An edited and improved version of this story is now available for purchase as part of the ‘Prophecies of the Drowned Oracle’ collection.
Prompt by u/ItsHeredditary:
You’re walking alone down a dark road one night when you see a stranger coming towards you. Give the stranger one unusual piece of attire, one mannerism, and one line of dialogue to make the encounter as creepy and unsettling as possible without being overtly or explicitly sinister.
Through the darkness of the night, in the distance, I could just make out the shape of someone walking in the opposite direction as I. I didn’t hear any footsteps other than my own quiet ones, a habit I picked up when I started walking this route at night instead of in the morning. It felt wrong to interrupt the stillness of the night, to overpower the soft noises of animals rustling between the leaves.
As the stranger got closer, I could make out more of their shape. It looked to be an older person, judging by the slow gait and the lightly hunched back. Closer still, as she stepped into the light of a nearby farmhouse, I could make out the deep pink colour of her coat. I wished I could find clothes that colour, my favourite colour. I would have been jealous of the woman didn’t wear it so well.
It was one of those fancy looking coats tied at the waist, flaring out at the bottom until it reached her knees. I wore something similar myself, but it didn’t come close to the magnificence of that coat. Mine didn’t look half as sophisticated and expensive.
I let out a quiet sigh and averted my eyes. I was close enough now that she would be able to tell if I was staring at her. I kept my eyes on the road, but they kept drifting back to the coat. I looked at the dark trees to the side instead. A cold breeze brushed over my face from that direction, sending a chill through me. I turned my head again, allowing myself a short look at the woman, before looking at the ground again. We were almost close enough for greetings to be mandatory, but still a little too far. I never knew what to do with myself when anticipating social interaction, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by speaking to soon, or only saying something when she’d already passed.
I looked up from the road, at the woman, we were close enough now. I had made up my mind, no more looking away. The woman was of a different mind though, her eyes darting from me, to the road, to the trees, and back to me, just like mine had done a bit ago. It made something warm settle in me. This woman was probably as anxious as I was, it made me feel better about my own awkwardness.
The woman finally met my eyes again. I was startled by their brightness. This must be what people meant when they said the same about my own eyes. It felt like she saw right through me.
She nodded, at the same time I did. A gentle smile graced her face, reminiscent of the expression I made myself when trying to look polite. I greeted her politely, but she didn’t greet me back. Instead, she stopped walking. Hesitantly I stopped as well. I looked away from her penetrating gaze, my eyes falling once more on her coat.
From this close by, I could tell it was old and very well worn. Strings of sewing thread hung from the seems at the flaring bottom, the buttons holding the coat closed hung loose, the waistband was a little deformed from being pulled taut over and over again. The only thing that still looked perfect was the colour. A deep pink, almost crimson if it was a tad bit more red.
The woman’s clear voice startled me out of my thoughts. “Holbeck, 5th alley on the right of the main road.” A chill went down my spine. Under the light rasp, the voice sounded oddly familiar.
I looked into her eyes again, dreading what I would find, but needing to look all the same. Familiar grey eyes, surprisingly visible in the darkness, watched me intently. She wore a gentle smile, one with teeth only straight because they were wrangled through braces at a young age. I ran my tongue over my own. The woman laughed, her wavy grey hair lightly bouncing with the motion.
Dread constricted my throat. I couched, trying to clear my voice enough to talk. “Thanks,” I said, not managing anything else. My voice sounded disturbingly raspy. The woman laughed again, then nodded her goodbye and continued her walk.
Only once her quiet footsteps stopped reaching my ears, did my legs unlock. I ran all the way home, not even caring about breaking the stillness of the night with my pounding footsteps and heart.
The next day I was almost sure the entire encounter had been a dream, but I had to know for sure. I walked the main road of Holbeck, counting the alleys on the right until I reached the fifth. I entered, and found myself in front of a wooden storefront advertising itself as a clothes shop. The bell rung above my head as I stepped inside. The door clunk shut behind me. I stared.
Prominently displayed, was the same coat the woman wore, looking brand new. As I ran my hand over the woollen fabric, the store-clerk walked to me. I turned to him and asked for the price.
I’ve not bought a new coat since.