This story is by Tonya Colson and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I need to go home. I stand on tiptoe and scan the crowd. The air is thick with heat; flashing lights disorient me as I push my way onto the dance floor. Sweaty bodies bump against me, threatening my balance. I need to find Amy and tell her I’m leaving.
The club’s thumping humidity makes it hard to breathe. Where is Amy? My vision swims: I need air.
I weave my way outside The Jungle and steady myself against a tiger statue. There’s a line of people waiting to get into the club, overseen by a bouncer in tight khaki pants and a safari shirt. He glances at me and shakes his head. I never get this drunk. I’m sure I only had one drink. That bald guy with the gold necklace- the one who reminded me of my father- bought it for me. Creep. Was his name Erik?
I need to text Amy and tell her I’m leaving. I can’t believe I almost forgot. My phone is blurry; my fingers feel swollen and clumsy. I take a deep breath to focus. I should call her and leave a voicemail. Yes. No. My phone clatters to the concrete. Shit.
Erik is here, picking up my phone. I think it’s him; things are spinning. My mouth waters and bile stings the back of my throat.
“Angela? I think you dropped this.” His smile is bright white. His hand rests on my shoulder for a moment too long, and I shudder. Something about him… my father crosses my mind again. I push the thought away. He’s been dead for nearly two years.
“Thanks.” I twist away from Erik’s casual touch. My hand is sweaty, and the phone slips in my grasp. I tuck it in my bag. I’ll call Amy from the car.
“I need a taxi home.”
“There’s a queue.” He nods toward the throng of people waiting on the sidewalk.
I turn around and press my forehead into the tiger’s cool concrete neck. I need to think. Did Erik put something in my drink? No. I’m sure the bartender handed it to me. I remember him winking as he placed it on the bar.
“Wait here. I’ll get you a taxi.”
Erik walks to the curb and whistles loudly. Headlights. A couple pushes forward, and Erik gestures to his phone. It’s his taxi. Their voices rise, but my head is pounding, and I can’t hear them. Erik waves me toward the curb.
My legs are coltish and wobbly. Of course- my heels. I steady myself on the tiger and kick off my shoes. The pavement is firm and reassuring under the soles of my feet. I place one foot in front of the other. Does Erik think he’s coming home with me? Because he’s not….
“Do you have cab fare? I’m staying a while longer.”
I nod and lift my handbag in response; I attempt to smile. My bare legs stick to the vinyl as the cab pulls away. Nausea. I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing- slow and steady.
Wait, what? I’m still in the taxi. I look out; this isn’t my neighborhood. The driver looks in the rearview mirror.
“How you feelin’?”
“I- where-? “Had I given the wrong address?
“We need to pick up Erik. Just keep quiet, okay?”
Erik? I slump backward as the hair stands up on my arms. We’re in an old part of town. The streets are narrow and dark. Terror creeps up my limbs and squeezes my chest, pressing me into the seat. The taxi driver stops in front of a mini-mart. He steps out and leans against the hood of the car, waiting. I follow his gaze and see Erik in the distance, walking toward us.
I pinch my cheeks- hard- to clear my mind. My hand moves to the door handle like I’m underwater. I pull. Nothing. Child locks. I move the handle again, and the door unlatches. Thank God. The driver still leans against the hood, his back to me. I’m too clumsy to slip out undetected, so I wait.
My ragged breath fogs the glass as I peer out the window. Which way should I run? If I could get inside the mini-mart- in the bright light- would I be safe? I reach up and switch the dome light into the “off” position so it won’t light up when I open the door. I can’t make any mistakes.
The mini-mart bells chime as the proprietor steps outside. He gestures to the taxi and smiles broadly, then shakes the driver’s hand. Shit. Where else can I run?
There’s an old hotel across the street; I can see the lights on inside the lobby. Yes, the hotel. My hand sweats on the metal door handle, waiting for my chance. My phone buzzes. Shit, Amy? I fumble to switch off the ringer, but I can’t. Somehow the driver didn’t hear it, but I know she’ll call back. The men are distracted by Erik’s arrival. I’ve got to go now.
I push the door open, step out, and start to run. I’ve got a head start, but they’re already in motion. Broken glass cuts my feet; my heart pounds in my ears.
“She’s awake?” one of them shouts, surprised.
I’m through the hotel door. A small, older man sits at reception, wordless and surprised.
Help me! My mouth is dry, my tongue thick in my mouth, and the sound barely makes it past my lips. The man nods once yet remains frozen behind the counter.
I push the elevator-up button and then run for the stairwell beyond. I ease the door closed and pause to catch my breath. The men are yelling in the distance. I listen for the elevator chime, then glance down. Bloody footprints. Shit.
I clutch the handrail and haul myself upward on untrustworthy legs. One floor. Two. The stairwell door below slams open. More shouting. Three floors, four, five. I’m at the top; the door is propped open with a mop bucket. I kick it aside and slam the door.
Dusty tennis courts fill the rooftop space, their nets long gone. I took tennis lessons on courts like these as a child. Were they the same courts? A shiver runs down my spine. I run across the warped, green surface to the edge and peer over, knowing what I’ll find. A small courtyard with wrought-iron furniture lies below, with a swimming pool just beyond. Erik, the taxi driver, the bartender, the bouncer, the mini-mart man. How many are coming for me?
The rooftop door pounds open. Erik is thundering. Or is that my father coming to pick me up from tennis lessons? He’s backlit in the stairwell doorway, and I can’t tell for sure. I blink to clear my vision. He moves like my father, but my father is dead- isn’t he? I imagine his hands on me and terror cramps my belly. There’s no way I can fight him off, and I know all too well what will happen if he finds me. I’m my father’s daughter, after all.
The man spots me and moves toward me with heavy steps. My mind is racing as my body moves in slow motion.
I take a deep breath to steady myself. The childhood odors of sweat, fear, and tennis courts fill my nostrils as I climb up on the railing. And jump.