#1. 28 years old, wearing ceil blue scrubs, she peruses the wine selection on her lunch break, because Wednesday evenings are Winesday evenings. A man down the aisle makes eye contact. The fairly non-descript, khaki-wearing guy stays a respectful distance away, but seems to watch her from his location. Like in a movie where the agent is following the target in the most obvious way. Creeper.
As she picks up a bottle and heads to the register, he does the same. But he beats her there and checks out before her. He’s front-following me… Don’t be paranoid.
Approaching the exit, she watches through the glass door to see which vehicle he gets into. A beat-up white thing. She goes to her car, pulls out of the lot, and heads down the road to back to work, but the beat-up white thing follows. I can’t let him know where I work.
So, instead of going straight to work, she pulls into the next shopping plaza, and as expected, he follows. As she finds a parking spot, he drives past and turns into a row further down. You think you’re clever, don’t you. Her heart pounds, but it’s not the first time something like this has happened.
She punches her car into gear and leaves, watching her rearview mirror to see if he follows. When she’s certain he’s not behind her, she heads to work, hiding her vehicle on the opposite side of her coworkers’, in case he drives down that road seeking her out.
Maybe it was nothing. But what if it was?
#2. She’s 18 years old at a Wal-mart late at night. As she navigates the store for the few items she needs, she notes a man slinking behind her. He turns up in each aisle that she goes to, but she’s paying attention.
She checks out at the register, and he is not far behind her as she heads toward the exit. Maybe I watch too many horror movies. What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t follow my gut on this?
His reflection is in the glass as she approaches the door, and quickly she makes a decision. She stops and heads back into the store. The man behind her continues out into the parking lot. She goes toward the restroom, then wanders the store for a while before getting the courage to leave. She’d really like to tell a security guard or a manager, but what will she say?
She has her keys ready. Her vehicle is straight ahead. The man is nowhere in sight. She waits for other customers to leave the store and she keeps close to them upon exiting, then makes a beeline to her car, heart beating against her ribs and vibrating her nerves. She locks herself inside. I wonder what would’ve happened if I didn’t notice him. Maybe nothing.
#3. Blond, unkempt hair is piled atop a scruffy man’s head. He nods and smiles as she browses the books at the local Barnes and Noble. A friendly greeting which she returns with a grin. He follows her with his eyes and she crosses paths with him several times—she knows when she’s being watched—but he seems harmless enough. She’s 39 years old and can handle ditching a weasel like him if she needs to. Not to mention, she’s with her husband today.
Her husband texts that he is waiting outside, so she pops out there.
Surprise surprise, guess who’s right behind me. She holds the door for him. She stops to search for her husband and the man careens off to the side, leaning against a brick pillar. She assumes it’s to smoke a cigarette, but she’s got her eye on this suspicious guy. Off in the other direction, she finds her husband who lets her know that their teenager is still inside, so she reenters the store.
After a few minutes, she fetches her child and as they head toward the exit, the blond man is returning to the building. Are you kidding me?
A strange expression on his face—he seems a little confused as she walks out the door. Weird.
#4. She’s 24, out with some new friends. She’s a drinker—could always keep up with the big boys. Beer. Shots. She can handle it all and rarely gets hungover.
A guy approaches her and her friends at their table and offers to buy them a round of drinks. Nothing new, and as normal she foolishly accepts. He brings the drinks over, and hands her a rum and coke, then lingers for only a moment to flirt. It’s her third drink of the night. Still early.
And suddenly, she’s slouched in the booth holding a cigarette—she quit months ago. She’s dizzy. Sick. Something’s wrong. How did I get like this?
She stumbles to the ladies room and lingers in the stall for a while. She has to get out of there. Instead of heading straight back to her table, across the crowded dance club, she goes to the nearest exit where a bouncer is standing. “I need a cab,” she ekes out.
He points toward the line of cars outside and holds the door for her. She leaves and makes it home safely, not realizing until morning that her drink was likely tampered with, and that if she wandered the bar looking for her friends, she would have probably been offered a ride home from the same person that offered her that drink.
Each of the four cases above happened to the same woman—me. They span a period of over 20 years, and there are countless incidents that occurred in between and before. Those were some of the more memorable ones.
I write and read horror fiction and enjoy it. But there are real horrors in the world. Real monsters that my mom and the news warned me about, but I didn’t realize how close they were until I was out there, navigating the world on my own and finding them around every dark corner, and even out in broad daylight.
When I was young, I thought the real monsters were this far away thing that happened to other people—like in the countless horror movies I watched. It wasn’t until I had that monster breathing on my neck that knew life was going to be a game of survival-of-the-most-aware.
I could’ve brushed off each incident as nothing—perhaps some of those incidents were nothing—but it seemed wiser to go a tad out of my way, listen to those warnings, and take extra precautions to ensure my safety.
Later in the day, after we got home from that Barnes and Noble excursion, I told my husband about the weird guy that seemed to be following me. His response—shock and genuine concern. “That makes me want to keep our daughter from going anywhere alone,” he said.
I laughed, because it’s such a “normal” part of life for a woman. I wish it weren’t. I wish we didn’t have to consider keeping our daughter from the outside world to protect her.
Instead of being able to set my children free upon the world as members of the top of the food chain, I have to teach them to watch their backs. To watch for the car parked on the side of the road. To keep track of vehicles that have passed them, possibly stalking them. To side-eye the guy in the next aisle who’s watching them. Basically, I have to teach my kids survival skills against our own species. Against predators like no other animal has. When it was just me dealing with the monster, it was no big deal—I’m the kick-ass final girl.
But now I have to accept that my daughter will be coming up against these monsters too, and that is a whole new kind of horror.