This is a short story I wrote back in 2012. I do not write many short stories, but I am working on producing more as I grow as a writer.
by Danielle Grace
The fire running through her veins was overwhelming, and her lungs burned with the effort. Charity slid into a dark alcove pressing flat against the warm brick of the dark restaurant. The alley was black with dim streetlights at either end. Although there should have been some life to the streets beyond this urban hallway, the city was in an unnatural slumber.
“Why me, why does this shit always happen to me?” She looked down and rifled through the tiny bag again as if it had magically grown a new pocket where her cell phone might have hidden…nothing. I must have left it in the club. Her ears clogged with the pounding of her heart. Terror held her motionless for one second more before she willed herself to move toward the other end of the alley to peer around its corner.
At first …nothing, but then the shadowy figure…searching. He dipped into an alley a block back. Charity took the opportunity to throw herself out of her hiding place and sprinted up another block. The ebony ballerina flats she had laced on were a whisper next to the huffing sounds of air from hidden vents as her aching feet slapped the pavement. She slid chaotically into another alleyway and pressed herself back flat.
She cursed under her spent breath. If only she hadn’t been so stupid and selfish, she might understand why the streets that were usually buzzing with college students on break, showed no resemblance to the city she knew on a Saturday night. Where were the nosey neighbors sitting in the windows, or the usual hustlers squatting on the stoops? If only… But, that was not a thought for now. Now, she had to get away from whoever He was. Hours before, the scene had been different. Charity Monroe had been in her own little world.
“Why do I always get bad news when I am feeling bad already?”
Charity slumped down in her chair and tossed her cell phone on the bed. Her friend Leslie had canceled on her at the last minute. She stopped listening after the part where her friend said: “Sorry Chair, I gotta work tonight, the boss has me gathering evidence on this stalker case…”
Yep; that was Leslie, always tied down in the City Coroner’s office tagging slugs dug out of some perp or victim in whatever crime was going down. Granted, she had been spending more time than usual there, but Charity thought that an intern should have some time off to hang out with her BFF on the weekends. Charity had no interest in such things. In fact, she had no time for serious news of any kind. If she turned on the television and saw some reporter yammering away about crime statistics or foreign policy, her eyes glazed over and she found the nearest light form of entertainment— even cartoons were better.
“No stress, no mess” was her motto, and being on summer break from college, fun was her focus. She stared at the cell phone and stood up. She gazed into the mirror at her reflection. Deep chocolate locks fell in waves that brushed just below her shoulders. She blew a fuchsia painted kiss at the copper bombshell staring back at her through honey-colored irises and smiled.
“Okay then, I will just head out and dance myself out of boredom.”
Who else was there to go with anyway? Everyone had a summer job going, and her good fortune to get a job that left her weekends open wasn’t doing her any favors. Everyone else was too tired, had to get up early, or was like Leslie, “on call.” After slipping into a curve-accentuating black dress, Charity Monroe packed the essentials— lipstick, a small comb, a tiny makeup compact for touchups, a thin wallet containing her I.D. and credit card, and her trusty cell phone— into a little black purse. She secured her bag with a silver chained shoulder strap that dangled it at her hip and headed out.
The club was posh. Low lighting around the perimeter and at the bar gave just enough glow on the dance floor to see your partner, provided you had one. But, something was really off. Where were all the cute guys and why was the club so…? The patrons were sparse and scattered. Men outnumbered women by far, but even that wasn’t reassuring. The guy at the door seemed surprised to see her coming in alone, but he didn’t attempt anything past the usual I.D. query. Charity popped the driver’s license out of her tiny purse and flashed it just like she had a million times before, with no notice of the non-existent line of people waiting to get in.
She sat down at the bar and ordered a Cosmopolitan, flashing a smile at the bartender.
“Hey, Mike…where is everybody?”
Mike fixed her with an incredulous blue stare.
“Are you serious right now, Charity? Don’t you watch the news?”
“What for? It has nothing to do with me.”
Mike put his hands in the air like a stick-up victim and smiled.
“Okay then. Just be careful.”
