My latest short story "The Night the Lights Came On"

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Staring Stranger
A Story for Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge

Chuck Wendig runs a weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. This is my second time trying it out and came out to 961 words. Go check out his post! Write your own! Here are the rules for this week:

You know the drill: Random number generator or d20. Roll it. Grab a setting from the list below and go forth and write yourself around 1000 words of fiction set in that location.
The list, then, is:

  1. A Starbucks during the Apocalypse
  2. The gates of Heaven
  3. A slaughterhouse
  4. A library on an alien world
  5. Satan’s palace, Pandaemonium
  6. Inside a giant creature
  7. On a pirate beach
  8. In a penal colony built by elvish astronauts
  9. Route 66 during a tornado
  10. On a crashing plane
  11. Inside the virtual reality landscape of a robot’s mind
  12. The NYC subways
  13. Ancient Sumer
  14. A monster brothel
  15. A shopping mall in Arizona
  16. In a police department during an epic blizzard
  17. In the base of the Moon Nazis
  18. In a serial killer’s nightmare
  19. A distant island far from home
  20. Lost in New Jersey
Here's my story:

The Staring Stranger, A Short Story |  © Dan Absalonson 2013

There he was again, the bum who always stared at me on the subway. I hated everything about him: his white hair tucked behind a purple bandana, his ratty black tank top hiding none of his Rambo physique, his stonewashed denim cut offs that were much too short for anyone's comfort and his bare feet with their too long toenails tap dancing around on the dirty black floor. Every time I looked at him he was staring right back, like he had been waiting all day just to lock peepers with me. I turned my back to him, but I could feel his eyes, like cyclops or superman shooting a hot red laser into the back of my skull. It made me itch. I waited for a long time, hoping he would get off before my stop but he never did. No matter what time I was riding or what stop I got off at, he was there right behind me following me out.

I looked over my shoulder for a brief second to see his unmoving eyes looking right into mine. Had I ever even seen him blink? It sent a chill straight through me. I faced forward and shivered despite the warm subway car. I felt the subway slowing. My stop was much farther down the line but I had to lose this guy. I waited until the last second, knowing the timing of the doors well, and shot out of my chair sprinting out to the terminal just before the doors closed. I looked at the spot the bum had been sitting. He wasn't there. 

I looked behind me, but did not see him. I looked to my left, and there he was just settling down on a bench. It was the first time I had seen him without his eyes staring right back into mine. I darted to a column and edged behind it out of view. As far as I knew he had not seen me and now would not know where I was. I waited for the next subway trying to be patient, but I couldn't help it. I leaned over the least amount possible to catch a glimpse and see if he was still on the bench. He was, staring right back at me. How could he possibly know where to look to pierce me like that with his gaze? I tried looking at him from the other side of the column. Again his face was locked in place, directing his vision right to me. I slid back out of site.

The subway came to the stop and again I waited until the last moment and sprinted inside. The doors shut just as I got both feet in. I looked out the window and saw that he had left the bench, but I didn't see him anywhere in the car. I found a seat. Before long the itch was there again. I didn't want to look, but I had to. Sure enough he was there staring me down this time his eyes so wide that I wondered if he was in some sort of pain or something. His ugly feet tapping away as if he was in the best of moods just riding along in the subway while his bulbous eyes were aimed at me like a rifle.

I didn't look at him again. I just waited. Once the next stop came I jumped up and flew out the door. Then just before it closed I jumped back inside. I looked and saw the bum outside of the subway car. Finally I had won. Finally I could sit in peace until my stop came. I found a seat at sank into it letting out a deep breath.

I had almost fallen asleep when I felt his eyes on me again. I looked up, my eyes jumping around the subway car. There he was sitting in the seats across from me at the other end. I'd had it. If he wanted to play games, I could play games. I stood up and found an empty seat directly across from his. His gaze followed me with every step. I sat down and stared right back at him. I already knew everyone else in the car was staring at us too so I gave up all worries of being embarrassed. In a booming voice I did my best impression of Will Ferrell as Robert Goulet in a Saturday Night Live skit and yelled at him.

"Look at you. You're hungry. You don't even blink do you? Quick staring contest, me and you now!"

We stared at each other. The car was silent. I was through with this guy, if he wanted to try and weird me out, I was going to do it right back to him. I opened my eyes as wide as I could and leaned in towards him with the maddest grin I could spread across my face. Then I blinked.

"You win, you always do. That's why I come up here. Nature! Goulet."

Everyone went from looking at the two of us to looking at him. I had won. Now all eyes were on him. Every passenger was giving it right back, staring him down as he had done to me so many times. To my great surprise the man's face flushed red and he blinked. The subway slowed. For the first time he looked away from me at all the others. He shrunk back in his chair. The doors opened, he glanced at me one more time with an angry frown, and then ran out of the subway car. The familiar ding dong sounded and the doors closed, and for the first time I rode the rest of the way home in peace.


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