Delilah moved up the sidewalk, looking behind her as she went.
She was so pretty tonight, so full of vim, and Gavin just couldn't stop himself from following her.
He had been following her for months now, despite her clear discomfort and requests for him to stop.
Gavin smirked as he thought about the last time she had asked him to stop. They had been outside her apartment, him on the bench and her waiting for a bus. She hadn't seen him right away, but when she had, Gavin had pretended he hadn't seen her. She had been content to ignore him for a little bit, continuing to wait on her bus, but it seemed she couldn't stand it after a little bit.
He'd found it hard not to smirk as she came walking up, trying to act tough but looking so unsure of herself.
"Gavin, I've tried to be nice to you, but if you keep doing this, I'm going to get a restraining order."
He'd laughed at her, she was just so clueless.
"Why do you play these games, Delilah? You know a restraining order wouldn't stop me, and we both know that you won't get one."
She had blushed, cheeks turning as red as a tomato, but Gavin saw that she couldn't hold his stare.
She tried to act tough, but they both knew that she loved the attention.
When she had been hired at the warehouse, it had been love at first sight. She had looked so cute in her little apron and her glasses, and he had attached himself to her right away. She had been grateful, at first, for his help. She had thanked him for helping her learn the ropes and introducing her to other people there. She had acted flattered by his casual flirting but acted shy when he had touched her arm or shoulder. She hadn't told him no, not right away, but then he had escalated a little too quickly. He had arrived at her bus stop with coffee, offered to ride with her to work, and had "randomly" shown up at hangouts she was having with her friends. She always accepted it good-naturedly, but Gavin had apparently misjudged the situation.
Gavin wasn't blind, of course. He had noticed how shy she was when he stood close as they talked, or the way she stammered sometimes when he surprised her. The way she often stepped away when he tried to stand close to her was something that made him grin, but he knew the truth even if she didn't. She was just too naive to admit that she liked him back, or perhaps she just couldn't express her feelings properly.
When HR called him in to discuss "inappropriate workplace interaction" he had assumed it was just yearly training. When they mentioned an anonymous report from a fellow employee, Gavin had laughed and shook his head. This had to be a prank, and he told them as much. He and Delilah were friends, good friends, and if she felt threatened by him she would have surely said something. Regardless, they had transferred him to another shift to alleviate the problem, but that wouldn't stop him from seeing her.
No matter what, they couldn't dampen his love for her.
He showed up to see her on shift, found reasons to be places where she was, and her shyness began to render her speechless. It was okay, he found it endearing, and took full advantage as he talked to her about his day and how his new shift was going. He smiled sometimes when he saw her trembling and could feel it in his arm when he held her hand. She was just so cute, so taken with him, clearly, and he hoped they had put the past behind them.
The next time he'd been called into HR, it had been to tell him he was fired.
Gavin hadn't understood. He had the highest numbers of anyone on his shift, and he couldn't see why he was being fired. They said it was due to complaints, and he hadn't had to think hard about where those had come from. It hadn't been Delilah, never her, so it had to be the woman who had worked on the shift with him before. They saw the attention he was showering on her and had gotten jealous. That was the only explanation. He left without any fuss, not wanting any backlash for Delilah, but they had to know that they couldn't stop their love like that.
People might call it stalking, but Gavin and Delilah knew better, and that was all that really mattered.
She turned suddenly, almost jumping as a man in an over-the-top suit greeted her. Gavin hid beside a stoop as the man gestured to the haunted house, clearly trying to entice her inside. Delilah looked back fretfully, probably afraid that Gavin would lose her, but when the man said something to her and spread his arms out to indicate the attraction, his love smiled wide and nodded strenuously as she reached into her purse for the entry fee.
Gavin gave her a bit of a lead, before making his way up to the attraction.
"Good evening, young man. By any chance are you the young gentleman that the woman ahead of you paid for?"
Gavin's delight must have shown, because the Barker smiled toothily.
"I thought you might be. Go on ahead, she said you'd be right behind her."
Gavin thanked the man and headed eagerly inside. It had taken some time, but it appeared she was finally ready to drop that shyness and reciprocate his affection. Gavin had known he would wear her down. Women loved persistence, after all, and he had been VERY persistent.
He coughed a little as he walked into a cloud of fog, his lungs burning a little as he swirled within a cloud of rotten eggs and old sweat.
To his surprise, Gavin came back out on the street, stepping out the front door again as the Barker continued to cry out for attention.
"Excuse me," Gavin asked as he approached the man, "What the big idea? Is this some kind of,"
When the Barker turned, however, Gavin took a step back in surprise.
The Barker's face had become his own!
"Oh," he said suddenly, looking enchanted as he took a step forward, "It's you!"
His voice was enamoured, taken completely by surprise, and his attention was unnerving. His eyes, Gavin's eyes, were laser-focused on him, and Gavin felt their attention like bugs on his skin. The Barker was getting closer, his tongue worrying at his lips as he came much too close to him. Gavin had never felt this level of scrutiny before in his life, and it was more than a little offputting.
"I wonder, would you like to have dinner with me?" The Barker asked, "I know a great place down the road that serves sushi. We can get anything you like, anything at all."
Gavin took a step back, the suited man who was wearing his face getting much too close, and suddenly Gavin felt sure that he wanted to be anywhere but near this strange man.
"Uh, no thank you." Gavin heard himself say, "I think I have somewhere else to be, excuse me."
He started backing up, but that hardly discouraged the Barker. His hands came out in front, greedy claws that longed to grab, and as Gavin ran, he could hear the man's boots clumping behind him. He was on the sidewalk now, pushing past people as he ran. He didn't have a clear destination in mind, but the situation was so strange that he wasn't sure what to do. He could see other people turning to mark his retreat, and he was just as surprised when he saw that they looked like him as well. He stood amongst a crowd of himself, their piggy eyes locked onto him as he ran from the Barker, and when many of them began to move in his direction, he felt a swell of terror rising in him. They wet their lips, smirked like wolves sighting a chicken, and fell in behind him like they meant to slowly stalk him into submission.
