JD stretched his arms over his head, his security uniform’s stiff material pulling tight across his shoulders. He was exhausted. Especially since he was coming in to work another twelve-hour shift directly from his second job at Home Depot. It was going to be a long night. He had no idea it would be the longest one of his life.
The bank of television screens mounted on the wall ahead of him showed nine differing camera angles of a mostly empty parking lot. The room lights were dimmed and smoke from his partner’s cigarette drifted high toward the ceiling. JD snapped a glance at the clock, 8:28 PM. Parkerson Mills Mall was closing in almost a half hour, few shoppers roamed about.
“Tom,” he said over his shoulder as he stood. “I’m going across the hall real quick to hit the john, then I’ll do a patrol on the southside, okay?”
JD got only a grunt back in response. Tom Dawson was not the talkative type. He was, however, a heavyset man with a salt-and-pepper receding hairline and a set of luggage-sized bags under his eyes to match his second and third chin. His eyes remained glued to the monitor in front of him. It was his job to watch the alarm program for all the door readers.
Swiping up a long flashlight resting on the desk, JD walked out.
Their office was nestled – more like stowed out of the way and nearly forgotten about — in a long hallway in the eastern wing of the shopping mall. The air was stale, musty from dirty mop water and humid as the AC was kept on high to save money. Only steps away, a glass door marked the bathroom entrances.
He pushed past the glass door and stepped to the right into the men’s bathroom. After he did his business, he rinsed his hands and splashed a healthy amount of water onto his face. He looked at the rough stubble on his unshaven cheeks and smoothed down a dark blonde duck tail sticking out over his white collar. With disdain, he noted his own smaller bags forming under his blue eyes.
“Gettin’ uglier and older every day, my man,” he muttered to himself.
The stall door behind swung open with a clatter and a tall, white man stepped out. He was dressed in a nice black suit and white button-down shirt with a flat blue tie.
“Aging’s a heartless bitch, ain’t she?” he said. A glint of dark humor in his gray eyes.
JD laughed but had been startled by the man’s sudden appearance. “Yes. Yes.”
He bent down again to splash his face one more time with water when he sensed rather than felt the man sidestep behind him.
Thick, clear plastic swept down over his face, even awkwardly, pinning some of his left hand’s fingers to his chin. The plastic stretched tight across his mouth and nose. JD immediately could not breath! He gasped, choked and gagged in reflex, caught in the guy’s vice-like embrace. He swung his right arm in wild arches trying to break free. At that same moment, his eyes locked on the fuzzy image of his attacker in the mirror above the row of sinks. The man’s features were unclear, but a large, toothy smile was spread out on his face. It was sharklike, almost crystal clear. A predator’s grin!
JD slapped then scratched at his face trying to make holes to breathe through, but his struggles faded fast, and his vision tunneled away into a black murky inkiness. As he collapsed on the greasy bathroom floor, he heard deep chuckles followed by a “good boy!”.
JD jumped awake, tilted back in a padded passenger seat. A car door opened outside next to him as an old woman climbed into her rusting, gold Ford Crown Victoria. “Good boy, Geoffie! Waitin’ on mama,” she said to her small blonde chihuahua bouncing up and down in the seat to greet her.
Another door opened on JD’s left and he jumped again nearly out of his skin. A younger man, cropped brown hair, dressed in a green hoodie and jeans plopped down, sipping on a large fountain drink. “Hey, dude, you should get one of these, they’re half cost today only!”
The man, Chris Gatti, was JD’s best friend, now ongoing for nine years. He was a few years younger but possessed an old soul with a very generous nature. “I’m serious—” Chris stopped when he saw JD’s terrified expression. “Whoa. What’s wrong?”
JD couldn’t answer. His mind was still absorbing his traumatic attack. How? Why am I here?
Hot sunlight poured in through the windshield. He could see the skies were the bright, crystalline blue of summer.
“Did you have a nightmare or something?”
“I… uh, a nightmare?” he answered completely at a loss for words. A nightmare though did strike him as a possible answer to the craziness of the encounter. After all, why would anyone attack him? He didn’t do anything to anyone, and no one had any beefs with him that he could recall. And he definitely didn’t recognize the strange man who jumped him at Parkerson’s.
“Yeah, you were snoozing like a baby when I pulled in for gas. I didn’t wanna wake you when I went in.”
JD nodded and a genuine uneasy smile blossomed on his face. “Yeah, must’ve been a bad dream.” But it didn’t feel like any dream. Nothing ever felt so real!
“Tell me, man. Musta been a doozy,” Chris asked as he started his Kia Soul.
“Don’t remember much. Hey, hold up. Do you mind if I do get a drink after all?” He answered, mainly wanting to escape having to relive the ambush.
Inside the gas station store, the frigid air chilled him. His clothes were damp from sweat and his exposed skin goosebumped. JD pulled down the rolled-up sleeves of his Tampa Bay Bucs sweatshirt on his arms and headed for the back. The place was cramped with close rows and displays blocking the entrances. A young teenage couple walked past him holding hands, giggling and lost in their own world. Other than the small, Italian man at the register singing along to an old rock tune on the radio, it was quiet.
The lights were amazingly bright to JD and their glare made him squint. In fact, the multitude of items on the shelves were ablaze in what seemed like neon lights and firework colors. He never got migraines, but he had heard that people suffering from them had similar, intense reactions to light. He shook his head, but it didn’t clear up his vision.
