Somewhere in the night shadows he saw something move. He thought the worst but then an alley cat squeezed between two ash cans and ran across his path. In the dark it looked like a black cat, but he was not one to believe in superstitions.
Home was only half a mile from the gym where the Saturday-night dances were always held. Tonight it seemed like miles. I should've listened to my old man. So I missed the dance. Vickie wasn't there anyway.
What had convinced her not to go should have convinced him.
"I figured we raised a bright kid," his father had said sarcastically to his mother. "More like an idiot. I mean, there's a lunatic out there, a serial murderer, for crissake! An escapee from Graystone, and this kid's going to a dance!"
"So tell him not to go," his mother said, tired of hearing him holler. It sounded to her like the obvious solution, but Pete's father was never big on the obvious.
"You want to go to the dance? You want to be a big man and risk having your heart ripped out by some psycho? Go ahead. You got my blessings, Hot Shot!"
So here he was, close to midnight, on the way back from a dance less than uneventful. How quiet the night was! All he could hear was his heart pounding in his chest, throbbing in his forehead like a flickering light. He was scared, no doubt about that. Two days now Van Kreiten was, as his old man said, on the loose. For all Pete knew, he could be right here in Randolph, hungry for a killing, sniffing out the fear smell of one more victim.
Vickie. He let himself think of pretty Vickie in biology class. His dork friend Walter said Vickie liked him. Vickie had told Walter and Walter had told him. She loved to dance. She told Walter that, too, so the dance made sense.
But now, only eight blocks from his house, Pete wasn't so sure. Thinking about a warm bed, a safe home, the doors locked, he wished his old man had put his foot down and said, "No way, Kid. You ain't going no place!" as he usually did. The smell of the night air told him snow was coming. Maybe not snow. Maybe just that kind of bitter cold that cut like a knife. A knife. He touched his chest to make sure it was still there, safe and ready in case he needed to use it. His hunting knife. A beauty. It rested inside his suit jacket pocket and he prayed to God he would not have to take it from its sheath and use it to try and kill a killer. Still, he felt safe.
When he reached Cottonwood Drive, he thought he saw the tall shadow of a man
mingling with the shadow of a sycamore tree. He wasn't sure. Oh, God, I am almost home. Let me get there. Don't let this be Van Kreiten setting me up. But when he got to the tree, the man shadow was gone; only the tree shadow was there with its stretching branch arms reaching out to seize the stars.
Pete let himself take a deep cold breath, then realized he had assumed too much. The man shadow was back or it was another shadow. It was somewhere up ahead, and from where he was standing––trembling in his new black suede shoes––he noticed it suddenly disappear.
It made sense to take a different street home. He listened to the sound of his silver cleats almost musical against the pavement and it made him regret again his pigheaded insistence on going to that dance. He exhaled the white air from his mouth in trembling bursts. Again he touched the hunting knife and promised himself he'd use it if push came to shove. No way he’d lie down and die. He'd go down fighting if he had to.
Then at Brighton Road the man shadow in the distance re-appeared so Pete ducked the other way and headed into Seaford Street. Before long he saw him again, coming closer, illumined by the full brightness of the full moon. This time, almost running, Pete moved himself down another street––a narrow one, a street he hardly knew, and shaped his back against a side wall of a school and waited. Cautiously from his side pocket he extracted the knife, shimmied it out of its cowhide holder, teasing his thumb against the sharp edge. All the while he waited for the man shadow to find the end of the narrow street where Pete now stood backed against the wall and ready to do or die.
Before the sound of footsteps, he thought he heard his name called out from somewhere, which he discounted as wishful thinking that it was his father's voice, his father come to save him. So close to home and yet so far. I am not going to die. I am not going to die. All the while he squeezed the hilt of the knife, gripped it, aimed it in the direction of what soon enough would be the enemy.
Finally, out there in the darkness, the man shadow grew shorter and shorter as it approached where Pete braced himself against the grey brick wall. No time to waste. Strike first or be struck; kill or be killed.
Pete waited only a few more tense moments, long enough for the shadow to pass through the narrow street. He did not trust himself to turn away from the wall and take a hard look at the shadow's face. There'd be time for that later. For now he timed it all, started trembling again, felt the sweat like frost coat his forehead. Suddenly the echoing footsteps died out; the shadow cast upon the opposite wall seemed to freeze motionless and Pete seizing the moment, pivoted away from the wall with his knife high above his head, and began stabbing away at the man shadow now a flesh-and-blood man––blood spurting hot and thick against Pete's face.
Now he stood above the figure crumpled on the pavement.
In the darkness Pete moved aside. He noticed the glow from a streetlight giving some definition to what lay at his feet. Though he felt safe now, his heart still pounded.
When he looked at his right hand, he saw the knife still within his tight fist and, as if
scalded, he pitched the hunting knife away.
What does a serial killer look like? He turned the body over. Then he heard his name again, but this time it wasn't far away at all.
At his feet, not yet dead, his voice a strained whisper that voiced itself in labored gasps, the victim could barely be heard.
"I came to bring you home. Your mother and me––we was worried 'bout our boy."
Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer whose work has appeared in such venues as The New York Times, Newsday, U.S.A. Today, The Writer, Cats Magazine, and widely elsewhere in America and overseas. A retired teacher and professor, he was the recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award in 2007. Buttaci has lectured on Sicilian American pride and conducted poetry workshops and readings.
A retired teacher, Buttaci lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.
Flashing My Shorts, is available from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci/dp/0984259473
200 Shorts is available at http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&qid=1304373156&sr=1-1 Both flash collections were published by All Things That Matter Press.
A Family of Sicilians: Stories and Poems, still selling copies after 13 years, is available from http://stores.lulu.com/ButtaciPublishing2008
He is the author of two recent chapbooks: What I Learned from the Spaniard… (Middle Island Press. http://middleislandpress.com/?page_id=191
and Boy on a Swing… (Big Table Publishing. http://www.bigtablepublishing.com/chaptitles.html