As they gathered, he heard them whispering to him, and the things they said made his skin crawl.
"Where ya goin? Don't be in such a hurry, cutie."
"Hey, goin my way? Why don't we walk together."
"I brought you a coffee. Wanna share a cab?"
As the crowd behind him grew, he was haunted by his own face as it swam up out of the crowd. It was almost like his presence spawned more of the doppelgangers, and as he ran, he felt hounded by them. What was going on? Was he still, somehow, in the haunted house? There was no way that this was happening, no way he was being trailed by a group of his own copies.
He couldn't imagine what was happening, but he knew that he didn't like it.
He tripped over a bit of uneven sidewalk in his haste, and as he went down he hissed as he scuffed his palms. The mob was slowly stalking him, coming up carefully as if trying not to be seen, and when someone offered him a hand, Gavin took it with a thank you. Their voice sounded normal, or at least not like a copy of his, and he glanced back as the strong arm pulled him back to his feet.
"Think nothing of it. Say, they aren't bothering you, are they?" the good samaritan asked, his voice taking on a spookily inquisitive tone, "Why don't you come with me and I'll help you get away. We can get some coffee and you can tell me all about yourself."
Gavin's face fell as he turned back to find his own grinning face leering at him, and he pushed him aside and began to run.
The helpful bystander stood smirking after him before the crowd enveloped and assimilated him.
Gavin was looking frantically for an escape when he saw the bus pull in up ahead.
The doors were open, and Gavin thought that if he could just get on board then maybe he could lose them. They were still making their slow, careful way behind him, but it seemed that every person they encountered on their way to him became another face staring back at him with that same wet smirk. How had he never noticed how creepy that was? How had he never recognized how piggish his eyes were? Had he ever believed himself beautiful, truly?
The longer the mob followed him, the more he realized why Delilaha had been trembling so often.
It wasn't shyness or anticipation, Gavin was hideous and she was terrified of him.
He mounted the bus, only tripping once, but as he got to the top and looked over the nearly filled seats, he recognized his mistake.
He saw his face reflected by every man, every woman, every child, and even by the babies in the arms of the riders as they turned to regard him.
He turned to run, but the doors closed in his face, the driver trapping him with this latest group.
"Where's the fire, good lookin?"
Gavin barrelled through the sliding doors, popping them open with a slight chuff of breaking joints, and was running in blind fear now.
He had to escape, had to get away, but to his horror, he saw a new group rising up to block him as he neared the movie theater he had so often gone to.
He stopped, looking for a way out, but they offered none.
"Nowhere to go, cutie,"
"Nowhere to hide,"
"If you didn't want so much attention, then you would have spoken up,"
"You knew this was inevitable,"
"Only a matter of time,"
"A matter of time,"
"A matter of time,"
He screamed as their words broke over him, looking to the sky as if expecting a deus ex machina to come and deliver him from the mob. This was some sort of cosmic punishment, he supposed. Some sort of lesson he had to learn about how to treat others. He'd wake up outside the haunted house or in his bed and he'd learn that he shouldn't stalk people or how people weren't just objects for him to pursue.
"I'm sorry," he yelled, "I've learned my lesson. Let me," but they buried him then.
They pushed him beneath their bulk, their bodies pressing in on him, and as they tore him to pieces, he screamed in agony. They ripped him limb from limb, yanking out his eyes, his tongue, separating all of him as their revenge. The whole time, he was surrounded by those wet, leering grins, and it was a mercy when he was blinded by their inquisitive fingers.
Even though he couldn't see, their faces were burned into his mind and they followed him into darkness before a blinding light brought him back again.
Gavin blinked, unsure what to make of this, but coughing as he came to again. He was back in front of the haunted house, back together, and as he stood up, he smiled happily. It was just like Ebenezer Scrooge before him, and Gavin knew the lesson here. He was done stalking Dililaha. He would never bother her again. He knew what it felt like now, and she would never see him ever again. He would leave town, he would go so far away that she would never have to worry about seeing him. For the rest of his days, he would strive to...
"You okay, cutie? It's always nice to see you smile."
His face fell as he heard his own voice mimicked back to him, and he turned to find a man in a very familiar suit.
He screamed as the crowd began to circle him again, and when he came to this time, he was already running.
* * * * *
Delilah peeked out the front door to make sure he was gone before she timidly walked out of the haunted house. The nice man on the sidewalk had offered her a place to hide, but when he had told her he would take care of the situation, she hadn't know what he had meant. Was he going to talk to Gavin? Was he going to hurt him? She hated feeling like a deer constantly being chased, but she was just too nice to speak up. Gavin was a creep, but no creepier than her older brother had been.
It almost seemed like something was punishing her when she left the sphere of influence owned by her big brother only to fall into another predator's hunting ground.
The Barker looked up as she walked by, smiling at her as he offered her the money she had given him back.
"You have nothing to fear, miss. He won't bother you anymore."
"Do you promise?" she half whispered, not believing it could be true.
"I do," said the Barker, offering her a smile and a bow of his own.
Delilah nearly wept, but instead of taking the money, she handed him a twenty and told him to keep it.
"It's well worth it to be rid of my constant shadow," she said, practically skipping as she disappeared back into the crowd.
The Barker smiled, "Another satisfied customer," he said, looking back at the entrance before whispering, "Well, one anyway."
About the Creator
Writer, reader, game crafter, screen writer, comedian, playwright, aging hipster, and writer of fine horror.
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