She stopped and looked behind her.
Should I turn back? No. I’ve already covered half a mile. There’s only a quarter left to go, and then I’ll be snug in my apartment.
Memorial Park lay directly ahead. It contained a series of rectangular grassy planes adorned with the weatherworn statues of bygone university presidents. Narrow wrought-iron benches stood at attention on either side of the pathway. Lillie passed by the sculptures, feeling as if she were in an abandoned cathedral.
Stop being fanciful. This isn’t a church or a graveyard, and those statues aren’t real people no matter how lifelike they look. They’re molded copper over steel frames. She smiled grimly. See? There’s no mystery science can’t explain.
With the flat parkland behind her, Lillie followed the sidewalk as it sloped down toward the maintenance building. It’s incinerator made a loud hissing noise through the brick chimney.
Don’t be afraid, silly. Inanimate objects aren’t threatening. Good heavens. If your professors were here, they’d laugh.
Lillie felt something brush against her hand, like a rough, bristling pelt. Her heart froze as she looked down. Dark eyes gazed back at her. Instantly, she thought of a cougar, but her analytical nature reminded her at once that Blackhurst didn’t have mountain cats. It was a dog, a huge German shepherd, its back ending at the middle of her thigh. Lillie had never seen this breed outside of a newsreel at the cinema.
“Go away. Get!” Lillie cried, trying to sound braver than she felt. She yelled, threw pebbles, and kicked at it, but the animal refused to leave.
So occupied was she with the dog, Lillie didn’t notice the shadow as it detached itself from the darkness and moved toward her. A man stepped forward, causing Lillie to jump and cry out. His neck was thick where it grew out of wide shoulders and when he smiled, the white teeth were barely visible among his night-blurred features.
Lillie exhaled with relief. “You shouldn’t go around scaring people, Calvin! It’s not funny.”
He laughed softly, and the low, raspy sound was unfamiliar.
“Sorry. Calvin’s not my name. Guess again, little girl.”
Skin clammy, fear clawed at Lillie, making its way up her spine a vertebra at a time. She stepped back as the dog circled around, putting itself between her and the stranger.
Eyes watering, she nodded, tentatively resting her hand on the animal’s back.
The man waited a beat, as though assessing the situation. “It can be dangerous out here,” he finally said. “Things happen to ladies on their own. Maybe I should help you.”
His hand shot out to grasp Lillie’s arm, but the dog lunged, its teeth connecting with the man’s flesh. As obscene oaths spewed from his mouth, Lillie fled.
She heard branches sway and crack. He was following her.
“Don’t go,” the voice in the blackness called. “We were just getting acquainted.”
The dog snapped at Lillie’s ankle, as though it wanted her to move faster. She doubled her speed, heedless of the slippery terrain and the burning in her lungs. Main Street was just a furlong away. 220 yards. Lillie knew she was almost safe.
Frantically shifting from one side to the other, the shepherd drove Lillie on. Tears poured down her face, as she thought of herding the livestock in the Carolina meadows of her childhood. Lillie sprinted until she broke through the shrubs edging Main. The man’s voice cursed at a distance beyond the trees.
Hot, canine breath on her leg, Lillie stumbled up the front stairs of her building. She clutched the door handle wildly and turned, expecting to see the iridescent eyes of the dog. What Lillie saw couldn’t be scientifically explained.
She saw nothing.
Okay, that's the end! At times, truth can be stranger than fiction. In 1946, my mother really did stay at her friends apartment too late one day in October. She crossed the campus in the dark and a German shepherd really did appear and began walking with her. It was a huge animal and she was afraid. The dog wouldn't leave, even when my mom threw rocks at it, and a man came out of the shadows from behind the maintenance building. (There had been a string of rapes on the campus that year, although no women had disappeared as I wrote in my version) The dog snarled and barked at the stranger. The man asked my mother if the shepherd belonged to her, and she replied automatically, "Yes, he does." Mom turned and hurried for home. She heard noises behind her as though she were being followed and the dog stayed right with her until she crossed the street in front of her apartment. One moment it was there, the next it went back into the trees and she never saw it again.
Have you ever had an experience that is too fantastic or odd that you knew no one would believe it in story form? I'd love to hear about those. Life is filled with the unexpected!
Oh, and by the way, when my mother was ten, she had to herd her family's cows out of the meadow at night. Alone. She could hear the mountain lion's call in the darkness and said it did sound like a babies cry. To this day, that distinctive noise sends a shiver up her spine.