Calm Before the Storm
Great, just perfect. It was so ironic that after finally confiding my most hidden secrets to Amanda, catalyzed by the strange animal encounters, one of which she was a part, the strange occurrences would come to an abrupt stop.
It took several weeks for me to recover, the mysterious disappearance of strange animals serving as an equally frightening occurrence as their physical encounters. I expected reappearance at every waking moment. I darted past ominous buildings, alleyways, you name it. I rarely went out at night or slept in silence, alone or in the dark. I tried to be with Amanda as much as possible, whether at her home or at mine, since she was the only person who could truly understand the apprehension I felt for the return of those strange creatures…or the appearance of something far worse.
Months passed before I could finally function as a normal person.
“We need to do something,” Amanda said spontaneously, exasperated. Clearly, we’d been reclusive for far too long.
“You want to rent a movie or something?” I was trying to gear the conversation towards something I could handle. Though I was experiencing cabin fever as well, I was still hesitant to go out at night.
“Amanda, I don’t know…what if…”
“Look, it’s been long enough, nothing strange. Take a chance and live for once,” she said, decisively cutting me off.
“Amanda…” I knew I was going to lose, but I whined nonetheless.
“Let’s just go to La Ideal. We’ll go out for a few hours, dance and come straight home.”
There was no way I could win this battle; half of me was dying to go out as well. That half would win tonight. According to Amanda, there was a really good DJ in town, though I had no opinion on the matter. As long as the songs were good enough to dance to for a few hours and forget about our worries, I knew I would have fun.
We got dressed and drove out to La Ideal. By the time we made it there, the place was already packed. Though there was a long line waiting to enter, we got in right when we got there; playing gigs there had its perks. As we entered the building, I could see that the dance floor was packed-a good sign; dancing at La Ideal was always more fun when you were surrounded by people. We headed straight towards the dancing crowd to find a spot. Through the crowd, we ran into Neal who joined us to dance.
“It’s good to see you guys!” he yelled over the music and surrounding conversations.
“Yeah, you too,” Amanda and I conceded in unison.
“You two have been M.I.A. for so long. I thought we wouldn’t see you until we had another gig lined up…” Amanda and I could only exchange a wary glance at each other. Luckily, Neal didn’t catch on to that quick exchange.
It was so easy to let the music take control of all of my senses. Every beat that quaked through me seemed to chip away at the mountain of worry that had been building inside of me in the past few months. With each piece that chipped away, my body responded fluidly, succumbing to the melody. For the first time in a long span, I felt free. It was the same feeling I got when I sang: total release of anything that I’d collected in my mind. I was finally letting go…
The whole atmosphere was intoxicating. The people around me swayed to the music so fluidly I felt like I was floating all alone in the middle of a huge ocean. Thousands of lights in blues and soft whites swirled all around us, cutting into the otherwise darkened room. The lamps lit on the tables surrounding the dance floor glowed and flickered like tiny stars adding to the effect of being at sea.
“You want a drink?” Neal asked after the song ended and was transitioning into another hypnotic, wordless song.
“Yeah, I do, I’ll come with you,” Amanda replied.
“I’m good. I’ll wait for you guys at a table,” I answered as we made our way off of the dance floor. I found an empty chair facing the bar and front window. There were other people sitting at the table, but they were so engrossed in conversation and sitting so closely together that my presence was not uncomfortable for them; I doubt it was even noticed.
There was a pretty decent wait at the bar, so I knew I’d be sitting for a while. I didn’t mind though since I was fairly tired from dancing. I occupied my solitude by people watching. I scanned the crowd, watching couples playfully banter with one another and groups laughing raucously. I couldn’t help but smile at all of the different dynamics. Eventually my eyes focused on the crowd outside, some waiting to get in, some loafing around trying to figure out their next destination for the evening. That’s when I saw him…
The inquisitive stranger. And this time, he wasn’t alone.
The man with my mysterious stranger was clearly older and dressed similarly-something inconspicuous but archaic in a way. He was taller than the stranger I’d seen before, slimmer. Though he was clearly in his mid- to late forties, he still exuded the air of power and strength. He had long grey hair with a few streaks of black. It was parted in the center and fell to his shoulders. His beard was the same color, somewhat long and pointed at the end. His brows were furrowed as he spoke to the younger man while his eyes darted from side to side. They were looking for someone…and possibly trying to evade someone unknown to me. They looked as if they were agitated in a way, like they had a limited amount of time to accomplish whatever it was they were trying to accomplish.
I sat as still as a statue, taking all of this in, and to my alarm, they looked as if they were trying to get into La Ideal. I watched as they talked hurriedly, almost anxiously to the security guards in front of the door. A handshake was exchanged, and they were immediately let in. I noticed a decent wad of cash in one of the guard’s hands before he quickly tucked it away in his pocket. As the strangers entered the room, they scanned through the crowd purposefully. I glanced quickly at the bar; Amanda and Neal were just getting to the counter to order some drinks. In a panic, I turned my back to the entrance, facing the dancing crowd, hoping that I blended in with the people around me.
