What tremulous shadows plague me as I stumble and shake my way through the day in a furtive, shuffling panic, anxious glances over my shoulder, listening for the heavy-treaded footfalls of some namelss dread. I clutch a threadbare coat closer against my chest, feeling the frantic flutter of my heart against my clenched, trembling fists.
The air seems thick, syrupy sweet, clogging my throat. I gasp and wheeze like a fish thrown to the bank, lungs aching for oxygen that is somehow just out of reach. A car horn blasts in random petulance, and the sudden shock robs my legs of their strength. I clatter to the sidewalk, all hands and knees and elbows, my head hung low, panting like a Saint Bernard on a hot, July afternoon.
One, two, then three. Three sets of feet and ankles pass in and out of view. Three people who glanced nervously at the shuddering form huddled on the sidewalk, three people who quickly looked away and kept walking, perhaps even a little faster.
The air seems to die, to lose its life-giving essence in favor of some thick, acrid staleness that fills my lungs like plaster. My throat catches and holds every particle of dust and mote of the dessicated, choking spume. I know I have to get moving again, to get away, get away from it. From them. From whatever it is that haunts me, always there, hovering just out of sight, out of hearing, but still, there, nonetheless.
I lever myself first to one foot, then the other, leaning against the nearby wall for support, slowly in jumps and starts wrenching myself back up and up like some reluctant Kraken, rising from the depths. I am able to force back one swallow, then two. My fists clenched at my sides, my cracked lips pressed tight into a thin, white line, I will one foot to move, then the other, mechanically, lurching and stumbling forward like some misshapen, ill-formed creature. I woodenly avoided the confused, concerned, even frightened gazes of the other pedestrians around me. My eyes burn with unshed tears of shame, of humiliation, of fear.
Almost there. Almost there.
The stairs loomed before me suddenly, worn concrete steps with a crumbling brick rail. They could have been made of gold given the relief and joy I feel. My heart quickens once again, this time with the first hesistant insistence of hope, my careworn shoes scuffling and shuffling up each step. My tired, weathered hand reaches for the knob, turns, pushes, and I stumble onward. Up two flights, down the hall, almost running now, almost safe, almost…
The door to my room is already open.
Then I know. The shadows weren’t out there, they were in here. It is supposed to be my sanctuary, my refuge. They aren’t supposed to find me here. But they did. They had. With a cold numbness spreading steadily through my body, without the energy left to even shudder or tremble, I step across the threshold.
I don’t even flinch when the door clicks shut behind me.