The Key to Freedom — Part Two


“Suddenly, his face went pale… He had been in a rush, after all. He couldn’t be expected to remember everything.”

Emily Stocksdale, Staff Writer

**** Part Two

To any other man, such an occurrence, on top of already fraying nerves, would be enough to set him to panic.  To any other man, that would be true, but Mel Garner was most assuredly not ordinary.  He liked to think of himself as a more rational sort of person, and as such, he forced himself to calm down.  It was only logical that he sat and thought these strange occurrences though, he figured.  Decide on a course of action.  After all, the building was in such a state of disrepair! It should come as no surprise that the lights weren’t working.  Gradually his heart rate dropped again.  He continued to reassure himself with small, confident phrases.  Everything would be fine.  There is absolutely nothing wrong.  Stop being so afraid and just solve the problem!

He was not sure why he still felt so anxious.

Mel eventually worked up enough courage to stand.  He skittered to the door and flew out into the hallway, already preparing the things he would say to the maintenance man.  He made it to the stairwell.  As was his habit, he glanced back at the door to his apartment, making certain it was shut before he headed downstairs.

He froze in his tracks.

Leaning against the door was a man, tall and slender.  He was dressed rather normally, with dark jeans and a grayish blue t-shirt.  The mask on his face was the only exception.  Jet black and ominous, it revealed only the man’s eyes.  Mel felt as though he was pinned to the stairs under that gaze.

The man took a step forward.  Mel stared at him.  Another step, and all Mel could do was stare.  A third step.  Finally, something in the businessman broke, and he stumbled backwards, not letting his eyes leave the man until he had fallen down the first stair.

He only hesitated for a second, but it was long enough.  The man’s eyes narrowed behind the mask and he leaned forward as if to grab Mel.

And suddenly, before Mel could even think to react, he was running.

Sixty-eight stairs, faster than he had ever taken them before.  A short distance through the lobby of the building, and then Mel was out in the streaking rain.  It drove into his skin, cold and wet and stinging.  Mel did not even notice.  His mind was absorbed in getting away.

To be honest, Mel was not certain why he was running.  What had he done to deserve this? Was this because of that mysterious letter? Had his attacker sent it, or was it a warning from someone? He had no idea what to think, so he stopped thinking.  He just ran.

Buildings passed by in a blur.  There were fewer people out at such a late hour, but still enough that running was difficult.  He sprinted through alleyways, dodged people and taxis, moving so quickly that it was surprising he had not smacked into something.

He ran as fast as his legs could carry him, his mind racing away from his body and trailing back a thousand times.  Resisting the urge to glance back over his shoulder, he stared at his feet and imagined that he was just sprinting through the park.  Central Park, on a Saturday morning, with the air chill and a light breeze blowing, cooling him off…

From somewhere behind him a car horn screeched loudly, distracting him.  He glanced around just in time to see his pursuer pounding on the hood of a taxi before hurrying on.  Unfortunately, looking back meant not looking forward, and Mel missed the stack of boxes lining the alleyway until he was already crashing into them.  They tumbled to the ground, and for several nerve-wracking seconds Mel felt weightless.  His stomach plummeted, the mantra in his head growing louder until it was one steady thrum: I’m going to die, going to die, going to die, to die, to die, die, die, die….

He recovered somehow.  He could not have told anyone how he did it, or have ever done such a thing again.  All he knew was that one second he was hurtling towards the pavement, inches away, and in the next his feet were back under him, tumbling until they regained some semblance of rhythm.  He had not been caught.

Breathing became harder.  His ribs burned, but his teeth chattered in the frigid rain.  It was a strange sensation.  His throat was raw and sore.  For a fleeting moment, he wondered how much longer he could keep it up, but then adrenaline kicked in, and he could not care how much it hurt.  He desperately did not want the man to catch up to him, so he shut off his mind.  All he knew was running.

Manhattan, like any big city, is a maze of streets and back-alleyways, packed full of a million people.  Following someone would pose a pretty great challenge, especially now that he had made it to a more crowded part of the city.  He abandoned the side street he had been on for a sidewalk swarming with brisk-paced businessmen.  Just two more blocks.  Two more blocks, and he was free.

It was impossible to run through a crowd so thick, so he conceded by slinking through the people as quickly as possible.  Eventually, a large gray building loomed into sight.  It gave off the air of a prison, built as it was with cinderblock and small windows near the roof.  A red garage door hung partially ajar.  Mel flung it open and raced through.

Storage containers lined the walls.  There were thousands, but Mel did not even hesitate before dashing over to container number 1107 and yanking at the door.   It was locked.  Scowling, he rummaged around in his pocket until he found a small key, cold and familiar.  He hurriedly shoved the key into the lock and made it inside.  He crouched down and let the door fall back to the ground.

Silence.  Mel wondered for a moment if he had managed to lose the man, but it seemed too good to be true.  At length, he heard quiet footsteps, so faint he had to strain his ears to be certain he wasn’t hearing things.  Mel listened to the sound, stalking up one aisle of containers and down the next.  When the feet reached his hiding spot, they paused.

Mel held his breath, waiting.  Time seemed to expand, dragging its feet in the tense mood that had settled.  If he was found, if he was caught…

Eventually, the footsteps moved on.  He kept listening, but it was not too long before they faded away into oblivion.  Silence.  The door to the concrete building landed with a dull thud, and the only other noise Mel could hear above his heart beating was the rain pouring down.

He sighed, shoulders slumping.  For a second, his mind felt numb, like an endless void.  The feeling only lasted a second, though, and then he was filled with a kind of indescribable euphoria, and hysterical laughter bubbled up.  He did little to suppress it.  He was free! Safe! The monster, whoever it had been, was gone.  He did not know, or really care, why the man had been chasing him; it only mattered that he was not chasing him anymore.

Mel was still grinning stupidly as he went to try the door.  Locked.  The door must have latched again after he closed it.  No matter.  He dug around in his pocket for the key.

Slowly, his face went pale.  He knew exactly where the key was: on the ground, in front of the storage container, where he had dropped it.  He had been in a rush, after all.  He couldn’t be expected to remember everything.

That night, an elderly woman limped into one of the offices of a government procedural firm, dragging her cart of cleaning supplies behind her.  There was a crumpled up piece of white paper on the floor.  Shaking her head, she bent down to pick it up.  Mel Garner was a nice man, but he always seemed to leave a mess for her to clean up.  With a sigh, she dropped the wadded sheet in her trash can and rolled along to the next office.