My keys were cold between my fingers. No matter how I tried to control my breathing, it still puffed out in rapid clouds. Goosebumps were starting to form along the back of my neck. I couldn’t tell if they were from the chill or from the feeling of being watched.
Lyle was going to be so pissed when he realized I had gone out without him. I loved him; I really did. But sometimes I needed time to myself. I liked dancing alone.
Moving to the music and weaving myself away from all those grasping hands. There was a certain art to it. It was always different when he was there.
The music was far behind me now. All the buses were done running too. Here I was, alone in my heels. I clutched my dead phone in one hand and brandished my keys in the other.
I had first noticed the footsteps behind me a block back. It was easy to ignore other people in the city itself. There was enough movement, enough life, that I could safely blend in and dismiss the weight of a gaze. Now I was into the suburbs it was getting harder and harder to ignore the steady footfalls behind me.
The full moon shone down on me. I wrapped my arms tighter around myself as a car jostled down the street. When the headlights seared my eyes a series of images came rushing, unbidden into my mind. I imagined a face slowly splitting in two. A jaw unhinging. The sound meat makes as it tears away from bone.
I gave my head a solid shake to clear it. I just needed to relax. Maybe the footsteps would turn away. Maybe it was just someone else on their way home. Maybe they would leave me alone. Maybe.
The footsteps definitely seemed to be getting closer now. I refused to look back. To risk hinting at an invitation. If I didn’t look back, didn’t acknowledge the thing behind me, then I could just keep walking. All I had to do was mind my own business and keep walking. My feet started moving a little bit faster. The footsteps behind me did the same.
Then the whistling started. I’m sure it was meant to be an idle sort of tune. Something relaxed. It made my jaw clench and my stomach do flips. It was definitely getting louder, closer.
I could see an alley up ahead. It gaped like a hungry maw. I imagined getting dragged down into the belly of that beast. I walked just a little bit faster.
“Oh, where are you going in such a hurry?” the thing behind me finally spoke. It had a nice voice. It had jogged to catch up and was now beside me. I still wasn’t past the alley.
“No need to walk so fast. I’m not going to hurt you. My name is John. What’s yours?” I kept walking, pressing my lips together. There were no cars on the road.
“Hey, I asked what your name was. Its rude to ignore people.” John’s shoulder was brushing mine now and I could smell the liquor on his breath.
“Anyone ever tell you you’re a bitch before?” I finally looked at him. There was an ugly sneer painted onto a surprisingly pretty face.
“Leave me alone” I replied.
“You know, you’re dressed like a whore and you aren’t even polite enough to talk to me. What, you think you’re too good for me or something? Hey, I’m talking to you! Answer me!” As he spoke, we came up alongside the edge of the alley.
It happened fast. John grabbed me by my hair and pulled me backwards between the buildings. I stumbled in my heels and my legs gave out. I managed one quick scream before his hand clamped down over my mouth.
“Listen, I’ve got a knife and if you want to make this hard I’ll use it. You just behave and everything will be fine. Alright?” I nodded against his hand.
That settled it. I had done everything right. I had minded my own business, told him to leave me alone. Now he was threatening me with a knife.
I wished he hadn’t told me his name. I hated knowing their names.
John took his hand away from my mouth and shoved me hard against the wall. I could smell piss. He was too busy fumbling with his belt to notice the sounds of my joints cracking and popping. I felt my jaw click loose. My gums ached as they pulled back from my incisors. I dropped my keys as the sharp, ragged edges of bones pushed out from under my nailbeds. He looked up as they clattered to the ground, but by then I was almost unrecognizable.
“What.. what the hell is wrong with your face?” It was dark in the alley, too dark for him to appreciate my ever-growing smile.
The moon chose that moment to peak out from behind her clouds and he finally got a look at me. I loved it when their eyes went all wide like that. I swear that moment of sheer terror and adrenaline gave so much flavouring to the meal. Especially the kidneys.
Whoever lived in that neighbourhood ignored his few screams as easily as they had ignored mine. They ignored the ripping and the slurping. If someone had heard anything, they would have assumed it was a dog crunching on bones. Sucking at them to get out the marrow.
Before I left the alley, I made sure to pack up a to-go bag for Lyle. He would be less mad that I had gone out without him if I brought back some to share. I checked my reflection in a window and was glad to see my black dress didn’t show any stains, though I was noticeably bloated. That gave me a reason to hit the gym tomorrow. I quickly examined my smile to make sure I had nothing in my teeth. Deciding that I looked presentable I strolled back onto the street, whistling an idle sort of tune as I went.
© Savanna Naylor
Winning Story: Contest #8
The following stories are the Outright Winning Entries for the Monthly Short Story Contest
March 2020 onwards