The Footsteps In The Hall: Part 4
Harold stood just within the entrance and let the door close behind him. It bumped him a bit as it latched home.
The hall was empty. He took a step and an obscenely loud crack of thunder reverberated through the walls. He jumped, and his heart leaped into his throat. The lights in the building powered off, leaving only the battery-powered exit signs to guide.
“Oh fuck,” he whispered to himself, nearly on the verge of tears. He backed into the door and found that it now was also locked into place. “No!”
Ok, be calm. The power went out and these doors suck so let’s just get out of here and get some coffee. He took a deep breath, then another. That was better. He took a third breath through his nose. The moment of panic was gone, but his general demure of tension remained.
Harold took a step forward.
Clip clop, from the other end of the hall.
He waited. There was nothing save for the dull roar of the rain. He took another step.
Clip clop. Just out of sync with his steps.
He was sure there was something else in the dark hallway with him. “Wh…what are you?”
A small titter of laughter from the other end of the hall was his answer.
RUN! He broke for the exit sign glowing ten feet in front of him.
The thing at the other end of the hall met his pace. CLIPCLOPCLIPCLOP.
He was five feet away now. I’ll make it, he had time to think. I’ll make it out and I’ll quit tomorrow.
His forward motion and train of thought were interrupted by something solid and he stumbled to the ground. The thing in the hall fell on top of him and he could feel strands of its hair on his face. This is it, now the unspeakable will take me into the dark under the bed, the hell in the closet at night.
There was nothing, though. His hands were held up in front of him and he had expected to feel teeth or claws, but the shadow simply hovered above him, its tufts of hair tickling his nose.
“…Sally?” He had gone mad it seemed.
He was answered by a soft voice. “Heya, Harry.”
Harold sat up. “What?” There was still panic in his voice. Perhaps the thing was taking the form of one of his memories to lull him into acceptance, to feed him a false sense of hope before devouring him. That’s what monsters did.
The shadow in front of him began to fill in with more details as his eyes adjusted to the red-tinted darkness around him. He saw her nose, then her lips, and how could he have not seen the faint red glare on the lenses of her glasses. “Fancy running into you here,” she said, casually.
“Wh…what?” he asked again. It seemed to be the only word he could gather from his mind into his mouth. “What are you…?”
She shushed him gently and placed her small, smooth finger against his lips.
A tear fell down his cheek as he felt her skin touching his for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. He had spent the last six months doing everything he could to try and forget what she sounded like, what she looked like, what she felt like, and now that he felt her again all he wanted was to hold her. He began kissing the finger against his lips and she drew him into her arms.
“Is it…is it…” he repeated over and over again at her. He felt her nod against his shoulder as the familiar scent of her hair enveloped him. He began to weep, his back heaving. Every memory of her washed over him with stark clarity. Her cat-themed pajama pants she would wear out on her days off, the way she pinned her wair up while she read, her terrible habit of chewing her fingernails when she was nervous he would give anything to see one more time. She had been ripped from him without mercy or thought by a cruel and cold universe that paid mortals no mind. But somehow, she was here in his arms and he in hers once more. He could spend eternity there, curled in that darkened hallway, and been none the happier.
Sally pulled away from him, somehow looking angelic in the dull red glow. He hurriedly wiped at the tears and snot running down his lips. “How is this happening?”
She shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know. I was somewhere else, somewhere nice. But I could feel you…not moving.”
He was still trying to comprehend that she was here, half-convinced he was dreaming.
“You’ve stopped. Everyone is on a highway and you pulled off to the side.” She reached a hand over and thumbed away another tear rolling from his eye.
“I…I just can’t anymore.” A sorrowful pain stabbed into his chest and twisted as he spoke. “It’s too much.”
“I know, baby, I do.” She put her hand on his cheek.
Harold closed his eyes and drank in the feeling through his skin. Elation and depression surged through him. “You were supposed to be with me,” he said hopelessly.
A smile that betrayed a hint of sadness crossed her mouth. “No.”
He pulled from her hand in confusion. “What do you mean, no?” He felt a pang of hurt rise inside of him.
“When you fall in love, you sign up for the other end of the deal, too. Someone’s gotta go sometime.”
He shook his, outwardly denying what she said and inwardly knowing she was right.
“I wish it didn’t have to be me, my love, I do. But over here you’re let loose of time. You’re ok down the road, much better actually.”
Harold looked up. “You know what happens to me?”
Sally took his hands in hers. “I can’t tell you that. But you have to get back on the road. This isn’t the place for you.”
Harold’s mind inexplicably flashed back to Janette’s comment about him being here. “Where else would I go?”
“Back home. Your family needs you, your friends need you, Harry. You don’t get to be dead to them yet, that’s just not fair.”
He shut his eyes, seeing spots in the darkness behind his eyelids. “I miss you so much.” Each word was a soft declaration that carried the weight of a thousand years behind it.
“You always will.” She brought his head back up to meet her eyes. “But you’ll keep going.”
The lights flickered back to life and Harold was sitting alone in the hallway. He continued to weep until the rain died at 3 a.m. and even then until the sun rose at 6.
Harold only worked one more week at MorningStar and every night at midnight he made his way into the hallway connecting buildings A and F, hoping he would hear the footsteps again. He was always met with silence. On July the 17, the Friday of his fifth week of employment he informed Jerry that he was moving back to Georgia.
“That’s a good thing, son,” Jerry said, dabbing at his forehead. “You’ll be better there soon.”
Harold was better there. The guitar and writing came back to him with an intense hunger and before long he was playing local fairs and small venues. He was never sure if what had happened in the hallway had been real, but he chose not to question it. Even after she was gone, Sally had helped him one more time.