Saturday, April 4, 2015

Short Story: Hydrosis

Ainsley Rigby lifts her leg to the bench to finish tying her shoe, drips of partly chlorinated water fall from her hair. She hardly had enough time to shower, much less dry it out completely. She has just stepped out of the locker room when she realizes that water was beginning to soak her white tee-shirt. She reaches into her gym bag and covers herself up with a green zipper jacket.
Once outside, she realizes that she needed the jacket anyway. It has gotten much cooler in the evening hours. A strong breeze overcomes her so she rings out her hair in a desperate attempt to stay warm. It doesn’t work. It seems as if it’s getting darker by the second as she tries her best to jog across the parking lot. Strain from the two mile swim is taking hold of her body. She shakes and stops under a streetlight to find a candy bar to quell her diabetic issues. But no candy is found and it reminds her that she gave it to a young boy in the park earlier that day. In retrospect, she probably shouldn’t have done that. Hopefully his mother taught him better after that.
Giving up and hoping to reach her house in a timely manner, Ainsley steps onto the grass. It must have rained during her workout. More water, still settling on the surface of the ground seeps into her shoes. The combination of the cold and weight makes it feel like icebergs attached to her feet. Another strong breeze comes from the side and a rolled up sock falls out of the tear in her bag. Plans for fixing it have been on the agenda for only a few weeks. She’ll surely get to it tomorrow afternoon. Tonight, however, she needed to get home. An important job interview awaits her in the morning and sleep is a necessity.
Reaching down to pick up the now muddy sock, something catches her eye. It’s an indiscernible figure, coming toward her, still in the parking lot. The darkness prevents her from being able to see detail but judging from the build and the way the figure is waving its arms at her, it is most certainly a man. She’s not sure if she knows the man but since he isn’t trying to call out to her, she assumes he is crazy.
Ainsley stuffs the sock back into the bag and turns to run up the hill. The wind grows stronger and tries to keep her from moving but she is determined. Whoever this man is, he doesn’t look friendly. She rotates her head back every once in a while and sees every time that he is just as determined. Frustratingly, the grass becomes more water-soaked. She slips on blades of grass, rocks, and mud. It’s a struggle just to keep her footing and finally she falls to her face. Because of the incline, it isn’t that far of a fall and doesn’t hurt that much but it causes her to slide down a little and slows her escape.
The man is still chasing her. She stands up and continues, the low blood-sugar worsens. Upon reaching the top of the hill she is able to move faster. She uses this opportunity to search for her cell phone. Her hand scrambles within the bag, always grasping something else; a comb, a washcloth, and something she doesn’t quite recognize by touch. Her goggles slip through the tear but she doesn’t take the time to retrieve it. Any swim gear who falls behind is left behind. She pulls her hand out, thinking she’s found it but it’s just her deodorant.
The waning moon that was giving her partial visibility fades away as clouds move in front. The crack of thunder shocks her. Where was the lightning? Still moving as fast as possible, she comes to a grouping of trees and ducks behind one, hoping that her pursuer didn’t notice. With her back pressed tight up against the bark, Ainsley breathes deep through her nose to calm down. But panic returns as she thinks she hears the pursuer coming up on her. The thumps of her heart fill her ears like drums, causing more panic. All she can do is blend in as best she can and hope her heartbeat doesn’t give her away. Beads of water trickle from her forehead and into her eyes. It stings. Somehow, even with the pool, shower, rain, and cold she’s perspiring.
A few seconds later, the pursuer appears several meters away, scanning the area for her, thoughts of violent rape no doubt fluttering around his brain. A drop of rain lands on her overexposed neck. A split-second of fear leads her to believe that she’s been shot or bitten and she screams, “ouch!” She covers her mouth, disgusted with herself for being so careless. A miracle, the man has not heard. He doesn’t even react. She gives credit to luck, assuming there was another strike of thunder that she either didn’t hear or quickly forgot.

