He had a need. His hunger was painful enough to drive him to madness, to commit unspeakable acts, yet he would stop at nothing cure it. It engulfed him; it made his body swell. However, from a distance I could never have noticed any of this. My roommate and I were innocently on our way home from the library late one evening when I noticed him stumbling slowly down the road. At first glance, he appeared to be more of a zombie from a scene in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” rather than a disoriented boy on a deadly mission.
His ragged white t-shirt hung loosely off of his lanky frame as he waved his arms and mumbled something incomprehensible to us as we drove by. Having lived in Charleston for the past three years, such a sight was normal for me. Since I was currently residing on Morris Street, a section of town known for being less than safe and comforting at night, I felt that the several tons of steel that surrounded us in the form of a car was definite protection from any type of danger. Without giving the street wanderer a second thought, I pulled up to the curb in front of our apartment and turned off the ignition. As we were gathering together our books, I began to wonder exactly what he was trying to say to us.
Was it important enough for him to come ask again? I decided this to be a possibility and checked in the passenger side mirror before I opened my door. I leaned over and my heart skipped a beat when I saw the reflection of two dirty tennis shoes approaching along the sidewalk. “Whoa, whoa,” I told my roommate, “Let’s hang out in here for a few minutes.” He was upon us as soon as the words left my lips. Standing in front of the car, his arms were up over his head as if he were a referee confirming a field goal in a football game. He stood there for a moment like a deer in front of the headlights still shining brightly from my car. Then he walked over to my side of the vehicle.
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The windowpane began to fog as he spoke to me only inches away from the glass. What I did next is the biggest regret of my life. After watching his wordless mouth move for several seconds I rolled the window down ever so slightly. “Coke, weed, ecstasy, what you want, I got it,” he barked. Politely, I declined and explained that I had a test the next morning and really needed to get to bed. He stubbornly repeated the phrase over and over like a skipping CD.
I started to get annoyed with his persistence and turned to start my car. That’s when it happened. My roommate’s piercing scream filled the car quicker than smoke. I reacted without hesitation. Before I knew what was going on, I found myself lying across my roommate’s lap on the passenger side. Then I saw the blade, a gleaming beacon of terror in the darkness.
In a flash he unlocked the door and took the driver’s seat. He was screaming commands, but at the time my attention was focused only on the knife that was positioned inches away from my jugular. “Give me all your money or I will kill you! I will cut you up, I swear to God, I swear to God,” he promised with bared teeth more sinister than a rabid bulldog’s. Trying to reason with this man was not an option. He ignored what I had to say. Even though it was the truth, he refused to believe that we had not a dime between us.
I tried to remain calm, but instead I felt like a scared rabbit cowering away from the unbearable stench that was his breath. He asked if I had an ATM card. “Yes!” I said, almost relieved. I knew that this was our only hope. He wanted something, anything from us, and we would not be free until he had it.
Demanding that we close our eyes, he forbid us to look at him or where we were going as he pulled onto Rutledge Avenue like a bat out of hell. I was on the scariest roller coaster ride of my life. As we flew towards a destination unknown, the ride was bumpy and I hit my head several times on the carpeted ceiling of the car before we came to an abrupt stop. I opened my eyes and was confused by the brightness of the streetlights.
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Here we were in an illuminated parking lot on Calhoun Street. “How could this possibly be happening,” I thought to myself. Then he ordered me out of the car. He turned to my roommate and said, “Sit down, turn around and close your eyes! If I see you move or hear a peep out of you, I swear I will slash up your friend!” I gulped. We approached the machine, and with my hands shaking nervously I inserted the card into the slot. While waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I again attempted to talk sense into this maniac.
I looked into his murky yellow eyes and for the first time saw his addiction. I saw its evil, its skeleton, and the demon within. This man could not help what he was doing; something more powerful than him had forced his soul to hatred. He had no choice; he had to appease the beast. Knowing that the need for drugs fueled his anger, I begged him to take the money and run.
I begged him to spare our lives. I begged him to search for that reason and rationale that was buried so deep down inside of his heart. “Shut up! I’ll do you and your friend! You know I will, you know I will! I’ll do you both!” was all that he could say. The minutes it took the machine to process the money seemed like hours, but soon enough he was clutching two hundred dollars in his hand. Then he told me to get back in the car. A wave came over me.
It was pure fear. I could not find the words to speak anymore. My car sped down a road somewhere in Charleston, but I could not see because my hands were clasped tightly over my face. Thoughts raced through my head faster than Jeff Gordon at the Winston Cup.
I was certain that death was impending, and that we were destined to be human sacrifices. The only thing left for me to do was be scared. All of a sudden I heard the screeching of tires. The car jolted and I was thrown onto the dashboard. A door opened and then shut. I turned just in time to peer out of the back window to see the faint silhouette of a man fade into the night.
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He was gone, and we were alive. I was amazed; the demon had spared us after all.