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A Lifetime Ago

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She used to be a night person.

She used to go weeks without seeing the sun, used to keep her apartment windows covered in thick blankets so she could sleep the day away.

She used to be a drunk.

But that was a lifetime ago.

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The day had been warm and still, a perfect California day. She'd gone to the beach with some friends from class, celebrating getting into the Master's program and getting TA positions. They'd played beach football, tanned and splashed. Old Danni would have been sarcastic about the wholesomeness of the scene. Old Danni would have yearned to join in, but would have resorted to a water bottle filled with booze and bitterness. But old Danni was long gone, and she was Danielle, grad student and TA, who didn't have to resort to anything.

And the perfect California day faded to a gorgeous sunset, and she had to stay and enjoy that. So now she was stuck, walking home in the dark, with landscaping lighting making odd shadows that seemed to be reaching out towards her.

She walked quickly, head up and wary. She remembered a time when she wouldn't have cared about the dark, wouldn't have feared the gloom. It was easy to be fearless when you didn't care about yourself.

She exited the path into the quad with a sigh of relief. The open space seemed much more welcoming after the narrow walkway, hemmed in by impenetrable hedges. She let her steps slow, let herself enjoy the warm night.

It was quiet in the quad, not like in daylight. Instead of frat boys tossing footballs and posturing for pretty girls, or frazzled kids running to their next class, there were only a few people. A young couple, completely disguised by shadows and only noticeable by the low giggles. A couple of furtive guys, exchanging cash for a small packet she didn't look at too carefully. A girl who reminded her of old Danni, sitting alone on a bench in her black sweatshirt. Danielle almost went over to her, almost offered her story, offered her help, when she grinned happily at the two bouncy girls in club wear and stood to hook arms with them. Not as emo as she appeared apparently, Danielle grinned to herself.

She was almost halfway across the quad, when the flash of a pale oval in the bushes caught her eye. There was something so furtive about the way he moved, something about the way he kept his head down and his eyes focused in a dark corner that made her look in that same direction.

At first, she didn't see anything. It took squinting and tilting her head left and right to see the darker shape against the darkness of a shrub. She thought it was a person; had to be. But so shrouded in black robes and a tall pointy hat it was nearly indistinguishable as human.

She was getting a very bad feeling about this.

She tried to back away quietly. She'd made it all the way across the quad without attracting anyone's attention. Of course, now that she needed to not be noticed, she stepped on a twig and it snapped.

The pale furtive face snapped around to face her. The shrouded figured turned around too, not that she could tell what direction he was facing. She just had a feeling he was staring at her.

Furtive guy was suddenly a lot less furtive, crashing towards her and cursing loudly. She didn't even have time to scream when he grabbed her and pushed her flat to the ground.

"You need to get out of here, now," he said. The breath was knocked out of her, but she could hear screaming from somewhere. She turned her head to locate it, but furtive guy grabbed her chin and kept her looking at him.

"You don't want to look over there. And I can't stay here. Just run, please."

And he rolled away, running away in a crouch. Running towards the screaming.

She got up to her knees, eyes scanning for the fastest way out of this mess. But she couldn't keep from looking for the guy who saved her. It was easy enough to find him – just follow the screaming. She crawled over so she could see through the tangled branches he'd knocked her into.

The girls dressed for the club were huddled together against the stone foundations of the nearest building. One of them had a large wet stain on her pale shirt and another was clutching an obviously broken arm against her chest. They were all crying. But they weren't screaming.

She had to stand up to see where the screaming was coming from. The giggling couple who had been hiding in the shrubs seemed to be the source. A huge figure towered over them, clad all in white. The figure seemed to almost gleam in the streetlights.

And when it turned around, she realized what she was actually seeing.

There had been a statue in the centre of the quad. She had to look twice to confirm; the pedestal was empty.

It was... impossible.

Even more impossible was furtive guy. He was in the middle of this insanity, hitting the moving marble statue with the biggest branch he could find, desperate to lure it away from the screaming, suffering couple.

She could feel panic rising up in her, preventing her from thinking clearly. She should have run when she had the chance, should have listened to the guy who was trying to save her.

She couldn't help it, couldn't stop the scream from escaping.

And as soon as she screamed... the statue came after her.

The furtive guy yelled at her again to run, to get the hell out of there. She didn't need that, she was already running. Thankfully, the statue wasn't fast or nimble. But it wouldn't stop.

She was tiring quickly, and gasping out a desperate plea for help. But the guy was nowhere to be seen.

She almost stumbled as the fear overtook her again.

As she regained her footing, she heard the guy cursing again, and her breath came back. She put on a burst of speed, trying to gain some distance on the thing chasing her. With the little bit of space she gained, she looked around, trying to see what the guy was doing, and hoping against hope he was still okay.

He was fighting with the person in the black cape and hat. Towering over him, he should have been able to subdue the caped freak easily, but four smaller statues attacked him from behind.

A heavy step behind her made her heart and feet race. But something was off. The steps were slowing, almost stumbling. One step – heartbeat. One step – two heartbeats.

No more steps.

She finally dared to stop, and look around her. The statue stood frozen and still, back on his pedestal. The only proof of what she'd seen was the enormous and deep footprint, three inches behind her.

The furtive guy had a scrawny little dude in his grasp, and was kicking a dusty powder into the grass. Without the cape and hood, the little guy just looked sullen and weak.

She heard sirens in the distance, and could hear one of the club girls on her cell phone.

"What the hell was that?"

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She used to be a night person.

She thought she gave up the night when she gave up drinking.

But now she really knows what hides in the dark. Now she really knows what's out there.

She used to be a night person.

But that was a lifetime ago.