Coming For Me
Copyright 2013 by L. Rehfuss
2013 Biographical Nonfiction Winner
The year is 1975.
No cell phone, no instant messaging, no computer.
The light blue van chugs along slowly,
just a mere three feet from me, here, walking here on this sidewalk.
It’s hard for the driver to keep
the van idling at low speed. The engine sputters and coughs
the few minutes it coasts beside me. Finally the engine is
revved and the accelerator is punched so hard it makes the tires
squeal. The van’s crumbled backend fishtails as it
I’m good for a minute.
I know this because the van has been
tracking me for four blocks.
I won’t look at the driver because
my attention is focused on a spot straight ahead fifty feet.
instincts tell me not to give this imbecile any play. Any
acknowledgement will encourage this odd game. Worse, I don’t
want to put my active mind into overdrive which will only open the
door to anxiety and the next thing you know I’m no longer
the instrument my neck supports every day.
The sound of screeching tires occurs at
set intervals as the van makes it way around the block. Right
turn, right turn, third right, target locked and loaded, bring van to
It’s deserted in this pre-season
seaside town. Very few people live here year-round and any
establishments that were opened have long closed down for the
It’s not late, but it’s dark and this stretch of
walking on – the main street in town – D Street -
produced one open store.
Nor for that matter, one other soul.
Odd to think I’m headed to a
This is my first time working on the
Jersey shore. My sister drove me down this morning,
me to her boss, who is now my boss, and left an hour later to make
the long trek back to upstate New York. She’ll
a week when she finishes teaching her class of 7th
It was my boss who told me about the
party. I was to return to the boardwalk at 7pm so we could
walk over to the party. “All” being my
about ten employees. Workers, who like me, are down here
pre-season to help open up the shops and literally grease the wheels
for the games. We are carneys or barkers, if you
When I arrived at 7pm there was a note
pinned to the small office door behind the “Gift / Smoke
informing me they cut out of work early. Not knowing my phone
number, they left a map showing where the party was located.
This town is laid out like New York City. Blocks 1,2,3
intersect with streets running A, B, C. It’s a nice
and easy to figure out.
The party is 10 blocks away.
Definitely do-able even on this rain
Did I mention it’s raining?
A slight drizzle is falling. Enough to splatter my glasses
soak through the medium weight coat I’m wearing.
been raining all day. Not a raincoat wearer (too stifling,
cumbersome), I’m wearing my spring coat with the
The van coasts alongside causing a
slight ripple of water to coat the top edge of the curb.
Creeping, inching along, keeping pace. Never going more than
five miles an hour, hugging, but never jumping the
The van rounds the fifth corner and I
put the minute of spare time to good use. Crossing catty-corner
now on the opposite side of the street. This
a good ruse, but a small stance I’m taking.
I need to stay on D Street because the
streetlights are plentiful here. On the side streets, it’s a
long span from one streetlight to the next. The lights cast
ominous yellow glow, which on a tourist-filled summer evening would
be soothing. Tonight. In the dark. In the
Casting a cataract cat’s eye, the side streets are in abject
After desperately searching for signs of
life on the side streets, it appears the only people on this small
peninsula in New Jersey are the party-goers, me and whoever is in the
He’s coming for me.
Although distant, the screech of tires
is unmistakable and I catch a blurry rain soaked reflection in the
plate glass window of Alma’s restaurant. The van is
trolling the other side of the street. Just as the image in
restaurant window gives way to a neighboring brick building, I see
the van careen across four empty lanes to reach the side I’m
on. I set my eyes and look straight ahead.
I’m fully alert and straining to
hear where the van is so I can gauge its location. How fast
he approaching? A quick glance over my shoulder confirms an
empty street. The van is nowhere in sight.
At the corner I look both ways. No
Bright lights catch me in the middle of
the intersection. The van jerks forward. Once again
engine’s death rattle is engaged. I quicken my step
reach the corner. I won’t run. In my mind
means ‘game on’ and right now we’re
sorting out our
artillery. I must admit my side of the board is not looking
The van bounces through the
intersection, across the four lanes, spraying puddle water three feet
high. The back right tire hydroplanes a bit which barely
interrupts the vehicles forward motion as it careens down the
opposite side street.
Looking ahead, there are many empty
parking lots. A mere half block away Lou’s Parking
offering discount parking at $5 a day. I make an immediate decision
to go back to the other side of the street. Lou
around and wide-open empty spaces may be my undoing.
too much maneuverability for the van. A parking lot is not
where I want him to make his move.
At times even a cat knows to walk
alongside the fence line.
On the other side of the street now,
I’ve walked a block without seeing or hearing the
have about four blocks to go to reach the party and someone there is
going to have to drive me home.
He’s coming for me.
An alert sensor has been pressed.
A snake slithers up my neck and coils at
the base of my skull.
My predator is nearby.
A noticeable glance back confirmed what
my instincts telegraphed.