Charity smiled back and gave him a salute as he headed for a man sitting two chairs down from her. I wonder what that was about. Has everyone lost their mind? Charity shook off Mike’s remarks and sipped her Cosmo as she pulled up the text messages on her phone…nothing good. She checked a few social networks to see what her friends were up to…nothing. She sat the phone down next to her drink and sighed. Why isn’t anyone ever around when I want to loosen up?
The lifeless comfort of the club was enough of a distraction for Charity and her phone. She entertained the thought that it was entirely possible that Leslie was having a better time with her ‘dead people’ duties than she was.
The guy sitting two seats down from her seemed a little too old to be hanging out there, although he was getting along with Mike well enough. He looked tough and his eyes were shifty. Charity squirmed uncomfortably in her seat as his gaze lingered on her longer than felt appropriate. She didn’t trust that look. He was paying way too much attention to the sparse crowd in the club. Occasionally, his eyes would touch her and she would look down into her drink as if expecting it to speak to her. She had taken a brief dancing intermission to oblige some frat boy who flailed like an unbalanced duck on the dance floor. He was more than just a bit buzzed, and not cute enough to warrant a second rhythmically challenged attempt.
As she easily repopulated the chair, Mike came over to check on her and mixed up a fresh Cosmo. Charity was busy not looking at the man down the bar as she touched the back of Mike’s hand. She was getting more nervous as the night wore on. He noticed her frown and leaned in.
Charity pursed her lips.
“Who’s the mean guy?”
Mike looked at the man, who was nursing the same beer for most of the night and then met Charity’s eyes.
“Him? He’s cool…comes in every once in a while and just scopes the place. He doesn’t bother anybody… good tipper. Why?”
Charity shifted in her seat.
“He just seems kinda…creepy.”
Mike drummed a light beat on the counter with his fingertips.
“Just let him be. Gunther is the last guy you have to worry about…what with real threats running around.”
“Gunther? Sounds like a mafia hit man.”
“Far from it.”
“How do you know?”
“I know because I actually pay attention and ask.”
Charity gave a moan of disengagement. Mike gave her a sideways look.
“You know, one of these days, you’re going to have to let some serious information in. I know you get good grades, but book smarts aren’t the only kind you need. I’m gonna let you finish that drink, but you should know, it’s getting late.”
She waved a warding hand at him.
“Yeah, yeah late…blah-blah-blah. I’m going home soon. It’s only a few blocks. I’m a big girl, Mike.”
She sipped the second Cosmo between mindless glances at her phone– not realizing it had slipped into silent mode– and chats with one or two uninspiring Lotharios. After a while, she noticed two missed calls from Leslie. She didn’t check the messages.
The thought of going back to the lonely apartment her parents had trusted her to stay in over summer break made her tarry a bit longer. Before she knew it, last call had snuck up on her. She hopped down off the chair she had been engaged to for the night and, after impossibly misplacing her wallet in the tiniest purse she owned, she emptied its contents piece by piece and settled her tab before shuffling joylessly out of the club. She was a full block down the street before even taking a look around. The tall, broad shadow of a man was closing the distance between it and her.
A cat hissed as Charity skidded to a halt just inside an alley opening. One more long dash and she would be at the police precinct. She had torn past her own building, fearing that her pursuer would see her go inside. A door whined open in the alley and shook her out of her panicked focus. Charity huffed out a pained breath. She pushed herself out of a shadow. Thank God! The first sign of life I’ve seen since the club.
The steady light of a dim bulb cut a swath through the gloom. There, working under the glow of its grace, a man dressed in a white shirt closed the top of an enormous dumpster. The cat that had taken umbrage at her invasion mewed loudly and curled intrusively around his ankles. His foot pushed it away violently as he looked at Charity. His voice held a lilt of politeness.
“Miss? Miss, are you alright?”
A bouquet of putrescence met Charity as she moved toward her chance at salvation.
“Please… someone’s following me. Do you have a phone?”
Her voice was unfamiliar to her own ears. The man patted his pockets for her edification.
“No, sorry…was putting out the…the trash. Are you alright?”
Charity grasped his arm.
“Someone is chasing me…following me!”
She pointed accusingly toward the street. The man stroked her hand lightly, his face emotionless.
“Calm down. Let me check…I’m just going to take a look.”