There’s no way. They can’t be looking for me! I thought, trying to hide myself from scrutiny.
I risked a quick glance behind me: the two strangers found a vantage point by one of the newspaper covered columns in the middle of the room. They were talking in quick bursts to each other while still scanning the crowd. My eyes had lingered on them with just enough time for the younger stranger to notice me. We locked eyes for a quick moment, and recognition was clearly written in his eyes. His body gave a start in response, and he nudged his friend.
“It’s the guy!” Amanda yelled as she and Neal found their way back to me.
“What guy?” Neal asked, looking in the direction Amanda was gesturing.
“Stop! Don’t look at him! I don’t want him to come over here,” I scolded, hiding myself after stealing a quick glance at the pair. Though he had clearly noticed me and was still looking at me, along with his companion, they had not moved an inch from their spot next to the column.
“Let’s just dance, okay?” I took the lead towards the dance floor.
Agitated as I was, I tried to get lost in the music the way I had before I saw him, but it wasn’t working as effectively. Having tangible evidence of someone who I felt was linked to the strange things that were happening to me kept my mind too occupied with questions and memories that I had tried so hard to repress. After half an hour or so of dancing around with Amanda and Neal, I still couldn’t relax. My eyes would dart to him every few seconds. There he stood, quite content, though watching me closely. I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to confront him. End this uncomfortable tension building between the two of us. Maybe then I could find some peace of mind.
It all happened in the split second it took me to make my decision to confront him.
As I was walking towards the pair, I noticed that the crowd outside of La Ideal was stirring rather unusually. The people had gathered together, almost in a kind of semicircle, watching something approaching the sidewalk. I could only really make out the reaction of the people in the back of the crowd. They were peering over the shoulders of others that were more towards the front of the sidewalk. Whatever it was that they were looking at, it was coming towards them from the street. It was probably some limousine driving towards the street parallel to the sidewalk where the crowd stood; it was annoying how people reacted to a fancy car, thinking that it must contain some famous person, when really it was probably just regular people who wanted to indulge themselves for one night out on the town. My attention was just turning back towards the pair standing by the column, but it was drawn back to the crowd outside when I heard people screaming.
Looking back at the scene outside the big window, I saw the crowd dispersing rather quickly…and not at all calmly. They were running haphazardly in all directions, clearly evading whatever was coming towards them. My eyes darted nervously towards the strangers, and their attention was also drawn to the commotion outside. My eyes flew back to the scene at the front of La Ideal. When I finally took in what I was now seeing, my heart seemed to accelerate, reacting to the fear now building rapidly within me.
It couldn’t be.
The horrible creature that had haunted many of my dreams was finally back. That same mangy, dirty beast that waited for me at the front of my apartment building so many months ago. And this time, to my dismay, he wasn’t alone. He was flanked on either side by beasts that were similar to him in size, perhaps only a fraction smaller. One was an amazing white; there was not a touch or hint of any color on his fur. His eyes were a brilliant blue. If I wasn’t sure beyond a doubt that their presence was solely related to me, I would’ve marveled more at his overall beauty. The other was a deep gray. He, like the beast I had seen at my apartment, was dirty in appearance though not as ragged. His eyes glowed though they were a deep brown. They walked towards La Ideal with authority and purpose.
I looked back at the pair who was now making their way towards me. It was becoming more difficult for them to reach me since the crowd inside was reacting in the same way to the appearance of the animals as those who were outside. I looked at them in earnest, trying to close the gap between us. The door to the club opened, letting in the cool night air. My eyes froze to the front. How could anyone think to escape through that door where those awful creatures waited? I heard their fierce growls as the people who tried to escape through the front fell back, some on the floor, others on top of them, trying to give the creatures as wide a berth as possible. They didn’t attack, however. The first jumped quickly and agilely into the room followed by the other two. Their cunning eyes scanned the tumultuous crowd, searching for someone. If my instincts were correct, I knew they were searching for me.
I didn’t realize that the young stranger had finally made his way to me. He kept yelling at me, shaking me, trying to get my attention, but my eyes were glued on the terrifying monsters that were now only separated from me by a few feet and random people scrambling to leave. I didn’t want to be surprised if they managed to close the small gap that lay between us. In an instant the snow white beast locked eyes with me; I let out a choked scream. The young stranger who was trying to get my attention turned his eyes to where I was staring. The creature glanced quickly at him and let out a low growl, barring his unbelievable large, razor-like teeth. This seemed to get the attention from the others. Once they recognized me (How did they recognize me?), they repositioned themselves to face me, once again with the white and gray beasts flanking the brown one. The older stranger was in front of me in a flash, ready to fight for me.
Finally, my eyes met with the crystal blue eyes of the younger stranger.
“Grey, we need to get out of here fast. Someone is coming for you,” he spoke calmly yet urgently.