The van is coasting slowly behind me.
No longer is the van coming up alongside
Stalking. This feels more like
The rain is coming down at a faster clip
masking most sounds, but the sound of my soggy footfall and the
sputtering engine. I continue to walk straight ahead, keeping
my eye on that spot 50 feet in the distance. Every fiber of
being screams ‘don’t !@(&$ with
Coming within three feet of the next
corner the van pulls up alongside. I slow down as it
chug-a-chug-chugs around the corner. Staring straight ahead
isn’t hard to miss the wide-open yawn of the van’s
With the door locked in place, the
bright interior light remains on, illuminating what awaits
A filthy brown bench seat yellowed in the middle. The floor
surprisingly free of debris, yet dark and darker splats mottle a once
light blue carpet. Up front two wobbly bucket seats swivel a bit due
to age, not design. Behind the wheel sits a man with a beer
propped between his legs.
As he takes the slow turn around the
corner his eyes fix on mine. I hold his stare continuing the
mantra in my head ‘don’t !@(&$ with
while another part of my brain takes inventory.
He’s in his early thirties, dirty
blonde stringy hair falls to his shoulders, stubborn jaw, light fuzz
on his chin and upper lip. He’s thin. The word
comes to mind.
He’s wearing a red, dirty t-shirt
with some band probably advertised on the front and dirty jeans with
no visible signs of holes or tears. His glare communicates
the game board has been set up and like it or not, I’ve been
chosen to play.
He continues to glare at me as he
negotiates the turn. There’s no need for him to
where he’s going. There’s no other car on
road. There’s no other person. Just me
and him on a
rain soaked evening with yellow streetlights casting eerie shadows on
a pre-summer night in this ghost town.
I sense something else about him.
Patient with his quarry.
He will take as long as he needs and
when he’s done, he’s done. The only thing
his checklist will be to wash the bench seat one more time.
that harsh cleanser that gets out the nastiest of stains.
Deepen the yellow of that once brown bench seat.
He’s coming for me.
After what seems an interminable time,
he finally negotiates the turn yet doesn’t speed up as
Apparently when he was racing around the blocks he was making a
decision. With his mind made up he can afford a casual drive
down the street. Why hurry when there’s nowhere for
go. Head down a darkened side street? Hide out in a
or in a little strip of alleyway between buildings?
refuse to be stuck like a rat in a cage.
His casual slow drive down the street
gives me more pause than anything else he’s done tonight.
Within the next block I combat my fears
and shut down the “what ifs”. I solidly
that to react to his ‘challenge’ to run, hide,
or crouch in a corner ‘don’t hurt me boogie
will be my downfall.
No, I will walk this street as a solid
member of the human race.
I will not run from him.
I will not.
Still, a ripple of fear courses up my
spine, hits my brain and settles.
There is now a steady ping of rain.
Still uncomfortable with the wide-open
parking lots on this side of D Street, I cross back over.
are the residents? I know there aren’t many who
this sleepy town year round, but surely there have to be
With the exception of streetlights,
there is no other light. No kitchen light. No porch
light. No headlight. No nothing. No one.
I’m alone in this struggle.
The realization is like a wallop to the stomach at the same time the
lights are punched out. Alone. Panic
now primal. Watching, calculating, cunning, vigilant,
vigilante, if it comes down to it.
I arrive at the next corner at the same
time the van pulls up. He’s on the opposite corner
my relief the van’s side door only opens on one side
the side farthest away from me. Still, the driver is sitting
right there approximately 10 feet from where I’m
It’s the first time I’ve stopped. I catch
out of the corner of my eye. There, right there, on the right
hand side, a porch light is on and I see movement. At long
a side street yields an occupant.
Six houses down on the right hand side
on blessed 40th
Street are people!
I don’t hesitate a moment. I
purposefully stride to the house, take the stairs one at a time and
calmly tell my saviors about the man in the light blue van who has
been following me. I tell them how he almost hit me on one
corner and another time how he left the van’s side door open
and glared at me. I’m frightened of what he might
wonder, if it’s not too much trouble, if I can sit on their
porch until he’s out of the area. I’m
leave once he sees I’m here with all of you.
Three women and two men stare at me.
It takes 20 seconds for one woman to gently place her hand on the
forearm of one of the young gentlemen and ask if he wants his
beverage refreshed. This breaks the spell as they restart
conversations as if this rain soaked young lady has not descended on
their porch. No words, no gestures, no acknowledgement that I
had even taken up a moment of their time to explain my
Fine, don’t talk to me. I’ll be the
shadow on your
face. Visible, but altogether harmless.
I sit on the second step from the top
where the porch overhang shields me from the rain. This is a
deferential position. It’s a signal to the porch
that I am really not here to intrude on their little get
Why if I were to sit on the top step a well turned heel or boot could
extricate me quite easily from the premises.
