Shelly stretched her well-formed limbs. Running helped clear her head of the headaches that plagued her since she was a little girl, blinding headaches for which doctors had not found a physical cause. They had not found a reason for her horrifying nightmares either.
Shelly’s sneakers softened the impact of her feet hitting the asphalt. Her pace was unhurried and her breathing easy. This was going to be a pleasant run. Her eyes were concentrating on the gently twisting track while randomly taking in the canopy of trees and thinking how serene everything looked, very different than the city where she had commuted to Queens College while living at home with her mother. Being new to the Island, she did not realize the jogging track at the rear of the campus gymnasium had two major advantages over this pathway within the deserted park. The quarter mile oval near the gym was shielded from outsiders by a wall of sixteen foot high chain link fence, and there had never been a murder there.
The oak trees, planted a hundred years earlier, and now untended and growing wild, protected Shelly from the sweltering late August sun, but also concealed Ralph Estes. His face was almost invisible against the bark as he studied the few joggers running in pairs or small groups sporadically all day…no loners anywhere. What shitty luck!
Estes had little sense of time, no real need to keep time, except when the darkness told him to return to the shelter in the basement of a nearby church. “I’ll kill the bastard who got my watch,” he had said the day that it disappeared, but now it was all but forgotten, like everything else he had once cared about. It was all lost in a haze of drugs and mostly petty crimes to support his habit. Only his present needs drove him, and he had waited all afternoon for just the right opportunity to satisfy them. The preferred target would be a young woman alone. He fingered his knife hoping he might still use it, hoping she was pretty. She wouldn’t be after he finished with her. They never were.
Shelly felt the sun setting. She had been warned by her mother who still lived in their Flushing Queens sixth floor apartment, many times, not to run alone.
“You worry too much. It’s beautiful out here. Really nice neighborhoods,” Shelly comforted her mother during their nightly phone calls. She remembered how each relationship she had in college had caused her mother to warn her to be careful, a natural enough warning from someone whose husband had caused her so much pain, finally leaving her for a younger woman, a familiar story. Shelly would have liked to kill her ‘sperm donor’ for that, and for the nights when she heard her mother weeping in the small apartment they had moved to after the separation. There were times she prayed her ‘wishes’ for him could become real and the cops would find his body, but never be able to explain how it was done. Some of her nightmares involved murder. Sometimes she saw his face as the victim, sometimes her own. Other times she just saw a featureless blank mask of a face, ghost-like, covered with blood.
It was a relief when Shelly was accepted into the graduate education program, to become a reading specialist, at Stone Wall University, a chance to finally be on her own. She had thought
the nightmares and headaches would stop in a new environment, but only the daily runs seemed to keep them at bay. Up to now, except for a few gawking undergrad males trying to match her stride, her runs had been uneventful, especially since she didn’t want to complicate things with a new boyfriend and wasn’t interested in a hook-up. She wasn’t into casual sex and relationships are just too tough, she thought, as the runs liberated her from all other concerns for a brief span each afternoon. The park a mile from the university had seemed a good change of pace.
Ralph folded his knife back into its red plastic handle, shoved it in his jeans pocket. “You’re lucky I can’t reach you, you little bastard,” he shot at the squirrel above him. What the hell does squirrel meat taste like, he wondered, as he felt for the few coins he had in his gray sweat pants pocket. “Shit! Not enough for even a damn cube.” About to leave, he heard a faint sound. It was a rhythmic slapping sound…not a heavy tread. A lustful grin appearing on his lips, he focused his eyes a short distance away. He had guessed right. It was a woman. He peered around her, behind her. She was alone. Unfolding the knife, he hid tighter behind the tree, his heart beating in anticipation.
The girl was running at a steady pace, long, honey colored hair tied in a ponytail whipping behind her. It’s a beautiful day for a run, Shelly thought, as she concentrated on her breathing. She had the body of a runner and enjoyed running in the Manhattan marathons for breast cancer research while she had lived in Queens.
To the predator, it didn’t matter what she looked like, although he preferred pretty. It didn’t matter if she helped charities or was the mother of a new baby. All he prayed for was that she was alone. He waited hungrily, his eyes following her yellow jogging suit. She was not a human being, but a faceless creature… his prey.
Shelly, like almost everybody, had heard of ESP, even studied it in a psychology class at Queens College, but considered it largely science fiction, a pseudo-science at best, akin to ghost hunters and alien abductions. She found the case studies interesting, but not very convincing.
She had never had indications that she might possess ESP or any other special talent related to the occult or supernatural…only the terrible dreams. As she ran along the tree lined park she could not see into the future, so she had no idea that death was only few yards away.