Cliche Horror (creative nonfiction)

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He must have seen me in the crowd after the hockey game, but by being fixated on the players that were making their exits and signing autographs for kids, I hadn’t noticed him. Distracted, I missed anyone taking a special interest in me. Being alone, I certainly didn’t do anything to draw attention to myself. Completely amused by a group of grown men geeking out like teenaged girls, giggling and bouncing around while taking turns getting their pictures taken with the visiting team captain, I wasn’t on guard.

I left the arena late. I was that lone woman walking toward her car in an empty parking garage that sent a chill up my spine. Looking over my shoulder, my steps echoed against the concrete. Nothing was there, except the fluorescent lights overhead. Only a few steps to the sanctuary of my car, parked near the elevators, I quicken my pace. But, if horror flicks have proven anything over the years, it’s that the inside of a car provides only the illusion of safety. Once inside, just to quiet my inner paranoia, I glanced into the backseat. All clear. My relief brought with it a sigh and, then, a nervous giggle. Since when was I so high strung? I chalked it up to my imagination. That was a classic bad horror movie mistake. So, I started the car and drove up the spiral center ramp of the arena garage and washed it all out of my mind in seconds. Another misstep.

Ten seconds later, two levels up, and just inside my peripheral vision, I saw the figure of a guy coming toward me. White t-shirt. Red shorts. I had plenty of time to make it by him. The fact that he was out there registered, but I didn’t really focus on it. But, then he sped up. He practically jumped out in front of my car. I slammed on my brakes. He threw his hands onto the hood and the crash sent a jolt straight to the core of my bones. Our eyes met. I knew I hadn’t hit him, but just barely. The look on his face was blank, but I got the feeling he wanted to talk.

He looked like he recognized me. He looked down at me and started to make his way from the front of my car to the driver’s side window, holding my gaze.  With his motive unknown, in the few precious moments I had left before he reached my door, my mind went into fight or flight overdrive. But, something different about this encounter stood out. I wanted to roll down the window and ask him if he was alright. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. But what about the bad horror movies?

Now, face-to-face with possibly a deranged, kamikaze stranger in a deserted parking garage, I felt trapped.

I held his gaze, watching for the second his body stepped past the hood of my car. The moment he did, I gunned the throttle. The car whisked by him and up the next concrete ramp. I clipped his wrist with my driver’s side mirror. As I reached the top of the ramp, I glanced into my rear-view mirror expecting him to be gone because everything about this was creepy. To my surprise, he was standing at the bottom of the ramp with his hands thrown up into the air. I stopped, again. I still wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Yet, I couldn’t risk an open confrontation and drove off. I wasn’t about to die in some sort of awful parking garage horror flick cliché. Perhaps, I overreacted. If it hadn’t been his intention to frighten me, he realized a moment too late. It all went wrong. I escaped and no one followed me out of the garage.

I can’t remember the face of the man who jumped out in front of me that night. But, driving home, I thought that, perhaps, the man was actually a stranded fan. Chances are his car battery just needed a jump. Under the examination of that possibility, I suddenly felt ridiculous for my hysterical reaction.

But, then, again, maybe that was the set-up. Cliché horror movie murder averted.

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Herbie (flash fiction) by Jenn Whittaker

wolf-spider-1509051_1920The wolf spider, perhaps better known as the barn spider, terrorized my youth. Growing up my father insisted that these disguising tarantula-like, hairy beasts were a household contributor. They ate bugs that didn’t die despite the pest man’s best efforts. My father always kept one inside and named it Herbie. I don’t know if he actually went to the barn to collect Herbie, but I find that hard to believe since the barn had been long overgrown with weeds and ivy since the divorce. I think, more likely, that the spider just popped up one day and he felt the need to give it meaning. However, he did corral it into his room for safe-keeping.

I found out about Herbie shortly after I killed him with a broom in the living room. My father was distraught. This is when my father shared his knowledge of wolf spiders being bug filters, regardless of their tendency to jump. I quivered at the thought of one catapulting itself onto my forehead as we squared-off, it deceptively still, me with broom in hand, deceptively still. I told my father to keep Herbie in his room. The consequences of noncompliance being certain death at the blue handled broom we kept in the pantry. Mother would have never allowed this…Herbie, not the broom.

With each death, my father’s face went red as he shared his disgust…with the killing, not with Herbie. But no matter how many of the endless killings occurred, my father kept his conviction of Herbie’s necessity. There were eight Herbies before my father did give up his collection thanks to me. He gave up on the marriage, the barn, my murderous path, and finally, Herbie itself.

Long after I’d moved away I encountered yet another wolf spider. I did not name it Herbie. I did not keep it in my room. I killed it. In my victory came resolution. I let go far easier than my father.

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