Candy's Going Out Tonight, by P.M. Terry Lamar
Candy had a cellphone to her ear and her fingers on her keyboard. As she spoke, "No, gotta go. I'm meeting Heather and goin' to a movie," she typed, "c u l8rz."
She closed the phone and logged off MySpace then jumped up to check herself out in the mirror by the door.
She thought she looked sufficiently extreme: torn, black leggings; a, crooked, short pink skirt; three layers of skimpy raggedy tops that together covered up the important parts. Her black (dyed) hair was sticking out radically in at least 10 directions. Make up was plenty dark and heavy; she pursed her lips and laughed at herself. She danced around in her plaid converse which had natural air conditioning but weren't totally falling apart; yet.
She grabbed her purse just as her phone played Dani California, by Red Hot Chili Peppers, her ring tone.
"Yeah, I'm coming downstairs now," she told Heather and ran out the door, barely remembering to lock it. She was excited. She had plenty of money now that she had a good job and she wanted to go out this Saturday Night and party like she used to back in school.
Candy impatiently jabbed at the elevator button before seeing the "Out of order" sign taped at 3 feet above the ground. "Frickin' management can't keep this thing running for more than a day," she growled, moving to the stairs. She thought about what she'd yell at Ike, the lazy "engineer" who was supposed to keep the place in shape. Then muttered to herself, "I'm gonna get out of this rat heap as soon as I save up a little more money."
She opened the door to the stairwell, wanting to run down the 12 flights as quickly as possible since she knew a couple girls had been assaulted in the stairwell last week. Flicking up the light switch, she groaned and cursed as the light stayed off. "No way I can walk down there in the dark with who knows Frickin' who in there." She backed out into the hallway and looked up and down the hall, hoping to see someone she could walk down with. No one.
Candy ran down to Mike's apartment. She didn't really like the dweeb, but he liked her and would jump at the chance to spend a few minutes protecting her on the stairwell. She knocked on the door.
She pounded louder, hoping he was just slow tonight.
"Dammit. No way he's out tonight, he's never out." She looked up and down the hallway again, thinking of everyone else on her floor and knowing no one else would bother to go with her.
She called Heather's number. "Yeah, Heather, the stupid ‘vator's broke again and the light in the stairwell's out, too. You see anyone down there that might come up and meet me?" She listened, "No way, sister. You ain't comin' up those stairs. You know Sissy and Deb were raped in there last week. And it's DARK!" She felt the panic in her voice and it made her angry. "Forget it, honey. I'll be down in a few minutes, just stay there."
She ran back to her apartment and opened the door. She turned the lights back on and ran into the kitchen. She started opening drawers, trying to remember were she kept her flashlight. Finally finding it, she grabbed it and ran back out. This time, she left the lights in her apartment on and locked the door behind her, careful to lock each deadbolt.
She walked back to Mike's door for one more chance of finding him in. Maybe he'd been in the can and hadn't heard her pounding. She rapped loudly with her knuckles.
Okay, back to the stairwell.
She walked through the door, flicking the light switch up and down to make sure she hadn't made a mistake before. Nope, no light. As the door swung closed behind her, she flicked on her flashlight, its faint yellow light barely showing much. She shook it and the light glowed whiter and brighter. She cursed herself inwardly for not changing the batteries.
She shined the light upstairs and then down. She listened. Nothing. No one.
She started walking down the stairs, wanting to run but not wanting to run. If she ran, she'd make more noise, and she certainly didn't want to attract attention to herself or sound scared.
She walked down one flight and tried the light switch there. Nothing.
She started down the next flight and as she moved she thought she heard a footstep. "That wasn't me, was it? Shit." She felt her pulse race. She didn't know if it had come from above her or below her. As she aimed her flashlight down, she wondered whether or not she was just making herself easier to see. The light might actually attract the attacker.
"I'm just being stupid. Forget it. I know self defense." She suddenly wished she'd kept practicing the moves she'd learned in her self-defense course. She had always meant to practice.
As she moved down, still wondering about whether or not her flashlight was a good idea or not, her flashlight made the decision for her. It flickered yellow and then off.
"No!!" Her voice trembled as she shook it and shook it. Nothing.
"Well," she thought, "I can use it to hit someone on the head if I need to."
