Carol had an awful feeling that someone was following her. She heard footsteps. Whispering voices flitted by her ears like moths. Fearing the shadows and unnerved by the cave-like alleys, she glanced back repeatedly, but could see no one. Nothing was behind her but a long, dark, deserted city street.
She had never chanced coming home from the diner that way because Babs had drummed it into her to choose safety over convenience. “You won’t get home any quicker if you have to take a detour through the morgue,” she had said while drawing out a safe route. But Carol didn’t have money to spare for the subway, and taking a shortcut down La Fayette Street was so much faster. Just this once, she promised herself. Babs will never find out.
The lights had gone out just as she passed the point where turning back and going another way would still have meant walking in the dark for blocks. It looked like the electricity was off for the whole neighborhood.
She walked faster for a little ways. The footsteps started up again. She glanced back and stopped short, turning around to stare up the street behind her. About two blocks back, the streetlights were back on and shabby apartment windows threw out patchworks of amber. As she watched, another streetlamp came on. She paused expectantly, hoping the lights would come back on down where she was, too.
Before she could turn around again, there was movement right behind her. She felt the hair over the back of her neck move aside as if blown by a wind, but the warm summer air was dead still. She smelled cigarette smoke curling around her face.
She ran. She didn’t even look; she just took off back toward the light. When she got about twenty yards from the first lit streetlamp, it clicked off and the lighted windows nearby blew out like candles. Darkness rolled down the street ahead of her.
She winced and threw her hands up as she glanced over her shoulder expecting to see someone closing in on her. But there was no one. She stopped and tried to listen above her panting breath and pounding heart. She realized her purse had dropped as she took off. Maybe that was all he’d wanted, she thought. She stood there trying to calm herself and get her breath back.
Suddenly it was dead quiet. There were no cars, no voices, no dogs barking or radios playing, no doors slamming or any of a thousand different noises that filled the background in the city at night. It was as if she’d gone deaf and was feeling the sound of her own breath and her pounding heart from the inside. Without warning, cold, rolling cramps grabbed hold of her deep down, like the worst menstrual cramps she’d ever had. It was as if a cold hand had ahold of her uterus, her ovaries, squeezing and examining. She uttered a quiet, bewildered moan and grabbed at her belly, expecting a rush of blood to course down her thighs.
Instead, all the sounds rushed back onto the street and a single streetlamp, the one directly above her, came on with the intensity of a surgeon’s spotlight. The cramping stopped as quickly as it had begun. Footsteps began coming toward her slow and steady – a man’s walk. She spun around inside the circle of bright light, but she couldn’t tell which direction the sound came from. She strained her eyes trying to penetrate the darkness beyond the border of the streetlamp.
A skeletal face with glittering eyes emerged out of the blackness and a bony hand brought a cigarette to its grinning mouth. She slammed her back up against the lamppost in fright. She gasped so hard it made her choke and cough. But as she stared at the gruesome skull, it became clear that it was a thin, hard-looking man that stood before her drawing on a cigarette, his face highlighted and shadowed by the harsh lamplight. He blew out a long stream of smoke that rushed at her like a thick white snake and stared as she struggled to catch her breath.
“Did I startle you, Miss? My apologies.” His voice was cold with an edge of sneer in it. She said nothing, still coughing and gasping for breath.
“A pretty young girl like you shouldn’t be out on such a long dark street alone.” He tsked and took another drag off his cigarette, “Unless of course… you’re working?” Taking in her cheap, simple dress and sensible shoes, he shook his head. “But no, you don’t look like the type.” He studied her while she trembled, trying to get her composure back.
She forced out a small, shaky voice, “Let me pass.”
His eyebrows shot up in amusement and he gave an exaggerated shrug, “Of course.” He stepped aside with a sweep of his hand, but as she lurched by him, he reached out and ran his cold, claw like fingers along her arm. She shrieked at his touch. “This is a dangerous neighborhood,” he hissed at her as she stepped out of the light and ran back down the street.
“I’d be happy to escort you, young lady,” he called after her. He listened to her heels clattering away in answer. He chuckled and moved off in the opposite direction.
As Mr. G walked away beneath the darkened streetlamps, he pondered the miracle of ovaries. All those perfect tiny eggs, each one unique and filled with raw potential. It was marvelous, really. You could make anything you wanted from their substance; it was the ultimate medium. The energy of life itself in concentrated form. Smaller than insect eyes, protected, internal, beautifully contained. So efficiently packaged. Not like testicles. Now that was just bad planning. Horrible design.
But then, what were the blundering tadpoles of men compared to the perfection of ova? It was the only thing women were good for, but it was something. He pictured ovaries in his mind, carefully opened to reveal tightly packed individual lives, red and luscious, like pomegranate seeds ready to be harvested.
He heard the woman scream once, sharply. Good boy, Chester, he thought as he continued down the street and wondered if the Boss’ sleep would be restless with pain and anticipation that night. He hoped so.