The veil that hid her eyes wasn’t on her face. It was between her face and mine, like a white fog or a silken tissue hovering in the air where our breaths would have met. I could only see her open mouth, round like a perfect circle, exposing a black abyss where her throat should have been.
I had seen her first at the corner of 5th street and Lancaster road. From behind she looked normal, despite the raised hands and slow gait. Only her hair was unusually long; unusually long and dark.
Her body followed the young man’s movement. Her head and neck stayed as if nailed on the rest of her body; her feet likewise were nailed on the floor. Just from the hip upwards her body turned; first to the right, then, when the young man started to curve around her, back into a healthy relation to the feet and legs, finally a full 90 degrees to the left.
I saw how he sped up; how his brown jacket turned around a corner. She followed him. That’s all I saw that night, and still it was enough for me to walk the long route home, the one that led to the right, not the one that led to the left where the young man and her had gone.
I think I heard a scream that night. It could have been a bird or just a screeching car, but in my head it sounded like a scream. I ran the rest of the way home.
There was nothing in the news; nothing that could have warned me or reminded me of her. I forgot about her.
Most days I glanced over the crime section, but I never gave much for politics. Instead I read the other articles, those about lost dogs, an old man so crazy for video games that he forgot his own name, a new recycling plant, and fraud with resold gravestones. There was nothing about a woman with strangely stiff legs and an unusually flexible hip.
The second time I saw her she was standing intimately with another woman. They were standing close, face to face, and both were whispering to each other. Her arms were in the same, slightly cramped upward position in which I had seen them the first time.
It was the same corner, roughly even the same time, just after 11pm. I walked past the two women at a great enough distance to stay away from the oddity, but not in a distance that betrayed suspicion. The second, younger woman whispered questions, questions that I thought a daughter would ask an overbearing mother – “Why?”, “Why can’t I go?” – but even when I accidentally kicked some stones against the curb neither of the women didn’t pay me any attention.
In retrospect it is easy to say that I should have done something, but honestly, looking bad at this moment, everything seemed off, but nothing seemed off enough to be alarmed. I was sure that I didn’t want to be close to that woman, but even when I was nearby the young woman didn’t bother to look over or ask for help. The older woman with her long black hair and the raised hands seemed odd, but not menacing.
I still don’t know how I lost my phone. I noticed it five minutes away from home. I suppose the smarter version would have been to go home and try to find it through the tracking apps, but my only slightly sober mind decided that it was better to turn on my heel and walk the whole distance back towards the station.
I made sure to keep my eyes on the ground; half because I felt the neurotoxin slowly spreading through my brain and affecting my ability to walk and half because at night finding a black phone on dark gray ground is not an easy task.
If my eyes had been further up I would probably have seen the two from the distance. I would have known whether the younger woman was already sitting for long. I saw shining metal on the ground, hastened forward to pick up my phone and felt the exuberance of knowing that I hadn’t lost my two week old phone. Only then I looked up.
The old woman was still standing there, in the same position as before. The young woman was kneeling on the ground with her hands as support. I said “Hello and good night,” and the young woman looked up. I was shocked to see that despite her jeans and black and yellow shirt the young woman wasn’t young at all. She looked like sixty, maybe even eighty. She stared at me as if she didn’t know what humans looked like.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
In that moment the standing woman turned. Her hands were still raised; her head and neck still fixed stiffly on her shoulders; but her body, everything above her legs, turned in one swift motion towards me. I half expected to hear a loud cracking from her hip or leg bones, but there was nothing, just silence.
The street light was behind her, so that a shadow covered her eyes and most of her face. Her lips were pursed, as if for a kiss. She stood there, with her feet facing in the opposite direction of her upper body and her mouth ready to kiss.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll go then.”
The kneeling old woman in young clothes stretched a hand out to me. I stopped. The legs of the standing woman slowly began to turn. The heels didn’t leave the floor, only the toes slowly circled around the legs until they were facing me. Then, with a loud, snapping motion, she took a step.
The kneeling woman sank to the floor. I ran.
