A Walk Home Through Arbutus Park by Randy Streu


The library was crowded tonight, but satisfying as always. Sam reflects on this as he leaves the familiar lights of Downtown and begins his walk up the city streets. Perhaps, he thinks, it would be better, now that the night is coming sooner, to drive to and from; to pay his fifty cents to the parking meter.

Still, though he quickens his pace, he can’t help but enjoy the feel of the cool autumn air on his face, even as the quickly-fading light chills his spine. Sam explains to himself — silently, of course — that his is simply an overreaction to a new situation. This newfound fear of the dark he has is not real or logical concern for safety, but prejudices borne of late-night police procedurals and classical ghost stories. He has, after all, only recently moved to the city, and when it comes down to it, it isn’t even all that big.

Even so, the shadow to his left makes him wonder if he shouldn’t take a shortcut through the park and get himself inside sooner rather than later. His consideration is confirmed as the shadow steps into a pool of light from a nearby street lamp. Though Sam can’t bring himself to stare long enough to make out actual features, he can’t help but note the massive amounts of hair this shadow seems to have sprouted, or the fact that this shoeless, shirtless entity has begun moving just a little quicker in his direction.

Sam turns quickly away, his feet moving as fast as they can while maintaining a reasonably nonchalant pace. It wouldn’t do for this strange person to view him as running away. Children run away from the dark; not fifty-year-old men. But, now that he considers it, weren’t those hands formed into claws? Wasn’t that chest heaving in a subtly inhuman rage?

He chances a look behind him, and a light on the corner reveals a shadow continuing up the walk. Is it closer now? Has it always been less than two blocks behind? Ahead, the steps down into Arbutus Park, and a lighted shortcut home. Sam smiles to himself. Yes, he can make those steps. He can get out of sight before this shadow — did it even look human anymore? — turns the corner.

He ascend the steps as fast as he dares, remembering both his arthritis and weak heart, and regretting the lack of exercise which has overtaken his recent years. One more thing for his doctor to harp on him about later. He reaches the bottom, glancing above just for a moment to see his pursuer, indeed both hairy and shirtless, and completely uninterested in the goings-on at Arbutus Park. The man shambles along, the beer in his hand removing the mystery from his heaving gait.

Sam chuckles to himself at his own fear, and takes in the park, moving quickly out of the shadow of the burned-out lamp and into the light. He swallows hard, taking it all in. He had forgotten how large the park was beyond the walkway, the park lights illuminating only the concrete. Beyond this one strip of safety, a pitch blackness in which anything might hide.

Sam, considers, briefly, a return to the street level, but the ache in his knee and the heaviness of his breath convince him of his course. He takes a deep breath and carries on, knowing he has only to travel the distance of a single city block before coming to the other end, and back onto the city street.

Outside the light, a rustling sound. Wind, perhaps. Except, does the wind become suddenly steady? Suddenly purposeful and fervent? A tinny clang ahead of him, and Sam’s heart stops. The lack of rhythm sends a signal to the small device the doctor put inside him last year, which in turn responds with a single electric pulse, and the heart carries on. Sam places his hand to his chest, and forces himself to close his eyes. More deep breaths.

An animal. A raccoon, maybe. Nothing more.

Sam doesn’t even remember walking by the playground equipment in the middle of the park, or the picnic tables shrouded in darkness beneath the canopy of trees. The exit to the park welcomes him as he steps back onto the street, safe and sound and a mere block from his house.

He thinks to whistle a tune for the rest of his stroll when a figure steps into a flood of light and smiles. The glow of the streetlamp plays on the figure’s elongated eye teeth, and the mirth becomes menace as the figure closes the distance between itself and Sam.

Sam has time to consider going back into Arbutus Park before the figure is upon him, and Sam thinks no more.

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