and threw it across the counter at Jay.
"Then surrender and admit defeat! And use my real name!"
He didn't move at all, and just let the crumpled napkin boulder bounce off his chest.
I shook my head, stuck out my tongue, and turned to leave. As the door closed behind me, I heard him call out his parting shot, "So long, Shiv!"
Without turning, I held my fist up in the air, with the back of my hand towards the store, and extended my middle finger, making sure Jay knew just how I felt, and making sure he didn't see the smile on my face as I got back into my car, and drove off.
It was a good thing that my work wasn't far from here, and that I could usually get away with being a little late. The library was usually very quiet first thing in the morning, and my coworker didn't mind covering for me. It wasn't like anyone else was working there to lie to right now, anyways.
The few minutes I'd taken to get my coffee were definitely needed, though. I was glad to have found Jay working this morning, and it hadn't been one of his off days, since he always cheered me up.
"They both shall be taken from you."
I nearly jumped out of my seat at that raspy voice next to me. Looking over to the passenger seat wasn't necessary, but I felt myself compelled to. Not from any mystical force, or power this creature had over me, but just a need, a desire to see it.
And there it was. A black mass of shadow, sitting next to me. I could see it's profile, the profile of my own face, looking ahead, watching the road where my eyes should be. I found an empty parking spot, a miracle in and of itself, and pulled into it before I hit someone else.
"If you submit willingly, give up your life, it will be easier. But if you persist, and fight, there will be pain. The decision is yours, Siobhan."
It was like listening to a whispering cacophany of bees, a buzzing voice, just barely within the range of hearing.
"You want to take my life, and you expect me to go easily, just to spare my friends?" Even I could hear my voice shaking now, and I knew hiding my thoughts from this thing was useless, or next to useless as to make no difference.
"Yes." It drew out the S, hissing it at me, but always looking forward. Its face remained cloaked in shadows, distorting my profile slightly, the smokey tendrils of it's form making it squirm and wriggle along the edges, making it hard to look at for too long. Yet I continued to look at it.
"I'm not known for going down easily. I won't this time either. No one, and no thing -" I nearly spat the word at my tormentor. "No thing will ever threaten them while I draw breath."
"Very well then." And then it turned, that mass of shadows that made up its head, and turned to me, and the darkness peeled away from its eyes, but this time didn't reveal empty pits, but two glowing red shapes, like eyes filled with the fading embers of a fire. "Their lives are forfeit. All shall fall. All shall fade before your time is gone. The decision has been made."
And with that, it was gone, faded back to wherever it had come, and with it, the chance to spare my friends' lives had gone with it.
End of Chapter One