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A word of warning to anyone who walks any considerable distance in a quiet, empty place at night with any regularity. Nobody feels at home in the dark, especially when alone and outdoors. Lots of people feel paranoia set in; what was that noise? Was it an animal? A person? Something else? Lots of people also brush it off once they're safe at home.

I'm here to tell you, though, that sometimes that anxiety can be more than one's imagination.

The most important thing to remember is that it is never a smart idea to walk the same route frequently at night. Even if you think that you know the area well, you have a fair idea of the people nearby, and you're pretty confident in your judo skills, doing so can make you a target, and there's never any predicting what could come out of the dark to follow you, anyway.

Allow me to share my own terrifying experience, if I haven't already convinced you. It was a cold November night, and I had just gotten out of work at around midnight. The road that I walked along, Willow Hill, was one that I'd traversed many times, albeit never so late. I had walked it mostly near dusk in the past, however.

Willow Hill is not barren of residents by any means, woodsy as it is in some places. In clusters, up and down the three-mile road, there are petite subdivisions and a few lone houses, one of which I know to be inhabited by a particularly vocal asshole who, on many of my earlier excursions found it prudent to shout, "They're after you!" in a melodramatic tone.

I never have seen his face, nor do I care to.

I was feeling quite confident that I would arrive back at home without so much as a scare when I passed by that asshole's house and, on cue, he shouted at me. But this time, rather than his usual warning, "They're after you!", he only yelled in a much harsher, more grim tone, "Run!" The single syllable startled me and echoed in the stale air, and I froze.

I got moving again, rationalizing that it was just the same punk trying a new tactic to scare me, for whatever reason, at half past midnight in the middle of November. But it wasn't long before I was proven wrong, to my deepest terror. Behind, I began to hear soft taps on the concrete, but each time I looked back, the sound would cease, and I would see nothing.

As I walked faster, so too quickened the taps. It was at this point that I realized they were footsteps, and a knot formed in my stomach. I was torn between turning around to see who was following me and walking still quicker, but in the end, I resolved to keep moving. I felt safe to do so, the porchlight of my house coming into view after I turned the corner and left Willow Hill.

The footsteps persisted for the entire remainder of the walk, but they soon started to lag behind. By the time I reached my driveway, they were barely audible. I bolted to my house, flew inside, and locked the door tight. Before I could expel a sigh of relief, I forced myself to glance through the blinds to catch a glimpse of my pursuer. My blood ran cold when I saw him.

A man, haggard and dirty, probably in his mid-sixties, stopped at the foot of my driveway and stared in my direction (I swear to this day that he made deliberate eye contact with me). In his arms, he cradled a length of lead pipe. He stood there for a few seconds that dragged on for hours, then simply turned away and shambled back the way he came, perhaps discouraged by the light of my house.

I haven't seen him since then, but whenever I'm forced to walk to work, I make sure that I have a ride home so that I'm not put in that situation again. Whenever I pass that asshole's house, he's still fond of yelling, "They're after you!", but he sounds a little more urgent than he used to.

Remember: don't walk the same route time and again at night, if you can avoid it. You never know what could happen, and neither does anybody else.

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