Whenever I turned around I saw her behind me. She looked as if she was walking slow; still she was faster than me. I ran around a corner; when she came back in view behind me ten seconds later. At the next corner the time had shrunk to eight seconds. At the next corner it was four seconds. I was never so fast at pressing the key in the door and jumping inside.
I locked the door from the inside; then I ran to close the rolling shutters. She already stood outside the window; her hands raised, her grayish lips still pursed for a kiss. The shutters slammed down in front of her.
I still felt her for the rest of the night; like a cold air pushing through the infinitesimal space between the window frame and the wall.
The morning was better; it was warm. There were no singing birds or sounds of laughing people, but it was just that – warm. It took me long to finally open the shutters.
The newspaper, right next to the horoscope section, said something about an old woman that had been killed while crossing the four-lane highway.
I didn’t leave the house for three days. I enjoyed the sun from behind the window and closed the shutters long before dark. The nights were calm, silent.
On the fourth evening, just when I wanted to close the shutters, a loud bang attacked the front door.
I froze; didn’t move, didn’t even breathe.
My chest cramped.
“I know you’re home! Open up!”
I fell backwards on a chair and breathed deeply. Logan’s voice.
I unlocked the door; his heavy hand grabbed my arm and pulled me outside.
“Come on man, I know you aren’t sick. You gotta get out!”
I tried to refuse. When that failed I played along. I went inside “to get my keys;” Logan quickly placed his foot in the door.
He didn’t believe a thing. At least he promised he would drop me back home.
Old friends, new drinks. Being among people felt safe. It was Wednesday, at 10pm the first began to leave.
Then Logan packed me in the back seat. A girl I never saw before sat in the front seat.
“Have to drop my friend.”
“That’s sweet of you.”
They kissed for what felt like a minute.
The car drove.
“I’ll drop you here,” Logan said.
“Can’t you bring me home?”
“Don’t be so lazy. I have a lady here, you know?”
He even pulled the door open for me; slammed it shut behind me.
“What’s wrong with him?” asked the girl.
Then they drove off.
I walked quickly; alone on the empty street the story of the woman felt more real than with fifty people in a bar.
Then she became real again.
She stood in the entrance of a small house to the right of the street; her hands raised. I ran, but this time she was faster. And it wasn’t just her; it was my legs that made her catch up. First they ran, then they got heavy and I only walked. Then they stopped. Invisible hands seemed to hold my feet to the ground.
Her legs walked slowly and still she was in front of me within just a second.
Her lips were pursed; her eyes covered in a strange shadow. Her face was only an arm’s length away from mine. Then her lips opened wider; to one perfectly round circle. I was frozen in place, but I felt my face and mouth being pulled towards her.
I felt a pull in my chest, as if a strong metal hook was stuck through my throat right into my heart and was now being pulled back out. The darkness around her eyes slowly turned gray when a white fog moved between our faces, just where our breaths would have met. It danced in circles; moved out of my mouth and towards hers.
The round of her lips swallowed the white fog that left mine; I felt tiredness spreading through my head just like the silken tissue spread in the air in front of my eyes. The tiredness made everything dark; the fog made everything white. A veil of gray sank over everything; over everything except the round, black abyss between her lips.
Sudden light; a high-pitched scream; the sound of a car horn pressed without break; pain in my arms and side.
“Dude, who the hell was that?”
“I think he broke something,” said a female voice.
“Did you see that woman?” asked Logan’s voice.
“I did. Where did she go?”
“God, he wasn’t imagining it.”
Somebody shook me. The sound of a car. Darkness.
The steady beep woke me up. Everything was okay, except for my right arm and two ribs.
I am out now; I am home.
I found newspaper articles about missing people. One of them was a young man in a brown jacket. Another was a young woman in jeans and a yellow shirt.
And I found articles about old people. Old people that just appeared and that no one recognized.
The arm and ribs have healed. I head things about trauma shaking your body, but not like this; not the number of wrinkles and the sudden loss of hair.
Some nights I still feel the cold seeping through the space between the window frame and the wall.
Maybe it’s that; maybe it’s the ongoing stress. My body has definitely changed.
And it’s not just my imagination; other’s see it too. Everybody keeps telling me that I now look at least ten years older.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.