A Spooky Tale by Atlas
Halloween is right around the corner, and given the time of year, I’d like to do something different. Rather than writing about spooky destinations or cultural celebrations, I’d like to share with you a story of my own making.
Without further ado, here it is:
Fear not ghosts and ghouls, for the mind is where unimaginable terrors lie.
“What are you thinking about for dinner?” They were 15 minutes from their house. After a long day walking around in the cool fall weather, admiring crafts, picking pumpkins, and sipping on warm apple cider, neither one of them wanted to cook.
“What about Chinese?” Ellie replied. She imagined them sitting on the couch together in their warm, clean, and newly decorated home, indulging in Chinese food in their pajamas, while watching one of their go-to comfort shows.
“Chinese, huh?” Matt responded, nodding his head in agreement. “Yeah, that sounds good! You wanna order?”
“Sure,” Ellie pulled out her phone and looked up the takeout place they normally went to, a few blocks from the house, towards the city. “You want your use?” she asked, “use” sounding more like “yooj,” their colloquial term for “usual.”
Matt chuckled, “you know it.”
20 minutes later they entered the parking lot of the takeout place nestled in a strip mall with a large, open parking lot. Matt pulled into a spot and parked the car. “Do you want to come in with me?” Ellie grew rather comfortable in her seat, wrapped in her cozy coat and scarves, her bottom warmed from the heated seat feature that she loved ever so much. Her feet ached and her legs felt heavy from their adventure earlier that day.
“Nah, I think I’ll stay here.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back.” He got out of the car, letting the cold breeze cut into her warm cocoon, and shut the door behind him. Ellie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. What a marvelous weekend it has been, she thought. It’s only Saturday evening too, we still have the rest of the night to do things. The weekends went quickly, but rather than the usual cyclical thoughts that plagued Ellie’s mind as the sun set on Saturdays, she surprisingly felt at ease.
Wash is done, house is clean, we’ll have some good food, and we still have the rest of the night to—A knock on the window interrupted Ellie’s train of thought. Her eyes shot open, and she looked out the window to see a figure standing outside her door.
It was twilight, but the heat from the car and her body clouded the windows from the chilly, outside world. She turned the heat down and rubbed her sleeve along the window, revealing a figure in a long coat. As the steam from the windows began to disappear, she caught a better glimpse of the figure standing nearby. It was a man with a grimy face and disheveled hair. He wore several layers of clothing under his coat, each layer covered in holes, revealing the layer underneath it, with the deepest revealing his skin.
The man knocked again on her window; the sound dulled by the gloves covering his hands.
“C-Can I h-help you?” Ellie finally said.
The man backed up and bent over to peer into the window, “Do you have any money?” His voice was harsh and raspy, teeth brown and yellow, his lips cracked with remnants of dried blood between white, dead skin.
“N-no, I d-don’t,” Ellie said instinctively. She turned and faced forward, hoping that silence and the lack of eye contact would make the man go away. Of course a man would approach me when I’m alone in the car. Luckily, it’s cold out and the windows are closed. Ellie kept her head forward but darted her eyes toward the window—the man was still there but not as close as before. Ellie felt her body heating up, the warmth from her seat warmer and the scarves that encased her amplifying the heat to a sweat that made her want to tear everything off, but she felt she couldn’t move.
The man approached the car again, peering into the back seat and then back to Ellie. “Do you have any food?”
Ellie’s underarms were now wet. Heat rippled through her; she felt as though she were under a spotlight, the light searing into her skin and fusing it to the seat beneath her. She could no longer breathe, she had to think about how to breathe, to inhale and slowly exhale. Her throat became tight and sore, feeling the passageway that brought air from her nose to her lungs become more and more narrow until her chest ceased to move.
Come on, Matt… What in the heck is taking so long? Chinese food doesn’t take that long to cook, and we ordered over 20 minutes ago!
Ellie quickly glanced at the back of the car, peering through the back window, across the sidewalk, and into the takeout place. Matt was sitting at a table, on his phone. I guess the food isn’t ready yet…
She suddenly began to feel angry, partly due to the man standing outside her door, the fact that their food wasn’t ready yet, and that Matt wasn’t here to make everything better.
She remembered the time when they were headed to her parents’ house for dinner, and they were held up at this busy intersection. A few cars ahead there was a beggar going from car to car asking people for food and money. He was loud and aggressive, banging on people’s windows to get their attention and give them what he didn’t have. The stoplight seemed to remain the same color for hours, forcing them to wait for the man to approach them. She was mad at the light, annoyed with Matt for picking this route and she glared at the black space that occupied the bottom left corner of the light until a green arrow appeared, allowing them to evade the beggar and be on their way.
She didn’t have anything to give the man, and in any case, she wouldn’t open her door or window for a complete stranger. The man still stood outside her window, looking back and forth between her and the back seat. A fire brewed inside her chest, searing her throat and then exploding in her mouth. “Look, can you just leave me alone?” she erupted, trying to appear vicious yet brave.
With the release of her words, she was able to breathe again and break free from the constraints that took over her body. I am the one in control, she thought. I am the one in the car with the doors locked, I CAN stick up for myself! She smiled and almost laughed until a thought crossed her mind that made her heart stop and her body freeze.
What if he has a gun? What if he was just asking nicely at first, but won’t take “no” for an answer? He could shoot the window, shoot me! I could be shot by a total stranger just waiting in the parking lot of a Chinese takeout place, doing nothing at all and bothering no one!
