by Sahana Ilenchezhian
Art by Sophie Lin
Issue: Scintilla (Spring 2019)

Under the haunting, pale glow of a rust-worn streetlight, he stood.

Amidst thousands of dark, entwined shadows, his eyes gleamed a ravenous yellow. Sensing fear, he twisted his lips upwards in a menacing grin, revealing sharp, wolf-like incisors. He was looking through my window—haunting, watching, waiting.

My hands trembled as I drew the curtains shut. Yet the flimsy cloth offered little protection from his predatory gaze.

He visited every night.

I don’t sleep anymore. Between clutching knives in shaking hands, jumping at shadows of passing cars, and peeking through curtains, sleep was a luxury I could no longer afford.

Sometime between the passing minutes of ominous dark and the scarlet hours of the coming dawn, he would disappear.

As my throbbing heartbeat settled, I’d begin the morning routine of brushing, bathing, and running to catch the 7 a.m bus to be on time for my morning classes at the local state university. Every few minutes, my eyes would wander to the streetlight—checking, fearing, hoping, he was not there.

In the soft orange blush of the morning, the streetlight looked warm, inviting, tarnished, and abandoned. No one would guess someone defiled its unnoteworthy presence by night, transforming an everyday object to an embodiment of my nightmares.

Walking to the bus stop was torture. Walking inside the university was torture. Walking to the local grocery was torture. Hell, leaving the confines of my one bedroom flat was torture. A gut-wrenching sensation makes me look over my shoulder constantly. From the grocery store clerk to the librarian, every person is met with the suspicion that they might be the demon haunting the streetlight. The endless paranoia makes me want to lock up my doors and stay inside a prison of my own making, safe till dusk.

They say stalkers feed off fear. And I am always afraid. Annoyingly, so. I wish I wasn’t. I wish the mere sight of him didn’t set my body shivering in fear. I wish I could muster up the courage to walk up to him and scream, “LEAVE!” But, I can’t because I am, as aforementioned, afraid. Afraid that he will shoot a bullet into my window. Afraid that if I approach him he would stab me or worse. Afraid that one day when I enter my apartment, that once screamed freedom, I would meet his twisted smile. Afraid that I’m too hopelessly afraid to do anything.

When I was younger, I disliked thriller and horror movies for one reason: their victimization of women. While I thoroughly enjoyed watching down-on-their-luck cops chase serial killers and unlikely heroes uncover the horrific past of abandoned mansions, I hated how there was always at least one girl who was brutally raped, murdered, stalked, molested, abused, buried alive—the list never ends. While these movies mimic the reality of women in most societies, what did they tell me? What do those popular, beautifully filmed and scripted movies, tell young girls everywhere? That they should be afraid? Afraid to walk in the streets? Afraid to help strangers? Afraid to return late from classes? Afraid to go to school? Afraid to work? Afraid to be pretty? Afraid to dress up? Afraid to smile? Afraid to live?

I already am. But a question restlessly flits at the edge of my paranoid mind during the darkest hours of night: What comes after fear?

She opened the windows that had been nailed shut for almost eternity. For the first time in forever, she saw the moon: white, full, and magnificent. Under its silver hue, hidden in the shadows of a broken streetlight, stood a man. His lips twisted upwards at the sight of her deranged appearance. What a lovely sight!

The young woman pointed at the man and signaled at a crumpled piece of paper barely visible under the streetlight. As the man unfurled the paper and read its contents, his smile disappeared, and his face turned to ash. He turned to the girl he had observed for months. She smiled.

Under the soft warm glow that seeped in through her open window, she slowly transformed from a broken bird to scarred warrior. Yet ever so often, she’d look behind her back, a familiar terrifying feeling haunting her wake. The rust-worn streetlight came to embody the smallest of victories in an endless battle against fear.

Sometimes the simple promise of an uprising is enough. Sometimes, it is not. But, fear is not the answer.

A person sits covered by a blanket and underneath a window, looking at a phone. A grotesque creature shrouded by darkness is visible through the window.