By: J.J. Cheesman
There are things on this earth that simply cannot be explained away with reason and logic no matter how hard you try. Things that, don’t want to be explained because they don’t want to be known. After what I have been through this is what I now believe to be true. I used to think of the supernatural as something entirely fictional, but life has a funny way of making fools of us all, and I have become its latest fool.
I am a night manager at a department store located in a strip mall. We are open until eleven, so it’s not uncommon for me to leave work at around twelve or later and then arrive home at around one in the morning. The half-hour drive from work to home was always the worst part of my working nights as I would always be exhausted by the time I was on the road and the drive always seemed to take FOREVER.
At some point, not long ago, the Chinese restaurant that was located right next to us closed down. I don’t know why it went out of business. I used to eat their often so frankly, I don’t want to know. Only a day or two after the restaurant closed we saw movers coming in and pulling out all of the tables and chairs and throwing them into the back of a large truck.
“Wonder what they’re gonna’ put in that spot now?” Jenna, one of my employees asked as we watched the men do their work.
“I have no idea, but I hope it’s another place to eat.” I told her, I didn’t want to have to drive anywhere on my lunch break.
We didn’t get another restaurant however. More workers came, and they took down the lettering on the building that read: ‘The Green Dragon’ and replaced them with: ‘Twenty-Four Hour Gym’. To me this was a metaphorical sign as well as a literal one. My ex-boyfriend Marcus; who I had been dating on and off since high school, told me when we were together that I should be in better shape. No, that’s not why we weren’t together but yes he could be an asshole sometimes. Marcus was someone I will always love on a deep level; we just could never work.
Marcus…… had his demons. He always went from one extreme to the next, happy and excited about life one moment and then the next he found himself in a dark and angry depression. I felt bad for him even though he refused to seek help. He was always so sweet when he was having his good days and I could tell he really did care for me. But on his bad days he would yell and cuss and drink, unhappy with anything I would try to do to make it better.
But I digress, Marcus WAS being a jackass when he told me to get in better shape. Unfortunately, as much as I hate to admit it, he was right. In high school I ran track, and I was pretty good at it. But high school was going on nearly eight years ago, and the toned smooth skin of my stomach had grown a bit flabby and uneven. So I decided to get a membership as soon as it opened.
Now, I had a very hectic schedule. I went to my classes during the day at eight in the morning and at four o’ clock I would be at work. So the only time I could go work out was after work and at night. I had some reservations about this, because it would mean I would be at the strip mall after every other store there had closed and it was likely that the whole strip mall would be empty. So I asked Jenna one day if she would want to work out with me.
“It’s just not my thing Sarah, I don’t really feel like I should lose any weight.” She said, ‘Great’ I thought.
“Besides, it’s not like you have anything to worry about, there has to be an attendant watching the gym so you won’t be alone anyway.” She had a point. I could just make sure my car was parked in front of the gym so anyone working could see if I was being attacked, and I always carried mace on me.
Without any excuses left to stop me, I got my gym membership. Thirty bucks a month is what it was going to cost me to run on a treadmill for one hour five days a week. I’ve spent more on worse I guess.
On the first night that I decided I would be going to the gym, I was admittedly still nervous. I was counting the cash in my drawer at four o’ clock while the store wasn’t busy. I had been on edge, because Marcus had called me seven times two nights before, and I didn’t answer it a single time. Not that Marcus is exactly the stalker type; when he got in his moods he preferred to be alone, but it still made my mind uneasy. So, as Jenna was cleaning some handprints off of the glass of the front door (left by the handprints of some lackadaisical patron, no doubt) I asked her if she would reconsider going to the gym with me. When I asked her, she turned around and walked over to the counter setting the bottle of Windex down as she did so.
“Sarah, if you really are worried, I will stick around for a half-hour or so, but I’m not joining any gym” She said matter-of-factly. The lack of enthusiasm on her face made me change my mind and quickly shoot back.
“That’s fine I’m not THAT worried I just thought you might want to.”
“Hell no, I don’t need any of that.” She said, and turned back around as I raised an eyebrow. Jenna wasn’t a plus-sized girl, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say she couldn’t use a couple rounds on the treadmill herself.