He kept his face pointed at his shoes and walked briskly to the soda fountains. His throat was actually sore! I was screaming and gasping for air…
JD reached over for a large size foam cup. The clear plastic dropped down over his face again, cutting off his air and dimming the light.
His words – his plea – came out muffled and muted. This time JD wasted no time. He swung around with his arms spread wide and his fingers clawing the air. He wanted to get his hands on the man. Beat the man back, kick the man in revenge and smash his attacker into the ground forever!
JD’s arms knocked over a potato chip rack and his hands only sent a coffee pot to a crashing end upon the tiled floor. The young teen girl squeaked in surprise at the register.
“What’s going on back there? You will pay for anything you’ve broken, I swear it to God!” the clerk exclaimed.
Thinking he might break the stranger’s hold, JD coiled his legs and propelled backward to drive the man into a counter or maybe one of the nearby freezers. The pair plowed into a glass donut enclosure. There was another tinkling explosion of shattered glass as it fell next to where the two wrestled.
JD’s sight again darkened as numbness spread over him. Why is this happening? Who is this? What the fuck does he waaaa…
More deep chuckles followed him into the gloom.
“Yo! Are you next? Ya waiting on somethin’ or is the machine down, man?”
JD blinked and he wavered on his feet.
Behind him a pair of strong hands gripped his shoulders. “Hey man, you okay?”
Once more, JD could not answer and looked into the face of an elderly black man that had come through a glass door marked CHANNEL BANK – ATM. “What?” he asked the man still holding him upright.
“You okay, I asked.” Concern creased his wrinkled features. His dark eyes imploring and studying his face.
“Honestly, I don’t know.”
He shrugged free of the man and left the small ATM enclosure. Outside it was cloudy and lightly sprinkling. A heavily loaded Metro bus hissed as it progressed down Main. Then its breaks whined angerly in protest as it slowed to make its turn down 5th Ave. He shambled toward an old park bench near the curb facing the street.
He plopped down, planted his face in his hands and leaned over his grubby sneakers. It was too much. The pain, the terror, the icy end of it all. The trauma overwhelmed him. He couldn’t stop himself and he sobbed helplessly in his palms.
Moments later, he finally gathered himself and straightened his shoulders, leaning back.
This is like some cheesy horror movie! Only I’m the only one that Michael or Freddie keep going after.
Like in those movies he and his friends saw relentlessly in his teenager years, he realized he needed answers. Needed to research how and why this kept happening. Yet, those answers were most likely only found on the net. He wasn’t going home to his empty apartment, to his laptop. Hell, he never wanted to be alone anywhere again!
There were public laptops at the city center library. He waited nervously for the next bus which would come and get him close to downtown. Traffic and passersby pedestrians kept him company and he was deeply grateful for that.
The curser kept blinking and waiting for his keywords.
What do I look for? Do I try to find out who that man is? Do I see if anyone else has been attacked recently?
He stared at the laptop screen in frustration. Half a dozen other users were sitting at the bank of laptops and others walked among the bookshelves or browsed the magazine racks. He never felt so happy to see a crowd. He would have gladly hugged and embraced each person. Tears rimmed his eyes again and threatened to spill down.
JD ignored the emotions and got down to business. He typed “Muggings+white 40s male+plastic bag”. His fingers trembled and he forcefully clasped his hands together in his lap as he waited for the search results.
Several stories appeared but nothing that seemed related to what he was going through.
“C’mon! I know this guy’s done this before. He’s too quick, too practiced to be his first rodeo,” he spoke aloud.
“Strangulations+white male” Maybe I need to be broader and more general.
More articles but nothing specific enough to help.
“Self-defense tactics” JD typed next.
A loud siren, shrieking overhead and down the hallway exits startled him so bad he yelped. Some laughter at his reaction was quickly drowned out by a PA announcement, “CAN EVERYONE QUICKLY BUT ORDERLY EXIT THE BUILDING? THE FIRE ALARM IS ON. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
As everyone gathered their books, backpacks and purses, the announcement was repeated.
JD sighed but wasn’t too upset as he was getting no where fast on the internet. As he followed the nervous crowd marching along the hallway, he tried to decide his next move. Where can I go to get answers? Where will there be a crowd? Who might understand what’s happening? Would a church or maybe a priest have some ideas?
Hands gripped his left arm and yanked him hard into an unlit meeting cubby as he started to pass. He stumbled blindly over a chair and fell hard onto his stomach. His right wrist popped like a gun shot in the interior of the small cubby.
Through gritted teeth, he screamed as the stranger landed on top of his back, “WHY DO YOU KEEP ATTACKING ME? WHY DO YOU WANT TO KILL ME?” Tears burned his eyes and hot pain seared through his arm and broken wrist.
The man’s weight constricted JD’s breathing and movements. Even over the continuous bleating of the fire alarm, he could hear the stranger’s deep chuckles.
“Why do you say I’m trying to kill you?” More mocking laughter followed. “That’s funny! I’m not trying. I AM KILLING YOU! And I’m going to kill you again and again!”
JD stopped his struggles and froze in response to the words.
“Jason, you see, you’ve made someone a very powerful enemy. Seen something or done something you weren’t supposed to, I don’t know. So much an enemy that they’ve paid me a lot of money to wipe you out of existence. Every existence… Every lifetime… Every dimension…”
Plastic wrapped his face again. JD couldn’t fight it. He was paralyzed. As his vision winked out, he understood the meaning of those words. The assassin was snuffing him out one by one.
His murder was infinite.