He watched her come home, as he had done regularly for the past five weeks. Her slender figure under her thin clothing captivated his imagination. Keeping her in full view he moved deeper into the shadow. She walked merrily towards her home and bounced up the steps to the door. He absorbed the movement of her bare legs extending beneath her short dress, the rise and fall of her small breasts and the flow of her hair wafting behind her soft neck and delicate shoulders. In the shadows, waiting, watching, he was captivated, a prisoner to his desire, his passion, ensnared by her beauty.
Tammy slid the key into the lock and turned. The door opened to welcome her inside. Something made her turn her head. Maybe it was intuition, or a skipping paper in the breeze, or had she unconsciously seen something? She didn't know except that she had the urge to look around. As she did, looking to early summer evening shadows down her street - was there a movement? Was someone there? A breeze blew, ruffling the trees and bushes in front of the five story buildings. Oh it was nothing but the wind. Entering the hallway, she closed the door, checked her mailbox and climbed the stairs to her second story apartment. It wasn't much, a living room, a bedroom, bathroom with a shower and a kitchenette at the back. It was all she needed and Tammy was content.
The shadow watched the light go on through the window. He watched her, clearly through the uncurtained glass, take off her light jacket and walk to the bathroom. Unseeing, he waited. She would soon come back to the window wearing her nightdress, covering her shapely form only enough to keep him watching. Something brushed against his leg and startled the shadow. Stupid cat! Go away! The cat dodged a dark foot shooting out of the darkness.
It had been a long day for Tammy. The school children, bless them, had been excited over their art project. She was showing them how to draw roof tops and sky scrapers. One little boy, Joe, was exuberant at being able to draw a big city with a few simple strokes of the pencil. "Look Miss Young, I've drawn a big city like New York!" he had said holding his sheet with the drawing high for her to see. "That's wonderful, Joe. I'm sure your mummy will be so proud of you," she answered him. Joe had given her such a wide toothy smile, it had made her day.
She walked out of the bathroom in her nighty feeling relaxed and at home. There was never the need to draw the curtains in the living room as there were no visible windows facing it. Across the street was a low fence, some straggly bushes, a thin green strip of grass and a small river. The river was wide enough and the opposite buildings far enough to give Tammy a sense of privacy. Besides she liked seeing the open sky and left the curtains open. Even the little side window, facing up the street towards the way she had just walked, she left uncovered. The only window within sight was the neighbours milked bathroom window. So nothing but privacy there, and views from the street below saw only the tops of her walls. She knew she could only be seen while standing. In spite of this Tammy walked to the window and examined the darkening shadows below. It was almost dark with still some blue glow over the horizon of buildings. There was nothing. Just the wind, she thought, or a cat.
He could see her silhouette in the window. The light illuminated her nightdress from behind revealing the shape of her lovelyness through the fabric. His heart pounded with anticipation. Soon, he was thinking, very soon. He watched as she disappeared to her kitchen. He knew he would not see much more this night. Time to leave and come another day. Stealthily he left the shadows and crept away unseen and unheard.
In her kitchenette Tammy prepared a light meal and sat on the sofa to eat and browse the newspaper. A small front page news item sent a chill up her spine. It was about a young woman who was brutally assaulted and murdered at the other side of the city. Unconsciously Tammy cast a glance at the window. Had she seen something? No, it was just the wind. Without thinking she set her plate to the side, got up and drew the curtains across both windows. The phone rang, Tammy shrieked with fright, then, hand on her heart, ridiculed herself for being so nervous.
It was Mo, her friend. Mo wanted to talk about her new job and the hot guys she "had" to work with. She went on and on. Tammy wished she'd stop. She wasn't in the mood for a long gossip session. Mo sensed her silence.
"What's the matter, love? Aren't you feeling well? Do you want me to come over…"
"I'm fine, Mo," interrupted Tammy. "I'm just a bit on edge, that's all."
