A Distinct Paranoia
The coffee shop bustled with specks of humanity dancing this way and that. There was an almost autonomous tone to the people who frequented it, but if you met one, they would just say it was habit. And part of it was habit, as most of the darting people worked at the stores in the mall. Coffee was always a delight in the city of Kintain, which always seemed to rain. After all, who wouldn’t like a heartwarming delight amongst the storms?
Today, the store attracted new faces, two, in fact.
Seated at one table of the shop was a young woman in a bright red dress. From the entrance came a man wearing different shades of blue.
“Ah, there you are!” the man called. “Red, and exactly where you said you’d be.”
“And you are…?” the woman in red questioned.
“You may call me Azalea. My agency has an interest in your story. We will be willing to investigate.”
“Good,” the woman began, shifting to reveal a briefcase underneath the wooden seats. She opened the case and pulled out a sheet of paper, “this advertisement?”
“That’s the one,” Azalea confirmed.
“Wow, I thought nobody would find that.”
“Well, not all people would pick that up.”
“Well, nobody is going to assist a newcomer to this city… who doesn’t exactly have funds.”
“I assure you,” Azalea began, rooting around in his suit for something, “our agency will cover any fees. Now, the story?”
The woman in red sighed and pondered a moment. “Okay. My name is Jessica Io.”
“Got that,” Azalea muttered, writing it down on a piece of paper. “Oh, do you mind if I burn this teddy bear?”
“Wha-” Jessica gasped, looking up to see Azalea holding a lighter extremely near a large handcrafted bear. “Why?”
“For fun. Nobody will care,” Azalea explained, lighting it on fire. Nobody noticed. “See? Now, your story.”
“It all happened a few months ago- hell, it’s still happening now,” began Jessica Io. “Now, I’m new to this area, as you’ve been told. Before I moved here, everything was perfectly normal. I was just a regular citizen in my previous city. I was drowning in debts and had been evicted for not paying my money. Anyway, I was doomed until I got a text from some guy saying I had to collect some will properties.”
“Brilliant start,” Azalea gurgled nonsensically. “Now, the name of this person?”
“Oh, he was some guy named Hank Eva from a law firm,” Jessica told, unsure of what else to say while Azalea tried not to burn himself.
“Oh, go on.”
Without anything else, she went on. “Now, I was brought to this law firm, and I was given control of about a million dollars from some dead aunt who lived here. But more importantly, I had a place to live here in the city of Kintain. A small house quite modern-looking, even futuristic.”
“And the address?”
“It kind of… doesn’t have an address. It’s built just in a clearing outside of town, in the middle of the forest.”
“I see, continue.”
“Actually, you’ll never believe me- it-it’s unbelievable.”
“I’ll believe,” Azalea sighed.
“Let’s just see about that,” replied Jessica. “I lived in the house for a month, desperately trying to find a job while I lazily watched television all day. Of course, living in a house in the middle of the woods doesn’t exactly make for an easy way to get to town, but I found a job. ”
“How nice!” Azalea whooped, attracting some confused faces. But mostly because he was now blowing bubbles.
“The job was just managing a restaurant. It was closing due to money and most of the employees had abandoned the place. Well, due to my… previous job experience I was quickly chosen to manage the place. With my skill, it bounced back up, netting me a steady amount of money.”
“Oh! Fun! It’s that old timey steakhouse, isn’t it?”
“Correct, and it’s a wonderful job. Now, that’s when this problem started,” Jessica began, heavily sighing. “After a few weeks of managing- I came every day to make sure I wouldn’t lose the job, I began to take note of the regulars. One day, I noticed someone who was not a regular. This person… I can’t really describe it...”
“I couldn’t tell what gender they were- still can’t. If you can even believe my story. Anyway, this new person, they ordered a regular meal, but it’s the way it ate the food. It was just odd. Mixing all the sauces together and wasting lots of the seasoning. It was quite odd, but I thought nothing of it. One day, I noticed them somewhere else.”
“How peculiar,” Azalea commented, “did you get their name?”
“No, I never did.”
“Ah, how interesting, do continue. Oh, and describe this… person.”
“Tall, very tall. At least that’s what I had thought. From a distance, this person looked extremely tall. When this person stood up, it was like they were tall enough to touch the ceiling. But every time I got close, the height always seemed to match those of people around. Nobody else noticed this, but I think they were too busy doing work on their phones.”
“No noticeable features, really. Or any tattoos or markings. He just looked like an average person. Hair was a bit long, but short enough to pass as any gender. This person, they always wore the same thing- a black suit with a checkered purple tie.”
“I’ll look into that. Now, what happened next?”
“As I was saying, I saw them as I was shopping for shoes in the sporting store nearby. I believe I was testing out some new shoes when I caught a glimpse of them in the mirror, just staring. Not moving, not even idle movements. Just… staring into dead space. Naturally, I wrote it off as a coincidence and continued shopping.”
“And you only saw him at that store that one time?” Azalea inquired, tossing the bubble liquid container to the side, spilling soapy water into the floor. A few guests stared at him, but nobody dared to question the man.
“Well, uh,” Jessica began, noticeably uncomfortable with the soapy mess on the floor. “That’s the only time I saw him in that store. And before you ask, I didn’t bother to go looking for them.”
“And the next occurrence of this sighting?”
