A Strange Occurrence

It is a generally accepted notion that the less time you have to accomplish a task, the more people will be standing in line ahead of you at the Home Depot. I stood in line, the new doorbell in my hand, tapping my foot impatiently as the clerk at the check-out once again called the electronics department to verify the price of a screwdriver.

"Home Electronics to Cash Three... Home Electronics to Cash Three..."

I glanced nervously around. It was funny: the whole drive to the store I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being followed. Every time I checked the mirror I could see a white van. There was a white van parked by the entrance to the Home Depot. It was unmarked, and, suspiciously, sported no licence plates. Have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched? Stalked? Hunted? In my purse I found a handkerchief, and I used it to wipe away the sheen of sweat that was beginning to form on my brow.

"Is this everything?" I gasped and clutched the handkerchief to my breast when the check-out clerk addressed me. I nodded, unable to speak.

"Hardware to Cash Three... Hardware to Cash Three... I need a price check on a door bell button. Model is seven, six, nine, eight dash one, eight bee. Seven, six, nine, eight dash one, eight bee..."

"It's $67.99," I told her impatiently. "Just a replacement for our front door. Here's $80... keep the change." I tried to push four $20 bills into her hand, but the girl seemed confused. The name tag on her apron said that her name was Sheryll, and that she was a trainee.

"Hold on a sec," said Sheryll. "I need to ask my supervisor a question."

The Home Depot was getting smaller and smaller; I could feel the walls crushing me, squeezing me and stealing the breath from my lungs.

"Forget it!" I squeaked; my voice was unnaturally high. "I'll come back!"

I ran from the building. As I stepped from the curb, I was almost struck by a passing car and I heard the driver's profanities following me across the parking lot. I jabbed my finger at the automatic unlock attached to my ring of keys, and was rewarded with the familiar beeping noise as my car readied itself for my arrival. I got into the car as fast as I could and, relieved, sighed and rested my forehead against the cool leather of the steering wheel. I started the engine and pulled slowly out of the parking lot. Behind me, there was a white van.

Maybe I was being overly cautious. Maybe the driver of the white van was simply buying dimmer switches for the lights in his dining room, but I nevertheless drove a different, more circuitous route than was my usual way home. I pulled into the driveway and beeped the horn three times, the signal that something may be amiss. The white van passed by and continued slowly up the street before disappearing around the corner.

My heart was palpitating, beating like a frightened bird desperate to escape the hungry cat that lies in wait. My hands were shaking. When I regained control of myself, I made my way up the walkway, up the stairs to the porch and paused at the door. Where the doorbell ought to have been dead wires protruded from the wall, as still as Medusa after Perseus had severed her head from her Gorgon body. Adrenaline coursed through my body, and I was sensitive to the slightest noises. Behind me a vehicle passed slowly by, then pulled to the curb a few houses down. I didn't need to turn around to know that the white van had returned.

I knocked at the door, opaque save for the small, round peephole in front of which I waited. My heart beat faster: was I too late? Had they been here already? Too late! Too late! echoed the beats of my heart, until finally I heard the sound of the locks being unfastened; the door opened a crack, and I saw a familiar brown eye as Russell checked to make sure I was alone before opening the door the rest of the way to admit me. I saw behind his long lashes the same fear that had followed me in my errand, and I knew that my suspicions had been correct.

"It's time," I whispered, closing and locking the door behind me, and Russell answered with a nod. "Let's go."

The End

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