Don’t turn around. Don’t look back. That’s what everyone said when it came to hearing footsteps behind you in the murky twilight that slips into darker nights.
Reginald Sweeney took such advice very seriously as he scurried home one late October evening. His spirits had been high, so recently enjoying drink and song with merry mates celebrating the end of exams. There’d been a few raucous rounds of pints over hearty congratulations, talk, and song.
Other chaps had begun setting off for their waiting beds as the evening grew old. Reginald had risen to join the numbers trickling out into night with many claps to his shoulders and the ribbing of warnings not to look back at the sound of footsteps; a chilling tale told in fun on the brink of twilight had paled Reginald’s face. His mates had noticed and good naturedly teased him in between hearty laughs and tales best suited for warm fires surrounded by friends.
It was as Reginald heard the door of the pub shut out the comforting sounds of merriment and the cheering light of fires and lanterns that he was struck by the stillness of the darkness around him. Fog crept in with her gray fingers to give an even eerier air to the mostly deserted streets.
Reginald didn’t have too far to go, but three blocks over seemed an impossible distance on such haunting streets. He straightened his back, stiffened his upper lip, and adjusted his coat across his shoulders before tucking the ends of his scarf into it and doing up the last button.
His breath misted in the brisk air and Reginald set off at a brisk pace, dread creeping up his spine as he walked into the denser fog. Even two feet was almost too far to see clearly.
Every step and movement sent a chilling echo around the sleeping city. His eyes darted to each side of the cobbled road, nearly certain of villainy at every turn. It was as he approached the first street he would need to cross to get to his own that Reginald heard a most unwelcome sound; the sound of footsteps that were not his own greeted Reginald’s ears, turning his marrow to ice.
Don’t look back. Don’t turn around. Reginald’s heart skittered like rabbits on hunting day and his mouth went dry. He continued on his way, fearing to stop and realize that the steps were growing louder as they neared.
Reginald somehow continued to move forward, nearing the second street, and he was filled with the undignified desire to go tearing off into the night at a run until he met his own chamber door, where he would be sure to find more warmth and comfort waiting for him. He tempered this impulse, though he wondered if it was as much from will as it was from what he feared was his inability to flee. His feet seemed to be moving of their own accord and seemed determined to continue at their own steadily vigorous, but achingly slow gait.
A rush of wind brought with it moans and whistling cries as Reginald passed the second street and the footsteps behind him grew closer and swifter.
Don’t turn around, or the dead will take you with them. Reginald’s chest grew painful with his fervent heartbeats. His street still loomed beyond the thickening fog and Reginald charged through the soupy gray mist, desperate to reach his door before the footsteps grew any closer.
His pounding heart quickened with the sound of the now hurried steps behind him. Did the dead run after you?
Don’t turn around. Don’t look back.
Reginald began to suck in icy air in short, gasping, gulps, his head swimming with his labored breaths. The footsteps grew even faster, pounding against Reginald’s eardrums like his heart against his ribs.
The corner of his street appeared and Reginald almost cried out in relief, knowing that safety was only feet away.
Don’t look back.
Reginald wasn’t listening for the footsteps anymore, his only thought to reach the chamber door, breaking through it if he had to; anything to reach the safety of the familiar hearth where the dead would not tread.
So intent on his purpose, Reginald did not realize just how close the footfalls were.
Reginald felt a hand grasp his shoulder, the bony fingers gripping him like a vice.
“I didn’t look!” Reginald cried wildly, squeezing his eyes closed as the hand on his shoulder turned him around. Arms raised, he braced himself for the rotting hands of the long dead to bring him screaming beneath the ground.
“You dropped your glove, chap,” said a man with a bristly mustache and top hat.
Reginald opened his eyes to find his glove being handed to him by the jovial though concerned face of the man before him. Reginald sheepishly smiled in thanks, his shivering fingers grasping the garment as the other man nodded and turned away.
His limbs felt weak with relief, his head swimming with it as Reginald continued towards his waiting home. He could still feel the imprint of the man’s hand on his shoulder, which gave Reginald an unsettling feeling and made the sight of the familiar entrance all the more welcome.
Reginald Sweeney had never been more grateful to cross the threshold of his own modest chamber than on that night, after walking home with the fear of the dead dogging his footsteps.