The shaved-bald young-ish man walking in a wife beater and black poser jogging pants catches my eye. Sun-burnt to a raspberry red like he’s been outside without shelter for days, maybe weeks, he holds what looks to be a Sbarro paper cup with lid and straw. There are no Sbarros in this town, I think, as he walks ever so slowly out of the forest near the airport’s end. Runners, bikers, cars pass him by, as do I, quickly, in the opposite direction across the street.
Approaching the end of the paved trail along my side of the street walks a different man with a faded, worn-out burgundy backpack on top of a dirty orange shirt. He drags another bag barely off the ground. He, too, is out of place. I turn around, staying on pavement next to the road, grabbing the leash and iPhone tight.
I know out of place. I have always felt out of place, outside of being in a newsroom or at home with my husband and kids. I can spot people out of place, like Sherlock Holmes can see a person’s history at a glance.
I regularly glance behind me to keep the men in my sights. They are both walking at the pace of destination nowhere, so I reach the other end of the trail on the street before they get far. I turn around again. I will pass them both on my way to anywhere else.
The man on the other side of the road keeps walking slowly then disappears out of sight down the road. The man in the orange shirt nears. He’s on the phone. I struggle to decide if that makes him more or less suspicious. We pass with out incident.
I get a sense that I’ve been cut out and edited back in to this scene, almost animated and able to see in all directions at once, vision blurredi.
I turn up the hill quickly jogging. There’s comfort in the road being beside the trail. I’m in solitude but not abandoned by civilization. My dog and social stream keep me anchored in this reality.
Red truck. Blue car. Silver convertible. A bicyclist, two, then three. Almost relieved from my thoughts, I take time for a photo and a Tweet message to re-connect to my world, assuring myself I’m not alone.ii
I start down the hill when another questionable character in the distance captures my attention - a dark-colored car. It looks like a dull black primer-painted Firebird with some sort of bright stripe. It stops in the shadow of the tree at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the road. He’s in the distance but I can’t help but feel that he’s staring right into my solitude.
A tourist, lost, looking for the highway? It happens. But they pull over. This car doesn’t belong. It feels off. I hope they don’t say anything to me when I pass soon. I plan: be focused, pretend to listen to music, even though I don’t have headphones, but they can’t know that, I repeat in my head like a mantra of a madman. I tug on my dog’s leash. I fear contact.
I want to hop inside the protection of strangers in the virtual world cradled in my hand. Their avatars give a sense of security. However false that might be, that other world happening in the cloud right now gives me confidence that I’m backed by 2,154 hand-selected followers.
As I get closer, the black car starts slowly up the hill. Bells in my head are going off. I feel like a spyiii. I take notice. This seems to be more than my paranoia.
I see it clearly now. The car isn’t really black, just made to look that way. It is completely cloaked in some sort of cheap fabric, like one of those old PVC tablecloths that have the white felt stuff on the other side. The material is held on with florescent tape stripe. Dark tinted windows escape the covering, as does a license plate. I try to seem preoccupied. I fiddle with my iPhone as if they’ve eluded my attention. My dog plays along, his leash at attention.
A plane flies low overhead. Its shadow sweeps over us, ramping up my nervousness as my thoughts dart to a clear, crisp blue sky day, much like this, in September some twelve years ago. I flinch by that flashback, almost caught in time, as the car resumes normal speed up the hill leaving me behind.
I think the worst about what someone could be doing in a car in costume. Something not permanent... something made to be removed quickly... something made to notice and not notice all at the same time... something that could be ripped off like a wig after committing a heinous act and blend in with other cars – now not fitting the suspect description, now some other less noticeable color and style. The phrase, ‘If criminals were smart, they wouldn’t get caught. We wouldn’t know they existed,’ seems to be whispered to me from some other reality.
The car drives over the hill. I move a little faster from the rush of spying on dark imagination.
The cloaked car reappears. It has turned around somewhere back over the hill and passes me again. The windows are down. A man’s elbow sticks out of the darkness, his white cotton tee sleeve flaps in the cool breeze. Moving slowly, they pause at the stop sign and creep around the corner.
I reach for someone, something to hold on to. I grab my phone, my lifeline. I must take a photo on the sly for evidence. I pretend to look through digital pages, in case they are paying the attention I presume them caught up in. I snap a photo of them through the trees without looking at the screen. They are now parked on the side of the road around the corner as I jog to the bottom of the hill.
I leave the trail, cross the street to be opposite them as I walk, in cool down mode from my workout, like all is normal. I try to tell myself I am too worried about whatever they are doing in their car, too paranoid. I’ve worked in news too long. I know too much about “bad people.” And I know how they get caught - someone gets over their fear and does something. They take action and people are saved. People that notice oddities, people that are paying attention, rescue those unfortunate enough to get trapped by the wrong-doers lurking out there in plain sight in costumes of normalcy.