“There’s no time. We need to get moving,” he cut me off. There was no way I could be coherent just yet. There was too much going on in my head to organize any real questions. There was too much going on outside of my head; three large monsters being held at bay by one man to be exact. Suddenly, the older stranger wasn’t looking so strong. Not now that I could see the muscles of the three creatures tensing, flexing right before my eyes.
I stifled another scream. Before I knew fully what was happening, I was being pulled through the back doors. I was only able to catch one small glimpse of Amanda and Neal scrambling to find a way out as well. For some reason, I had the strange feeling that I wouldn’t see them again for a very long time. I ran with a huge crowd through the emergency door that led to the back entrance of the club, out onto a back alley. The alley led back to the main road, where the sidewalk to the entrance to La Ideal was. He stopped abruptly to gauge where we would go next only to be startled by the sound of glass breaking and scattering onto the pavement. It couldn’t be. I turned my horrified eyes to the source of the noise. The three creatures were now on the pavement in the middle of a screaming crowd shaking the glass from their heavy coats. Luckily, they were distracted by the police cars and animal control vehicles that were finally driving to the scene of the disturbance. It was enough time for me and the younger stranger to get lost in the crowd.
“Where are you taking me?” I finally managed to choke out.
“I need to get you somewhere safe,” was all he managed to say.
“What are those things, and why are they after me?” I needed some answers.
“I’ll explain it all to you in due time. First, we need to get you to a safe place,” he answered quickly. I had a feeling that this ‘safe place’ wouldn’t be anywhere I was familiar with.
“I need to go home first,” I pleaded.
“There may not be enough time,” he debated more to himself than to me.
“Please, I just want to change my clothes and maybe get some important things.”
“You’ll need to be quick,” he added as he changed directions. We were heading to my apartment before I could even explain how to get there. How did he know where I lived? But I had other things to worry about that were more important than his inexplicable knowledge of where I happened to sleep at night. That was the least of my worries. Besides, my mind was so stressed out that it was good to have someone lead the way while I simply followed.
We got to my apartment in little to no time since I didn’t live too far from Ybor. It wasn’t exactly walking distance, but it wasn’t too arduous of a walk if necessary. Besides, I was too worried about other things to notice any fatigue I had from heading home on foot. We ran up the stairs to my floor and burst through my front door. My phone was ringing incessantly.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Grey?! Thank goodness! I’m so glad you’re okay.” Amanda sounded relieved. “I’m coming over right now.”
“No, no. It’s okay. Whatever happened at the club is sure to make its way here pretty soon. I’m going to leave in a minute. Just stay where you are.” There was no way I wanted Amanda to run back to danger. I wasn’t worth it.
“Grey, don’t be stupid. I can’t leave you there alone or let you go somewhere alone,” she sounded like my mother.
“I’m not alone…I’m with…” I looked at the young stranger blankly.
“Oliver,” he whispered to me.
“…Oliver,” I finished my paused sentence.
“Who’s Oliver?” she asked, sounding skeptical.
“We’ll come to you. How about that?” I tried to pacify her.
“If you’re not here in fifteen minutes, I’m coming to get you,” she said flatly, hanging up the phone.
I rushed through my room grabbing anything I felt to be important. Driver’s license, passport, extra cash. I stuffed this all into an orange backpack I had lying around for short trips. I threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. I grabbed a long sleeve shirt and jacket and stuffed it into the book bag along with underwear, socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. The essentials. Everything else I could live without for the time being. I put on a pair of hiking boots and tied my hair back into a ponytail; I had a feeling that I would need something more or less durable. Better safe than sorry. The last thing I threw into my bag was my cell phone though I didn’t know if that would be a necessary item in the long run. I ran out to meet Oliver in my living room. He was pacing impatiently, clearly ready to be on the move again.
Before heading out the door, I made sure that I had one last thing with me. The necklace. As I closed the door to my apartment, I instinctively grabbed the chain around my neck and pressed the charm, making sure it was still there. I didn’t miss Oliver’s quick glance at this reaction. Though his eyes darted quickly away, I could detect a sense of recognition there. Though it wasn’t the same greedy recognition of the animals that I had encountered recently. It was almost a look of relief.
“We need to get out of here now. They’ll be looking here next,” he answered plainly.
“We have to go to Amanda’s. I promised,” I stated warily, hoping he wouldn’t say no.
“It’ll have to be a quick stop. We need to get outside of the city. Find a safe place to hide for a while.”
Good, he didn’t say no.
“We’ll take my car,” I added, “and then you’ll need to tell me everything you know.”
“Fine,” he said tersely. “Let’s just get out of here. We need to get moving.”
For the first time in years, evading danger in the form of three large monsters that were like no other animal I’d ever seen aside, I felt something more like purpose. There was this newness building inside of me, something not altogether unknown. The dull, lifeless feeling that had rested inside of me all these years was finally bubbling away in effervescent sprays of excitement. Something awaited me on the horizon, and I couldn’t wait to meet it face to face. Had I known exactly where I was headed, I would run to it, arms wide open to embrace this feeling and expectation.
I felt like my restlessness was finally waning.