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Walking down the street one day, a man came to find a piece of folded paper on the ground. He picked it up, read its contents, and then tossed it back on the ground. “How stupid,” he remarked and continued forward.
He proceeded to his usual coffee shop on the corner, ordering the same cup of black-decaf-no-cream-no-sugar. As the barista handed him the mug, he glanced over his shoulder but saw nothing. The man sat in a corner of the café, one with a panoramic view of the area. He admired the people in it as he took sip after sip of his drink.
When he was done, the man left a small tip at the counter and exited the shop. He followed the same street to the office where he worked. Again, the man turned around but noticed nothing. He could have sworn he saw something out of the corner of his eye.
Nevertheless, the man sat at his cubical and began his work, calculating numbers and statistics on his computer. The time was reaching noon, and the man finished up his work for a lunch break. He took his bagged lunch to the break room where he sat by himself and ate. Once again, the man felt the urge to look behind him. It was as if someone was watching him, but when he looked around he was, for sure, alone.
The man wasn’t sure at first that what he saw was real, but it was, and he didn’t like it. He gathered his belongings and returned to his desk. After a while, the man noticed that it was still there behind him like it was following him wherever he went. He got up to get a drink from the cooler, and there it was. He made copies at the copier, and there it was yet again. The man was becoming agitated. He thought, possibly, he could outrun what was following him. He carefully straightened his desk and clocked out three hours early. It was just after one when he left work and decided to head home.
He passed the library on the way, wanting to stop in, but there it was again. It was like it was waiting for him no matter where he went. The man quickened his pace, believing that if he moved fast enough he would be able to escape it.
The man broke into a sprint and took off down a back road that ran parallel to his house. He was careful to check the corner before he turned, making sure that it wasn’t there before he entered. When the coast was clear, the man rushed up the porch and into his house. He locked the door and closed the curtains to all the windows. He made sure that each was latched shut before settling down in a chair, tired from all the running. The man was finally safe inside the security of his home.
It was easy to forget the events that took place just hours before. Without hesitation, the man continued with his day, cleaning the house and preparing dinner for himself. He even picked a movie to watch as he ate. The opening credits began to role when he noticed it again, that familiar feeling he had earlier when he was walking down the street. It was that same feeling he felt when he was drinking his coffee at the café, and the same feeling he had while he was at work. The man glanced around his living room but saw nothing. He got up to check the windows and front door, but all remained shut and locked tight. There was no possible way it could get in.
The man dismissed the feeling, “Ah, you’re just scaring yourself.” But deep down, he knew that something still wasn’t right.
Later in the evening, the man busied himself with the dishes from the meal he had prepared. He scrubbed the pots and pans in the sink, observing the night sky from the window in front of him. The stars were just beginning to settle against the dark atmosphere. As he admired them, something across the street caught his eye. It was hard to make out at first, but the faint glow of the lamp post shone just bright enough for him to see it was there. It had found him.
The man slowly backed away from the window, dropping a plate loudly in the sink. With each step he took back, it moved closer. The man grabbed a knife from the counter and walked straight to the front door, swinging it open so much that it crashed into the wall. He stomped down the porch steps and into the street, waving the kitchen knife. “You stay away from me,” he yelled. He marched at it and swung, missing by only an inch, “You stay away!” But no matter how loud he yelled, or how fast the knife cut through the air, it didn’t move. It positioned itself in place and continued to look at the man in distress.
Across the street, several lights turned on and neighbors began lining the road, concerned of the commotion they had heard from inside of their houses. A woman warily approached the man, careful not to get too close to the knife. “Sir, are you okay?”
“Get back!” He shouted. “Get back, get back, get back!”
Murmurs stirred between the neighbors. One offered to call 9-1-1, and another hushed to the woman, “Missy, get away from him! He’s gone crazy.”
All the while the man persisted, swinging the knife and trying to scare it away. “Stop following me!”
Sirens blared as a police car turned the corner. The street was illuminated by the flashing lights, and the shadows of people danced within the blue and red beams. Two officers stepped out of the car. One ushered the neighbors back into their houses while the other slowly approached the man in the street who continued to scream and swing at the air in front of him.
“Sir,” the officer said. “Can you please put the knife down?”
“Officer, thank god,” the man pleaded. “You have to get this, this thing away from me.”
“I can do that,” the officer replied, unsure of who or what the man was referring to. “But I’m gonna need you to put the knife down, okay?”
The man agreed, dropping the weapon onto the pavement. Just as he did so, the second officer rushed up behind him and cuffed his hands behind his back. “No,” the man cried out. “No, no, not me! I didn’t do anything. Please, you have to believe me. It’s been following me all day. Please, you have to believe me! PLEASE!”
Both officers escorted the man to the cab of the car, ducking him in and shutting the door. They radioed into the station and then took off down the street. As the car turned the corner, a stray slip of paper spun under the tire and into the air. It was the same slip of paper that the man read earlier that day. It settled onto the grass and faced upward. The words written in ink were smudged from exposure to the elements, but they were still legible.
It read: Smile, you’re on camera!