She let her eyes adjust. There was a little light let in at each floor since the doors didn't fit snugly into the frames. It let her see enough to move down to the next floor. She tried that light switch. Nothing.
Before she moved, she heard another footstep. She was sure it was below her this time.
Panicking and feeling stupid at the same time, she jerked open the door and ran into the hallway. She tried to remember if she knew anyone on the 10th floor. Hmm.
Yes. Cassie. Which room was hers??
Candy moved down the hallway, trying to remember which room Cassie lived in. Cassie wasn't really a friend, but she might like to go out with her. She hoped Cassie wasn't already out.
She heard a sound at the far end of the hallway and turned to look when suddenly the lights on that floor went out. She almost screamed but held it in.
Her mind struggled with what was happening. Was this all intentional or was the building really falling apart this badly. Her stomach clenched as she concluded that this was no accident.
She moved back in the direction of the stairwell, feeling the wall as she went, listening for any sound. Her hand finally touched the stairwell door handle but she wasn't sure what to do.
Listening for any sound behind her or anything coming from the stairwell, she finally decided. She'd run back up the two floors and get back into her apartment. There she'd call Heather and tell her to go to the theater and she'd meet her later. Then, she'd call "engineer" Ike and make him walk her downstairs. If he couldn't keep the building working, he should at least do something to keep her safe.
She opened the door slowly, trying to be quiet so she could hear anyone else and so they couldn't hear her.
Her phone rang, making her jump and shriek. She grabbed her phone, its light shining and showing anyone around where she was. "Heather," she whispered, "don't call again. I've got problems. Go to the theater. I'll meet you there." She hung up while Heather was asking questions. The phone's light shone out like a beacon and she stuck in it her pocket. She grasped the flashlight in a sweaty death grip and pushed the door all the way open.
She stepped into the stairwell as quietly as she could. She hoped no one had heard the phone or her conversation even while she knew it was ridiculous to hope it. Well, if they had heard, they might conclude she was going to continue downstairs. That was fine.
She moved slowly, again running her fingers along the wall in front of her to make sure she knew where she was. She felt for the stairs with her feet. She felt the first stair at the same time her hand met the banister. She started up. Hearing nothing, she felt better and kept moving. As she neared the 11th floor landing, she started to have hope that she'd be able to reach her room with no problems.
Then she heard the footstep below her.
There was no doubt this time. Someone had stepped on the stairs about one floor below her. She stopped and felt as if she couldn't breathe.
She forced her feet forward, hoping the Converse shoes made less noise than she thought they did. Her stomach was swirling with acid and she imagined the sound reverberated on the stairwell walls.
She kept going. She tried to avoid stepping into the light beneath the 11th floor door even while she considered running into that hallway and pounding on every door. A part of her still thought she was making too much of this and hated to embarrass herself. "You're a stupid fool," she thought to herself even as she moved up the stairs to her own floor.
The sound of two footsteps. They sounded closer than before! How had he moved so quietly?? Candy's legs turned wobbly. She almost fell to her knees but forced her feet to step up each step.
She was halfway up and she heard another footstep. She could hear him breathing, too. She was sure she heard his breathing. No, that was hers. Or was it?
Her mind struggled with these thoughts even as she moved up the stairs.
She was almost to her floor when she heard the footsteps moving closer and faster.
Somehow she managed to run up the rest of the stairs without tripping. She was pulling open the hallway door even as she reached it and ran through it when it was barely open. She felt something pulling her clothes and almost screamed until she realized it was the door jam that had caught one of her shirts.
She ran on, without looking behind until she skidded to a stop in front of her door. As she pulled her key out of her pocket, her cell phone popped out and fell to the floor. She ignored it and pushed the key into the first lock.
She listened and looked quickly to see if anyone had followed her onto her floor. She saw no one. She opened the second and then the third lock as she tried to keep herself from crying. A sob escaped her throat as she pulled the door open and rushed in.
Slamming the door behind her, she realized her phone was still on the floor out there, and she had no landline. She had always scoffed at the need for the "old fashioned" phone that still required wires and now wished she wasn't so foolish.
As she leaned against the door, wondering if it was safe to open the door and grab her phone, she realized her lights were off.
She was sure she'd left them on.
As she reached for the switch, she heard the deep voice from behind her. "Hello, Candy."
Copyright © 2007 P.M. Terry Lamar