Later that night after closing down the store I locked the front door and looked out into the mostly empty parking lot of the strip mall. There were only two cars in the lot, one being my own. I walked the couple feet that was the distance between my store’s entrance, and the gym’s. When I reached for the door handle and pulled I found it locked. I was caught off guard for a moment, but the I saw a device attached to the door with a little red light. I remembered when I signed up for the gym, I got a spiel about how it would be locked passed a certain hour at night. After the lecture about not losing it, they handed me the little white card. I dug through my purse a bit frantically forgetting what exactly I had done with the key card after I received it. To be perfectly honest the guy who helped me with signing up was that type of good-looking that made it hard to concentrate on anything.
I found the card at the bottom of my purse however, and I slid it into the slot of the device on the door. The light on the little black box went from red to green, and then I heard a *click* as the door unlocked. I pulled on the handle and walked through the door of the gym and saw that Jacob; the really cute guy that helped me out with setting up a membership a few nights before, was working again tonight. He said hello and gave me a wink as I made my way to the locker room. All I could do was blush and give a small wave. I changed from my nice dress-clothes into some shorts and a track-tank, then I stretched a bit before finding a treadmill.
I had my pick of the machines as the gym was completely empty save for Jacob and I, so I chose one of the treadmills that was facing the ceiling-to-floor glass windows that looked out into the parking lot and set the machine to a low pace. After a couple minutes, I set the pace a little higher. My old leg muscles seemed to be remembering what they were once for rather quickly. As I ran, I could feel Jacob’s eyes on me from the counter behind me. Every now and then I would sneak a glance behind me and I would catch him staring. When I did catch him looking, he would quickly look down and pretend to be looking at something on the counter. Jacob’s watching didn’t bother me and in fact, I liked it. It was nice to know that someone thought I was something to stare at.
That’s how things went for a little while. I would close the store, go to the gym, and often catch Jacob staring at me while I ran. Sometimes I would stop and talk to Jacob and make some light conversation before I ran on the treadmill. At that point, I was hoping he would ask me out but he never got around to it.
Then one evening when I was doing my mid-day cash count Jenna called me over to where she was cleaning more handprints off of the window in the entrance door.
“Is that the guy you’ve been wanting to ask out?” she asked when I walked over. I craned my neck to look out of the store over to the gym to see who she was talking about. It wasn’t Jacob, but he was certainly handsome.
“No, that’s not him.” I said
“Good!” She said “That means I can ask him out” “Be my guest.” I said lazily as I walked back to my cash drawer.
“People must be inconsiderate assholes in this town, he’s cleaning handprints off of his windows too” Jenna observed, still looking out over at the gym.
“I don’t think it’s the cleaning that has you interested” I laughed.
“Any man who knows how to pick up a damn paper towel is already halfway to perfect in my book.” She shot back. I admitted, she had a point.
When closing time came I was excited. Yeah, I got to see Jacob who I was becoming increasingly infatuated with, but I was eager to get back on the treadmill that night. After entering the gym and some more small talk with Jacob, I was changed and began running on my normal treadmill in front of the windows. The gym was completely empty as usual, and all the sound that could be heard was the sound of my feet hitting the treadmill. I took note though, that their seemed to be more handprints smudged on the window. ‘What was it with people?’ I thought when I saw the glass.
After about a half hour, I looked back to see if Jacob was looking at me. When I turned I saw that Jacob was not behind the counter and was nowhere else to be found. I knew he was a smoker, so I just figured he went out the back to light up. I turned back around, still running, and looked out at the barren lot of the strip mall. Looking out there into the lit lot even though was empty actually comforted me. I couldn’t believe I was ever scared to come here. Even if there was some would-be attacker waiting outside he would be easily spotted. As those thoughts passed through my mind, I saw him.
Standing on the other side of the lot just out of the light, being so still he could be mistaken for a statue, was what I assumed to be a man dressed in all black. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up keeping his face concealed, but he was facing in the direction of the gym. I turned off the treadmill and ran with it while it slowed to a stop. I then studied the man, trying to discern what he would possibly be doing out there. That strip mall was located at the edge of town, the only thing within walking distance was a gas station just down the road. Just behind where the man was standing, was the main highway that stretched on for twenty or so miles until you reached the next town over, so I really hoped he hadn’t walked. The whole time I stared at the figure in black he didn’t move one inch. I wondered for a brief moment if I should call the police, but then decided against it. I turned back around and yelled out.
