In another short story from the 24 Exposures collection, We continue the story of Christine, who is growing increasingly paranoid as she is pursued by… something. Keep in mind that all of these stories were set in 2000-01, when the internet was still in its infancy, long before any social media, even MySpace, were created. This is the conclusion from last week’s Saturday Morning Post.
Christine took the train to the theatre, since it was in a neighborhood notorious for non-existent parking, and the place was half a block from the station. It was even the perfect excuse, if she did meet someone — “Do you think you could walk me back to the station? A ride? Well, I don’t want you to go out of your way…”
She’d said those lines to her mirror, practiced her coy laugh. She was wearing her nicest dress, the blue one, heels and purse to match. She hadn’t had time to do anything with her hair, although she did tease and blow and spray it into something flattering. She arrived at the theatre a bit early, but the sun was still out and there were lots of people, so she felt perfectly safe. She kept an eye on the passing crowd, watching for any sign of him, but there was nothing. How could there be? He’d have had to have followed her here, and she hadn’t seen him anywhere near the train or her place.
“Hi!” The hand on her shoulder and the voice startled her, making her jump. It was Mr. Cooper, Joyce, Georgia, Ron and some of the others. Christine smiled, feeling stupid. “You find parking all right?” Mr. Cooper asked.
“I took the train,” Christine answered.
“And so should she be an example to you all,” he announced to her co-workers. “Shall we?” He led the way to the box office, where Joyce announced their name, and the group paid their money and was ushered inside, through the dinky lobby and into the dark box. This was pretty far from Broadway in more ways than miles. The set was a few simple black platforms, the seats were rickety and the program was quickly typed and badly photocopied. Still, it was a night out with friends — okay, associates — and Christine had never been to the theatre before. No, there was that one time she saw Cats at that dinner theatre, but they’d left at the first intermission, since her mother had found the tight costumes too suggestive.
The lights finally faded fifteen minutes late, and the show began. Christine actually enjoyed the first act, and Max was very good. Good enough to be on TV, she thought. Everyone complimented his talent to each other at intermission as they stood outside while Joyce and Mr. Cooper hurriedly inhaled two cigarettes each and Ron talked to the mailroom boys. Then, it was back inside for the second act. They’d changed the set slightly. There was now a bed on one of the platforms, a chair on another. She wondered how the rest of the story would go. In the first act, Max’s character had been thrown out of the house by his father over a terrible misunderstanding. It was very tragic and wrong, and she really felt for him.
The houselights dimmed and the audience fell quiet in anticipation. When the stage lights came up, there was someone in the bed, under the covers. Suddenly, he sat up, waking from a nightmare. It was Max, doing a monologue. He was in a cheap motel, had to beg the money for the room. Wasn’t sure what time it was. He’d pawned his watch for food. He looked out the window, then got out of bed, walked to center stage…
Christine gasped, hoped no one noticed. Innocent country Max, the mailroom boy, was completely nude, standing in front of a roomful of strangers — no, a room filled with friends — everything just… dangling there as he said his lines. She stared, stared at it. There was plenty of it to dangle, and he wasn’t even excited, it was… just… enormous. Her skin started to prickle and she felt dizzy, a little nauseous. Next to her, Joyce licked her lips, then nudged Christine, whispered, “And those pants are so crowded, too…”
Christine didn’t know what to say. She was mortified, her mouth was dry and her throat ached. She contemplated heading for the exit, but everyone would see her, and she couldn’t do that to Max. What would he think, her walking out on his big… on his moment? But she couldn’t handle that… this. Being here, seeing him in all his glory. She knew him. She’d never thought of him like that before. She’d never…
She was staring at his body, watching every wiggle of his genitalia as he moved around the stage. She couldn’t take her eyes off it and she knew everyone was watching her. She wanted to run up there, throw her coat over Max, just hold him and tell him it wasn’t worth embarrassing himself like this. Hold him and comfort him and…
He was there.
In the wings, just out of the lights. Christine glanced over and saw that face, those glowing eyes, the mocking smile. She froze, grabbing her seat arms. She stared at him, the creature, the stranger. She had never noticed it before, or never let herself notice, but, as always, he was naked, at least from the waist up. From the waist down, he was covered in thick, dark fur. No, most of him was covered. One part wasn’t and it was twice as big as Max’s and, as she stared at it, it suddenly sprang to life, rearing up, getting hard and big and pointing right at her accusingly. Didn’t anyone else see him? Not even Max? He was right there, plain as day. And Christine watched in horror as the creature grabbed his thing with both hands, gave it a slow stroke, gestured invitingly to her.