Matt had only been gone a matter of minutes, but to Ellie it was several torturous hours where she could have possibly lost her life for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I’m not the only person here, right? Isn’t anyone else seeing this? Doesn’t this guy have someone else to bother? Why me?
There were several other cars in the parking lot, but she couldn’t see any people in them from where she was at.
Breathe, Ellie thought, inhale… 1… 2… 3… 4… exhale… 1… 2… 3… 4… Everything is going to be fine. Waves of calmness came with each breath, but she was too frightened to get rid of the panic that was sinking into her stomach.
She glanced out the window again and realized the man was gone, taking her bark and fleeing the scene. She scanned the parking lot and noticed two figures in the corner, next to the last shop of the strip, huddled around a cart full of blankets, bags, and other random items. She recognized the one figure to be the man who approached her, the figure next to him having a similar appearance.
Where is everybody? Ellie thought. I’m not the only one here, this isn’t the only store here. Why isn’t anyone seeing this? The stores have their lights on and we’re in the middle of an open parking, where the heck IS EVERYONE?
While scanning the perimeter of the area, Ellie looked at the pair again. The man who approached her raised his arm and pointed his finger towards her direction. The other figure lifted their head up and met eyes with Ellie.
Ellie’s throat tightened, her eyed widened and her chest hardened; she quickly turned away, trying to imagine that didn’t just happen. Her temperature rose again, and her heart was beating in her throat. She felt trouble, fear, she wanted to let out the loudest scream she could ever produce but she could make no noise at all. Breathing eluded her, time stopped, and her mind raced.
Matt is less than 20 feet away from you and you are in a public place. You are safe in a locked car. SAFE? If I felt safe, I wouldn’t feel as though I were sitting in a sauna right now! These people could be dangerous! But how are they going to reach you, honestly? Remember to breathe.
They could break the window. But people would hear that, they would see. I’ll scream, I’ll scream so loudly that it’ll pierce the eardrums of whoever tries to make their way into this car. But what if they have a gun?! They can shoot the window, shoot you! This could be your last day on earth, this is how you go! How is it going to look in the paper: Woman gets robbed and shot by homeless beggars while waiting for her boyfriend to pick up Chinese food? Calm down, just breathe Ellie, inhale...
She squeezed her eyes shut. Exhale... Are they still there…?
She slowly opened her eyes, directing them to where the two figures stood—they were gone. Holy crap! They’re gone… but what does that mean? Where did they go? What if they approached the car while you were thinking about your article in the newspaper and they’re just waiting for you to open up and take a look! She arched her back and raised her head, peering outside of the windows of the car to see if she could spot anyone. She couldn’t see anyone, but they could be creeping down low, hiding, waiting for her to open her door, and put her theory to the test.
Panic ran through her veins, and she began to massage her pressure points. She took deep breaths, hoping that a sharp inhale would reset her system and she’d suddenly be able to breathe like a normal person. We should have just gone home and made a frozen pizza. If we did that, none of this would be happening!
She looked back to the window of the takeout place, overcome with frustration and anger. Matt was standing up at the counter and she could see the tip of his green phone case peeking out of his back pocket.
Your phone! You have a phone you idiot! Ellie leaned down and grabbed her purse, feeling around for her phone. She pulled it out, hands shaking, and quickly texted Matt. Unsure of what exactly to say, she wrote:
COME HERE NOW
She set her phone on her lap, rest assured that her knight would soon be here, and they would be off.
Breathe… Matt is paying for the food now and he will be here in a few seconds.
For a brief moment, she had forgotten about the man who approached her, who then pointed at her, and then mysteriously disappeared.
Why are you freaking out so much? They are just people asking for food and money, that’s usually what homeless people do. Please don’t let this ruin your Saturday night…
Inhale… Yes, but they could be dangerous with the intention of hurting you. You’re in public! It’s not like you’re in the middle of nowhere, you are in a parking lot and Matt will be back any minute. Besides, there are other cars here, and given that it’s a strip mall on the outskirts of the city, there are probably cameras. Exhale…What good are cameras if you’re dead?
She stared into the darkness in front of her, her body here but her mind somewhere else. What if they go after Matt? What if they are hiding under the car, beside the car next to us, and as he opens the door to get in the car, they push him in, force him to drive us somewhere. What if they rob him and steal our money, take his life? Then what? What will become of you? Come on, Ellie. Why would they rob you? Why would they try to hurt you? Not all people are bad. Yes, but not all people are good either! Why would they do it, but what’s to stop them from doing it?! Shouldn’t Matt be back by now? Why does it have to be so dark, I can’t see anything! Why is it so freaking hot? Why did we come here anyway? Why couldn’t we have just gone home?? Why is this bloody song so freaking loud?!?!
The sound of the doors unlocking interrupted Ellie’s thoughts, and the driver’s side door opened, letting the breeze in to cool her off. She was relived to be presented a bag of Chinese food, with her knight behind it. Ellie took the bag and rested it on her lap, intoxicated by the hot food that made her stomach growl. Matt sat down and started the car. He looked at Ellie, her face red, hair wet, and hugging the Chinese food as if holding on to it for dear life.
“Are you okay, El?” he asked.
Inhale… 1… 2… 3… 4…
“Yeah, I was just thinking,” she exhaled.
There you have it! Just a little taste of the tales that spin around the mind of Atlas.
Until next time,