I was already lost in the city, no map or phrase book, when the man with the umbrella began following me. Or, more likely, he had already been following me when I became lost.
It wasn't until a series of wrong turns brought me back to the same intersection I'd crossed only ten minutes before that I became fully aware of the tapping. At each cross walk, I could hear him behind me, tapping the metal end of his umbrella on the pavement. At first I thought nothing of it. I pulled my scarf tight against the cold and walked on. I'd left the hotel empty handed, thinking I would only go a few blocks and the city was laid out in perfect squares, without even alleys to confuse things, but then a street turned mid-block and I kept going. I'd noticed no such street on the map.
It was cold to be out and rather late in the day, getting on toward dusk, but I was convinced my walk would be short and harmless, just the sort of thing I needed to work up an appetite. I wondered what my pursuer looked like, but I dared not turn to see. How did I know he was a man? Some things one just knows. As we passed a pet store, I glanced to my left, hoping to catch his reflection, but saw only the wary eye of a rather large goldfish, which seemed to watch me, too, as if it could tell I was a foreigner. Then the hubcap of a car flew off its wheel and rolled past me, forcing me jump out of the way lest I be lacerated by rapidly spinning metal, and I turned around to watch it continue on. I looked for the man then, too, but there was no behind me. He must have ducked into a courtyard, I thought, or a doorway. We were on a residential block at that time, one I was sure I had never been on before.
I no longer knew where I was going. I hoped to come upon one of the few major streets that I knew. However, as soon as I turned my attention back to the traffic, waiting to cross, the tapping began again. I started to panic. I ran out into traffic and darted across the street, continued down the block weaving around the other pedestrians, knocking a teenage couple into a door way, enduring the curses of the people, foreign words and phrases but unmistakable in tone. I saw the patch of ice a second before I was upon it. The moments of my accident passed slowly – my foot upon the ice, slipping forward; my center of balance suddenly not centered; the awful feeling of a complete fall, the momentary suspense of the entire body in the air; landing, my head thudding sharply against the pavement. Dizziness, although I was already on the ground. Then a tap, and the metal tip of the umbrella planted itself close to my head. The man leaned down over me, his hand outstretched.
"Pardon me," he said, "but you have something on your eyelash."
When his hand touched my face, a shiver coursed through my body, his face seemed to waver as if underwater, and then there was nothing.
Anne Earney lives in St. Louis with her husband and several well-mannered cats. She earned her MFA from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her fiction has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as The Bat Shat, Hayden's Ferry Review, Natural Bridge, The Linnet's Wings, Six Little Things, Night Train and Versal.