Those girls in Cleveland kept in captivity like slaves, in a hellacious nightmareiv, they could have used someone, just one person, to take notice and take action. No one did. But someone could have, if they had taken the time... if someone could have gotten over their shame of seeing the world for what it really is, of their worries about being paranoid. If only. They could have. That mom wouldn’t have died before knowing what happened to her daughter. My ideas haunt me.
I try to think of all the good reasons that one might disguise their car and loiter around this area of forest under the flight path at this tiny airport. I try, but “Homeland” and Time magazine articles from late fall 2001 seep through the logic I’m trying so hard to grasp at.
My app beeps - 40 minutes. I decide, just in case, to snap one more photo, now that I’m closer. I fidget with my phone, punching app buttons, looking at it then away, and ever so slightly tilt it in their direction and gather proof, just in case. Just in case I am not crazy. Just in case the world isn’t as safe as I pretend it to be, alone on a walk with my dog with no pepper spray, no weapons, no defenses... except my phone and internet connection and racing mind preparing for possible worst-case-scenarios.
My mind momentarily wonders about the other realities presented in quantum theoryv, if they do exist and every possibility is indeed happening in one of the realities simultaneously, then does my imagining this scenario mean it could be a reality, somewhere, if not here. Is that justification enough for worry? If so, I’m right somewhere and this evidence will help someone.
I continue to push buttons and resume my activity. I don’t look their way. I don’t really want to know which reality we’re in and I definitely don’t want them to know that I know, as I know nothing indeed except I have noticed them, which could be enough if they are sinister, if I’m not crazy from too many spy shows and films and books, my favorite, of course.
I wonder, should I go straight home or wander around to make my path unclear? The turn up ahead approaches quickly and I’m surely in a hurry to be out of this game.
I’m glad my daughter is not with me on this run today after all. I’m glad she is not here for me to mention something to or to not mention something too, trying to shield her and maybe block her natural powers of observation. She’s an eagle eye, and I don’t want to see what I see in the world. I don’t want to speak what is or isn’t happening out loud.
I decide to use the eyes in the back of my head. I watch them as I move down the street. They don’t budge. I turn the corner and move faster once I pass the bushes, once I am out of their line of possible sight.
@AngeleOutWest #run #fast #hurrylikeneverbefore
No one has turned down the road from that direction. I can see my house. I hurry up the hill, pounding pavement to match my pounding heart, closer to refuge from my paranoia. I think of how easy it would be to find me, if you drive slowly enough around the neighborhood and just look for my dog in the backyard. But I’m going to have to chance it and hope that I’m delusional. I’m too tired to keep this up.
I glance around, dart across the street, through my yard, and into my house. I keep the dog inside, close the blinds, and get out of the bright pink tank I was running in. My body has stopped, but not my mind. It keeps running on full speed. My dog goes to the water bowl and laps like nothing has been happening. He plops himself down, then suddenly dashes to the back door and barks. I jerk and hope to see a cat.
I start writing to get it all down, just in case a record is needed. Just in case one of the realities needs the information later.
I don’t share my suspicions outside of words in Word though. If someone else needs to know, they’ll have to read it when, if, I release my thoughts. But for now, I don’t want to clue the world in to my questioning this reality, just in case I’m wrong and crazy here. That should be kept secret, like the secrets of the people in the car and the men on their walks. We don’t know each other’s motives or minds, nor will we, at least in this version of reality. But we can imagine here. And mine has gone in places I hope theirs do not.
I'm left questioning the rationality of paranoiavi...
What does it mean to be an active participant in the world or a person that lets things go by un- noticed... Is it better for one’s sanity to think the world is a good place or is it better to know the bad things and live in that reality, where fear is real and caution is needed, even if not recognized by everyone... If you choose to "know" what does this do to your mind, do you have to be suspicious... And is it possible that, truly, there are infinite realities in which every scenario is taking place and by me worrying about what is going on versus what could be going on, am I impacting other worlds and realities... or is this notion of realities versus reality further driving paranoia without validity... Where is the line and where should I stand? Can I stand in all places at once, just in case?
Weeks have passed and we’re all still here in this reality. Things must be fine. I’ve clearly let my imagination poke too hard at my fear. But I am still watching for that car when I drive around town and when I watch the news. I haven't ventured down that trail on my own since that day but I remain on alert looking for costumes that don’t belong.
About the Author
Angele Sionna has been a professional journalist, working across various media outlets, for 18 years.
You can find her on Twitter all of the time -- @AngeleOutWest.