4:30 a.m.


1. 4:30 a.m.



The repetitive beeping of the alarm woke him up.


4:30 a.m.,

The 7-segmented display of the digital clock on the bedside table read. He hit the button on the top and the beeping ceased. He rubbed the dirt out of his eyes and pulled off the sheets. It was still dark outside. The indistinct outline of his wife next to him stirred, her slumber slightly perturbed by the alarm. She shifted on to her back and was still again. He sat still as he tried to remember his already rapidly fading dreams.


He gave up after a few minutes, and got up with a sigh. He slowly made his way to the bathroom, careful in the darkness, guided by his familiarity with the routine. He went inside and flicked on the switch, and squinted as his eyes adjusted to the sudden flood of light.


He paused at the basin and looked at the mirror above it. A thin, half-asleep, tired face stared back at him with small, dark brown eyes. His disheveled jet black hair seemed to have acquired a new growth of greying strands over the last few hours. Or perhaps he had been too busy to notice its gradual creep over the last few days. David was still in his middle thirties, but of late he had felt closer to fifty. The mountain of work he had to take care of almost every week had left him haggard and exhausted. He still tried to keep up his old routine however - getting up prior to sunrise for a run, before going off to work; but of late he had been missing days.


He glanced momentarily at the small, grate covered window on the back wall, then looked away quickly. The window made him uneasy. Although they were a few floors up, he couldn't help but think that someone was spying him when he wasn't looking. Even now, with total darkness outside, he felt that he saw a dark silhouette from the corner of his eye.

He quickly performed his morning ablutions and came out. He downed half a glass of water, changed into his tracksuit, put on his running shoes and left, closing the door gently behind him. He softly climbed down the stairs and into the atrium. The night-guard was nowhere to be seen. He went over to the desk, pressed a button and let himself out into the darkness.


There was a chill in the air which had already started seeping in through his clothes. He rubbed his hands together as he put them to his mouth. After his eyes had adjusted to the light, he set off at a brisk pace to warm his body and ward off the chill. He made his way through the dimly lit streets. It was still very early, and the roads were deserted save for a couple of cats which when they saw him stopped, studied him for a few seconds with their shining green eyes and then sauntered off with their tails upright. 


Several minutes passed as he made his lonely way in the cool pre-morning. He heard the sea before he saw it, hidden from his sight by a thicket of trees. Making his way around the bend he stepped out on the promenade, lit by dim, yellow streetlights. The sea appeared to his right and a few meters below, with the tide still far out. The moon, almost full, but not quite, seemed to shimmer with its reflection in the restless water, as it hung low on the horizon, slowly turning a slight pink as it set.

The promenade and its adjacent road ran almost straight for nearly four kilometers, before curving away from the shore. The sea was on one side, and the other side of the narrow coastal road was flanked by a straight line of thick trees. It was slightly hazy as the sea-spray condensed in the cool air. Not a soul was in sight, which he found slightly odd - as even this early, a couple of people were usually up and about. A car quickly came and went by, unnaturally loud in the quiet. He walked a few hundred meters, then stopped to warm up with a few exercises.

As he was working his ankles, he saw a tall figure emerging from around the bend.


'Must be blue-shoes' he thought. He was one of those who were usually here before him. He continued with his warm-up. As the man drew closer, he saw that he was tall, much taller than normal - nearly seven feet, he would say.


'That's not him.' He frowned. The man appeared to be in a dark attire, from head to toe. His shoulders were wider, his arms fell till below his waist. His head looked small as compared to the rest of his body and his small neck gave him a somewhat hunched appearance.

David suddenly felt an aversion to meeting this stranger. His face, growing more distinct by the second, appeared to be a tanned, nut brown color with dark bushy eyebrows that shadowed his eyes. His ears stuck out, prominent against a thatch of dark brown hair.


David quickly finished warming up and set off on slow jog. He checked his dial to time his run. The man faded away as he concentrated on his breathing and settled into a slow, rhythmic pattern. He looked back after a few moments and saw the man standing exactly where he had stood, facing seawards with his head turned towards him. He smiled and his teeth flashed bright against the dark backdrop.

