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Darkness falls


Sahar Sabati

I was out late again, for what seemed like the thousandth time in the last month. I got stuck in my office – if you can call it that – after class. I was only planning on picking some stuff up for the following day, but I had a little forced change of plans. I stepped in the hallway too quickly to avoid the five students camped in front of my office. They needed to talk to me about some lesson or other. Being head TA, it happened way too often – I really needed to have a raise or something, because this was becoming too much.

"Can't you guys come tomorrow? I have had a really long day and no supper," I begged. "Plus I am so tired that I highly doubt I will be able to answer your questions."

The students were ruthless – they didn't buy a single word. It was probably because of my sterling reputation. How I rued it at moments like these. "We really need to talk to you – we want to be ready for the lab tomorrow."

"You can come tomorrow morning."

"We have class."

"Before class."

"We start at eight."

"After class."

"We don't have enough time – we have to go halfway across campus to our next class."

"You should have come earlier."

"We tried to – but something always came up."

"That's not my problem. It's an ungodly hour to come to a TA's office and you know it."

Had they said anything the least bit arrogant, I would have had no compulsion in sending them home. But they looked so sheepish. What did it for them was the timid way one of the girls apologized for being disorganised and promising not to do it again, please please please could I give them a little bit of time?

Defeated, I sighed. "Next time, I will not see you if you come this late. You have ten minutes."

That was an hour and a half ago. Ruthless, I tell you.


By the time I was done with the students, I was so fed up, annoyed and frustrated that adrenaline was pumping through my body. Unfortunately, that also meant that I was wide awake. I still hadn't had supper – I really needed to grab a bite before I went driving into the night. So I decided to go for a walk before heading home. While I was at it, I would go by this little quaint and cheap pizza place and fulfill my craving for their chicken pizza. How I rue that whim today.

My city is wonderful. First of all, it never sleeps. There is an omnipresent energy it the air that will revive you if you let it. Walking in the street helps clear the mind. People are walking around at any time of the day and the night, talking, hanging out – just having fun. And being around such people makes your own evening a lot livelier.

My shoulders had been drooping – but they rose gradually as I walked in the brisk evening air. I took a more "scenic" route, one that took me through the best part of the city, where all the late night cafιs and restaurants were. I was hoping to spot a bunch of friend so I could grab a quick drink and unwind a little before heading home.

                I turned in an alley I knew quite well and briskly walked through it. It wasn't the best part of town, but I felt safe enough. I knew most of the vagrants that hung out in this back alley, and often spent some time talking to them. You wouldn't believe the stories I have heard. But none of them were there tonight. It didn't make sense; it was a nice, balmy evening, with no rain in the air, a perfect night for those living outdoors. Where were they?

                I don't know what made me look through that particular window, look into that particular strange room at that exact moment. Nothing happens without a reason, I know that. But this is a little extreme – because I did it, because I simply turned my head, I saw it, and then my entire life changed.

                The man was kneeling on the floor. The room was brightly illumined – maybe that's why I looked, who knows. There were three other men and a woman in the room with them. One man, who was clearly in charge, was holding a clipboard. It kind of looked out of place, but I guess not all things are exactly straight out of the TV or movies. He put the board down, said something to someone I couldn't see (there were more of them?) and put his hands in the depths of his huge coat. He said something, the man kneeling looked up and smiled, while the woman and the other man laughed. It was just so odd, so out of place, that it transfixed me. This was obviously a hit in progress – why were they all laughing? A mafia hit was no laughing matter. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the man took his hand out of his pocket – I barely had the time to note that what he held in his hand was a gun – and shot the man who had been kneeling. He keeled over, dead. I noted with detachment that the amount of blood flowing was surprisingly little, before meeting the eyes of the woman. I froze, and my heart turned itself into a big knot. She didn't react, and turned her gaze to the now dead man.

