It wasn't just dark outside, it was pitch black. Not the absence of light you might expect on a chilly October evening, but an ebony that made the air feel sinister. The menace of rain, coupled with angry looking clouds, repressed any light that might have escaped the moon and stars. Even artificial light had to claw its way out from its source, and then only teased the surroundings with dull light. Outside the perimeter of the light, a void of blackness without shades of gray, perhaps heralding of things to come.
Shivering against the cold wind, 19 year old Melinda Evans quickly turned her key, locking the door to the Bijou. The marquee, silent now, had earlier paraded the names of the current movie in colored flashing bulbs that seemed to mimic movement. The feature film, "Partners in Paradise," had sold out to capacity when first released. But that was three weeks ago. Playing twice an evening, it didn't take long before everyone had seen the film at least once, especially in a small town the size of Parkside. A dozen viewed the first show of the evening, but only three had presented for the second. The long and quiet evening had been lonely, and loneliness always drained Melinda emotionally.
Checking her cashier's window to ensure it was secure, Melinda noticed the reflection of a brief light flaring across the street. Turning she saw a tall man standing on the opposing corner, lighting a cigarette. Though too dark to distinguish his features, she was sure it was someone she hadn't seen before. Staring at the man for a few seconds, only seeing the red glow of the cigarette tip, Melinda turned to begin her solitary trek home.
As she walked, Melinda wondered why someone would be standing motionless, on a corner, staring into the night. What was he waiting for? The timing seemed curious, and it made her walk uneasy. She reassured herself by whispering to herself quietly, "36-12-32... 36-12-32."
The streetlights flickered on and off, perhaps another omen. Melinda regretted that she had worn only her thin dress, but she enjoyed the stares she got from the boys as they stared at her breasts, proud and full. She knew the teenagers fantasized about her as they flirted with her when buying their tickets. A warm coat hung in her front closet and she thought of it each time a cold shiver ran down her back. The leaves, sounding like a carousel of applause, anxiously rustled alongside the curb and street as they were chased by the wind.
A gust of wind swooshed between her legs, momentarily exposing her panties. The blowing wind forced her to hold her skirt down as she walked. Melinda didn't see the cat cross her path until the last moment. "Meeooow," it swore at her. Melinda instinctively jumped as the cat's eyes, glowing bright orange from the street lamp challenged her, daring her to come forward. Without reason, it suddenly disappeared into the darkness. Subconsciously, she noted the cat's color ... black. Startled, Melinda felt her heart race into overdrive as adrenalin pumped throughout her body.
"36-12-32" she said to herself, "36-12-32." Once again she felt her courage grow with the repetition of the numbers.
Melinda's father had left for the airport that evening and earlier she had looked forward to some time alone. As a regional representative for a major insurance company, Melinda's father was often out of town. But now she didn't find the idea of coming home to a dark and empty house nearly as relishing.
Melinda's reverence in thought was interrupted by the smell of smoke. It took her only a second to realize that the smell was not of wood or paper, but something sweeter. Eyes opening wide she realized the smell was tobacco. Turning she saw the tall man walking a distance behind her. She was positive that it was the same man she has seen earlier, Melinda walked a little faster, quietly whispered to herself 36, 12, 32... 36, 12, 32.
The street lamps were spaced further apart as she left the town center. The protracted periods of darkness between each light induced her pace to match the quickened interval of her heartbeat. Turning the next corner she glanced backwards at the man, still following. Though it may have been her imagination, he seemed to be increasing his pace to match her own.
"36, 12, 32," she said aloud to herself, no longer whispering, the panic beginning to erupt and grow into a full state of fear.
Remembering a shortcut she knew as a child, she made for the corner, Then Melinda quickly changed direction and crossed the street. Cutting down an alley of an old strip mall, she circled back until she had the corner in view. Frozen in the darkness, she hid behind a wizened old elm, waiting for the man. If he was following her, he would soon be surprised to find his prey vanished.
Melinda waited. Though still fearful, she began to question herself. She rationalized that the man was probably just out for a walk. On the other hand, in her defense, she thought of the more heinous crimes that were beginning to manifest themselves as Parkside changed status from town to city. She shivered from the night's chill.
After what seemed like an eternity, Melinda's apprehension began to abate. Looking down the street, checking in all directions, she was unable to see anyone. Sniffing the air like a blood hound, she could no longer detect the smell of tobacco. Her fears discounted, Melinda breathed easier. She headed once more towards her home.
