Where the stalking starts, an excerpt from “The Red Chair” by Dänna Wilberg

Damn!” Grace pounded the steering wheel. The stamped ticket she pulled from the machine at the parking lot entrance read 9:04. Her client was scheduled at nine. She glanced at her dash clock in disbelief. I’m never late to work. When she rounded the corner, the last thing she expected to see was a green sedan occupying her assigned space. She slammed on her brakes, barely missing the bumper. What the―!

Trolling the aisles for a place to park added to her frustration. Her temper flared as she futilely climbed higher levels to no avail. Finally, on the fourth floor, she swung into a tight spot next to a cement post, nearly shearing off her side-view mirror.

She caught her harried reflection in the mirror. Breathe. The call she had received from her college crush the night before pulsed in her brain like a bad hangover. Eight years without a word, and now― He’s here. The mere sound of his voice gave her butterflies. How would she react to seeing him again? Why Sacramento, Jess? Why now?

She jammed the gearshift into park, flung her purse over her shoulder and stuffed the remainder of a glazed donut into her mouth. She grabbed her coffee in one hand, car keys in the other, and opened the door. She squeezed through the narrow opening unable to avoid her skirt from riding up around her thighs and exposing her ivory lace. While licking sticky glaze from her fingers, a prickle skittered along the nape of her neck. Her throat constricted. She swallowed hard. Someone is watching.

She turned quick, ready to throw her coffee. No one there. She scanned her surroundings, paying close attention to shadows, expecting one of them to move. It’s nothing, the practical voice inside her head mocked. You’re a grown woman now, a trained professional for christsakes! And yet her pulse quickened. Her cheeks flushed.

“Hello? Anybody there?” Her words echoed in the concrete structure. No one answered.

More chills raced along her spine.

She slammed her car door and looked around one last time. Someone is watching. I know it. Adrenaline flooded her nervous system. Why are you standing here? Run! Her spiked heels hit concrete, resounding like firecrackers popping on the fourth of July. The sound chased her across the parking lot. She looked over her shoulder twice, expecting to see a gunman, but all she saw were rows and rows of cars. Not again, she prayed.

She charged into the elevator, colliding with an old woman.

The woman yowled and rubbed her foot.

“Sorry! Are you hurt?” Grace attempted to slow the stampede in her chest. Years ago, she reminded herself. That stalking happened years ago.

The old woman’s loud protest stopped mid-sentence. The elevator doors stuttered.

Grace froze. Her eyelids squeezed tight, fearing any moment she’d be snatched, her throat slit, and her body dumped on the stained concrete. Horror flashed behind her eyes: images of lying in a pool of blood, oil, and antifreeze.

“Are you okay?” the woman asked.

“I’m fine,” Grace muttered.

The old woman continued to stare. “Go like this,” she said and brushed her nose.

Grace discovered crunchy icing stuck between her nose and upper lip. “Thanks,” she said, unclenching her jaw and forcing a laugh. “Breakfast. I was in a hurry.”

No one there…let it go.

 ***

A shadowy figure watched Grace’s long legs emerge from her car.

Blonde hair spilled across the swell of her breasts and the curve of her spine. Her skirt hiked above her thighs. Not your typical psychotherapist. When Grace’s cool voice called out, the figure wanted to rush to her…say things. Bad things.

Not yet. Be silent. For now, revel in her fear.

>Bang!<

The car door? The figure listened until the clicking heels darting across the parking lot faded. Safe to come out now. The beauty scurrying toward the elevator put nasty ideas in the figure’s head: sharp objects, so much blood. Ugly thoughts continued to brew. The figure envisioned trembling lips pressed against the beauty’s ear. She’ll plead for her life.

 

When the door closed and the elevator began its decent, the figure peered through Grace’s car windows and spotted a manila envelope on the passenger seat. On the label: Grace’s home address.

A smile followed the discovery. After committing the delightful tidbit to memory, the figure sang a little tune and headed for the stairs, “I know where you live.”

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