                I ducked – but it was too late. She had seen me – I had been the witness to a Mafia murder! So much for feeling safe, and nothing ever happening in this city. My legs were numb, but I had to leave. I couldn't stay, they would come – I couldn't move! What if the woman was telling them about them about me at that very moment? I slowly and carefully looked up. The sight of her talking in a low whisper to the man finally got me going – and I stumbled my way out of the alley.


                I didn't like going to cafιs alone, but I really needed a good, strong coffee. I sat in a corner, so pale and shaking so hard that a salesman played waiter and gave me a free coffee.


                "No problem." He hesitated. "You look like you saw a ghost."

                "Something like that." Thankfully it was a little busy, and he left it at that.

                I had gotten myself into quite a mess – what was I going to do? Not only I had witnessed a murder but I had been seen by one of the killers. I needed to change – and fast.

                Suddenly filled with purpose, I headed for the bathroom. I took out my contacts and put my glasses on, shook my hair out of its ponytail and put the ever present baseball hat on. I pulled out my eyeliner and added a thick line, making my eyes seem even larger and whiter. Unfortunately, I didn't have lipstick on me, so I just put a bit more lip balm on.

                "Hey, you look totally different!" the salesman/waiter said as I came out.

                I was happy about that – but did he have to scream it out loud for everyone to hear? "Thank you for the coffee. How much do I owe you?"

                "On the house. Hope you feel better!"

                "I do. Thank you."

                I left the relative safety of the cozy cafι, heart palpitating. What would happen to me now? I gazed at the sea of people milling around. Even at this late hour, it was a normal sight in this city. But a brush of panic at the thought of plunging into a crowd potentially filled with bounty hunters looking for me almost overwhelmed me. I calmed myself down with the thought that no one could possibly try to kill me in front of such a large number of witnesses. Once my breathing eased (somewhat), I focused on figuring out a way to get home safe. I also wanted to make sure I had something to defend myself just in case. No one could be careful enough, but I think this especially stands for people who have witnessed murders.

                There was one thing I could do to keep safe – the only thing I could think of that would give me the courage of going home. I had no intention of going to the police – I hadn't seen enough in the first place, and second of all, I didn't want to live my life in fear while waiting to stand as a witness in a trial. I watched enough TV to know that people like me didn't live long – and I planned to live a long and healthy life. If the men – and the woman - who had committed that heinous crime realised that I wasn't going to rat on them, there would be a better chance of me living a normal and safe life, rather than going to the police and not knowing what would happen.

                There are many pawn shops in Montreal. There is one on my way from the office to my car. I always take a quick look at the window – who knows, maybe one day there will be something really nice in there that I can get at a good price – but I have never stepped in. It would be different this time, as I remembered one of the items that I often spied in the windows.


                There is a bell above the door of the shop, the kind that rings each time the door opens and closes. Twice for an entrance, twice for an exit, four tinkles for each customer – ding, ding, ding, ding. I hate that bell. Even though I have never been inside the pawn shop, I have heard its annoyingly shrill tinkle too many times already, and it made me want to reach out, pull it off, put it on the count, grab the baseball bat everyone had behind their store's counter for protection and beat the life out of it.

                Was I being followed?

                I had a vague thought that I was being slightly incoherent, but I had reached such a state of panic that I couldn't think anymore. I entered the pawn shop – ding, ding.

                The man behind the counter looked up at me silently. Ding, ding. I nodded at him; he nodded back. I took a quick look around and immediately spotted what I was looking for.

                They were in a locked case beneath the glass of the counter. Seeing them made the whole situation seem even more unusual and unreal – was I going to wake up now in my office and laugh it off? I certainly hope so.

                I looked down at the seven models laid out before me.

                "You looking for a gun?" the man's slightly surprised voice asked me.

                I looked up. He still hadn't moved. Although his hands were still busy wiping a crystal vase – rub, rub, rub. Everything was annoying me tonight, grating on my nerves. If this was a dream, I really hope I'd wake up soon, because if I didn't, I'd get a massive migraine by the end of the morning.

