Her shift at the all-night diner had run late, and it was well past midnight when she finally yanked off her apron and jogged down the steps into the shadowy streets. The reflection from the neon sign on the side of the thin metal building wavered wildly on the damp pavement underneath her feet and threw ghastly shadows of the single car parked in the lot in front of the diner. The buses had stopped running hours ago, and she trudged through the darkness toward her apartment on the other side of town. She was halfway home when someone grabbed her arm and dragged her into an alley. She struggled wildly, trying to reach the pepper spray in her back pocket, but her assaulter slammed her against the wall, clamping a hand over her mouth.
“Be quiet and keep still,” he hissed, his face inches from hers.
Terrified of the alternative, she obeyed. She waited for his next command, but his eyes were fixed on the dark street she had just been yanked from. His words seemed like a threat until she saw two shadowy figures pass by the mouth of the alley. They stopped and looked around before splitting up, one crossing the street and the other continuing on ahead. She had been alone in the darkness, or so she had thought. These dark figures seemed to be looking for something, and she had a sickening feeling it was her.
“They’ll be back,” her abductor whispered, dropping his hand from her mouth. “We need to go.”
She yanked her pepper spray out of her pocket and pointed it at him with a shaking hand, demanding, “Who the hell are you?!”
“Keep your voice down!” he hissed. “We don’t have time for this.”
One of the shadowy figures reappeared in the mouth of the alley and spotting them, letting out an unintelligible cry for their companion before sprinting toward them. She found herself being dragged down the alley by her rescuer or kidnapper, she wasn’t sure which. Their feet pounded on the damp pavement as they burst out of the alley and sprinted down the street, two dark figures racing along behind. The man grabbed her hand in a vice-like grip and dragged her through a dizzying maze of streets and alleys, doubling back on themselves until they finally stopped in the middle of an empty street.
Fog was descending, and the air was heavy with moisture. The street was lined with shops, faint lights glowing within, but the signs in the windows were darkened for the night. He yanked on the doors as they passed, but they were all locked tight. She glanced anxiously behind them, but the dark figures had disappeared.
“Looks like we lost them,” she panted, out of breath. “Now tell me what the hell is going on!”
“No such luck, I’m afraid,” he laughed bitterly, tugging uselessly at a café door. “They’ll catch up. They always do.”
“Who?! What do they want from me?!” she asked, terror clutching at her throat.
“You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take a taxi next time!”
He straightened up and stared into the shadowy street, alerted by something she couldn’t hear, before grabbing her and dragging her into an alley. He shoved her down behind a clump of garbage cans and crouched next to her. The sound of claws scraping on cement approached then paused, and a guttural sniffing filled the air. Her heart was pounding so loudly, she swore it echoed off the damp brick wall her back was pressed against. Her companion lifted a finger to his lips, and she nodded, swallowing hard. Deafening silence fell, pulsing in her eardrums, until the scrapping of claws resumed, slowly receding down the street.
“Who are you?” she whispered when she was finally sure they were alone.
“I’m…like you. Somebody with the worst luck imaginable,” he sighed, pressing his back to the edge of the alley to gaze around the corner into the street. “I was all cozy in the diner, safely out of the dark for the night when I saw them hunting you. You really should have taken a taxi.”
“You followed me from the diner?!” she exclaimed angrily. “Wait… What do you mean hunting?”
A shrill cry rang out down the street.
“Time to go,” he yelled, grabbing her hand. They sprinted out into the street on the other side of the row buildings they had hidden against.
“There!” he yelled, pointing at a bus stop illuminated by a single streetlight, and they darted toward it. The two black figures burst out of the alley behind them, skidding on the wet pavement, claws scratching. She tried to keep running, but the man yanked her hand, and they slid to a stop in the circle of light pooling beneath the streetlight. He grinned as the shadowy figures prowled along the edge, hissing at them. She stared in horror as the grotesque human forms tilted their heads unnaturally, hissing to reveal darker maws within the wavering black forms, gnarled fingers of darkness clawing at the edge of the light.
“What…. What are they?” she asked, trembling.
“Harmless,” he laughed. “As long as the light shines.”
He settled on the ground, resting his back against the lamppost.
“Might as well get comfortable,” he sighed, lacing his fingers behind his head. “We’re going to be here a while.”
She extended a trembling hand still clutching her pepper spray toward the black figures.
“That’s not going to do you any good,” he commented. “It won’t hurt them. Nothing does.”
She dropped her arm to her side, still gripping the can tightly. The figures had stopped clawing and crouched at the edge of the circle of light, black holes where eyes should be fixed on the two figures in the lamplight.
“What do they want?”
“I don’t know,” he sighed. “They’ve been hunting me for weeks. Waiting in the dark, the shadows, everywhere I go. I guess they got my scent, and they aren’t giving up.”
The night was silent except for the clicking of a flashing traffic light down the street, its pulse throwing yellow stains across the wet pavement. The fog slowly thickened and settled over the town until the buildings were obscured by its pale mask. The light above them began to flicker as the bulb protested the moisture that had enveloped it. He stared up at it.
The light flickered out, and darkness fell. There was an unearthly shriek then silence as the light flickered back on, revealing empty sidewalk and a spinning can of pepper spray.
I had two goals for this prompt. First, I wanted to try a different style; something more serious or dark. I hadn’t attempted horror before. I’m not sure how frightening it ended up being, but I’ll keep working on it. Second, I wanted to write something longer. Most of the competitions/writing submissions I’ve seen require a minimum of 1,000 words. My previous prompts have mostly been micro-fiction. Ultimately I would like to submit some of these, so I need to increase the length of my stories.
I tried to create a very vivid picture of the scene: dark streets, wet pavement, the lights shining on the damp concrete, and the settling fog. How effective did you find it? Is there anything I could improve?