“Jacob!” But he was still outside. I considered going behind the counter and out the back door, maybe Jacob would know what to do. Just then I heard a loud *BANG* as something slapped against one of the glass windows of the Gym. I whipped my head around and saw the hooded man standing directly in front of the window, his hands on the glass and head lowered, keeping his face was hidden. I stumbled back off of the treadmill taken by surprise but thankfully I was able to keep my balance. That parking lot was at least one hundred feet across, there was no way that guy could of ran from one end to the other in that amount of time.
I began stepping backwards slowly until my back made contact with a treadmill that was set a few feet back from the one I was using. I then stood there breathing heavily, watching the intruder outside. He had not moved since he had slammed his hands against the window. His ghost-white hands were still placed upon the glass, and I could see that some dark liquid had stained the hood and shoulders of his Hoodie. He just stood there outside the gym as if he was waiting for something to happen.
On that silent and empty gym floor, I was completely alone. I thought that the man must have been hyped up on bath salts or something, though that didn’t explain how he got across the parking lot in such a short amount of time. Just as a thought of making a break for it entered my head, I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. The man’s hood was pulled up close to his face, guarding his eyes from sight. But his mouth was not covered by the hood, his pale blue lips were inches from the window. The window which had no condensation on it. If the man were breathing, the glass would be fogged up.
When I came to that conclusion I bolted to the front counter of the gym, scrambling over the table and into the doorway that led to an area in the back. As I ran passed the workout supplies I heard the sound of shattering glass as the intruder forced his way into the gym. I burst through the door at the back of the small room, and when I came out of the other side I put all my weight against the door, forcing it shut and keeping it barred. Soon there was pounding from the other side of the as the man dressed in black banged on it from the other side.
“Sarah, I need you!” His voice rang from inside the gym, it was deep and gravely. The voice sounded as if he hadn’t spoken in a long time. I put all of my weight on that door but he was so strong, I didn’t know how long I could hold. Soon I knew I would have to just make a break for it, but I was hesitant to try to out run him when I remembered how quickly he made it across the parking lot.
“Sarah, you’re mine, you know you are just come to me!” He screamed through the door, and I screamed back.
“Just leave me alone! I don’t know who you are just leave!” In that moment, I happened to look away from the door to the asphalt of that dark alley for the first time. What I saw there made my decision about running for me.
As soon as I looked down my eyes were met with the sight of Jacob’s broken, lifeless body lying in the alley behind the strip mall. Jacob’s eyes and lips were ripped out of his bloody mangled face and lay next to him in a visceral mess. His stomach was torn open, and his innards were strewn all around his lifeless body. In that moment of seeing Jacob in that state, I snapped.
I screamed and ran out of that alley and I didn’t stop running until I made it to the gas station down the road and shrieked at them to call the police. All the while that I was running in the direction of the gas station I only stole a glance back at the strip mall once. The man in the black hoodie, was nowhere to be found.
As you can imagine, I have been pretty shaken by the experience. That last night at the strip mall was a full week ago, and I haven’t been back since. I have taken some time off work, but every day I call Jenna and I ask her about the store, particularly about handprints.
“No, no handprints today.” She would say in a voice that seemed irritated. Meanwhile I was pissing my pants. The police still haven’t found who had killed Jacob and had been harassing me that night, but they have made sure a squad car has been posted near my house to be on the lookout.
This morning however, I woke in my bed at my third-floor apartment to the sound of my phone ringing. It was my friend Alex.
“Oh my god Sarah, I just read it in the news I’m so sorry!” She said. I rubbed my eyes and yawned.
“It’s okay, I didn’t really want to make a big deal out of what happened to me, I’m just lucky I’m alive.” There was a silence from the other end of the phone, and then Alex spoke again.
“Sarah, what are you talking about?” she said sounding confused.
“Uh… me being attacked at that gym, I thought that’s why you were calling.”
“Sarah… you haven’t heard?” Came Alex’s voice, a big more shaken than when she first started the conversation.
“Heard what?” I asked as my attention was drawn to my window where some birds were chirping.
“Sarah… Marcus shot himself a couple weeks ago. He did it in hotel room a couple towns over… It was quick, the bullet went through his brain…. Oh god Sarah, I’m so sorry!”
I didn’t reply, not because of the news I’d just received.
But my eyes became focused, and I saw something on my third-floor window that shouldn’t be possible at all on that side of the building. It’s just a straight drop, eighteen feet below to the pavement outside. But there, in the glass of that window, was a pair of handprints.