Hoping her luck hasn’t run out yet, Ainsley pushes herself away from the tree and begins to run again just as an excess of rain comes tumbling down on them. She chooses the wrong path. The trees grow closer together here and bushes and other plant life attempt to block her. She looks around for another way but spots the pursuer, still on his way, perhaps faster than ever. She has no choice but to stay firm.
Limbs, twigs, cones, and sometimes even entire tree trunks assail and impale her in her frantic struggle for safety. Scratches form on her face and hands. Some low reaching branches manage to make her ankles bleed. The ever-flowing sweat rolls back under the skin and mingles with the blood. But nothing the wooded area gives her can be worse than whatever the stranger has planned. She keeps wondering why he was going through all this trouble. There are just as many obstacles for him as there are for her. He could unquestionably find far easier prey somewhere else. She guessed that something particularly about her caught his attention in the swimming pool or the parking lot. He might have even been stalking her for weeks.
Just when she decides that if nothing else, she will put up a good fight, lights glow from the distance. She comes closer and they glow brighter. She’s not completely certain about where she is, seeing as that she would normally walk home in the opposite direction. Her soul gathers hope and the blinding torrent of rain becomes less and less important to her. She knows that she will find someone or someone will find her and she’ll be safe. Even if that other person is just as shady as the first, they’ll distract each other and she’ll leave to find someone better.
Ainsley lets her guard down, thinking her fight is over but fate has at least one more complication for her. Before the clearing into town a rocky but deceptively deep stream jumps in front of her and she falls once again. The water takes her a few meters before she stops herself on the bottom. Even through the rain, she can hear branches crack and feet shuffle. The man stops at the stream for only a few seconds before hopping across and moving on. His strides are long and deliberate. They make him seem resolute but not exceptionally insistent on catching her. He is calm and almost nonthreatening. A glimpse of his face and she registers that he’s not bad looking. Under less aggressive and more traditional circumstances, she would consider dating him.
She rolls over and pulls herself out of the water then crawls to the nearest tree, shuddering to keep warm. At least the sweating seems to have stopped. After several minutes of waiting, she concludes that the pursuer has found another victim or given up entirely. The rain, though still falling, is doing so more conservatively now. She shakes off what she can then hugs herself for both warmth and emotional comfort. After the last tree moves out of her way, she sees that she has arrived in a business area. No residence buildings at all. Perhaps there is a bar nearby that will be open so late at night. Nothing else will. If not, there has to be a payphone. As outdated as that is, they still exist, right? She’ll call her friend to pick her up first and then the cops. Or maybe the cops first. Which one should have the head start?
The rain clears up even more. Clouds fade and create more moonlight. Nothing appears to be open but after only a couple minutes of searching, she finds a lone payphone on the corner. As she steps closer, she prays that it’s not broken. She lifts the handsets. Dial tone. She closes her eyes to concentrate. With the advent of cellular phones that have built-in contact saving technology it has become remarkably more difficult to remember people’s phone numbers. But in the end she does and calculatingly presses each button since there is no screen to reveal mistakes which she makes a few times. Sweat has inexplicably revisit to clam up her hands. But in the end, she pushes the last button. It rings once. It rings again. It rings three more times then goes to voicemail. Either her roommate is away from her phone, or has decided to ignore an unknown number.
The voicemail greeting is long. Ainsley has suggested to her gently on many occasions to shorten it but it obviously hasn’t sunk in. It beeps and she begins a quick message about the situation and asks for help, ending with a recitation of the payphone’s number. Two of the digits have been obscured but she thinks she has it right. She hangs up the phone, listens to the clink of the quarter and dime she was thankful to have found in the mess of her bag in the first place, and turns to lean against the wall to catch her breath before calling 911. But she doesn’t get a chance when she sees a man standing in front of her. She immediately recognizes him as the same who was following her earlier, causing most of the night’s terrible crises.
Through all her perseverance, determination, panic, and injuries she was finally caught. Throughout the chase she decided to fight back but right now—at this moment—when flight was futile and fight is the only option, she freezes. She’s taken a few self-defense classes but they were all worthless without the confidence. The low blood-sugar level she began suffering before has certainly not gone away.
She thinks about how she’ll handle whatever comes to her. Should she keep her eyes closed or should she ingrain his face into her mind for the sketch artist? They will need to do a rape kit first. She’s not quite sure what that involves but it has to be better than what is about to happen. She should be sure to scratch him. Cops always find out who it is using DNA underneath the survivor’s or victim’s fingernails. She runs her thumb across her fingers. No nails. She keeps them short even without a reason to. Just one of many things she was regretting this very moment.
The man lifts his hand toward her slowly. Ainsley flinches but stops to look at the hand. It is holding her cell phone. She dropped it at some point, most likely while still in the club or the man wouldn’t have followed her in the first place. Or perhaps he just wanted to give it back before doing something bad. But he doesn’t. She takes the phone back from him and he nods before beginning to walk away.
“Hey, wait,” she calls to him.
He doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even react, just as he didn’t when she got hurt.
She trots over to him and takes him by the arm. At this he reacts, turning in slight surprise. “Why didn’t you just tell me what you wanted?” She asks.
The man waves his hand in front of his mouth but says nothing.
“You can’t speak?” she asks.
He waves his hand by one of his ears.
“You can’t hear either,” she states. Reaching back into her personal memory archives, she tries to retrieve what little sign language she knows. She’s about to snap the index and middle finger to the thumb but remembers at the last second that that means no. Instead, she places her hand on her forward and moves it down in an arc. Thank you. She’s fairly certain that she has butchered the sign but the man appears to get the point. He smiles—almost laughs—then nods cordially before looking at their surroundings. She has no proof of this but she chooses to believe he’s doing this to ensure her safety. With nothing more to say, he turns one last time and walks away into the darkness.

The payphone rings.

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