The man that has been haunting Tyler’s nightmares for the past several days takes the same bus as him. 

Tyler jolted awake, with sweat on his chest. The breeze from the overhead fan barely cooled him down. It was that weird time in March where the weather couldn’t make up its mind if it wanted to be hot or cold, so Tyler simply slept with only the fan. 

“Fucking stranger again,” Tyler whispered, keeping his voice low as not to disturb his lover.

Tyler placed his arm around his partner, falling into a calming embrace to ease his mind away from the recurring nightmare. It was always the same theme. Tyler would be running away from a tall man in a dark suit, like something from the 1920s, and every time, this stranger would catch him and graphically kill him. The locations and deaths would vary, but the figure was persistent. Tyler’s partner had shrugged it off as him playing too many video games, but Tyler felt there was something more to it. He thought it might be a result of anxiety from his new job and the world crisis. 

The next morning, Tyler waited on the street outside his apartment for his regular bus to take him to the downtown luxury hotel. The day had an eerie vibe, but the past several days had felt ominous. He figured he would eventually become accustomed to the new reality of living during a pandemic virus outbreak. On the positive side, he was grateful his work got deemed essential, although he couldn’t work from home.

As the bus came to a stop, Tyler strapped on his homemade face mask, and climbed inside. Every other seat was blocked off with a yellow sign warning, “FACEMASK REQUIRED.” The bus was empty save for one man standing near the back dressed in a black suit with a matching fedora. Tyler froze in the aisle when he saw him. He couldn’t help but stare. Even with the mask on, Tyler’s gut knew it was the stranger from his nightmares.

“Take a seat,” bus driver ordered. 

Tyler snapped back to the present. “Sorry.”

As Tyler took a seat, he could’ve sworn the man winked at him, like he was trying to say, “Yes, it’s me.” Tyler faced the front of the bus and browsed his social media feeds to forget. The news was the same – doom, gloom, and blame. He switched over to his camera to spy on the stranger in the back who was starring soullessly ahead.

The bus announced Tyler’s stop. It was a few blocks away from the hotel, but he was at his favorite coffee shop. He wanted to help keep them in business. As Tyler got off, so did the stranger.

“Be cool,” Tyler told himself. “He’s not following you.”

Tyler stepped inside Clarity Coffee while the stranger walked by. He let out a sigh of relief. Tyler kept his social distance, got his to-go-coffee, and made the journey to work.

Downtown was quiet. Most everyone was working from home after all. As he crossed a street, he got a feeling he wasn’t alone. He looked behind him and saw the stranger in the dark suit.

“It’s just a coincidence,” Tyler assured himself, “but to be sure…”

Tyler turned the corner down an alleyway. He looked behind but didn’t see the stranger. Tyler turned forward. The nightmare stood in the center of the alley with his arms crossed, and his eyes fixated on him. Tyler turned around and ran, but he ran right into the stranger.

The stranger lifted Tyler from the throat. Tyler screamed, but everyone was hiding from the invisible threat terrorizing the world.

“I’m only going to warn you once,” the stranger spoke with military firmness. “Tell anyone that the hotel you work at is haunted–especially journalists–and I’ll make your nightmares of me a reality.”

The stranger dropped Tyler, who collapsed to the pavement with fear. When he looked up, the man had vanished.

This short story was inspired by current events and the following writing prompt: “You have a recurring dream of being chased by a mysterious man in a dark suit almost every other night. This morning when getting on the bus to work, you see him sitting in the back and make eye contact. He winks at you.”

Story Artwork by Keith Zarraga at Design Pickle. Get a discount off your first month of Design Pickle via this affiliate link, which full disclosure, I earn a small commission as a discount for me as well.