"On edge? On edge about what? What's happened?" queried Mo, concerned.
"Oh its nothing," Tammy sounded more and more worried. She heard it in her own voice and ridiculed herself again. Her unuttered judgment of herself only made her feel worse. "It's just I thought I saw someone outside. But it was only the wind, or a cat or something. And then I read of that poor girl's murder."
"Are you sure it was the wind?" asked a now very loud and concerned Mo.
"Yes, there was nothing there." Tammy didn't even assure herself.
"I'll be there in half an hour," stated Mo and hung up.
Mo was Tammy's best friend. They met three years previous at a store grabbing the same item out of a bargain tray. They both broke into laughter and connected immediately. Mo was heavier, well built and not afraid to throw it around. There were times when a "hounding dog", which was Mo's name for male suitors, was given a choice to leave or else. Tammy was grateful most of the time. The two girls did everything together, shopping, swimming, hiking, biking, shopping. They went shopping even when they had nothing to buy. Fashion was their passion and they loved it. With Mo coming over Tammy sighed in relief. Mo made her feel safe. But why was she suddenly feeling afraid. It was just a piece of paper in the wind, right? She couldn't understand why she felt that way. Nervously she glanced at the drawn curtains. All this fear is nonsense. Come on Tammy, pull yourself together.
When Tammy buzzed the door-lock Mo rushed in and up the stairs dashing into the apartment. "Oh my God, darling Tammy, you look like you've seen a ghost!" Mo's voice was tensed as she moved into her usual defense mode, ready to run after whoever it was had frightened her best friend. "What has happened? Was it that jerk of a teacher at the school? What's his name?"
"No, no, Mo," Tammy felt embarrassed. All this over wind in the bushes. "Its nothing, its no one. Its just my imagination got carried away. I'm sorry, I'm just being silly."
Mo moved in and wrapped her strong arms around her skinny friend. "Then what has you so damned nervous, girl? You're shaking like a leaf."
"I don't know. I thought I saw something, that's all, but it must've been the wind."
Mo unwrapped herself from Tammy and showed a sheet of paper. "This was lying in the hallway. It has your name on it."
Tammy took the folded paper and opened it out. "Oh it's from little Joe in my class." Tammy already felt better. "It's his skyscraper drawing, look."
"Nice," Mo wasn't impressed. Kids just weren't her thing.
"He must've thrown it in after I got home."
"Maybe that's who you saw. He must've been hiding in the bushes."
Next day Tammy had asked Joe if he had been hiding in the bushes before delivering his drawing. He insisted he hadn't. Tammy had looked at him as if he wasn't being quite honest. She was reflecting on this at Starbucks sipping a strong dark Americano waiting for Mo. They had arranged to walk the mile and a half to Tammy's apartment together. Or rather it was Mo who had insisted.
From the opposite corner dark eyes watched her through the forest of heads, unseen, unnoticed. He had followed her from the school. This was a deviation from her usual routine. Her lips caressed the rim of the cup as she sipped the hot beverage. Unconsciously he licked his lips. Then he saw another woman approach. She was slightly shorter than the teacher, but heavier. Not what he would call fat, but she looked like the type who could throw her weight around. She sat down joining her friend and together they drank and chatted. Time went by slowly for the watcher.
As he watched he saw her smile. He was drawn in to that smile, captured by its magnetic pull. It made him smile in return and he had to hide behind his oversized mug. Then the two ladies stood and made for the door. He followed.
"Hello, Miss Young." Startled, Tammy looked round and saw little Joe. He still had his school bag. "Hello, Joe. What are you doing here?"
"Just looking at things in the shops," he shrugged, and walked on. "Bye Miss Young. See you tomorrow." He broke into a run and was gone. Tammy smiled awkwardly at Mo, who was examining her carefully.
"Do you think he's stalking me?" she laughed.
