Thursday, April 15, 2021

A New Friend by Emily Dixon

“I SAID: ANSWER ME.”

He was met with a stony silence as all five of them refused to make a sound, heads bowed toward the floor. This was unacceptable. HE was in charge. HE made the rules. HE deserved their respect. After all, it was HIM who saved them.

“You think ignoring me is the way to go?” He slammed his fist on the table. “Really?? I make this lovely dinner for us and you’re just going to sit there and pretend like I don’t exist?”

Nothing.

No sound, no movement, no acknowledgement that he’d even been speaking.

“Fine. If you want to ignore me, go ahead. I’m leaving. I’ve somewhere better to be.” He stormed toward the door, snatching up his coat on the way, then slammed it furiously behind him. The walls shook, and the tiny frame holding the number 36 fell off the wall next to the door.

Outside, snow was starting to fall again. It had been bitterly cold for the last two weeks and was getting colder. He dragged his coat on and fastened it against the wind. He was furious. After all he’d done for them, everything he’d sacrificed for them, and they showed no appreciation at all. Infuriated wasn’t the word.

He walked away from the building muttering to himself, oblivious to the stares from passers-by, unconcerned with the direction he was going. He just needed to think, to calm down, to figure out what he was going to do. He’d saved them, brought them into his home, gave them clothes, kept them safe, and now they refused to talk to him. Maybe they were bored of him?

His strides shortened and slowed as he felt a sense of realisation. It had just been him and them for so long, they were sure to want company other than his. He stopped so abruptly that a woman walking behind him had to swerve to avoid him.

“THEY NEED A NEW FRIEND!!” He exclaimed aloud.

The woman turned her head slightly, frowned, and softly replied: “Everyone needs friends, honey.” Then turned the corner and was gone. He stared after her, amazed. People usually avoided him; partly to do with his appearance, partly due to the smell. It just wouldn’t wash off. But the lady hadn’t seemed bothered, didn’t wrinkle her face when she passed him, didn’t take a wide berth around him. She actually spoke to him!

He smiled, a rare sight these days, then whispered “everyone needs friends, honey.” His smile widened and he turned the same corner and began following her.

The snow was getting heavier, and he couldn’t feel his fingers, but for an hour he followed her. She went inside a couple of shops, stopped to take a phone call, and bought coffee from a stand in the park. He decided to get a coffee to warm himself up. A legitimate reason for getting closer to her.

The man at the stand, whose name tag read “Dave”, looked him up and down, and did the same nose wiggle everyone else did when he got close. He could feel the anger rising but was aware that the woman was close and he didn’t want to scare her away. He decided to play it cool.

“Just a coffee. Please.” He slapped a note down on the counter and waited.

The lady was still by the stand, looking at her phone. He took in every detail: she was bundled up warm, in a thick black coat, with a red hat and gloves. A matching set. She looked organised, he liked that. Brown hair peeked out from under the hat, and when she looked at him, he could see her eyes were brown too.

Wait! She was looking at him. He started to panic, until Dave placed a cup in front of him. Ah… yes. He had an excuse to be here, no need to panic. He attempted a smile at Dave, took a deep breath and walked over to where she was standing, still playing with the sugar.

Now what? He hadn’t planned on talking to her. Or even being this close to her. Especially in such a public place. This was stupid of him; he was breaking one of his own rules.

“Sugar?” She smiled and slid the container over to him. Then adjusted her hat, picked up her coffee, and walked away.

He exhaled. He hadn’t realised he was holding his breath and felt a bit lightheaded. Dumping two packets of sugar into his coffee, he scanned the park for her. There she was, over by the gate. ‘I’ll have to be more careful’, he thought, ‘she’ll get suspicious if she keeps spotting me’. Sipping his coffee, he watched her walk out of the gate and turn left, before following again.

Another hour passed, he was now oblivious to the cold, and being much more careful not to get spotted. This woman could walk! She took another three phone calls but didn’t stop anywhere else. She seemed to be going somewhere now. He followed as she headed away from the more populated areas, down dingy looking streets, and into what he assumed was once an industrial estate, now derelict and unused.

Rather than wonder why she was in this abandoned place, he felt excited. They were the only two around, and she still hadn’t realised he was there. She stopped and looked at her phone. He got closer. That familiar feeling was creeping up his body: like soft pins and needles, every hair stood on end, and his heart rate quickened. Then the rush of adrenaline mixed with euphoria as he grabbed her and covered her mouth. She struggled, but he was strong. His hand slipped from her mouth, and she screamed “NOW!” before he grabbed her neck and pressed his palm over her face once more.

As her struggling grew weaker, he felt an unfamiliar feeling; like he was being yanked backwards. Then he was laying on his back, staring at the barrel of a gun. The woman came into view, rubbing her neck and breathing heavily.

“He fits the description perfectly, even down to the smell. Check him for ID. An address. Anything. We have to find her.” She turned to someone out of his eyeline. “Get him cuffed and down to the station ASAP.”

A man answered her, and he was dragged to his feet, hands held behind his back, and cuffs placed around his wrists. He wasn’t sure what was happening; one minute he’d got her, about to make a new friend, and the next surrounded by police and being searched.

“Driving licence.” The same man that had answered her said. “Expired, but says his name is Daniel Hansen. Address is in the neighbourhood where you called it in.”

Wait. What?? She KNEW he was following her the whole time? She led him here, to the police. He couldn’t help it, he screamed at her: “You BITCH!! You’re supposed to be my friend, you’re supposed to be their friend, you wait until I get my hands on you. They’re going to be so upset, you’ve ruined everything.” The man, dragging him backwards, shouted at someone to open the van before roughly shoving him inside and slamming the door.

The woman was giving orders, telling people to go to his address, telling them to go INSIDE his house, and he had no way of warning his friends. The vehicle started moving. Resigned to the fact it was all over, Daniel started repeatedly smashing his head against the side of the van.

Fifteen minutes later

Two vans screeched to a halt outside the apartment building, half a dozen armed officers exiting the vehicles before they’d even fully stopped. They raced up the stairs calling to each other.

“What number?”

“36. Should be second floor.”

“Got it.”

Moving as a unit, the officers swarmed into the apartment, guns pointing the way. The smell was overwhelming. As four of the men went to clear the apartment, the other two approached the table.

“Jesus Christ… How long have they been here?”

“Those four? A while. This one, not as long.” The man bent down for a closer look at Daniels newest friend then recoiled as she gasped. “GET AN AMBULANCE HERE NOW!!! THIS ONE IS STILL ALIVE. NOW!!!”

The second man grabbed his radio and started talking, as the first reassured the girl that everything was going to be ok. He looked up as someone shouted from the other room.

“We’ve got an explosive device in the kitchen; bomb squad are on their…”

Pedestrians scattered as shards of glass and debris flew off of the building with the first explosion, then screamed and ran when the next arrived, flames engulfing the second-floor apartment in a matter of seconds.

Sighing, Nathan disconnected the CCTV feed and closed his laptop. That was a shame, Daniel had done really well. Five new friends before being caught. Ah well, there was always next time.


© Emily Dixon

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