                "Yes. Could I take a look at that one?" I randomly pointed at one.

                The man gave the vase an extra couple of rubs before placing it on the counter, flicking the cloth on his shoulder and lumbering to the counter where I was. He drew out a key from his pocket and opened the counter's casing. He pulled the wooden box out and set it on the counter.

                "Have you ever used a gun before?"


                "But not often."


                "And you want to purchase a gun."



                "For safety reasons."

                The man's fingers were drumming the wooden case – tap tap tap, tap tap tap – could he stop it, for Pete's sake?

                "I'd suggest you choose another one, then."

                "OK, fine, whatever."

                "It's quite a delicate matter, buying a gun, you know."

                I was fed up. Here I was, running for my life, looking for a way to defend myself if the need presented itself, and this fat pompous salesman was turning sanctimonious on me?

                "Listen," I said, dead calm. "I have money, and I want a gun. Give me a gun, show me how to use it, and I'll give you money in exchange, capish?"

                The man held my gaze for a couple of moments. I was certain he was going to kick me out as a punishment for my impertinence, when suddenly, he smiled. It was a scary smile that made my skin crawl – was he in on it, too? What did he know? What was he going to do? I froze.

                "Are you going to sell me that gun?"

                "Sure, sure. Can I at least give you the simpler one and give you a brief tutoring on its usage?"

                "I don't have time."

                "Five minutes. For your safety."

                I hesitated, then capitulated. "That, I have."


                I stepped out of the pawn shop – ding, ding – with a side of my pants pulling down a little. I had bought myself a gun – don't ask me which one, I don't know – a piece of cold metal made to kill another human being. Ding, ding. It galled me to have been forced to buy such a disgusting monstrosity – but I had no choice. Unfortunately, things being what they were, I was forced to have one. That's the way it was.

                I now had to get to my car in one piece. I didn't think I had spent that much time in the pawn shop, but as I looked around I realised that it was a lot later than I originally had thought it was. I checked the time and cursed, quite fluently too. It was a full hour and a half later than I thought, and a time that even a woman who hadn't witnessed a murder and wasn't wanted by the Mafia didn't want to be out alone in the side streets and alleys.

                I didn't have much of a choice though. My friend lived around the corner, but he had had the grace of getting married and was on his honeymoon. How unpractical. I did have his keys to take care of the apartment while they were gone, but, how wonderful, the keys were at my place. I had no choice; I had to get to my car.

                I remembered an email I had read not long ago about the kind of women that usually get aggressed, and decided it probably had to do with my situation, too. After all, I had changed the way I looked enough that someone would have to look at me carefully before deciding I was the same pale faced, hair tied, contact wearing person from behind the window. No one would expect someone being stalked by the Mafia to be walking confidently down the street, so confidently I walked. No way was I going to be a victim, at least, not on the outside!

                I took the time to confidently stand outside the door of the pawn shop. I breathed in the fresh air as if I had no care in the world, and took the time to look around. There was no suspect activity… No wait – there was something odd. There was a man in a trench coat, on a warm, balmy summer evening. Why would someone be so covered? It didn't make sense, and it immediately rang a bell in my head.

                It didn't deter me from my plan. Faking a confidence that I didn't feel, I stared directly at the man until he turned away. Then I started walking – and passed the man, even brushing by him. My whole body reacted to walking so close to a killer – but I could have won an Academy Award for my acting skills.

                I was still shaking almost – almost! – uncontrollably, but I managed to walk back to my car. I even was able to smile at a young child, grinning and bouncing idly with its mother while licking at an ice cream. Interesting, since I didn't think a child would be awake at this time, and even less eating sugar. Wouldn't it keep the child awake most of the night?

                I finally got to my car and, heart pounding, took my keys out of my pocket. They fell to the floor, and I nervously laughed to hide my fear.  I looked around before crouching down – and there he was, the man in the trench coat. I stared at him for a long while before going down and reaching for my keys. When I looked up, the man was gone. I froze for only a brief second or two before hurrying into my car and speeding off, door locked.