"That little nipper? Na, don't think so. He does seem to like his teacher though." Mo nudged Tammy and laughed a mocking cackle.
"All my kids like their teacher," Tammy answered taking Mo's arm as they walked down the street. They were followed, but they didn't notice. He kept his distance preferring the shadows and keeping groups of people between him and them. Why is she with her? Who is she anyway? Hopefully she leaves her. He followed them the whole way, along the riverside path until they reached her apartment. They both turned, walked across the narrow strip of grass, across the street and up the steps. He watched as she took out her key and opened the door. They both walked in and the heavy one closed the door behind them. Damn! She has a visitor.
"Well there was no sign of anyone hiding in the bushes this time," said Mo as she closed and locked the apartment door. "If it was wee Joe he's not there now."
"I hope it was Joe," said Tammy, wondering why she felt uneasy.
"You hope!" Mo protested. "You're not still thinking there's someone in the bushes?" She stood with her arms on her hips glaring at her friend. She hadn't known her to be so nervous. What had gotten into her?
"No, no," Tammy tried to sound confident, but failed, even to her own ears. "I'm sorry, Mo. I don't know what it is. Maybe its that story about the murder in yesterday's paper. I shouldn't read that stuff."
"But you're not normally affected like this, Tammy. What has happened to you? Has something happened at work?"
"No, nothing", Tammy spread her hands. "Just the usual." She was wondering herself what had made her so nervous. As they readied something to eat Tammy was thinking back over the past few days. On Saturday she and Mo had went to watch a movie. Well that wasn't it, not the scary kind of movie. Then they went for drinks and met some friends. The Jerk from her school was there and Mo had sensed Tammy's dislike of him and entered her combat stance between them. He smiled and walked away. But that was a laughing matter. It hadn't bothered Tammy at all. What did I do on Sunday? Sunday was a day without Mo as Mo had to go visit her family. Sister and brother and she were all having dinner at their parent's home. "A pleasant afternoon," Mo had said, rolling her eyes. So Tammy had gone for a walk along the riverside, where many others were walking and sitting enjoying the sun. What else? What did I do next? Oh yes, the ice-cream. She remembered queuing at the mobile stand for an ice-cream. And there was that strange gentleman who tried to engage her in conversation. Tammy had just looked away and ignored him. And yes, she remembered seeing him again sitting on the grass bank, watching her as she stood watching the water flow in the river. Tammy remembered a shiver go up her spine.
"That must be it!" she blurted, causing Mo to swear and almost drop a plate.
"You scared the life out of me," Mo held her heart.
"Oh, sorry!" giggled Tammy, feeling relieved, for a moment. She told Mo about her Sunday afternoon and the 'friendly' gentleman.
"Have you seen him before or since?"
"No. I can't say I have."
"Well, we both better keep our eyes and ears open, just in case."
Tammy nodded. She felt a chill and shivered. Mo frowned. Her friend never succumbed to fear like this before. She had to distract her, and stop her from reading the newspaper. God help any man I find spying on my Tammy. Mo was furious, ready for war. All it would take would be some tiny provocation and fists would fly. She was aware of her short temper and lack of patience when it came to guys pursuing girls. And many a young man had dared too far and were left with the mark to remember her by. Whoever had caused her friend to be so frightened was stepping way too far into the danger zone.
Mo had grown silent as she polished the last plate for the twentieth time, a deep frown on her brow. "Oh, Mo, I'm sorry. I've caused you unnecessary worry. It's all my imagination. Why don't you go home. I'll be alright, honest." Tammy didn't really want Mo to leave but felt she was making a nuisance of herself. Mo put the plate away and hung up the towel. Giving Tammy a sideways look she said, "I'm staying," and raised her "don't argue with me" finger.
They sat on the sofa, Mo frowning and arms folded. He had watched them move back into the sitting area. Why is she staying there with her? He had missed her usual routine, her walking by the window in her night dress, sometimes standing at the front window watching the trees and the river. Once the window was open and he watched as her hair blew over her shoulders. He shuddered at the memory. But when he saw that other girl cross the window, he felt his muscles tense. He must find a way to stop the fat one from coming to his girl.
