The man wiped sweat from his brow and then hooked two fingers between his tie and throat and yanked it loose. Heart racing, he stumbled into the alley, heading toward the single light that cast a jaundiced glow over a metal door roughly halfway down the narrow passage.
He hurried towards the door, no longer attempting to avoid the puddles that threatened to soak his custom alligator loafers.
A delicate splash, like a marble being dropped into a swimming pool, sounded from somewhere behind him and he whipped his head around. Squinting, trying to force his eyes to focus, he scanned the alley.
Where are you? What do you want from me?
Remaining completely still, the man waited. When the sound didn’t recur, and he didn’t detect so much as a flicker of movement in the shadows, he turned his attention back to the door.
His searching hand confirmed what he already suspected: the door had no exterior handle.
There was no way to open it from the alley.
The man swore, then, as much as he was opposed to the idea of being seen here, in this place, this alley, he realized that he had no other choice.
Not with him coming.
With a deep breath, he made a fist and pounded against the door.
“Hey! Anyone in there! Hey!” he shouted. “Hey! Open up! Please!”
The man’s voice was strangely tight, almost unrecognizable to even himself.
With the hand not pounding on the door, he reached into his suit jacket pocket and pulled out his cell phone, hoping that it had recharged while laying dormant.
Just enough to turn on, to make a single call.
“Hey! Anybody in there?”
His heart fluttered in his chest when rubbing his thumb over the button near the bottom failed to illuminate the screen. He swore again and slipped the dead phone back into his pocket. Desperation reaching a fever pitch, knowing that the man couldn’t be far behind, he used both hands to pound on the door now all the while shouting for someone to open up, to open the goddamn door.
Something fluttered beside his ear, and the man yanked his head away, a scream caught in his throat.
He swatted about his head madly with a free hand, his heart jackhammering in his chest so hard that he thought it might burst from his ribcage and thrum across the concrete alley like a gnat on a steel drum.
“No,” he moaned, trying to evade the flying insect that seemed to have taken keen interest in him. “It can’t be.”
The insect banked hard to avoid his palm, and the light reflected off it’s wings.
“Please. That was so long ago,” the man whimpered, “Please.”
The yellow light above the door reflected off the insect’s wings and for a brief moment, he thought that it was a Monarch butterfly, with beautiful orange wings segmented by smooth black lines.
It can’t be—it’s too early for butterflies… it—it can’t be.
But then the flying insect drifted upward toward the light, and he realized that it wasn’t a butterfly. It was just a generic moth, drawn, much like he had been, to the only light in the alley.
And yet this realization did nothing to slow his racing heart.
On the verge of hyperventilating, he pounded on the door again.
Monarch or not, he knew that this wasn’t over.
And then, unbelievably, the door did open, if only a crack.
“Shifty, that you? Whatchu doin’ out der at 3 AM? Whatchu—” a woman’s scratchy voice demanded.
The man didn’t hesitate.
He thrust his manicured fingers into the two-inch gap between the door and frame, and gripped it tightly. The woman immediately tried to pull the door closed again.
“You ain’t Shifty,” she said, a tremor in her voice. The door was crushing his fingers now, but he didn’t care.
Nothing in this world would make him let go now.
The sound of footfalls in puddles in the alley behind him forced the man into action. Gripping the door tightly, ignoring the pain as the metal bit into his knuckles, he pulled with all his might.
At first the woman in the dark interior of what he thought might have a been a crack den, resisted, but she was no match for his strength, for his determination.
After all, she didn’t know what was chasing him.
The woman cried out. She had been trying so hard to keep the door closed that when it was finally swung wide, she went with it, her rail thin body thrown into the alley.
The man saw her emaciated arms peppered with red track marks, her damp, mangy hair, and sunken eyes as she flew by him.
“You ain’t Shifty!” she cried, as she pulled herself to her feet in an action that was all knees and elbows. “You ain’t Shifty!”
The man ignored her and stepped inside the pitch black building. As he did, the toe of one of his loafers clipped something lying on the floor. The object skittered across the surface, which seemed uncharacteristically soft, like sand or dirt. It made a whoop whoop whoop sound as it receded into the darkness, before it struck something hard and exploded into what could only be breaking glass.
Where are the lights? Where are the lights? His mind screamed. Where the hell are the lights?
He ran his hands along the wall, ignoring the rough texture that scratched his palms.
“You ain’t Shifty!” the woman screamed from the alley, her voice even more shrill now.
That’s good; keep yelling, wake others.
“Shifty gonna come back and he gonna—”
Her words came to an abrupt halt, and without looking back, the man stumbled deeper into the building, frantically rubbing the walls now, desperate for a light switch that didn’t seem to exist.
Sweat dripped down his forehead and stung his eyes.
Just when he was about to give up hope, his fingers struck something jutting from the wall.
Yes! His mind screamed.
He flicked the switch up.
He flicked it down.
Close to tears now, he flicked the switch up and down repeatedly, as if trying to manually prime a building whose only electricity seem to feed the sickly yellow bulb in the alley.
“Please,” he moaned. “It was—”
But a gloved hand slipped around his nose and mouth from behind, cutting off his sentence just as it had done to the crackhead in the alley.
He screamed, but the sound was muffled by thick leather. His own hands grabbed for the glove, tore at it, trying to peel it from his face.
But the grip was just too strong.
Something sharp pricked him in the side of the neck, just above the collar of his dress shirt.
And then… nothing.
Time seemed to slow, and he thought that the hand on his face was loosening.
Hope crept him into him like a virus. Hope that he might just make it out of here after all. That the man would let him go, forgive him his sins, his transgressions, like a compassionate priest or Chaplin.
But then he felt a deep burning sensation in his throat and lungs, a burning that flooded his system with such intensity that it dropped him to his knees.
From there, the man was lowered gently to the ground, before being flipped onto his back. This deep into the building, the darkness was all encompassing, but the man in the alligator loafers thought he saw something in the blackness nonetheless.
A beautiful Monarch butterfly spreading its wings and ascending toward the heavens.
And then it, like the man in the suit, was gone.
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