Kelli hadn’t noticed someone running behind her at a safe distance until she passed the white three-mile marker for joggers in Armstrong Park. Another mile and she’d be home.
Well, sort of. She’d still have to climb the eighty-six crude brick steps up the steep side of Walnut Hill to reach her small cottage, a place not visible from the quiet road below.
“You’re crazy to live up there alone; anything could happen
to you.” Kelli’s mother inserted the same old litany into every telephone conversation they had, which seemed like several times a day to Kelli.
Kelli, feeling her pulse quicken, picked up her pace slightly and wished there were more people jogging in the park. It was the weekend when normally the voices of picnickers, ball players, mothers pushing sleeping infants in Babies-R-Us strollers, and couples holding hands, filled the air.
But this was Labor Day weekend and nearly everyone Kelli knew was at City Lake for the yearly fireworks display which this year promised to be the most spectacular in the state.
As she followed the jogging path, she turned her head slightly and discovered to her alarm that the man had gained considerable ground on her. There was no question now: he
was pursuing her and he was determined.
“I can’t let him see the steps up to my cottage” she
whispered hoarsely to herself as panic began to set in.
Suddenly, she darted from the jogging path into a strand of trees and zigzagged her way toward the end of the four-mile run. She had momentarily lost him, so she began the long flight up the winding stairs, bordered on both sides by a heavy undergrowth and unattended shrubs. Almost from nowhere he appeared at the bottom of the steps and stood quietly, pondering whether to climb them or not.
Hiding behind tree, Kelli made mental note of his medium build and height, a weathered face heavily pocked, indicating that he’d spent most of time outside. Of two things she was doubly sure: he was physically very fit and she would never stand a chance trying to fend him off.
Suddenly, she lost sight of the man and immediately resumed her flight upward. By now the blackness of night had set in, with only a waning crescent moon to provide direction.
She reasoned that he might have given up pursuit but she dared not take comfort in that possibility.
It was then that she heard the snapping of dried limbs and knew he was still behind her. She stumbled up the crumbling steps she knew so well but which now seemed to be partnering in some evil, heinous plot against her.
Upward she climbed, not stopping to rest at the half-way landing. She could hear him now on the steps below her breathing heavily, menacingly.
Kelli had reached the last section of steps and felt her knees buckle beneath her. Unable to determine if they had physically given out or whether she was too gripped with fear to continue, she knew she couldn’t afford the luxury of finding out.
Stopping momentarily, she listened for his footsteps but everything was quiet. She was only a few steps from the top landing and from there it was only a short distance to her front porch.
Her pounding heart drowned out every nature sound around her. It seemed she was being devoured by a fear so intense and all-consuming that she would faint. Still she must continue; she had to reach the top and the porch beyond it.
Breathing deeply, she used her second wind to reach the porch and, flinging open the front door, threw herself inside, spent and drained.
She felt for the door, quickly locked herself in and engaged the deadbolt lock beneath it.
Facing the door, she slid down,resting her forehead on the door frame. Whew! I made it; I made it,” were the only sounds escaping through her tremulous lips.
Then behind her in the blackness, someone cleared his throat.
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