"Yes Joe, what is it?" Tammy had sat with her head in her hands as the children left the classroom. Joe was the last.
"Why do you look so sad?" he asked with a concerned look.
Tammy was surprised. Was it so obvious that even a child can notice. I must snap out of this immediately. "Oh, I'm just tired. You run along home now and don't have your mummy worried about you." Little Joe smiled, satisfied at the answer, turned and ran out of the classroom. Tammy stood and walked to the large window overlooking the school yard. She saw Joe running across and out the main gate. He paused, turned and looked up to the window, smiled and waved, and was gone.
Keeping out of sight was important for him. He had wondered if the fat one had seen him, but no, there was no sign that either of them had seen him. He kept well away from the gate and watched as the last straggling children left and walked to their homes or got into their parents' cars. Now the teachers began to emerge. Then she came. It was a warm day so she wore no jacket and instead a light cardigan. Her dress stopped just above the knees. She stopped and stood for a minute in front of the gate, as if deciding where to go. Starbucks and the river were off to her left. As he watched she turned and walked to her right. A new way. I wonder where she's going. She walked quickly to the end of the school block and turned right. He followed her all the way round the block. This route would have avoided the coffee shop, but brought her back around to the main road leading to her home. Was she avoiding someone? The fat woman wasn't with her. Maybe she was trying to avoid her. Had they fallen out? That would be just perfect.
Tammy's phone was buzzing in her bag. It was Mo. "Hi Mo. Look I'm sorry for putting you out like that. It's my silly imagination. There is nothing to worry about. I'll be ok. I'm fine. Really." She could hear Mo breathing. She said nothing. "Mo?"
"As soon as you see anything," Mo said emphasizing the word "anything", "out of the ordinary, or you see anyone acting strange, you call me. Do you here me. Call me."
"I will Mo, don't worry."
"Cinema tonight? We haven't been for four days."
"No, I think I just want to sit in tonight and relax. I've had a tiring day. See you tomorrow at three. let's go shopping." Tammy usually danced at the idea of going shopping. It had always been such fun with her friend, Mo. But now she felt that excitement was gone. It's not Mo, I love shopping with Mo. It must be the fear, it's still there.
As she turned the key in the door something touched her arm. "Aaaah!" She screamed and fell back against the wall, her heart racing, her breathing erratic. "Oh, God, Joe, what are you doing here? You frightened the life out of me. What are you doing here? You should be home with your mother." She was still screaming, visibly shaken.
"I'm sorry Miss," apologized Joe with a stunned look on his face. "I didn't mean to frighten you, honest." Tammy held her heart and closed her eyes as she regained her composure. Opening her eyes she looked down at the boy.
"Joe, did you follow me home?"
Joe hung his head. "Yes Miss Young, I'm sorry, I won't do it again."
She placed her hand on his head. "Joe, you must promise me you will never sneak up on me again, and never come to my home. Do you understand?"
Joe looked up to his teacher. "Yes, Miss," he replied and held out his hand offering a flower he had picked on the way. "I picked this for you."
"Oh, Joe, thank you," she said and took the flower. "You can bring me flowers to class but not here. This is my private sphere, Joe. School children are not permitted to come here." She looked at him and his big brown eyes. "Now run along home. Whatever will your mother be thinking that you're not home yet." She watched him walk away and then went inside and closed the door firmly behind her.
Throwing her bag on the floor she collapsed into the sofa and held her hand to her face. It must've been Joe all along. I must've sensed him or heard him.
Her scream still echoed in his ears. He had watched her chest rise and fall as she breathed hard. He waited till he saw her walk across the room and disappear into what must have been her sofa. He had seen enough tonight. Tomorrow there will be more. Turning he walked away, unseen in the shadows.
