I nervously tapped my fingertips on the table as I looked out the window. It had been pouring mercilessly all weekend, and now as night fell on Sunday the rain had finally stopped. My girlfriend and I had been stuck inside for two days, and I was beginning to feel restless. I needed some fresh air.

"I'm going for a walk," I announced to my girlfriend, Lisa, who was quietly reading in the overstuffed chair in the living room. She looked up from her book and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose.

"But it's dark out," she replied.

"I just need to get outside," I said, "want to come along?"

"No thanks, it's too late for a walk," she answered, "why don't you just stay in tonight? You have to go out tomorrow anyway".

"I really need some air," I insisted. "I won't be long, ok?"

"Ok then," she said as I made my way toward the door.

I stepped outside and breathed in the cool air. It was strangely dry for having just recovered from days of nonstop rain and near flooding. I paused and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness before starting down the road. I jogged for awhile to release the energy I'd built up over the past two days. I slowed down when I reached the center of town. The familiar scenery suddenly seemed odd to me. The streets were completely deserted and there wasn't a single light on in any of the stores. I knew they were all closed and this small town wasn't a busy place at night, but usually I would see an occasional car drive by or there would be a few lights left on here and there. But this night was dead silent, and there wasn't a single trace of activity anywhere. All I could hear were the sounds of my own breathing and footsteps. It unnerved me. Nevertheless I decided I would circle the town common before heading back home. I continued walking straight ahead past the church and the diner. I began taking more forceful and deliberate steps, perhaps to assert my own presence in what appeared to be a ghost town.

As I was passing the playground on the common I thought I saw something in my peripheral vision, something that looked like a human figure. Was I not alone out here after all? I quickly looked to my right and saw nothing. I noticed that the wind was blowing the playground swings back and forth, and they made an eerie creaking sound. I quickened my pace. As I passed the grocery store I glanced into its glass doors. I thought I could see someone behind me along with my reflection. I jumped and whirled around. Again, nothing. I looked back at my reflection. Just me. I concluded that the night was starting to creep me out and I began walking briskly toward home. I tried to distract myself by thinking of what the week had in store for me. The deadline for my Masters thesis was fast approaching and I would be working overtime to fill in for a coworker who was on vacation. At least I'd get a decent paycheck. Lisa's birthday was coming up, maybe I'd be able to get her that dress she'd been eyeing in the vintage shop window.

As I began to get lost in my thoughts I saw something move through the trees a few feet from me. Just a raccoon or something, I told myself. Yet a wave of dread slowly began coursing through my body. I sprinted around the corner toward my street. The cool night air unexpectedly began to feel heavy, and I felt I couldn't take enough in. I looked straight ahead as I moved faster, not wanting to see what might be lurking in my periphery. Suddenly I thought I could hear faint laughing coming from somewhere behind me. Without thinking I turned around, but saw nothing. When I turned back toward my destination I saw a figure standing about 50 feet from me, facing me. It was mostly obscured by darkness, but looked human. I knew this person, or this thing, was watching me. I knew he had been following me. My heart raced. I started to sweat. I took off running across the street. I felt like I was running in slow motion. I lost my footing and fell face first into a puddle. Pain shot through my legs as my knees hit the cold wet ground. I ignored the pain and tried to run, but before I could get up the entity was standing over me. I froze. His form was concealed by a long black coat with an ample hood, and a smell of blood and ash emanated from him. He stepped into the dim glow of the single street light, allowing me to see his face. Now I was certain that this being was not human. It couldn't be. It had large wild black eyes full of malice sunken into its thin face. It smiled grotesquely at me. Its grin grew wider and wider until it extended across the thing's entire face, exposing rows of jagged sharp teeth. The thing's mouth and teeth were much too large for the rest of its face. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but I didn't have time to contemplate what this abomination might be. I gathered the strength to run again and immediately took off as fast as I could toward my house. I didn't dare look behind me. Just a few more houses, mine was the fifth on the right. 1...2...3...4...5. I jumped the stairs to the front porch and bolted through the door, slamming and locking it behind me. Lisa raced into the hall.

"What's going on?” she exclaimed, clearly startled.

"This...this thing..." I gasped between shallow hurried breaths, "It was...following me. It''s not human...oh god..."

"What?" she asked. She looked quite confused, and I didn't blame her.

"This thing, someone was following me. It was horrible, it looked horrible".

Lisa looked outside. "Well, no one's there now," she said. "You're all wet. Did you get hurt?"

"Yeah, I fell," I replied, beginning to calm down. "I think I'm ok though.”

Lisa smiled. "See, I told you you should have stayed home"

"I guess I should have," I answered. Lisa held my hand.

"Come on, why don't you get cleaned up and I'll make you some tea and you can tell me all about it".

I went upstairs and changed out of my wet clothes. My knees were scraped and bruised, but I was alright. I told Lisa about my encounter with the entity.

"It was probably just somebody messing with you" she said. "it was dark and you were scared, which probably altered your perception of the guy's face. Or maybe he was wearing a mask." I began to accept that this could be true. Maybe I hadn't seen what I thought I’d seen. At least I hoped I hadn't. I ran my fingers across the rim of my mug and tried to think of something else. Then I saw movement outside the living room window. I choked back the feeling of terror rising in my throat. I looked out the window and saw the figure standing outside, looking directly at me. I dropped the mug and pointed to the window.

"It's him!" I yelled. Lisa turned around and walked toward the window. She opened it, poked her head out and looked both ways.

"Sweetie, no one's out there. You're imagining things. Now stop it or you'll start scaring me". She smiled and hugged me.

We went up to bed and after several hours of tossing and turning I was finally able to fall asleep. At some point during the night I thought I heard a loud crash and a scream. I woke up, disoriented, but an invisible force knocked me over and I passed out. I woke the next morning in my bed, in the same position in which I had fallen asleep. I decided I must have had a nightmare. This wasn't surprising, given my experience the night before. I noticed that Lisa wasn't in the bed next to me. It was unusual for her to leave for work this early. I still felt shaken up from last night. I got up and went into the bathroom for a shower. I turned up some cheesy pop music on my phone, hoping to put myself in a more lighthearted mood. After my shower I went back to the bedroom and noticed that Lisa's glasses were still on the nightstand. She couldn't see at all without them. Disturbed by this, I went downstairs to look for her. She must not have left yet. I passed through the living room and kitchen and didn’t see her. When I entered the hallway leading to the front door, my heart sank. There were marks on the carpet, as though something, or someone, had been dragged across it. The door was wide open, and its window had been smashed. A piece of Lisa's pajama bottoms clung to the door frame along with a few drops of dried blood. I ran out the door and called Lisa's name. No answer. I charged into the front yard and ran around the house, across the street and through the neighborhood, yelling for Lisa and searching desperately for any signs of her whereabouts. No one, nothing. No evidence anywhere other than the front door. I ran back into the house and up the stairs to grab my phone. When I entered the bathroom, I screamed. There, in the fog on the bathroom mirror, was a message written next to a crudely drawn smiley face. It read; "You should have stayed home".