He quickly turned away, unnerved. Another car went by. He felt a bit uneasy. He concentrated on his running and picked up his pace a little. A few minutes went by. The moon continued its descent, now a deeper shade of pink. He was beginning to sweat slightly as his breathing became a bit heavier, in tandem with the thump of his feet on the stone. It felt louder, perhaps more than it usually did. He nonchalantly glanced back.

The other man had started running. He had a lurching gait, as if one his feet was slightly slower than the other, and he still kept his shoulders hunched even while running. But still, he was keeping a good pace and was ever so slightly gaining on him. And the man was still smiling, as if aware of his dislike for their confrontation, and amused by it, like some inside joke.

David turned his gaze forward and speeded up. He was nearly halfway to the curve ahead. He checked his watch. His plan was to make it to the bend quickly, then turn onto the half-hidden gravel path through the small park. He would wait there for the tall man to pass by. He couldn’t quite place it, but for some reason, he wanted to avoid the man at all costs.

As he thought about it, he now realized that this morning felt somewhat… unsettling. His breathing and the sound of his footfalls felt a bit too loud.


His stomach lurched as he was flooded with the sudden realization - there was no other sound. The crash of the waves against the shore, the cawing of the birds in the early morning, the distant howls of the stray dogs – as if someone had dropped a heavy curtain over them, muffling the disturbance of the air which proclaimed their existence.

He became aware of another sound, a constant thumping from behind him. He looked over his shoulder.

The tall man was barely fifty meters behind him, and gaining quickly. He now saw that the man's clothes were dark brown with mud and dirt, and his bare feet were ink black. His lurch had translated into a rapid movement, his arms moved awkwardly, still at the level of his waist, never coming up. And on his face was the most horrible, twisted smile, exposing brilliant white teeth beneath; and his bright blue eyes seemed afire, with excitement.

David gave into reckless abandon and ran, hurtling like a madman across the stone path, chased by the terrifying creature behind him. The moon, almost red now, hung close to the horizon - a faraway, lonely, unhelpful spectator. David was desperate. He was nearly at the curve. He hoped that something would be coming up from the other side - another man, a human, an animal another soul, a living being of this earth - anything at all apart from that horrible thing. Perhaps another car would appear, and he would throw himself in front of it to stop it and escape from this nightmare.


The thuds of the creature’s footfalls were getting louder. He could almost hear its rasping, ragged breathing. A pit began to form in his stomach. And, once more, against all instinct, he looked back.


The creature behind him had vanished. He kept looking but nothing was in sight. As he slowed down a little, he felt a flash of hope. Almost instantly, he heard a triumphant, howling laugh in front of him. The creature was dead ahead, with that horrible twisted smile and its arms out wide. He tried to stop, but it was too late. The moon was almost blood-red. The water still gently rolled gently over the stones, which soaked the waves up without a sound, as if they were made of felt. Unable to stop, he crashed into the creature and fell into it- and fell and fell and fell, into a dark abyss....

The alarm clock started its periodic beeping. The man sleeping next to her woke up suddenly and sat up in his bed. She could hear him breathing heavily. Martha stirred in her bed, awakened by the alarm and her husband's sudden start. "Are you okay, honey?"

"Yes. Just a nightmare.... I think. Go back to sleep."

She looked at the clock. 6:30 a.m. it read. "You missed your morning run again."

"It's alright." He replied.

She heard him take a deep breath in and let it out. He got up and started moving around. It was still dark outside, but the sky was rapidly lightening.


She heard a crash. "Everything alright? David?"

"Nothing. My foot caught the table. It's okay. You go back to sleep."

She woke half an hour later. David was up; she could hear him in the kitchen. She went and stood near the door. He was humming slightly, as he fried some eggs on the pan.

"You okay? Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed today?" She asked him playfully.

"No. Why? I'm making breakfast."

"You never make breakfast."

"A first for everything, then." He shrugged.

"Whatever you say ", she said as she started towards the living room to grab the morning papers.

"Umm....Martha?" she heard him say, and it sounded as if he was calling her name for the first time.


"How about you call me Keith from now on?"

She frowned. "What do you mean? Call you Keith?"

"You know, just call me Keith. I don't like the name David anymore."

She was looking at the back of his head, confused, with growing unease as he said it. As he turned to look at her, she saw on his face, a twisted, curved smile and a flash of bright, white teeth she was sure she had never seen before.

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