The Return. Short Story.

The road was dark, ahead he could see the sickly yellow aura of the city, rising into the sky. As soon as he reached the top of the hill he would be able to see each individual street light, all glowing in unison. Behind him, darkness reigned, growing deeper every step he took. It had been a long walk, but he was almost there, almost home. He stayed close to the edge of the road, he hadn’t seen any cars in the past few hours, but he was still wary of them. Around him there was a steady silence, no animals moved or called out to one another, at first he thought it might be his presence, a human intruding on their intricate world, but he quickly came to realise it wasn’t him, it was something else.

The noise of his feet hitting the road seemed to reverberate and echo briefly before suddenly dying, the noise absorbed by some unknown entity, his breathing, steady and even was growing harsher, the breaths longer, almost gasping. He had been walking for a long time and he was starting to get tired. Though part of him wished to rest, the majority of him wanted to push on, he was so close, so very close. He could rest when he got there.

He was nearing the top of the hill when he stopped. There was no slowing, no pause, just a complete and utter stop. The light above the city was brighter now, he knew that a few more steps would allow him to see it, sprawled in front of him like an inviting lover, but he was afraid. Afraid that it had changed somehow while he was gone, a slight but fundamental difference that would no longer allow it to be his city, his home. He stood where he was, breathing deeply, trying to calm his thundering heart. The air was cold and now that he had stopped walking, he realised how truly chilling it was, there was a stiff breeze, trying to rob his warmth, his breath appearing in small clouds before it was carried away. He looked back, trying to convince himself to move forward, he had gone this far, a few more steps wouldn’t make a difference, but behind him was darkness. He could not see his journey, the unforgiving road did not reassure him or try to push him forward, it stayed silent, waiting. There were few trees surrounding the road, but he could catch glimpses of branches moving in the wind, looming in and out of the darkness, taunting him. He tried to reassure himself, it wouldn’t have changed, couldn’t have and even if it did, so what? It had changed long before he had gotten here, even if he never went back the change would still have taken place. But it was important. That change would warp his memory, remind him of the good times sure, but mostly the bad. There were a lot of bad times. He began to wonder, truly wonder, for the first time, why he was doing this. Why he was going back. There was nothing for him here, there was nothing for him anywhere. He had left almost ten years ago and had wandered since then. Getting jobs and apartments here and there, but mostly moving. Something was drawing him back, but why. He wanted to visit the old haunts and hot spots, see if, no, how much they changed.

He released a breath, a great shuddering gasp, then put one foot forward, then the other, slowly like an old crippled man, his pace no longer sure and steady he wobbled forward. Finally he crested the hill and stared down at the city he both loved and hated, it looked the same, it was slightly larger, brighter, but fundamentally it was the same, wasn’t it? A voice spoke in the back of his mind, no, it was different, this was just the surface, the veneer to trick people into thinking the city was something it wasn’t. He took a few steadying breaths, then he began to walk again, his feet knowing where to take him.

As he walked, he realised that it was never about the city, it was about the house, the house where he was born and raised, the house he had run from. He passed by a row of shops, dark and empty, he didn’t recognise any of them, the streets held the same names but the occupants had changed, the layout was different, but still he knew where to go. He looked sick in the yellow light. He was thin, thinner than was healthy, his face gaunt, cheekbones straining against the skin, the tinge of yellow on his face made him look frightening, but he wasn’t concerned about that. Besides, there was no one around to see him. It was as if everyone had returned to their homes and waited, waited until he passed, then heaved sighs of relief that they were safe, but it wasn’t him they were afraid of, it was the thing that followed him, that had followed him everywhere.

He paused briefly at a corner, remembering the little shop that used to be there, where he would go to buy sweets when ever he found money. He always had to eat them so quickly, he could never stop and enjoy them properly, hunched over, protective of them in case someone should see. The store had been replaced with another, large signs were pained on the windows, proclaiming the great deals that were on offer inside and for a limited time only. He turned from the window and began walking again. It wouldn’t do to dally. He had seen it, in the window, reflected behind him. Watching. Waiting. It would have him, he had no doubt about that, but he would finish his business first.

He walked for a long time, but time had become meaningless to him. There was a faint rosy glow on the horizon, he wondered if that was dawn coming, reaching out slowly, reclaiming the sky. He continued to walk, but still there was no one, he was alone in the city of millions. Occasionally he thought he could see curtains twitching, people behind were watching, peering out at the creatures that passed. He didn’t mind too much, they were of no concern to him. It took longer than he thought it would to reach it. The house.

It had seemed so scary when he was a child, but now it looked sad and forlorn. Old and dilapidating. His father hadn’t kept up maintenance, which was no great surprise. It had seemed so much bigger when he was a child, the windows looming above, allowing people to look in, but they never did. They didn’t want to see what was happening. The screen door hung on one hinge, just waiting for a strong gust to tear it from the house and grant it freedom. He had freedom once. But now he realised that it wasn’t freedom, that the house was always there, looming over his shoulder, watching everything he did.

He walked up the broken pavement, heart thudding wildly. He was doing it, he was really doing it. He knocked on the door and waited. Silence continued to reign over everything, he lifted his hand again and banged on the door, harder this time, not noticing the smears of blood his knucles were leaving. Again, there was silence, sudden and oppressive after the loud sounds. He balled both hands into fists and began to hit the door, he would have entry, even if he had to force his way in. Someone yelling in the distance caused him to stop, listening carefully, he could hear movement inside. The door swung open, his eyes widened in horror. The creature wasn’t behind him, it was never behind him. It was here, dragging him, pushing him forward, to this place. The creature looked him up and down, frowning slightly. “It’s you is it?” It stepped aside, allowing him entry, still shocked he stepped forward, feet moving him passed the creature and back into the house he had once fled.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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