She bolted. Hopped out of her seat, excuse me’d her way down the aisle and out the door, through the lobby, onto the street, gasping for air. She ran into some couple as she burst through the doors, didn’t even apologize. She stumbled up the street, crying, gasping, losing a shoe but she didn’t care. Why was that thing after her? What did it want? What?
She ran, right for the station, kicking off her other shoe, running down the escalator. She didn’t even stop at the ticket machine, just hurried to the platform, whispering, “Come on, come on, come on,” to the train. There was no one else down here. She was alone and it was as quiet as a tomb.
The air moved in the pneumatic rush that signaled incoming. She peered down the tunnel. Yes, it was her train. She clenched her fists, urging it to arrive more quickly. She could just see the reflection of the lights when she looked up the escalator and saw him riding down, not moving, staring at her, erection leading the way.
She backed along the platform, looking for an escape, but there was none. The escalator was the only way. He stopped at the bottom, just standing there, grinning. She should have stayed in the theatre, dammit. At least she would have been safe with people around, but she hadn’t been thinking clearly, and who knew what Max would think on Monday. She’d been stupid, rude, and now she was going to pay the price, wasn’t she? That thing had caught her alone.
Why wasn’t he moving? Why was he just standing there?
“What do you want with me?” she screamed. He stroked his body, grabbed that thing again. It looked so hard, it must have been painful, but he was smiling. Grinning. Leering.
The train arrived and the doors whooshed open. Christine stumbled inside, ran to the end of the car, sat down and huddled in the rear seat, waiting to see him appear, knowing it would be too late when he did. But he didn’t. The doors shut and the train pulled away and she caught a glimpse of him, still standing by the escalator, watching her, as they moved out of the station. She looked back to make sure he didn’t try anything. He didn’t. She was in the clear. For now.
She cried, the tears exploding out. It didn’t matter. The car was empty, she was alone. She’d have to apologize to Max, to everyone, on Monday. Maybe she’d bring him flowers. He was a sweet boy, after all, and very brave to do what he’d done on that stage. She’d been sitting close enough to touch it. Just put her hand out and feel it, lift it and feel its weight, feel it growing rigid, feel it —
The doors at the end of the car opened and he was there again. He stood for a moment, then walked slowly down the car, every step deliberate, hips swinging sensually. She hadn’t noticed before, but his body was perfect. Muscular, every ripple set off by that odd dark copper tint. And even if his face had that animal quality, it was an overpoweringly handsome face. His penis — god, she thought that word — was as thick as her arm, dark red, actually throbbing as he walked. Then she noticed the two small horns on his head, protruding from his thick, black hair, and saw that his feet were hooves, cloven, making a hollow clonk with each step he took forward.
And then he was there, standing above her, smiling, stroking himself, grunting and there was nothing she could do, so she watched him, and it was fascinating and she felt strange and her crotch started to tingle and then suddenly something hot and wet hit her face and she passed out and they found her, three hours later, slumped in her seat when the train made its last stop. The transit police gave her a ride home, wanting to take her to the hospital, but she had insisted she was fine and she let herself in quietly, went to bed and had a long, dreamless sleep and didn’t feel the least bit dirty or defiled until morning, when she stood in the shower for a good forty-five minutes, letting the hot water pour over her, trying not to think of the creature or of Max or that man in the grocery store, trying not to think of anything, but not trying hard enough.
She needed to go for a drive, get out, do something, but when she went to close the curtains in the living room, she saw that he was there again. Just standing in the courtyard, waiting for her. She shut the curtains, peered through the slit, panicking. What did he want? What did he really want?
Maybe he’d go away, if she waited. Maybe he’d get tired of this game, let her have some peace. Maybe…
No. She couldn’t think that. Instead, she nudged aside the curtain again and looked out. He was still there, but now he was looking right at her. He couldn’t actually see her, could he? She’d opened the tiniest slit. But then he smiled and raised one eyebrow. She let the curtains drop and sank to the floor, knees up, crying. Her purse fell from her hands, tumbled open. She didn’t care, didn’t even notice. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone?
