Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write for the SUSPENSE and/or THRILLER Genre (10/23/14)
TITLE: Shadows From The Past
By Pauline Carruthers
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I saw him in the coffee shop today, sitting at a table near the door, a steaming mug cradled in his hands. When I glanced up again he was gone, steam still rising from the mug on the empty table. Last week I had spotted him in the bar, watching me, but at second glance the bar stool was vacant. Apart from the wide streak of silver grey hair that fell over one eye, there was nothing to distinguish him from any other stranger. Yet there was an uncanny familiarity about him and somewhere in the depths of my mind was the disconcerting idea that I had seen him many times before.
A small strand of fear was beginning to wind itself around me. I looked for him in empty streets, my heart pulsing out an erratic thumping rhythm at every shadow. Tonight I imagined I had seen him standing on the corner as I approached the turning to my road, the silvery streak in his hair highlighted by a sliver of moon that dipped for a moment from behind a dark cloud. A shadow in the mind? An echo from the past? I couldn’t tell.
That night fragmented dreams had disturbed my sleep, tracing memories in my subconscious mind, weaving a network of events, jolting me awake, leaving me sweating and trembling. Darkness enfolding me like a shroud. A haunting recognition of a stranger in a dark suit, shoulders shaking in silent sobs. Stumbling to the window I dragged the curtains wide open, letting in a faint glow from the street lamp. Breath caught in my throat, releasing muffled screams of terror as my eyes fixed on the figure standing in the road, the streak of silver in his hair still visible in the darkness. I longed for Charlie’s comforting arms, but he had left two years ago, desperately tired of coping with what he had called, ‘your self inflicted guilt’.
It was the twenty third of December and as I had been doing for the past five years I entered the church and lit two candles, watching them burn. Melting wax like tears. A sudden movement clenched a fist around my heart, leaving me gasping for breath, scrambling out of my seat.
“I’m sorry I startled you. Please don’t go.”
The dark haired stranger lit two candles, before sitting beside me, head in hands. After a while he began sharing his grief. He told me his name was Tom Harris. I felt safe with him, drawn by his unveiled familiarity. I found myself confiding the guilt and pain of that night when, driving home from last minute Christmas shopping, a young woman carrying a small child had run straight out in front of my car. It had happened in a split second. One minute the road had been clear and the next the shocking vision of her smashed face in my windscreen, the child still clasped in her arms, blood mingling with the raindrops running down the screen.
Tom leaned towards me, grasping my trembling hands, a lock of dark hair falling over one eye. For a split second panic gripped me. But Tom’s hair was dark, no silver grey streak. Just a figment of my imagination He had an uncanny ability to mesmerise me and I found myself believing him when he reassured me that the man existed only in my mind. But I had seen the man yesterday.
That evening Tom and I had began a friendship and now it’s the twenty third of December again and we’re sitting in the church, two lighted candles burning in the semi-darkness. He suddenly startles me, announcing that we are going to lay the past to rest. Like a sheep I follow him out into the churchyard.
A torrential storm drenches us as we stand together beside a white marble headstone. The inscription reads,
‘ In loving memory of Marie and Michael Harris, beloved wife and baby son.’
The date was six years ago. It evokes a memory of a grieving young man in a dark suit, standing by a grave.
A nauseous fear drops me to my knees as unrestrained hatred erupts from the depths of Tom’s soul, burning itself into the features of his face. His mouth, a gaping cavern spewing out his pain.
“It’s pay back time Maggie.”
Teeming rain batters unceasingly on his head, running in black tears down his face. Slowly unveiling the silver grey streak plastered to his forehead.
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