“The second time was two days later. I was shopping for groceries. Nothing happened as I shopped, thank god. I went up to check out the basket and… there that guy was. They sort of stared off into a space for a good minute before tending to my groceries.”
“And this staring, did you find this creepy of any sort?”
“No, it actually felt reassuring somehow. It was more of an absent minded stare.”
“Oh, wonderful! Creepy stares are boring. I hate boring.”
“Alright...” Jessica mumbled, questioning the reliability of Azalea. “Now I got my stuff checked out and I was leaving the store when this security guard stopped me. I recognized him as a regular. He was a guy named Max Sadrios, who apparently worked there. He lectured me about how I shouldn’t have used the machine all by myself. I, of course, had no idea what he was talking about, so he pointed and somehow- somehow, there was nothing. A big sign said the machine was out of order.”
“So he had proof? Camera footage?”
“Yes- that’s just the thing. I denied doing any of this until he showed me the footage.”
“Odd. Do you have any copies of this footage?”
“Oh, I do,” Jessica offered, pulling a thumb drive out of her case. “It has other things on there… relating to this.”
“A week later, I saw them on the bus, in the driver’s seat. I knew it was-”
“You keep saying it, are you suggesting it’s not human?”
“No worries. I will.”
“I knew it was there the moment I stepped on the bus because there was this sense of… peace. Calmness. Well, I think it was that. This time, it had the same suit, just with an old fashioned conductor’s hat. It turned to me and just stared. I questioned nothing at the time, but that could have been how peaceful it was. I had no idea what was going to happen. When the bus was full, the driver- it, drove. I had nothing to do and read my book,” Jessica told. She paused, as if she didn’t know what to say. “You won’t believe me- I’ll save your time by just ending this.”
“No. That would be boring,” Azalea reasoned.
“A moment later, I felt myself being thrown from my seat. The bus had crashed into a tree. Nobody was damaged, though we all had to go to the hospital just to make sure. According to what I heard, the driver suffered a heart attack. A driver that was not who I had seen. Now I can see that something wasn’t right about the whole thing.”
“What do you think this person is? An opinion?”
“I don’t know... and I don’t want to find out. I want it out of my life!”
“No matter,” Azalea mumbled, doodling on his papers. “Continue the story.”
“I reflected on the incident regarding this person in the hospital, so I decided to spend some time with a friend out in another state. A month, specifically. During this time, I didn’t see this person. But eventually, I had to return as my vacation days were over. That’s when I started to not feel calm wherever I saw it.”
“Was it always by itself?”
“Yes,” Jessica answered. “This time, it was a few weeks ago- right here in this coffee shop. I was drinking my daily lunchtime tea when I noticed that something felt different. I had goosebumps, and the air seemed different somehow, like a thick fog had rolled in. Needless to say, I was a little bit scared. That’s when I saw it, just glaring at a wall while pouring boiling hot water into a cup. It just kept glaring and pouring until the steaming water just… Well, it should have burned, but it just kept glaring. After that, it just walked out the shop and everything went back to normal.”
“This time it these last weeks, and by far the worst,” the witness began. “It wasn’t anything in my daily life now. This time, it was my house. I woke up, at six in the morning- I usually wake at eight. My phone was buzzing, and the house’s smart-camera application was sending out notifications. I read them, and they all mentioned suspicious activity outside.”
“Let me guess- that person!”
“Well, no. I checked the app and switched over to live feed, where I saw nothing. I felt the world was different. There seemed more water than air by this point. I sprayed some scents around and it cleared. I got things done at home and I was going to set off when my phone buzzed again, saying the exact same thing as before. This time, I went straight to the window where the camera was placed outside. This time, I saw it. Now, the camera faces a streetlamp so that it cuts through the middle of the video feed. As I watched to see anything, I saw this-this- the person- just appear out of nowhere. I could tell that the width couldn’t have hid behind the pole. I replayed the camera feed and downloaded it- and it was exactly as I saw it. I checked, and I couldn’t see it anywhere. Mind you, I paid very much attention and checked the other cameras.”
“And this is in the thumb drive?”
“Yes. After that, I was ready to go to work. Just as I opened the door, I saw it- this time in my driveway. I hadn’t seen that in the camera feed. I froze in terror- heart pounding and all that. The- it just stayed there, walking up and down idly. No difference. It felt like only a minute, but when I was free from the spell, I ran to my car and drove off to work. When I got there, hours had passed. As I was the only one with a key, I got lectured by the owner who did not understand what I was saying.”
“And this was the most recent one?”
“Sort of. This kept happening every few days or so, so I gave the keys to the restaurant and rented an apartment near. That’s when the most recent incident occurred. I hadn’t seen the person during my time at the apartment until a few days ago. I turned on the television to watch an episode of my favorite show when it- the person appeared on the screen. It just sort of stared. I was locked there an hour until the lights went out and the television disappeared. A city blackout… apparently.”
“And that’s all?”
“I will be looking into this,” Azalea decided, extending a hand. Jessica shook it. “We require your contact information.”
“Oh- here,” Jessica replied, handing Azalea a personal card.
“Just call us,” Azalea started, handing the other a card, “if anything too bad happens.”
With that, they parted ways. One would leave and return to a stable job, while the other would be fined a heavy bill for the amount of damage done to the property.
And out of the corner of Azalea’s eye, something followed the witness out.