I used to live in Cambridge a while back, which is a small city smack in the middle of England, best known for the university that is as large as the city itself. But I was there for work. I had a few friends around the city, and Cambridge being a very ‘green’ city, I adopted the ‘Cambridge way’ to travel; cycling. I would visit my friends mostly in the evening, and we would all stay up till late, doing the innumerable things friends do together. On the nights this continued for long I would have to cycle back halfway across the city at night. Despite the cold this was usually quite pleasant; Cambridge was safe, even at night, and I generally enjoyed being out in the dark, alone, under the yellow of the night-lights. It was during one of those nights though when I had a singularly frightening experience.
I was on a long, quiet, lamp-lit road, cycling back home from a friend’s. It was a particularly chilly February night and I was slightly wary being alone outside at 3 am. This was late even by my standards, and put me somewhat on edge. My senses seemed to be more alert than usual and I was unconsciously keeping an eye on every single shadow on the street, trying to avoid any possible alcohol fuelled incidents. As I turned into a street not very far from my apartment, I started to feel much more peaceful. I was nearly home and nearing the warmth of my bed as well as a much-needed rest. I was halfway across the street biking at my leisure that I noticed a man in a dark jacket cycling around 20 feet in front of me. My senses suddenly sharpened again; I was sure I was paying attention to the road but he still appeared out of nowhere into my view. Perhaps, I had not been paying as much attention as I thought I was.
The man was cycling quite slowly, and even barely pedalling I slowly started to draw near him. As I got closer and closer to him I noticed that, somehow, it was also getting quieter on the street. In fact, everything was going silent as if someone was turning down the volume. It took me a few moments to realize that I could not hear the man’s bike or the many mechanical clicking sounds my bike often made. It was eerie, like watching a silent film through my eyes. That should have warned me, but not heeding what now seems like a very obvious warning, I kept cycling closer to the man. I found his speed quite peculiar, even more so that his dark attire, and so as I drew nearly level I glanced at his body. I say his body because his face was not very human. It was made of what can only be described as a shadow, and with terrifying eyes that were red as if holding and inferno within their depths. One look left me lifeless, motionless, and speechless, riding down the slope right next to him. I was too scared to move, too scared to act, too scared to scream. And worst of all, I was unable to take me eyes off him.
“This way is closed” he said, in a growling voice that made my hair stand on end. “This is way is closed to you. Go back.”
That was all he said, and with those with those words the hold his eyes– its eyes had over me was broken. I managed to find some life in my hands and I braked as hard as I could, letting him get ahead of me. He continued to cycle ahead at his eerily slow place and then, as mysteriously as he had appeared in front of me, he was gone. He simply disappeared, vanishing into the shadows at the end of the street.
The rest of the way back home was a fight against my own body. My mind could not stop reeling from the horror it had just experienced, and my heart was in my throat, thumping uncontrollably. I had few thoughts in my head except to get back home as quickly as I could. I could hear again, I realized, as I could hear the wind in my ears and the loud clanking of my pedal as I cycled as fast as I could. Unfortunately for me, I could also hear someone else cycling behind me.
When I finally got home, I threw my bike and rushed into my first-floor apartment, refusing to look back at whatever was there. I could hear footsteps following me up the stairs but I refused to acknowledge them as I rushed in, locking the door behind me. As I did so a wave of relief washed over me, and I slumped down by the door, breathing heavily. I was home, and home meant safety.
The problem was, I could see someone’s shadow from under my front door as I sat there, waiting, just beyond the wooden door.
True story from 3:49 am, 25th of February, 2012.
Salman Shahid Khan