Melinda's house was the last on a dead end street. Bordered on one side by an empty lot, woods surround the back and adjacent ends. Melinda went to the back door and was about to take the keys from her sweater pocket when she noticed that the door was slightly ajar. Despite the fact that she had been rushing earlier to make work on time, she was sure that she had locked it. Her lips mouthed the numbers without sound, 36, 12, 32.
Melinda entered the hallway quietly, closing the door carefully and locking it behind her. Walking in the darkness, the sudden silence seemed eerie though gusts of wind rattled the windows occasionally. Melinda walked to the living room and turned on a lamp.
The living room was exactly as she left it. Reaching for the remote control, Melinda turned on the television in time to see the weatherman giving the late night forecast, gloomy weather with possible snow.
Melinda walked to the front door and made sure it was locked. Exhaling loudly she spoke to herself, "Alright, you're home and safe, time to quit jumping at your own shadow." Then in an afterthought added, "And time to quit talking to yourself also."
Melinda, reassured by the sound of the television walked up the stairs. Checking briefly in her father's room and her own, she was reassured by their emptiness. Melinda then carried her cotton flannel robe into the bathroom which was halfway between the two bedrooms and closed the door.
Melinda turned on the bathtub faucet and poured some bath salts into the water that she had received from her Aunt Elsie last Christmas. As the bathtub filled, Melinda undressed, throwing her soiled clothes into the hamper and stood for a few seconds staring at her nude self in the mirror. She, a victim to her own vanity, checked to see if her breasts were both evenly shaped and hung properly. She smiled satisfied.
Melinda was in fact quite pretty, perhaps a little too soft or fleshy in some spots, but still a beauty. With some exercise and tightening, she could have been called gorgeous. Sighing, she stepped into the tub, now filled with bubbles and stretched out, enjoying the soaking and oily touch of the warm water against her skin.
As the water level reached the top of the tub, Melinda, using her foot, turned the water off. She rubbed a sponge against her as the lights flickered. Great, she thought, 'now the power is going to go off.'
As if on cue, the lights did go out. A battery powered lantern sat beside the tub just for this emergency. It gave her just enough light in the bathroom as she sat up and started emptying the bathtub.
Suddenly she heard the sound of breaking glass, the distinct sound coming from downstairs. Quickly and quietly she pulled the soft robe about her, tying the belt around her waist. The hallway outside the bathroom was dark now with the power off. Silently she walked down the stairs. She heard another noise, this time coming from the back door in the kitchen area. Walking quickly towards the kitchen, she could feel the cold wind blowing in from outside. Gazing at the back door in the darkness she could see the faintest outline of an arm.
The arm was reaching through the back door's broken window pane, reaching for the chain lock she had secured earlier.
Biting her lip to keep from screaming, she softly and quietly ran to the living room and picked up the phone. The dial tone seemed to scream in her ear as she felt the buttons, trying to dial 911.
"Emergency dispatch," a voice said, "do you have an emergency?"
"Help me", she whispered, "someone is breaking into my house!"
"I'm sorry," the voice replied, "I can't hear you, is someone there?"
"Help me", she said again, this time louder, "I live at 527 West Cedar and someone is breaking into my house!"
"Yes ma'am," the voice replied, "can you leave the house by another door, or can you lock yourself into a room somewhere, I have contacted the police and they are on the way."
"I think so," Melinda said, her voice shaking, "Oh shit..." Melinda felt the cold blast of air as the kitchen door opened all the way. She dropped the phone onto the couch and ran up the stairs to her father's bedroom. Reaching under his bed, Melinda pulled out a small fire box, locked with a combination lock.
"Be calm," she said to herself, "and open this thing up.
Turning the combination, squinting in the tiny light provided by the lantern, she began to unlock the box. "36-12-32, 36-12-32," she said to herself.
"36 right" she said to herself turning the lock as she had done a thousand times before.
36, it was the age that her mother had died. 36 when she had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. It had been a hard time for the family; Melinda had been just 10 years old. Her mother tried to live as normal a life that summer as possible, but the pain made her bitter at times and eventually took its toll. Melinda remembered her mother's baldness, memory lapses, and even at age 10, accepted the inevitable stages of death with a maturity greater than one would expect in a preteen. Symptom, diagnosis, treatment, failure, death ... all in a single year at the age of 36.
Reversing direction she turned the lock on the fire box left to 12. 12 wasn't hard to remember, it was impossible to forget. It was an ugly scar in her life. It was on her twelfth birthday the untellable happened.