The nights in my town are the worst, especially in Winter. The cold makes everything feel so desolate, so alone. It goes dark earlier too, meaning that I spend a lot longer in the dark, under the glow of orange street lamps, a source of small comfort on those lonely treks. While I don't believe in the supernatural, of ghosts floating through the fog, their words carried by the breeze, I admit that there is a certain fear I feel when I'm between the haven of the street lights, a creeping dread with the fear of a follower, some unseen spectre in pursuit - no matter how unlikely, it's a constant fear.
I rarely ever see anyone else out in the night, it's often just me. You get the occasional group of kids wandering aimlessly, maybe someone coming home from a night of drinking on particular nights, but it's most often me, all alone, surrounded by a cover of darkness, except for those ever-comforting beacons of light, though they were few & far between. When I saw the stranger, I thought to myself how odd it was that someone was out here, but what was even more unusual about him was that he was just standing stationary, unmoving beneath the beams.
Approaching him, I felt apprehension, a small voice warning me of unspoken danger, of dread, but different. It felt as though this person wanted to do me harm, but I could not be quite sure of that, or why I felt that way. It made me feel uneasy, he rested in an uncanny valley between natural & unnatural. His appearance was very much the same.
They wore a long overcoat, black, dusty. A black hat sat atop his oddly-shaped head. His face was almost human, but it wasn't quite there. The eyes were shifty, slightly too small, darting around yet still focused, but on what I couldn't quite place. His nose was small, flat, in fact calling it a nose would be almost too generous. His lips were curled into a grin, although I'm not sure what he found so funny. They seemed to stretch too far across his sunken, gaunt face. His frame was unusually gaunt too, as he appeared to be severely malnourished, clothes seemingly clinging to his skin like his flesh clung to his bones, closely. But he was tall, lanky. Towering over me. The thought crossed my mind that in a fight, physically, I had the advantage, but somehow I felt an overwhelming sense of loss, defeat. Somehow I knew I'd lose.
My footsteps had bought me close to the stranger now, & in the light I realised how devoid of colour he was, his skin was a pallid gray & his lips a similar pit of dread was growing, inch by inch with every footstep. Our conversation tore that hole ever wider.
"You alright?", I asked in passing, to help remove some of the tension.
"Could you point me towards the nearest cemetery? I'm afraid I'm quite lost". I wasn't expecting to be so direct so I paused, considering.
"Uhh, I think if you continue past the bridge & head left, you should find it. Why, if you don't mind me asking?" I wasn't sure if I wanted to know the answer, but I also felt curious.
"Oh I'm… meeting an old friend." The hesitation indicated to me that he considered his words carefully, obscuring some dark reality.
His breath lingered in the air &, much like his words, left a rancid taste in my mouth, a stench. There was something wrong about him, something wholly unnatural although I couldn't quite place a finger on it, although I'm sure his bony fingers could pick my mind for all sorts of secrets. I got the feeling he was proficient in procuring delicate information in matters best left untouched by human hands.
My pace quickened after the encounter with the stranger, it felt unsafe to be outdoors with a ghoul like that, although I'm sure he could find his way inside with ease, but that line of thinking was too anxiety-inducing to follow. I never saw him again, or heard of him. Well in truth, there was a story the following day about some disturbance in the church yard, the cemetery - a light was seen, voices heard on the wind & a final, blood-chilling scream, & then a deathly silence, more so than before for a graveyard. The horrifying implications & connections between the Stranger & that nightly occurrence was one I refused to ruminate on, for my own sanity.
And as for the stranger, he comes to me in my dreams sometimes. He comes with the fog, under the orange fluorescent glow of a street lamp, a gaunt finger held closely to his grinning lips.