Joseph was running. He could hear the slapping of his feet on the wet pavement, the sting of raindrops on his face. He was in a cramped, dark alleyway between two tall buildings. It smelled sour, rotten with decaying garbage. The girl in front of him was also running. This was puzzling to him. He just wanted to tell her that she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He wanted to place his hand on her soft cheek, to touch that red hair that seemed to radiate in the pale light. He wasn't going to hurt her.
But she kept running, her hair flying out behind her like red ribbon, her long purple coat floating like a cape. She'd occasionally look back, and seeing him there, kept on her flight. Sometimes she would cry out for help, but no one seemed to hear. Joseph chased her, his heart hammering, his breath coming in short, rasping gasps.
The girl came to the end of the alleyway, and whimpered like a trapped animal. Then, seeing a back exit to the building next to her, ran inside. Joseph followed. It was as if some magnetic force pulled the two of them together. He hated to scare her so, yet couldn't truly understand her fright. Perhaps the way he approached her at the corner tavern earlier that night had alarmed her.
Earlier that night, he had seen her, sitting in a corner booth by herself. He also, was alone. When his eyes met hers, he felt he was falling, falling in a way he never had before. The intensity of his feelings both scared and exhilarated him. It was the first strong feeling he had felt in years. His life, the life he could barely stand to live anymore, could be changed by this young woman. He found himself staring at her for a long time, his mouth open and eyes wide. He pictured the two of them together, running far away from this city. Under his stare, the girl had begun to shift uncomfortably. She got up abruptly and left. Joseph felt panicked. He couldn't lose her; he had to talk to her. Joseph ran out the doors of the crammed little bar to find her standing on the corner, apparently waiting for a taxi. She must have seen him coming, for she started walking, jogging, and soon running.
And now, here they were, on this strange chase. He was fumbling up the cold metal stairs, apparently that of an apartment complex. He couldn't get over her speed. He felt he might pass out soon. He looked up to find the girl at the top of the last landing. The girl backed herself against the door, and then feeling the knob, let herself out in a scurry. He took the stairs two at a time, and threw himself against the heavy metal door. He was surprised to feel the misty night air hit his face again. They were one the roof of the building. He quickly scanned the small area, looking for her. There she was, only a couple yards away, facing him. Her pale skin was flushed, her pale green eyes rimmed with red. He found himself unable to speak, unable to say “Don't be afraid,” only able to advance upon her, zombie-like, with his hand outstretched.
“What do you want? Leave me alone!” she screamed, her voice crackling. Yet Joseph kept advancing, and she kept taking one shaky step back after another.
Joseph felt terrible, seeing such a beautiful girl so upset and afraid. He wanted to hold her, console her. He closed his eyes and reached out his large, muscular arms to embrace her. Yet when he encircled his arms, there was nothing there. Nothing but the cold night air and the terrible scream of the young girl, plunging to her untimely death.
“So let me get this straight,” said the police officer. He was an older man, heavyset. His hair was grayed and face wrinkled and street-weary. Joseph leaned up against the patrol cars that he himself had summoned there. The scene was abuzz with cops and medical units. His stomach rolled when he saw a man wearing a jacket labeled “Coroner” approach the sheet-covered girl.
“So,” the officer continued, “you happened to be walking along, and you look up and see this young girl up on the roof of this building.”
“Yes, Officer,” replied Joseph, his throat closing under the cop's suspicious glare.
“So, you, being the Good Samaritan that you are, decide to go up there and try to talk to her, but before you got a chance to say anything, she took a leap of the building?”
“Yeah, that was it,” said Joseph. He really didn't know where the story of suicide came from, but he had quite impressed himself. After the girl had fallen, it was as if his trance was lifted. ‘What the hell had I been doing?' he thought to himself. He felt sad, sick. The girl should have never died, of course. But he couldn't very well take the blame for it. After all, he had a family at home, a great job. He was an outstanding citizen in his community. He couldn't tell everyone that he had become obsessed with this young stranger and chased her right of the edge of a roof.
“Hmm…,” the officer said, closely studying Joseph. Joseph knew his neat kempt appearance and tasteful designer clothes were swaying the tired officer.
“Okay, Mr. Langdon,” he said finally, sighing. “I have your name and number, but other than that, you get going, and have a good night.”
Joseph nodded, and began to walk away, taking only one glance back at the place where the girl had perished. His head hurt and he was tired. It was time to go home.
Three weeks had passed since the incident with Joseph and the girl with the red hair. Joseph had retreated to his home in upstate New York since than, with his wife of seventeen years and their two young children. He had yet to hear from the officer working the case, and assumed there were no more questions to be asked. Joseph had done his best to put the unfortunate event behind him.
But doing this was next to impossible. At night, when the children were in bed and his wife was snoring peacefully next to him, he found himself picturing the lovely girl. What could her life been like, what had she aspired to be? These thoughts would pick at his brain, repeat over and over until his weary mind would find sleep. But even in sleep, peace was not to be found. He had dreams of the girl every night. Sometimes she would be crying, but most of the time, she would look serene, her hand outreached towards him. These dreams terrified him, causing him to wake with a gasp.
One month to the date of the young girl's death, Joseph was called by his boss to drive into the city for a meeting the next morning. He decided to leave the night before, as he often did, and get a hotel room for the night. He didn't take the highway, instead opting for the more peaceful ride through the country before entering the city. It was a particularly dark night, very quiet. He looked forward to the time alone, time to clear his head and try to relax.
It was about 11 o'clock when the rain started. It began slowly, pattering at the roof of his large sedan lightly. Within minutes, the rain picked up, coming over the car in great sheets, causing him to sit up closely to the wheel and squint at the road. His two headlights threw milky beams across the foggy path. Joseph glanced at the time and remembered what he was doing at exactly this time a month ago. His stomach soured and his muscles tensed. The thoughts of the young girl continued to haunt him. He began to wonder if he would ever know peace again.
Suddenly, the dim headlights caught something in the light, on the side of the dark, wet road in front of him. What was it that he saw? It looked like a slender, pale leg. Joseph felt sick as he looked closer and began to slow his vehicle. A long, purple coat, apparently untouched by the heavy rain. Joseph screamed, “No!” finally the whole figure came into focus in the misty night. The head of the figure was topped with soft red hair, glowing in the moonless light.
His heart leapt to his throat. This couldn't be happening! He knew this was impossible, that this made no sense, but the figure remained in front of his car, coming closer and closer by the second. Joseph slammed on his brakes. The figure now was only feet in front of his car. But his car didn't stop. It began to fishtail, and then spin. Joseph felt the car hit a tree hard, felt the car crush around him. The roar of the tires and the crashing of the rain filled his ears. The battered car flipped into the swampy ditch on the side of the road.
As Joseph lay in his mangled car, he listened to the rain slow down to a soft pitter-patter. The night was peaceful now. He lay there and tried to make sense of what had happened. He wanted to scream, to cry out at the situation. His heart pounded and he was scared. He knew he was dying, yet strangely, he felt no pain. He was left all alone now, alone with his blurring mind and vivid scenes of swirling colors of purple and red.