The Walk

Gienalyn Sayat

The double doors give way to the wind, drawing her out into the vacuum. Open sky looms above, but the stars are stifled by a hazy orange veil, creeping out from behind building silhouettes. Shrugging her bag on one shoulder, she secures the arms of the sweatshirt wrapped around her waist. Sweeping across skin in heavy handed waves, the warm wind feels like hot breath on her neck.

She bids goodbye to the air conditioning and clinically white lights inside, the last safe haven before she makes her way home. The air is muggy and saturated, clinging to her like gel, and the weight of the atmosphere is almost suffocating.

The street is swept clean of pedestrians and passersby, and the low tones of distant cars hum. She makes long, purposeful strides along the avenue she knows like the back of her hand, eyes aimed straight ahead; planting one foot after the other in mechanical succession, her steps in a clockwork rhythm of left, right, left, right, left–
A black cat dashes in her path from an alleyway and it stops for a moment to study her, nearly invisible save for its amber gaze. She tries to smile and coos, but it remains still and does not move even when she walks past.

There is a presence on her skin. Hairs on the back of her neck prickle. She sucks in a breath. Left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right.

She hurries across the street, past the angry red crossing signal glowing steadily on the corner, warning nonexistent pedestrians of cars that never come down this road at this odd hour. It’s hot. The sweatshirt, firmly knotted, begins to chafe her waist, and its loose, flailing sleeves slap at her legs, and that was the only sound her ears would hear, that billowing clap of fabric constantly entangling itself with her limbs as if waiting for the most opportune moment to send her sailing to the cement. She tugs at the knot to loosen it, and now it hangs too loose on her hips, but she does not stop walking.

The thump, thump of footsteps hitting concrete echo around her. The soft sighs of her breath push into the smoky sour atmosphere, but each exhale-inhale seemed to labor her lungs like a hand pushing against her chest.

A glimpse of a shadow in the corner of her eye. A door slams in the distance.

Everything looks the same. The same cracked sidewalks, empty road, and buzzing orange street lights that flicker and blink in and out every night since the dawn of time. Every night she walks down this road and makes a turn on this avenue and that street and circles around the block. She knows this road in the dawn, in the dusk, in daylight, but now it’s all masked in dark, unfamiliar shapes.

She swears she hears the thud of footsteps much heavier than hers.

Looking back, there is nothing. But she can’t shake off the knot in her gut. She stops to stand under a lamp post, twisting in circles.

The deafening silence feels like cotton balls in her mouth, but she found her throat too tight to swallow. Her heart knocks against her ribs. Sweat begins to coat her spine.

Thump, thump. Thump, thump.

The sounds of the city are muted, far, far away and alien. She fumbles with the zipper in her bag, fingers numb, but she can’t seem to grasp anything, anything that could possibly take her far, far, far away from here.
The muscles in her shoulders begin to ache. Taking in one last sweep of her surroundings, she takes a tentative step forward. From the corner of her eye, a figure shifts.

She bolts.

The world falls away into a blur of sidewalk and street lights and shadow and her limbs are numb, numb, numb and her lungs burn but she can’t seem to run fast enough through the thicket of heat and panic. There’s a slip of fabric at her waist, and there goes her sweatshirt sailing behind her, almost catching her ankles; it hardly even registers. She throws her head back and–there’s nothing, nothing but dim light and concrete.

Her feet stumble beneath her but momentum keeps her toppling forward, carrying her away from nothing, nothing, nothing, but she swears there’s something, someone watching.

There could be anyone watching her every move, someone much bigger and stronger than her, who could snuff her out like a light. College girl found murdered in a dumpster, Woman found dead in an alley, the headlines flash.

Maybe the police wouldn’t even find her, maybe she’ll disappear to god knows where right here and now and maybe no one will ever see her again.

She’s beginning to feel lightheaded, the heat is cooking her insides, but she can see her door, and she almost slams into it. She presses her back against the door, eyes darting around as she tears through her bag.

Hands trembling, she makes blind grabs for the right key and finally shimmies the apartment door open. Slamming it shut, she swallows in air by the lungful, suddenly aware of her surroundings. She laughs shakily, feeling a little ridiculous for sprinting three blocks like a madman after a light spook. Maybe it was nothing after all.

She peers through the peephole in her door. An indiscernible lump sits on the edge of her distorted view. She edges to a side window to get a clearer look.

Her sweatshirt lays on the doorstep, wrinkled and discarded.