“Fuck him,” she said out loud, startling herself. Then she gathered up her stuff, shoved it back in her purse, poofed her hair and opened the front door. She deliberately locked both locks, then turned and walked to the stairs, not looking at him. She came down the stairs, started for her car and he was suddenly standing in front of her, blocking the way, cock hard as ever. She stopped, put her hands on her hips.
“Leave me alone, you bastard,” she shouted at him. He cocked an eyebrow, licked his lips. “Listen, I don’t know what you want, but I’ve had enough. Stop following me, stop showing up everywhere, got it?”
He grinned and grunted, thrusting his hips.
“Oh, take that thing and shove it up your hairy ass,” she said flatly. Above her, a door opened. One of the neighbors, still in his bathrobe, looked down at her. She didn’t care. If they wouldn’t help her, she’d help herself. She pushed past the creature, shook him off when he grabbed her wrist. She started for the parking lot, but could hear him following her.
She stopped, wheeled on him and she could have sworn he actually looked startled. “I don’t know who you are or what you want, but touch me again and I call the fucking cops.” More doors opened, more faces watching, but none of them would help save her from this obvious maniac. She strutted to the lot, his hoof-clacks trailing her. Fine, let him follow, she’d run him over with the car. As she passed apartment two, the frat boy, wearing boxers, opened the door, bleary-eyed, looked out. Christine smiled at him. She’d never noticed before, but he was extremely hunky. “Good morning,” she said as she passed. “You’ve got a really cute ass, by the way.”
Then she got in the car, shut the doors, hit the locks and started the engine. The creature hadn’t followed her out. Maybe, finally, the neighbors had done something. Good. She’d had enough.
She drove up into the hills, along the twisting canyon roads, windows open, enjoying the day. She’d decided she was going to put her foot down. Goat-boy wasn’t going to ruin her life any more. What was he thinking, anyway? Running around in that ludicrous get-up, behaving lewdly, harassing her. At least the neighbors had seen him, finally. And that would be the end of it.
And on Monday? She’d bring Max flowers, maybe. No, something to drink, a nice bottle of scotch, men his age liked that kind of thing. She’d compliment his performance, and coyly compliment — other things. She was younger than Joyce, prettier. If anyone was going to get into the mailroom boy’s pants, it was going to be her. It was time she had a man in her life once again. Hell, it was time she had a man in her again, period.
She looked in the rearview and saw she had a man in her backseat. Him, again, sitting there in the center, grinning. She was too angry to be frightened. “So, what, you want to screw me or something, is that it?” she demanded.
“You are a very, very filthy girl,” the man spoke — but it was in Christine’s mother’s voice, the same words her mother had said so many years before, catching her with those improper books, even if it was homework, the words her mother had repeated with each strike of that bamboo cane, over and over again as she dragged Christine to church, then turned her over to Mother Superior and put her in a living hell that she finally escaped from when she turned eighteen.
And the goat laughed, head back and mouth wide, revealing long canine teeth. Her mother’s laugh, mocking, accusing — and Christine didn’t see the turn coming until it was too late and by the time she hit the brakes the wheels were kissing air and then they were falling, spinning, bouncing, that terrible laugh all the while and then a crash and then nothing more.
The police and fire crew eventually dragged the car back up the hill, after removing Christine’s body. Single white female, briefly Jane Doe, alone in the car. Eventually, they knew who she was, heard all about her screaming through the courtyard before her ride to oblivion. But even before that, the homicide detective had shaken his head, told the police sergeant he wasn’t needed here. It was an accident, plain and simple. He saw it all the time in these hills.
“What do you think happened, though?” the sergeant asked.
The homicide detective scratched the back of his neck, wishing he could leave without all this small talk. He shrugged. “Something probably ran across the road in front of her, young deer maybe. Lots of them this time of year.”
“No skid marks, though?”
“Not unusual,” the detective said, starting for his car. “See it all the time. I think she just panicked.” And then he walked away, got in his unmarked car and drove off, the sergeant watching, shaking his head.
He turned to the rookie next to him. “Just goes to show you,” he said. “Panic. Gets them every time.”
* * *