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Hint of Red

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It was an ordinary Tuesday morning in August. Warm and humid, but Jeffery didn't let that stop him from his daily bike ride through the mountains. As he rode along the trail, mosquitoes ate away at his arms. Later down the trail, he rode into some unseen branches, which cut his legs. As he paused to examine the scratches, something unusual caught his eye. He stopped and turned, but the feeling had passed. Naturally, he thought he had not had enough water on this ride, so he shook his head and gulped down a quarter of the bottle. The remainder of the ride continued as normally as ever. Mrs. O’Malley walked briskly by at the one-mile mark, pausing to comment on the weather once again. Mr. Josefson jogged through an intersecting trail with his dog. And Mr. and Mrs. Adams walked a few steps behind their twins, who had recently removed their training wheels. He dismissed that flash of red as a result of the warmth and a trick of the light from the still rising sun.

After a nice shower, Jeffery decided to just sit back and relax for the day. He had no plans as of that moment. His parents were away for two weeks on a cruise they certainly earned, and his little sister was off at sleep-away camp in upstate New York. He decided to catch up on the sleep he’d missed with a quick nap. But as he settled in, he had the strange feeling someone was watching him. He knew that it couldn't be real, but something compelled him to do a quick spin. And yet another momentary flash of red, but that was just his Jimi Hendrix poster. Content, he dozed off.

"Squeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaak."

He was awakened by the sound of that loose floorboard he still hadn't fixed for his father. He noticed he had scratched his arms to the point of bleeding while he slept. Soon, he was coherent enough to realize that it wasn't the floorboard this time. The wind was blowing his door open and shut. As he got up to close the window, he noticed it was already shut and locked. But the door was still being blown slowly on its rusty hinges. The feelings from the bike ride and just before going to bed crept slowly back into his mind. Jeffery was no twig, but he wasn't exactly The Hulk either. As bravely as he could, he called out, “Is there someone in this house? Leave now and I won’t call the police.” The door blew a little harder, but this time, he can almost hear laughter within the squeak of the hinges. He quickly left the house and took a walk through the quiet Connecticut neighborhood.

Mr. O’Malley was out in the garden next door and noticed his troubled expression behind the mask he had put on to avoid questions. He dismissed it as a bit of a fright from too many late night horror films. Mr. O’Malley laughed it off and warned him to be mindful of what he put on TV. Jeffery thought momentarily that Mr. O’Malley’s eye flashed red. No. You can’t afford to think like that. Get it together, Jeff.  But that feeling had not left. He knew someone-or something-was following his every move. Even the neighbors seemed to be looking at him differently, almost as if they were intentionally avoiding talking to him-even looking at him.

There was no one to talk to about this. Even if someone would listen, everyone was suddenly too busy to take time out of their schedule to listen to a paranoid teenager. As the day dragged on, Jeffery became slightly more concerned. Everyone had abandoned him. No one would even look to him. And, of course, there remained that ever-present feeling that he was being watched extremely closely by someone who was always just out of view. He finally decided that another bike ride would clear his head. As he rode, he began to feel better. In fact, he felt better to the point that he wanted to turn around and head back home and order a pizza. Then, the moon seemed to turn off.

Time to move fast, Jeffery thought to himself. Without even a moment of thought, he rode as fast as he ever had away from the moving shadow. He didn't even look behind him to apologize as he heard the terrified and angry outbursts of Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Josefson, both of whom he had nearly run over from riding so hard. But, he only propelled him forward as he knew for certain that he had to get away from whatever had been watching him.

As he continued riding, he could hear the panting of a dog as it neared him. He pedaled harder, and gained distance on it. To Jeffery’s dismay, for every second of gaining distance, it made it up in less time than he could take a breath. Finally, his bike stopped working altogether. The tires stopped in place and he went flying over the handlebars. Forgetting the bike, he ran, hoping the fallen bike would be a distraction.

Something was grabbing at his heels, like a gentle wave approaching the beach, but with the ferocity of an angered mother bear. Whatever it was chasing him was scratching his ankles, and he had to put an unsettling thought from his mind or he would certainly run out of energy to keep running. The panting of a dog was in his ear, teasing him, telling him to keep running and maybe, just maybe he could have a chance to get away for good.

He ran for miles, an ability he had only because he dared not look back, attempting to get as much distance as he could. But, try as he might, he was soon engulfed in the long, ominous shadow. The chase was done. He collapsed, unable to move. Finally, he decided to turn around. All he saw was his own shadow, from which extended a pair of gloved hands, tainted red from the scratches on his legs, arms, and ankles, just as he had feared.

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