He walked to the end of the alley, stuck his head around the corner, then stepped out into the street and uttered an inquiring “Hello?” Nothing. He walked back over to Charity and placed his hands on her shoulders.
“I didn’t see anyone. You know, you should be careful it’s three o’clock in the morning and there’s a maniac on the loose. Don’t you watch the news?”
Charity gave a humorless laugh and fidgeted.
“The news is really not my thing, nothing to do...with…me…”
Bright red smeared the front of the man’s stark white shirt. An alarm went off in her head. Who takes out the trash at three in the morning? Charity was frozen. The cat purred. Her voice trembled.
“… but I think it’s a good time to start paying attention.”
His arms shot out. His hands were iron-clad around her neck. He smiled radiantly. A menacing growl of delight colored his voice.
“Too late for that now.”
The air thinned as she clawed at his…gloves. How did she miss that? Why me? The scream was silent. Brightly painted nails found purchase just above his wrists. The pressure building behind her eyes intensified. The chain slung diagonally across her body snapped and the little purse slid to the ground. Her legs kicked out desperately, but the strappy ballerina flats failed to impact. The world melted away in a haze and then…nothing.
The victim’s neck was ringed with purplish-blue signs of strangulation standing out against smooth copper skin. Lipstick smeared outside the lines of full lips, and mascara marked a jagged trail of dry tears. Leslie Chalmers walked into the room and stared in disbelief. She staggered over slowly and ran her hands over the hair of her friend.
Charity Monroe raised her head and looked up. The silence broke in a piteous wail as the friends embraced. Leslie held Charity close until the sobs subsided. A knock fell on the door after a few minutes passed, and a uniformed officer entered.
“Miss Monroe, you are lucky to be alive. Your attacker was disposing of three more victims in the alley where he assaulted you. If Detective Malloy hadn’t come along...”
Leslie looked at the officer, shocked as Charity began recounting the events of the evening with several mentions of the shame she felt for her ignorance about the danger that had gripped the city. It had been all over the news for three weeks— just when Leslie’s schedule had filled. The officer finished reviewing Charity’s statement as another knock rattled the door. A tall man with dark, observant eyes walked in.
Confusion washed over Charity. The officer shook the man’s hand, passing information along in the process. The man’s baritone voice awakened Charity’s understanding.
“Miss Monroe, I am Detective Gunther Malloy. I think you are looking for this.”
He reached into his hip pocket and slid a silver object across the table.
Charity’s fingers closed the distance and reclaimed her phone.
The sun was finally rising as Leslie handed Charity a glass of water to ease pills down her tender throat. Detective Malloy had driven them the two blocks from the precinct. It was 5 AM. Leslie passed on assisting her mentor with examining The Stalker. She flopped down next to Charity and Charity rested her head on Leslie’s shoulder, her neck protested weakly. Tired fingers found the television remote and tapped the power button, sending the sound of ‘Breaking News’ music into the air.
A raven-haired anchor looked back at her through keenly informative eyes as the graphic of a shadowy figure popped up on the screen. The word “Stalker” was plastered across it in red. Leslie reached to take the remote from Charity, but she made a gently evasive motion.
“No, I want to see this.”
Leslie looked skeptical as Charity increased the volume.
“This just in! The serial killer, known as The Stalker, was shot and killed in the early morning hours when off-duty Police Detective, Gunther Malloy, happened upon the scene of a man assaulting a woman just one block from the Ninth District Police Station. Police spokesman Jerry Tyler stated that, according to Malloy, the suspect was in the process of strangling his victim when the detective drew his gun and issued an order for the man to desist. The suspect turned on the detective, and a shot was fired, striking the man in the head. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene. The assault victim suffered bruises, but no other injuries were reported. Three bodies were found in the waste bin adjacent to where the assault took place. Two of the deceased victims had been reported as missing persons in recent days. Their names are being withheld until next of kin can be identified. The discovery brings to nine, the total number of known murders attributable to The Stalker. The surviving victim has not been identified due to the ongoing investigation. We will continue releasing information as details become available.”
Leslie gave Charity a light squeeze.
“They can’t tell you anything more about the case than you already know.”
Charity shook her head.
“I got this one, Les. I get it now.”
After all, it was all about her.