She hasn’t seen him move, but he’s closer. Gia rushes to her car, key in hand- poking out between fisted fingers. She starts the engine, turns to see him standing statuesque; even closer. She yanks the hand-brake. Another glance, his hat upturned now. The breath leaves her lungs. He has no face. More than that, it’s an absence, an abyss. And it’s peering into her, its darkness slides sickly against her skin, readying to tear her apart. She floors the gas.
Gia drives for hours, knows it’s an over-reaction of epic proportions, but doesn’t dare stop. She checks into a motel that night, not wanting to go back towards where the faceless-fedora man is. She’ll just sleep and then head home and laugh with her friends about how she ran for miles and miles from a trick of the light. And all it will be is a silly story.
She paces because she’s too wired to sleep. As the first bird begins to chirp she looks outside the window and sees him across the parking lot. He looks different this time, more transparent, less tangible. She runs, down the stairs and out the back.
Gia abandons her car and buys a new phone and coach ticket.
She takes her seat (the air holds the icy sting of over-used air freshener). And scrolls through the internet, researching.
Hours later and she knows nothing more. There’s too much there. A myriad of differing tales: novels and short stories and B-list horror movies. And folklore and anecdotes and photo-shopped ghosts.
She can’t just do nothing- she can’t run forever. She has to be able to fight.
Gia goes to a tarot reader.
“Tch. Tch. There’s a lot of men in suits hon. And there ain’t no faceless ones here.”
Gia keeps running. The longer she runs in one stretch, the more time it takes for the faceless-fedora man to reach her. She figures it’s a distance thing.
She only dares shut her eyes on coaches, always moving, never staying still. His image is imprinted on the back of her eyelids. She can feel remnants of the abyss trickling through her veins. Her sleep is restless and broken until her body succumbs to exhaustion.
She’s started jerking at loud noises, creaking floorboards, sudden colour in her periphery.
She spends her days searching, seeking out all the information she can. Reading books, articles and (somewhat desperately) tourist haunted-house paraphernalia.
She speaks to witches and shamans and priests and owners of odd little shops.
They tell her she doesn’t belong in their world. They tell her to keep running. They tell her to give up. They send her glances of disbelief or pity or fear. Days, weeks, months pass. The search is fruitless.
One day Gia goes to a traveller’s shop. Body ragged and wretched and knowing she will get the same as every time before. Her stomach hurts, filled only with the few crackers she had time for. She holds her trembling in her gut so that it doesn’t seep out into her limbs. She explains herself, words monotone, hollow, empty.
The traveller’s dark eyes brighten. “Ah yes. The Shadow-man.”
“Shadow-man?” Gia asks, she’s heard that particular moniker before of course, but already has an instinct this is different.
“Hmm. He hunts, that’s what he does. He doesn’t need to rush, has endless time. He catches his prey eventually.”
“How do I stop him?”
“You don’t. There’s no way to stop him. It’s surprising enough you’ve evaded him this long. It’s mostly only people with powers who manage to.”
“People with powers?”
“Hmm. There’s a mention,” the traveller’s gaze shifts to a shelf of old leather-bound tomes, and she takes one, “Ah here.” The woman wets her index finger and flicks through vellum pages as though this is perfectly ordinary.
She begins reading aloud, “It was an oddity, a woman taking the job of moving bodies. But allowances are made in times of war. Other than this unseemly profession, she dressed and acted appropriately. However rumours are that she came from nowhere. None have knowledge of her past. And soon after another stranger appeared, oddly dressed. The men there that day swear she vanished into thin air. She was never seen again.”
“Umm,” Gia says, doesn’t understand what that has to do with powers.
“Girl’s a time-jumper. Moves from time to time, always stays ahead.”
“She can time-travel and she still has to run?”
“There’s no fighting The Shadow-man. And definitely no human girl like you.”
Gia stands, a hair too quickly, “Thank you for your time.”
Gia knows it’s the truth, the same way she knew she was in danger on that first day when the hairs stood up on the back of her neck. She’s glad to know it. It’s a relief. She has a name. She has an understanding of the situation. It’s good. It’s all okay, all the way up the stairs and into her motel room.
And then her back’s against the wall and she’s sliding down it. She holds herself, lets the tremors out into her hands, and starts sobbing.
She’ll never see her family or friends again. She’ll never see her home again, never do anything normal again, never live again. Just exist, running, running, running. Going through the motions.
She can’t keep doing this, she’s too tired. It’s too hard. She’s too weak, thinned out and wan and weary lined. And there’s nothing at the end. Her limbs are shaking and her body aches, her heart aches. It’s been too long and there’s too long left to go.
His image hovers still against her closed eyes.
He’s going to catch her, eventually, and he’s going to tear her apart. The notion sits in her veins like ill-remembered vicious-brightness. This will be worse than death. She’s certain.
She considers breaking the mirror and slitting her wrists, imagines blood painting the bathtub. It’s one way of winning. One way of it all being over.
Gia goes back to the traveller the next day. It’s a risk, going to the same place twice. But she knows she has to.
“You said I couldn’t beat The Shadow-man as a human. Make me into something that can.”
The traveller smiles. “Hmm. I knew you would return. You have heart. There is something,” she flicks through another book, “there is a process, it’s torturous, it will strip away parts of you, make you vicious and dark. You won’t be you anymore.”
“Too much has been taken from me. I have too little left. I’m already not me anymore. I want to do it.”
“Hmm. Okay then. You will become a creature similar to what you would call a werewolf, only not enslaved to the moon.”
Gia nods. “When do we start?”
Gia screams. The pain is enormous, all-consuming, too much, too much, too much. She must do this. She has to do this. She’s going to die here. She fights and fights and fights. Until all she remembers is pain. And all that exists is shadow.
The traveller lets her go long after time has lost all meaning.
Where there was once fear, there’s now a cool placidness, and she wonders idly how such a thing could ever keep her alive.
Anger sits beneath her papyrus skin like an awaiting supernova.
She sees The Shadow-man, looks into the faceless abyss, and waits.
Gia wraps her fingers around his throat. His body telegraphs the shock that his face can’t. She’s surprised to find him so solid, tangible. She sees blood in her mind, his this time. The monster-thing inside her urges her to snap his neck. He would deserve it. She stops.
“You’ve taken the last part of me I’ll allow. I won’t let you make me a killer.”
She throws him several feet. “Leave. If I find you hunting again, I’ll stop you.”
This is an intersection piece with ryl their entry is here: ryl.livejournal.com/970347.html