Across The Railroad Not Quite Eleven
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Tweezer"
Originally featured on 04-09-2010
As part of our series "On Not Splitting Hairs"

Jogging down the path late at night—

<Wrong. Start back.>

Walking on the path late at—

<Stop. Try again.>

The path through the woods that leads to the south industrial complex across the railroad—

<Too specific.>

It was past ten pm. I know because I left the movie at nine fifty. It was not eleven yet, or even close. I know because it takes me less than an hour to walk home, and usually I run. Or jog. The path sparkles when it’s rained, and my sneakers slide.

<Losing focus.>

In the dark you get that feeling like you’ve just been startled by some dog or beast leaping out of the bushes at you, baring its fangs. You haven’t heard anything rustle in the trees, or the sound of the wind, it’s so quiet you wish you could hear something, anything, so you get the feeling, even though nothing startled you, something must be about to startle you, which must be the exact same feeling as something already having—

<Irrelevant. Just tell the story. The story is what happened.>

I walked right into him. Crashed into him. Knocked, startled the wind out of my stomach. The tall, dark, fuzzy shape was a person. I didn’t see him till we walked into each other because I was thinking about what hypothetically might be about to startle me, and I wasn’t looking and neither was he and I screamed quietly in the front of my throat. It was the weakest sound I’ve ever made, like hot water in a tea kettle too scared to whistle. The dark, fuzzy, tall thing shook its head. Then he beckoned me to—

<Nowhere. He led you nowhere. Showed you nothing. No such interaction occurred.>

I ran like there was a fire in my stomach and my heart was shooting bullets. I think I turned around and ran the wrong way. Or maybe I skirted around the man and ran forward, in the direction home. It didn’t seem to matter. I breathed in squeals, like trying to squeeze air in through a needle. My forehead dripped. My eyes dripped.

<The guy you bumped into: talk about him.>

I don’t know who he was, or if he was a person or maybe just a fencepost. I couldn’t see clearly. That’s when things started to fly out of the bushes and chase me. Bats. Aliens. Screeching flying insects with hot yellow eyes and murder breath. I couldn’t see any of them, but I felt them chasing me.

<Forget the woods. The path isn’t important.>

I got home, with my head in my hands. It was so dark, the dark made me cry. When I got home, I laid in bed with the lamp on.

<Be clear who it is you are talking to.>

I had a tiny sharp pain in my forearm, just below my left elbow. I didn’t notice it hurt—I didn’t notice I felt anything there at all until I’d sat in bed and calmed down for almost twenty minutes. It was a splinter. I don’t know how I got a splinter on my way home, but I was able to remove it with tweezers, just a tiny bead of blood the size of a chocolate sprinkle coming out after the splinter of wood came out. I didn’t really feel it; the muscle and fat in my arm was still cold from being outside and running. Jogging. Walking.

<Indicate how you felt.>

Safe. In my room, the lamp, music on low volume. Safe alone. My breath paused in my throat like it didn’t want to go in any further. I don’t want to feel safe alone. That means you’re gone. I can’t feel safe with you or feel anything with you if I feel safe alone.

<Stop it. Do not continue that thought.>

We used to eat ice cream every Thursday after visiting Uncle Ted. You always got chocolate sprinkles, sometimes rainbow, and I ate mine plain. Then we raced each other on the path before the sun set, over the railroad bridge where the grass dipped down and the concrete stung our heels—

<No. This is about the thing in the woods. Stay with the thing in the—>

I can’t walk home anymore without you. Not in the dark. Promise me—

<Stop right there. The shadow guy you bumped into, don’t you realize it?>

Promise me you’ll—

<You bumped into yourself, your delusional self. There was no one there.>

Promise me you’ll never let me win the race. Do you promise?

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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