Persistently fear would try and infect him, but with every exhale of his breath he would try and push it out. He had no time for fear. Fear made people weak; it created doubt and stole away hope.
His lungs felt as if they were on fire. He needed to find a place to stop and catch his breath, but all he could make out in the low light of the alley were bags of litter, gathered around dumpsters which were already brimming with waste. At least this particular alley didn’t have a dead end. He was grateful for that.
Halfway down the impossibly long alley he stopped to catch his breath, he didn’t want too but his chest felt like it was going to explode and his vision was starting to go dark around the edges. Leaning against one of the filthy wet walls, swallowing down huge gasps of the filthy smelling air he looked back at the way he had come. He couldn’t see anyone, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t there.
He pulled up the sleeve to the expensive shirt he had worn for tonight and looked at his watch. The time piece told him it was 23:23. Seeing the two numbers together unnerved him, but he wasn’t sure why. The sound of an empty can rattling across the hard concrete floor tore his attention away from the numbers on his watch. He didn’t stop to look and see who or what had disturbed the can. With more effort than it should have taken, he pushed himself away from the alley wall and continued to run. He could see light at the end of the alley that he desperately wanted to leave. The street lights shone, as welcoming and as warm as any open fire in a hearth on a cold and miserable day. If he could just get to a public place, he would be okay, they wouldn’t be able to get him once he was out and in amongst people, normal people, real people. Once he knew he was safe he would then be able to figure out what had happened.
With less than forty feet to go before he reached his destination he foolishly started to believe that he was going to be okay, that he was going to get out. But hope, whilst powerful, can be as delicate as crystal and as small as a grain of sand. Easily smashed and easily lost.
With the finish line in sight, a tall dark silhouette stepped out of the inky dark shadows, obstructing the exit, cutting through the light from the street on the other side like a black shard. Its elongated shadow cast an ominous shape on the wet, litter strewn floor.
The running man skidded to a stop less than ten feet away from what he hoped would have been relative safety, his shoes losing grip on the wet concrete. He fell to his knees. Panic and fear was now being smothered by a new emotion, acceptance.
He knew escape was impossible as the dark silhouette took a step towards him. The darkness of the alley and the backlight from the street made it impossible for him to make out any discernible features of the being that took another step toward him.
Inexplicably he started to laugh. At first it was more a chuckle, barely audible and then the inappropriate sensation got stronger. Before he could explain it he was laughing out loud hysterically.
Still unable to make out who or what it was that now stood in front of him, the man on the floor stopped laughing. He wasn’t going to fight, it was pointless. The shadow reached out slowly to him with a pale, skeleton thin hand. The man on the floor knew that if it touched him, it was over. But he was too tired to try and escape, besides, if he did manage to fight his way out, they would find him again. Instead he chose dignity over fear. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, ready for whatever came next.
Past the dark alley, in the protection of the lit world, a car horn blared. The man had expected and waited for his life to flash before his eyes. Wasn’t that what people said happened when forced into a situation like this, but instead the last thing he would hear would be an irate driver hitting their car horn impatiently. Then he heard it again, only this time it was louder. The man on the floor opened his eyes to discover that he was no longer in the dark alley.