With a jerk Tammy woke up to darkness. The street lights filtered through the windows casting shadows of dancing leaves. She had fallen asleep on the sofa. Her mobile phone showed two AM. She couldn't believe she had slept for five hours on her sofa. Without switching on a light she went to her bed room, undressed and got into bed. She felt peaceful. The mystery was solved. She fell back into a deep sleep.
Mo sipped her coffee and eyed her friend over the rim of the mug. Tammy was her bright, cheerful self again. Mo couldn't figure out what had gotten into her. She was telling Mo about her fright with Joe. "I almost jumped to the roof," she laughed. "And you should have seen little Joe's face. I must've terrified him with my screaming."
"Well you seem to back to your chirpy self again." Mo set her mug on the table. "Do you think you should speak with his mum?"
"Oh, no. If he does it again then I will. But I think he got the message. So where do we go first?" Tammy jumped in the seat and clapped. She felt her old sparkle back. Why she had allowed Joe's little stalking activity frighten her so much was a mystery. Now she was ready for fun, doing what she loved to do, shopping with Mo.
As they left the Café he watched. Seeing her giggle and excited made his heart beat harder. He followed them, followed her, from shop to shop, always out of sight, at a distance. From the cosmetics shop they drifted to the fashion shops, one by one, trying things on, standing in front of mirrors. They visited the jewelry shop, looked at watches, to the hardware store and looked at electrical appliances. They went everywhere, and everywhere they went, went the shadow, watching, observing, savoring. He left them. There were things to do. He would see her later.
"Well we barely got anything." Mo was looking at the small plastic bag each of them carried. "But that was hard work and I'm hungry. Let's go for pizza. You ready?"
"Oh yea, I'm ready for some pizza. I'm starved." Tammy felt her appetite had returned. For the previous few days she didn't eat much. She had been worrying too much. Now she could devour a large size all by herself. At the pizza place both women tucked into their food, neither talking much. Mo was thinking about their next adventure, cinema was on the books. There was a new movie she had to watch. Tammy's thoughts were drawn back to Joe. What made him follow her all the way to her home? Why did he give his drawing to her instead of his mum?
"Phoo! I'm stuffed," said Tammy as she rested back on the chair, hands on her full stomach.
"Can I have that?" asked Mo, pointing at an almost full quarter of pizza waiting invitingly on Tammy's plate.
"You can manage that?" laughed Tammy. "Sure, it's all yours, honey."
"Manage it? It don't need no managing, girl, it need devouring." Mo snapped up the last of the pizza in a flash and it was gone.
"My place for a nightcap?"
"You're my kinda girl," agreed Mo.
They arrived at Tammy's place and Tammy opened the front door. Her foot almost slipped on a folded sheet of paper. "Oh no, not another drawing from Joe," exasperated Tammy.
"That little nipper needs his ears stretched," growled Mo. She had a flash of an image in her head of little Joe, God bless him, hanging from the top of the door by his ears. "If I catch him I'll…"
"I'll talk to him tomorrow and then give his mother a call. The poor kid much be confused or something." Up on the second floor Tammy opened her apartment door and they stepped in. Tammy set the drawing on the table and went to the kitchen to get them a drink. Mo picked it up to have a look.
"What has the sweet little devil drawn this time?" she said sarcastically and she unfolded the paper. "Oh it's a house and there's a woman waving out of the window. How sweet." I could squeeze that little pest like a pimple. "Hey, Tammy, this is your house he has drawn, and this must be you waving out the window on the second floor."
"Oh really," smiled Tammy returning with two glasses with a little something and ice. "Let me see." She took the drawing and looked. "Yes, indeed it is. Oh how clever. He's such a smart little boy. I just wish he wouldn't do this. I'll definitely talk to his mum tomorrow."
