“Aren't you afraid?” The bartender gathered the empty pint glass and the tip in one smooth motion.
He shrugged and shifted off the bar stool. “Nah, I walk along there all the time.”
Once he had left the lights and bustle around the bar, though, he started to wonder if he should have called a cab.
It was true, he did walk along the street at all hours all the time. It was always quiet, but there were always signs of life, places he could run to if anything set off alarm bells. There was a 24-hour laundry about halfway between the bar and home. There was the doughnut shop that always seemed to be open, always with the same grumpy old Portuguese guy manning the counter. Hell, there was a police station just a block away from his house.
Tonight things felt weird. He found himself looking for buildings with lights on and people inside. He sized up the people he came across on the pavement, and it felt like they were sizing up him, too.
Screams jumped out of an alleyway about fifty metres ahead, and he crossed the street to get out of range, wondering if he should duck to a side street for a few blocks. As he hurried by, he saw three men in denim jackets beating the crap out of someone who was already on the ground. There wasn't enough light to tell if it was a man or a woman.
The doughnut shop had a brawl going on in it too. Through the shop's plate glass window he could hear the old Portuguese guy shouting at a bunch of teenagers to stop it, threatening to call the police. The kids weren't punching each other, they were.... was that kung fu?
As he watched from the sidewalk, the kids took the fight outside. When one of them whistled the fighting abruptly stopped, and they all started laughing. The whole thing seemed to be a prank on the doughnut shop guy.
He shook his head and brushed through the teens as they giggled on the sidewalk.
Just about even with the 24-hour laundry he caught up to a woman who had been walking the same route as him for about three blocks. She stopped, stood on the sidewalk with her legs apart, and peed. He pretended not to notice and crossed the road again.
Something flashed in the sky and he craned his head to see what it was. A shooting star, maybe... yes, there was another one. One ended with a little explosion, almost like fireworks. Its light made a pale white flash brighter than the streetlights.
He hurried the rest of the way home, caught with the idea of watching for more shooting stars from his back yard. It was darker there than on the street – neither he nor his neighbours had porch lights out back.
He made it to the walkway in front of the house, reaching for his keys in his coat pocket, when he saw someone out of the corner of his eye, over by the gate to his back yard. He startled and dropped his keys. He stooped to pick them up, then took a better look at the gate. There was no-one there.
Strange. He hadn't seen clearly, but the overall impression was of a twelve-year-old kid wearing dark sunglasses.
He let himself in, walked out the back door, and looked at the sky. He watched for about fifteen minutes, but there were no more shooting stars.
He went back into the house, and made it three steps up to the second floor before he changed his mind. He grabbed the flashlight out of the laundry room and headed out the front door towards the gate.
There was definitely no-one there. But in the soft ground just in front of the gate, he found a footprint about the same shoe size as his own. Except this footprint was made by someone with three large, webbed toes.