                I love my place. It's a little house on the outskirts of the downtown area, with a little garden and even a play place for my niece, when she comes over. I was always happy when I crossed the threshold – I had an interior doorway, that took me from the garage to the house, but I always came out and went back in through the front door. But not today – I dove into the garage, waited anxiously for the garage door to roll shut, and barricaded myself inside the house.

                I was relieved but only for a few moments – I was noticing for the first time that the windows in my house weren't that quaint after all – they were weaknesses, possible entry points for a thief, or a member of the Mafia eager to get his hands on a witness like myself. I remembered an old movie I had seen, Home Alone… Speaking of which, I really should see some more updated movies. Remembering an old movie from my childhood about a kid setting up booby traps for a couple of thieves wasn't the best conversation starter. But it did give me a good idea about what to do with myself. I set out to booby trap my own house against the Mafia. One could never be too safe, and I certainly couldn't afford not to be as safe as I could be. Good thing I had just bought a whole reserve of canned goods.

                It took me just under an hour – I always was a fast worker – before I was done. I stood in the middle of my living room, feeling safer than I ever had. I looked pensively at my computer. I had the opportunity of working at home – my job required me to be at the office one, maybe two days a week, and mainly to hold office hours. Most of my colleagues took advantage of that fact and stayed home whenever they could. Up to now, I had always tried to go to the office to be more efficient. But things had changed. I booted my computer up and sent an email to my boss; she would be surprised at my change, but it was vital.

                The phone suddenly rang; I jumped, startled, and hesitated, staring. Who could it be? Was it someone I knew, or someone who wanted to harm me? It didn't click until a few moments later that I had caller ID – I could know who it was! I approached the phone warily, then sighed with relief – it was my mother.

                "Honey! How are you?"

                "I'm great, Mom."

                "I haven't heard from you in awhile."

                "You know how I am busy."

                "I know – but you could spare a few minutes for your old mother, can't you?"

                I laughed. "You're anything but old, and you know that."

                "I know, I know. But it is always good to hear it from another person. How is work going?"

                "It's going well. I have decided to stay at home more often."

                "That's great! You will be able to sleep a little more."

                "I highly doubt that. You know that I have a deadline coming."

                We talked for a couple of minutes, before a quick double click made my back stiffen. "Did you hear that?"

                "No. Heard what?"

                "There was an odd sound."

                "It was probably your plumbing. You worry too much."

                Another double click made me swallow heavily. Mom continued talking, but I tuned her out – I had seen enough movies to know what this sound meant. I was being tapped.

                "You know Mom," I interrupted her. "I would never rat on someone."

                She was obviously surprised. "Of course you wouldn't."

                "It's just not the thing to do."

                "I know, honey."

                "If I saw something, I wouldn't just assume from what it looks like what it is and go talk to someone about it. I have never done that, right from when I was a child."

                "Did something happen? What aren't you telling me?"

                "Nothing happened. It's just some random thought I wanted to share it with you."

                "Well don't just change the subject on me. You know I don't like that."

                "I'm sorry."

                And so the conversation went along.


                The next day, my exile from the world began. I shut myself out as much as I could. I worked from home, managing to go to the office only once every two weeks. I ordered my groceries from the internet and had them delivered. I shopped online for everything, from clothes to DVDs. I became a modern-day recluse.

                In the couple of times that I have risked it outside, there has always been someone there, watching me, sometimes in an unnoticeable car, sometimes sitting in the park down the street, sometimes walking a dog (that dog was sure getting a lot of exercise!). I was being watched, and, judging by the double clicking that I hear all the time during most, if not all of my conversations, they were listening to me, too. At least I was safe – my booby traps were getting more and more sophisticated, and I was safer and safer. But something was wrong.