The two friends sat and chatted about work, movies, men and fashion, drank some more and chatted some more. All was quiet on the street outside, no prying eyes, no moving bushes, no moving shadows. It was still.
"You can crash here the night if you like, Mo," Tammy stretched, feeling the alcohol and the days shopping catch up on her.
"I'd love to, darling, but I need to be at work early and I need a change of clothes. If it's all right with you hon, I'll get off back home."
"Sure, I'm going to bed. I'm so tired."
"I'll see you tomorrow. Movie night, remember?"
The girls hugged and parted. Mo walked to the end of the street and took a taxi home.
Next morning Mo wanted to ask Tammy something about bringing a male friend to the movie that night, so she waited at the school gates knowing that Tammy would be early too. She stood in the early morning coolness, the copper sunlight shining over the rooftops in the school ground. She had seen most of the teachers arrive and now a few early bird children were arriving.
"Hello," said a little voice. Mo looked down and there was Joe. "You're Miss Young's friend aren't you? I saw you outside Starbucks the other day."
"That's right," smiled Mo. This smile must be worth an Oscar. "If you see her in there tell her I'm out here."
"OK, have a nice day," said the boy and he turned to enter the gates.
"Oh, hey, boy," called Mo, remembering last night. Joe turned round, still smiling. "You were at her home again yesterday, weren't you?" Mo's hands took there threatening stance on her hips, but she tried not to sound too intimidating to the ten year old.
"No, Miss, I wasn't. MIss Young said I'm not allowed to go near teachers' houses."
"Come on, kid. You left her another of your drawings, I saw it myself. A drawing of her house front with all the windows and your teacher waving out of the second story window. Admit it, kid. It's your drawing."
"No, Miss," Joe's smile was gone and he looked offended. "I didn't make a drawing of her house. I only drew the rooftops and gave that to Miss Young. I'm not allowed to go back, otherwise she tells my mummy and daddy."
"Are you sure," Mo wasn't convinced, but the boy looked so innocent and didn't react to the drawing at all. He denied making a second drawing. "You better not be going back. If I see you there I'll… Go on, get in to school, and be a good boy." Joe smiled and waved and ran into the school grounds.
Something was disturbing Mo. There was something odd. It was the drawing. If Joe didn't make it then who did? Does Tammy have another admirer in her class? Mo began to pace. Where is Tammy? She pictured the drawing and the woman, obviously meant to be Tammy, leaning out the window waving. Waving? With both hands outstretched? It wasn't Joe. Then who? In a flash it came to her. That wasn't a woman waving. It's a woman screaming! "Oh my God! Oh my Tammy." Mo was hysterical. She rushed to her small car parked down the street while calling Tammy's number. She reached the car, fumbled with the keys then realized it wasn't locked. She got in pushing the keys into the ignition. The phone rang and rang. She threw the phone onto the passenger seat and sped off to Tammy's.
He had observed well and he was proud of himself having been so thorough in his surveillance. An older lady came out at seven AM, propped the door open with something, and scuffled in her slippers across the street. She had a small bowl and scattered breadcrumbs over the grass to feed the birds. By the time she had returned he was already inside. The drawing wasn't necessary, but when he saw the boy slipping something under the door, it gave him the idea. The watcher made his own drawing, of the house front, and his next victim screaming for mercy out of her window. It was meant to be a warning, albeit a cryptic one. He smiled as he waited.
The old lady would climb to the first floor and into her apartment. In about five minutes the young lady would come out. That would be his time to strike. As soon as the door would open, he would be ready and push himself in, locking the door behind them. After that he would follow his instinct. What he would do and how all still lay open. He would play with her first, but if she became too hysterical then he would implement his acceleration plan B.
Mo drove as fast as she could, her phone ringing Tammy's number continually. She drove with fury. She drove with death in her eyes. She was ready to kill. Slowly she felt everything grow quiet. It was as if she was suddenly underwater and sound was muffled. With it came the uncanny feeling that it was already too late.