Illustration © Kirk Anderson
The dull crunch of snow underfoot fills the air as I make my way home after watching a play at St. Luke’s Community Theater. I have a friend who works the lights. More snow swirls down from the white-saturated sky, further covering the blanketed landscape. Car engines hum as everyone drives slowly, wary of ice hidden under the snow. I bundle up in my coat, and adjust my hat to block as much snow from blowing into my face as possible. I trudge on, making slow progress. With the windchill, it’s fourteen degrees below zero, the kind of cold that makes everyone lethargic.
I stop at Lexington Avenue. It’s getting dark, but still light enough to easily see. I can either cut through an alley or stay on the lighted sidewalk. I know I should stay on Lexington all the way home, but doing so would add ten more minutes to my walk. Shrugging, I move into an alley.
It’s dark in the alley, with only part of the light from the streetlights getting through. About halfway to the next street, I see a man up ahead. He looks menacing, although he hasn’t noticed me. He has a hood trimmed with fur over his head, and a bulging coat, coupled with thick, baggy jeans. I walk faster with my head down, hoping to avoid his notice.
“Hey, kid!” So much for avoiding notice, I think to myself as I turn around. “Whatcha got? It’s over if I have to search you.” I consider my options. He looks faster than me, and all I have in my pockets are keys, and my wallet.
“I don’t have anything worth taking.” I say, hoping he’ll give up.
“I’ll be the judge of that. Empty your pockets.” The thug gets closer, and my odds of escaping unscathed seem to be getting smaller and smaller. I slip my wallet into the sleeve of my jacket and pull out the keys.
“This is all I have, I promise.” His eyes narrow at the bulge in my sleeve, but, thankfully, he seems to take no further notice. In times like these, I wish I could just turn invisible, or fly away, or do anything to escape. Unfortunately, I have but one way out of this, the only thing I can really do: talk.
“I don’t suppose you’re afraid of keys?” I ask hopefully. He spits.
“I ain’t afraid of anything.” He proclaims, walking closer. His breath crystallizes in the frozen air, only to dissipate as he breathes in again. The puffs of visible breath are getting uncomfortably close to my own clouds of carbon dioxide.
“So nothing frightens you?” I ask, trying to put a note of admiration in my voice.
“That’s right, I’m scared of nothing.” He answers, and stops.
“Why is nothing so terrifying to you?” I want to sound curious.
“What?” He asks, bewildered.
“Well,” I start, making everything up as I go along. “You said that nothing scares you. Obviously, there is something about nothing that frightens you. I’m curious as to what it is. So, what is it about nothing that you find terrifying?”
“Uh, well, I . . . I don’t know.” He’s rather sheepish for a man who was menacing not more than a minute ago.
“Unfortunately, all I have is nothing, would you like it anyway?” I take the tiniest of steps back, just in case he catches on.
“I . . . I guess not.” He admits. The man turns, scratches his head, and walks away to ponder his brand new phobia. For a second, I’m afraid he’s recovered his wits as he glances back, but he just continues to mutter to himself and looks away again as he trudges out of sight.
I walk fast out of the alley, and stick to the sidewalk the rest of the way home. As I round the last corner, I see my house. I double my pace, eager to get to its warmth, with the wood stove blazing merrily in the living room.
“How was the play?” Dad asks me, after I announce my return to the house.
“Oh, it was alright. Kind of boring, though.” I say, as I start up the stairs to my bedroom.