Walk at nightShe pulled her hooded windbreaker tighter to her body and tightened the hood to protect her face from the wind. It wouldn’t be long before winter overtook the city, snow flattening the faded yellow leaves.

She walked at a quick pace, checking her watch. She cherished this time in the city; the early morning quiet before the chaos. She moved forward silently counting the rhythm of her steps, one, two, three, four, five. The street lights gleamed in the darkness, casting her long and slanted shadow.

Despite the weight in her hands, which she kept in the front kangaroo pocket of her jacket, she remained light on her feet. As always. Years of ballet classes had instilled in her a casual gracefulness.

Her parents had worried when she moved into the city years earlier. They bought her a pepper spray and an aluminum baseball bat to keep by her bed. She’d never needed either, but she smiled when she thought of the gesture, which was overprotective and slightly paranoid. Like most parents who had never lived in an urban environment.

“Don’t go out by yourself at night,” they’d said.

“Pay attention to your surroundings,” they’d said.

On the latter point, she’d followed their advice. She carefully observed those around her and kept up her guard.

One, two, three, four, five. Puffs of clouds erupted from her mouth and dissipated immediately.

Leaves rustled behind her and she wheeled around to see a cat darting down an alley.

She was still alone.

She passed the dog park, empty at the early hour. In just an hour, it’d be teaming with frolicking pups and their bleary-eyed owners. Half of whom would still be wearing pajama bottoms.

Up ahead, she noticed a man walking, his back to her. He moved fast, though lazily, with his hands stuffed into his jeans’ pockets. She watched him carefully as she strode forward, wondering what he was up to so early in the morning. He looked to be almost six and a half feet tall, towering over her 5 foot frame. But speed walking at her current pace, she knew that she’d close the gap between them.

On the rare occasion, men walking toward her early in the morning would cross to the other side of the street to make it clear they had no intention of harm. Other times, if she saw a group of men who were loitering at 5:30am for no reason, she’d take a detour down a different street.

“I always stay on Broad Street, where there’s lots of traffic,” she’d lied to her parents.

She peeked over her shoulder again. Still nobody behind her.  The street was completely motionless except for her and the man in front of her.

She was less than half a block away from him now. Her footsteps were almost completely silent as she stepped around fallen leaves and the occasional pile of dog shit. He continued onward, his head bent down.

From the back, she imagined what he might look like. She pictured a weathered face lined with wrinkles. Leering blue eyes that watered in the wind. She imagined him to be in his early 30’s. Maybe a junkie, maybe a drug-dealer, maybe both, maybe neither.

It didn’t matter.

She was only steps behind him now. She surged forward quickly.

Removing her hands from her pocket, she pushed the muzzle of the gun into the small of his back and said, “Give me your wallet and don’t make a sound.”

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