Tiny goosebumps. Ice tingling up the spine. These sensations lingered; the only means of knowing that someone was watching. No, not watching… stalking. For how long? He didn’t really know, but he became aware of this presence not a few hours ago.
In that little cafe, with the clever wooden sign that hung above the door, Desmond had picked out a spot at a table by the window. Lazily flipping through his copy of the latest Digital Arts magazine, he absently grabbed for the latte beside him, and was just about to take another sip, when he spotted a hair… landing in the foam. Lately it was becoming a sort of ongoing joke that perhaps his hair thought he wasn’t getting enough protein. At least that’s how it appeared, since fending off the short, auburn strands from getting into food seemed now a familiar nuisance. Still, mild irritation quickly subsided when he came across the article he’d been searching for.
The article in question was a spotlight piece the magazine had published on his art career. Throughout the whole interview, he was surprised – sceptical even – that they would want to write about him but, well, there it was before him between vibrant and glossy pages! He even groaned a little at the accompanying artist photo. Having been torn between two photos, at the time, he now wished he had chosen the latter. Regardless, the finished article was still beautifully written and complete with several of his works. He was proud to see that most of his favourite pieces were there but, upon turning the page, his heart quickly froze. For taking up the entire following page was a picture that he had not recognized…
“They made a mistake,” he cursed quietly under his breath and inspected the image carefully.
Anyone would agree that his art had always been more on the darker side of things. He was the one who people came to when they needed macabre or monsters for their projects. Yet, try as he might, Desmond could not recall ever painting this piece, which was comparatively more creepy than anything he had ever attempted. However, the striking similarities between the artist’s style and his own made the piece nearly indistinguishable, except for the fact that the content was far more minimal. Within the painting, the viewer stood in a plain, dreary room, looking at the only other thing there: a large, cracked, and soil-smeared window framing a pitch black night outside. Desmond noted out-loud the artist’s skilful and pragmatic use of black, grey, and earthy tones that created an almost photo-realistic quality.
He searched for the title and quickly found it on the opposite page, in small italicized font: Nightmare by Desmond Freeman.
Clearly it was a mistake but it somehow still felt eerie. It was at that moment, though, that he spotted something else. Something tucked away in the darkness of the brush strokes. Something on the other side of the glass. It peeked through the bottom corner in a colour of pale white: a face – or at least a small fraction of what looked to be a face. Only a single eye could be seen peering in, bulging intently through matted, rain-soaked hair, as black as the night outside. Each strand clung to its clammy skin limply. Its stare, penetrating. A sense of maddened fear hung in the tension of long, dirtied nails of little fingers, paused in the act of slowly prying open the window pane.
He closed the magazine, perhaps in disgust.
The creepy nature of the article seemed to have thrown Desmond off, causing him to hesitate and momentarily dismiss the sensation of eyes fixated upon him as being all in his head. Still, with each passing moment, the unease steadily grew. Committing to the conclusion that the culprit was likely someone in the cafe and, upon quickly raising his head, Desmond scanned the almost vacant venue. The few people around didn’t appear to be paying him any mind, though. A group of three teenagers sat in a booth at the back, chatting loudly amongst themselves. Otherwise the only other patrons were an elderly couple quietly drinking their coffees and sharing a scone. Even the people on the bustling city street outside treated him with the same distracted disinterest as usual. Yet, the unsettling feeling stayed… it lingered. Lingered to the point where Desmond decidedly packed up his belongings into his bag and headed towards the park.
So, it was here, on the park’s weathered bench, that Desmond presently sat; patiently waiting in the hope that his suspicions be confirmed. Hunched over and shifting around on uncomfortable wooden slats, with steely blue eyes focused downward towards the pavement. He quietly watched as an ant made its way up the cup of unfinished latte, which sat on the ground beside his pair of beaten up Converse shoes and a few tufts of stubborn grass, before clumsily falling in. The path was in dire need of repair, he had determined some time ago, but was apparently still in use. Occasional echoed footsteps of joggers announced their approach, but would always pass by uneventfully. Mostly, though, the park was silent and empty. Not a soul around, save for the birds.
He paused for a moment to pull out his cell phone and glance down at the clock. He hadn’t been aware of the time and, though it didn’t feel like long, he had definitely been sitting there for at least an hour. No doubt this is what reminded him that Melanie had reserved a table for them at a new restaurant they had been meaning to try. If he left now he’d still have time to head home and shake off his nerves.
“Last chance to come out before I leave”, he tried – just in case – but, as expected, there came no reply. He sucked his tongue loudly in frustration and tugged at a loose shoelace before rising to his feet. The parking lot was not too far but, along the way, he made sure each step was deliberately slow and dampened, in an effort to listen close for footsteps following him. Yet, much to his relief, no one appeared and he even slightly chuckled at himself for allowing such silly paranoia to get under his skin. Confidence renewed, he reached into his jeans for the keys and groaned when the metal teeth caught on the fabric lining. They slipped in slow motion and hit the pavement with a loud, metallic thud. He bent down swiftly and scooped them up, but it was upon standing up that Desmond dared to glance back towards the bench once more and, for the second time that day, froze in place…
Shadows of the dense thickets made it hard to see at first, but his eyes had managed to pick out the chalky paleness of sallow flesh that reflected off the setting sun and little fingers – barely distinguishable from twigs – that parted leaves, to reveal my smiling face.
Credit To – NuzzleBunny