That One Time…

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Dodging a scary homeless, homicidal drifter.

(I posted this on Jezebel as part of their “Let’s Scare the Crap Out Of Everyone” discussion thread and thought I’d share it here…)

Okay – this happened to me in broad daylight and is less spooky and more “real world terrifying.” No ghosts or goblins, just one really bad dude.

In my late 20’s I moved back to my old college town after a year+ stint living with my parents in the desert. I was unemployed but diligently looking for work, and on my off time I took many long walks on the beach to suck up all that ocean air I’d sorely missed.

My favorite walk was by the butterfly preserve – an area of dirt paths and dense forests of chaparral – overlooking sheer cliffs and a narrow strip of beach. It was bordered by a golf course on one side, and a wetlands on the other. It’s pretty popular because it’s within walking distance of the university, so even during the weekdays there’s plenty of sunbathers and joggers and stroller moms.

On this particular day it – a few days before Halloween, mind you – it was pretty windy, and down by the beach you couldn’t hear much beyond the chilly gusts and crashing waves. I was strolling slowing along the shallows, looking for sand dollars, when I glanced up and locked eyes with a guy lingering near the cliffs. As soon as he saw me looking at him, he made a bee line towards me.

Now…I’m nearsighted, but not enough that I need to wear glasses. Nevertheless, if you’re more than, say, 20 feet in front of me, I’m not necessarily going to recognize you right away. So when this guy started walking towards me so determinedly, I figured I must know him. He splashed through the water – that’s when I noticed he was dressed in camouflage pants and combat boots – and got about two feet from me before stopping (unconcerned that his shoes were getting soaked). Now that he was so close, it was clear I didn’t know this guy at all.

“Do you know what time it is?” He asked.

“Nope, sorry, no watch,” I answered in faux cheeriness, pointing at my empty wrist before walking – a little faster now – further up the beach.

He stood there in the water watching me go, and I finally rounded a bend in the shoreline and he was out of sight.

Phew.

Then I started thinking…the ocean waves are so loud. And the wind gusts are almost deafening. Someone could come running up behind me in the sand and I wouldn’t hear them until the last second. They could be holding a rock and hit me over the head. I glanced up at the cliffs – too far away for anyone to hear me scream. I was really freaking myself out, so I turned around to make sure he wasn’t following me.

Except that he was.

I hurried along the beach, almost jogging – searching the sand for a goddamn rock to defend myself (none to be found, of course) – until I made it to the beachside hotel that was about a half mile away. I ran all the way up to the lobby and called my best friend from the pay-phone (collect – she was not pleased) asking her to come and get me because I was too afraid to walk back home along the beach.

She came and got me, but couldn’t stop herself from teasing me. She felt like I was imagining it or, because I am a writer and tend to be melodramatic anyway, that I was blowing it all out of proportion.

Jump cut to a few days later – day after Halloween actually – and we’re leafing through our weekly newspaper. She flips the first few pages and a picture jumps out at me.

“Go back!” I tell her. “That’s the guy from the beach.”

She flips back to an article about the arrest of a homeless drifter the night before Halloween. He had attacked a girl around 8pm in a park near downtown, and then high tailed out to the university. They tracked him using hound dogs (they are amazing, btw) who traced his scent through the city’s bike paths. He’d slashed her face (but she screamed and got away), and in his backpack they found – sorry, it’s pretty gross – Vaseline, a dildo, and a bunch of pornos.

The cops literally “bumped into him” was the dogs closed in and they lead the police through the small community near the college. They came swinging around a corner and there he was – in combat boots and camouflage pants.

I still get chills when I think about it.

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