That man. How could he forget?
Lou’s eyes snapped open.
That’s it! He knew. That man knew. He had to.
Lou jolted upright in his bed. He reached under his pillow as usual, but immediately drew back in shock. It took him a moment’s pause, then reached under again.
The crisp, morning air tends to carry man-made sounds rather harshly, and Lou’s blaring 5 o’clock alarm was no exception. To Lou though, this wasn’t just an alarm, it was his life. Well no, not really, but he sure did behave like it was. It was his smartphone.
It sure was loud. You could hear it across the street. You could probably see it too, if the frost on his window, the curtains, and his pillow didn’t obscure the faint glow of the screen. Smartphones tend to also vibrate. It was this that gave pause to Lou’s train of thought. Well, it was his fault for choosing to graze the phone right as it buzzed.
Yes, completely his mistake. Modern smartphones are faultless, apparently.
This morning was different though. In his defense, this time he was awake before the phone alarm started screaming. The thought of this man had jolted him awake.
Last night, Lou was feeling quite confused at how bad the first date dinner had gone and got on the train towards his apartment near downtown. The car was a bit more packed than normal. There were about a dozen kids, probably chaperoned by the three exhausted adults with some luggage. There was a girl who, based on her branded baseball hat and t-shirt obviously just finished her shift at the local burger joint, a lady in a business suit and laptop, and a man who, judging by his scrubs, worked in the hospital five stops down or at least played one on locally produced TV. There was also the cliche newspaper-reading anonymous guy, perhaps so deeply engrossed in reading that tuning out all those kids wasn’t a problem. Lucky him.
Not wanting to be bothered, Lou went up the three stairs and sat down in the farthest window double-seat in the car, surprising empty.
She was fine until I asked about a second date, he thought, when one of the kids started crying. He tried to clear his head and continue. Was it the phone call she got a few minutes before that? Or was it me looking for my charger?
More kids decided to join the protest, and Lou gave up trying to think it out right now. He was passively watching the kids, when the person beside the group put their newspaper down. Lou went cold. The hairs in the back of his neck were standing straight up.
Turn away, Lou thought hard, his heartbeat thumping against his chest, drowning out the voice in his head, it’s not polite to stare.
There was nothing you could point out about this man to say he was strange, but that’s what Lou felt. It was obvious the kids felt it too, as they all fell completely silent. Nothing but the rattling train and this strange man’s strange smile. Strange, and not in a good way in the slightest. This man was danger. Lou knew it. His heart was pumping so loud right now, it was drowning out what the mystery man was telling the kids. Lou never missed tracking how many stops they had passed on this new app he had downloaded. He did now.
Then. It happened. The man locked eyes with Lou, which wasn’t hard considering Lou still hadn’t turned away.
“Pick a number.”
Pick a number. The voice was coarse, and said no more. The eyes were dead and cold, and had no need to say more. Just that sinister grin again. It wasn’t play. It was an order.
Six, he thought, Let’s see what he does. No! What am I doing? I shouldn’t be falling prey to what he wants me to think!
Lou was determined to keep a resting poker face, but his heart was racing. Luckily, though, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The strange man was now turned the other way towards the kids, engaging them apparently.
Lou already had a history of depression and anxiety and this wasn’t helping. He started to lose his breath, which felt oddly chilling as it came out. He couldn’t help feel the man was somehow still focused on him, and that definitely wasn’t helping either. He was starting to black out, he could feel it in the tips of his fingers, which always went cold and numb before spreading up to take over. That was his problem.
Lou suffocated on plain air, before finally catching his breath. He found himself holding his chest, doubled over, and cold in the hands and feet. He had no idea how much time had passed.
Had anyone seen him pass out? Lou looked around cautiously.
The man was gone. So was everyone else. The car was empty except for Lou and the man in scrubs, who was now sitting across the aisle from him.
“Are you ok?” he asked, in his bedside manner, but with a genuine concern in his tone.
He really does work in the hospital, Lou thought. He didn’t answer but instead looked up at this gentleman. Looking back at him was the most pleasant smile and friendly face he saw in the last few years. Lou felt an immediate wonderful warmth in his presence. What a complete contrast to… to, he thought.
“Are you okay?” He asked again, his voice deep and soothing. I need to make more friends like this. Who is this guy?
Lou nodded, managed a weak smile, and closed his sweater closer around him.
The overhead automated voice said something he wasn’t focused on catching, and the train started turning a curve and slowing down. Lou had just let his head down drop and his chin catch on his collarbone, too worn out for any other position. He casually looked up out the window to catch sight of the corner deli by his apartment. Grateful he didn’t pass out too long or miss his stop completely, he got up slowly. He was still dazed, but luckily was clearer in the head, clear enough to make it home and take his medication.
Lying in bed later that night, Lou plugged his phone in, and tucked it under his pillow by habit. No sooner had he done that before he passed out from pure exhaustion, with just one thought on his mind.
I didn’t even say thanks.