                How long will it be before they come for me? I don't know. How long can I live like this, in such fear and uncertainty? Not much longer. That gun looks more and more like a friend rather than a cold, inanimate object. I have been living like this for a month now – a harrowing month, very efficient for my diet though. They now I don't want to turn them in – I haven't up to now, why would I do it?

There is nothing left for me to do but worry and write. I have filled numerous pages and notebooks with words and sentences, thoughts that are often rambling to an outsider who doesn't know what's going on in my life, what I have been through.

                The streets seem darker, even in the bright summer sunlight. Old men don't seem as sympathetic, helpful men seem like they all have bad intentions, even children look more malicious somehow. The Incident, as I now refer to it, has poisoned me and my outlook on life. Where it was rosy and happy before, it is now dark and gloomy. Once a beautiful and fresh flower, it was now dying, leaving me in a brightly coloured picture that was burning. It's an unending nightmare, flowing down the drain in an ever increasingly fast swirl of images.

                I don't like my life anymore – if you can call it that. Rephrase: I don't like life anymore. This isn't a way to spend your days – looking over your shoulder, booby trapping my office and house, cutting contact with your loved ones so as not to put them in danger… What kind of life is this? Is it even worth living? Wouldn't suicide and a subsequent eternal sojourn in hell be better, since all do eventually get redemption?

                I know what I saw, and I know what would have happened if I hadn't done what I did. Don't think of me as a freak or an insane person. Think about it – what would you have done? What else could it have been? How else could this have ended?



                The summer was finally here, and with it came a whole bunch of summer blockbusters. I didn't have the courage to leave the house, but with the Internet I was now able to rent movies and get them delivered and picked up at home. What a wonderful thing the Internet is.

                My mother had recommended a couple of recent DVD releases and I ordered them all off the Net. I had been working very hard in the last couple of weeks and decided to give myself an evening off. I had invited a couple of my friends over. I couldn't totally cut myself off from the world, and had decided to use my upcoming thesis submission date as an excuse to stay in and avoid coming out all the time.

                Katie and Shari came in early, as they always did, and thoroughly enjoyed the exquisite supper I had cooked for them. Hey, when you are stuck at home all the time, you have a lot of time on your hands, even with a thesis on the way.

                "You are amazing," Katie said, setting her fork down with a sigh of pure bliss.

                Even Shari, who usually ate very little – she was continuously watching her already trim waist line – had seconds. "This is worth the extra exercise tomorrow morning," she said, holding her plate up.

                "You can work out while we watch the second movie," I said, loading her plate. "We'll set up the bike in the living room."

                "Then I guess I will have to have seconds of dessert as well."

                The movie was popped in a couple of hours later – we had a lot of catching up to do. I took the time to whip up another dessert – to prove to the girls that I could make one from scratch, I made a crθme caramel.

                "What are we watching?"

                "The spy thriller. The one that was made locally."

                "I racked up quite an impressive number of awards. The actors are not known – yet – but they are really good. I hope they get the recognition they deserve."

                "Nothing like a movie with a bunch of hot guys running after another hot guy to top off a chick night," grinned Shari.

                Something about the faces on the cover rang a bell, but I shrugged it off. I spent so much time on the Internet that I probably had already seen pictures and read interviews about the actors.

                By the middle of the movie, I was certain I had already seen a couple of these faces before. But Shari and Katie kept telling me it was impossible – most of them were brand new to the scene.

                "Why does it bother me so much?" I couldn't help mumbling.

                Then a familiar scene flashed on the screen, making my skin crawl. The man kneeling on the floor. The brightly illumined room. There was something – no, someone – missing. There was only two other men in the room, none of them with a clipboard. Where was the woman?

                Oh God. It dawned on me at that moment – all these months, all the precautions, the paranoia… A laugh gurgled out of me. Shari and Katie sent me odd looks.

                "Are you OK?"

                I nodded. "Yes. I'm fine." Better than I had ever been!

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