December 16, 2019

The Path Home

posted on: Friday November 1, 2019

Philips Memorial Library

Photo courtesy of Wikimediacommons.org

by Erin Venuti ’20

Amidst a string of warm autumn days in October, there was a cold, dry night the week before Halloween. And it was on this cold, dry night that she noticed the footprints.

She was walking back from the library after a late-night study session for her biology midterm. It was two in the morning and one of the security guards had kicked her out of the library just as it was closing. As a freshman, she might have protested or relocated to Slavin for an all-nighter, but she was a senior now, and she was tired, so she was reluctantly making the trek back to Davis to go to bed.

She might not have noticed the footprints if she hadn’t been listening to the “Release Radar” playlist on Spotify, because the first time she looked down at the ground was when she pulled her phone out of her pocket to skip the new Taylor Swift song she’d already heard a hundred times that day.

Now, she saw them—too small to belong to a college student. Too wet to make sense. And because the owner of these feet had been barefoot, she could tell that they were missing the second toe on their right foot, giving the illusion that their left foot was slightly larger.

Perhaps it was a Halloween prank or perhaps they’d always been there or perhaps she was only imagining them, but because they were so distinctive, and it was two in the morning, and she was alone, and they were going in the direction of her apartment, she couldn’t help but notice that her heartbeat was beginning to speed up.

She looked up and around. No one. Harry Styles continued to sing through her AirPods and she breathed in the sweet, thick detergent drifting from the cracked window of the McDermott laundry room.

She kept walking, not daring to step on the footprints.

Crunch.

Her heart crashed in her chest and her hands flew to her headphones, yanking them from her ears.

She froze.

Crunch.

She looked down at the footprints again, confirming they actually existed. They did.

Crunch.

She fought the pressure that was threatening to close her airways. What air made it to her lungs seemed to be lacking oxygen.

The noise was getting closer. Slowly, she dared to look to the right of the walkway, where the sound originated, searching the shadowed leaves at the edge of the grass.

A squirrel.

Crisis averted.

And to her relief, the footprints had changed course and were no longer headed in the direction of her apartment but had rather taken a sharp left turn between McDermott and Aquinas and into the quad. She put the AirPods back in her ears, pressed play, and continued on past St. Dom’s, Feinstein, St. Joe’s, Guzman, and at the bottom of the stairs took a left on that walkway that used to be Huxley. From here, she could see the window of her bedroom, her roommate’s fairy lights fading off and on.

It occurred to her, here, that she’d not seen another person since she left the library, which, even at two in the morning, was unusual at PC.

She noticed, too, that she was about to cross paths with the footprints again. Except this time, they were coming from the opposite direction. They were heading toward her.

And they were getting closer.

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Halloween

Short Fiction