I ran until my lungs started to burn. This wasn’t happening. It was just another hallucination. It had to be. But I knew it wasn’t. Not this time. There was a shopping plaza up ahead with a fountain in the middle of it. The plaza was completely deserted. I knew the drill by now. Madness followed by silence. And then that bastard mongrel would show up, taunting me with its unblinking stare.
But it didn’t show. There was nothing hiding in the shadows. Nothing except a faint ripple radiating from one point on the fountain. Heart pounding, I walked toward it and leaned forward. The black hound stared up at me from the water’s surface.
I stumbled backward and right into a middle-aged businessman who was walking past.
“Hey! Get out of here, you stupid mutt!” he yelled, brandishing his briefcase at me.
The plaza was crowded. Families milled around idly, couples displayed unabashed affection and office workers enjoyed a small break from their desks. Everyone’s gaze turned toward me and I found myself running again. I had no idea where I was. Everything looked unfamiliar. I passed by a series of mirrored windows, seeing the hound behind the glass instead of me.
There was nowhere left to go. My whole life had been stripped away in an instant and the one person I could count on saw me as a stranger. I laughed. If only she did see me as a stranger. At least I’d be human. I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets, trying to make sense of the world again. At night, I found a secluded spot in a park and went to sleep.
Or I tried, at least. The barking was back. I knew the were there. As soon as I opened my eyes, I’d see an army of dog spread out all over the park. I didn’t want to see them. Or anyone. I just wanted to be alone. The barking stopped. Perhaps there would be some sleep after all.
Early next morning I found my way back to the office. The city had only just woken up and Joe was already at his seat downstairs. After a few minutes, the empty streets started buzzing with activity and people started heading to work. This is when I would normally arrive at the office, trudging in through the front door desperately searching for coffee. I hated that job, but it offered me some sort of stability.
Not too far away, Shauna would be heading in to work too. Shauna. If only I’d been better to her. Given her the commitment that our relationship needed. But none of that mattered now.
Joe greeted the people coming in, as he always did. After a few minutes, he came out to grab a smoke, leaving someone else in charge of the lobby. He saw me and I thought I was going to get shooed away again. But he didn’t do that. He just looked at me. And I looked at him.
I could see it all. Joe’s frustration with his divorce proceedings, the tawdry artwork that he had poured his soul into making and failed to profit from, the smoking addiction that was sapping his life away. A life he didn’t deserve.
Joe was rooted to the spot, staring. I didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. I sat completely still and stared right back. Right into his eyes. Right into him.