After about 20 minutes I’m feeling
uncomfortable. I haven’t seen the van and
every reason to believe he’s long gone from the
turn to my hosts and explain as such and ever polite, thank them for
allowing me to sit on their steps, I really do appreciate
No sooner does my right foot land on
concrete I hear the now familiar rattle.
With my left foot still on the bottom
stair I turn my head to see the van barreling down the
I slowly back up, dazed. I plant myself again on the 2nd
step from the top. Hyperventilating, I turn and ask,
you see him?” Gulping for air and trying to swallow
bile caught in my throat, I lay my head between my knees for a few
seconds to regain equilibrium.
No one responds.
Oh my, my, my.
This is not happening.
I look and see the front end of the van
on C Street. He’s rounded the block and is sitting
Street, perpendicular to 40th
Street. The headlights
are on, flumes of exhaust create an eerie sense of foreboding and I
can just barely make out the outline of the driver.
Turning around to point him out to the
others I’m met by a wall of backs and reason if they
shown a scintilla of understanding or compassion thus far, they
aren’t going to start caring now. It’s
remain as quiet as possible.
An hour passes. The van comes down
Street and slowly goes by the house.
The driver and I match glares. He
hangs a left onto D Street and goes around the block. Again
slowly drives by. There is more challenge in his stare,
there is more concrete in mine.
One of the women saunters up to the
porch rail, takes a sip of her drink and says,
not a light blue van, that’s a white van.”
Maybe it appears white, but if you’ve
been up close and personal with it as I have you’d see
a very light blue and what are you talking about bitch.
a van and if the last hour hasn’t proven to you that
in some serious trouble here then I don’t know what to say.
Of course I don’t say any of
this. I’m afraid she’ll throw me off the
A phone, I ask of her. Do you have
a phone? I don’t know who I’m going to
call. I just
met the boss and a couple of other carneys this afternoon. It
was hardly the time to exchange phone numbers and recipes. My
sister is back in New York by now and well, there’s really no
one to call.
“We don’t have a phone.”
Deadened eyes stare at me then look away as if I’m
to even look upon.
Oh, I expected a phone to ring.
Willed it to ring and conjured up all the smart remarks I’d
throw her way, but I’m in survival mode. There will
smart remarks, or remarks of any kind. Besides, the van is
Street. It is on the opposite side of the
street with the headlights off. The engine is still running.
Pretty bold move to sit right down the street from the house, my
arrogant, persistent, creepy, yellow-stained bench seat predator.
After another 20 or so minutes he slowly
goes by the house again. He gives me a quick once over, then
concentrates on the porch scene. He’s sizing things
making a decision.
One of the men on the porch steps
forward and surprisingly sits down on the top step. His legs brush my
arm, he’s sitting that close.
watching,” he starts, “and there’s
strange about that van. Look there he is now.”
I look to where he’s pointing –
the van has gone around the block and is sitting in his favorite spot
on C Street--waiting.
“Did you notice he stayed on this
street for a while?” he asks. “I think
in serious trouble, something is just not right.”
Grateful that someone is finally sizing
up the threat level here, I exhale a “yes” which
more like gratitude than confirmation.
The woman’s voice cuts through the
air. Michael immediately stands up and goes over to
Apparently he isn’t allowed to speak to me.
I look back to C Street and don’t
see the van anywhere. He’s not on 40th
Street. Has he finally given up? Did that one act
kindness from the man on the porch send a message that the jig is up,
go trolling elsewhere?
Five minutes later with still no sign of
the van I tentatively walk down the porch steps again with another
thank you and wave to my hosts. And again I receive the same
response, which would be no response.
Constantly glancing back I see the van
turn down 40th
Street just as I’m two houses away.
I calmly walk back to the porch and take my familiar spot, pointing
to the van when one of the women looks at me as if I have some
nerve. The van sways down the street. The driver
look over, as I track him with laser eyes.
A slight commotion is heard from behind
the screen door and I can see a new man, a third man, a traveling
man, gathering up boxes and luggage. He’s
his way out of town and there’s only one way out –
the bridge – which is three blocks from where my new
is located. This is my chance to get off the porch and closer
The five on the porch grab for the
handle on the screen door, ask if they can help, pick up suitcases,
pillows, small plants, any small item, any item at all to assist
‘traveling man’ so he doesn’t have to
make an extra
trip to the car. They all walk down the porch stairs to a car
parked in the stone driveway on the side of the house.
I scoot over so no one trips over me.
Hugs and back pats are offered and
received and I can’t believe I say it, but bold and desperate
has kept me safe this far so I call out, “Excuse me, can you
tell me where you’re going?” And then,
sure the others haven’t filled traveling man in on my
predicament, I add, “There’s a guy in a light blue
look at “white van” woman) that is giving me the
and I sure would appreciate a ride to a party just a few blocks from
here or if you’re headed in the other direction you can drop
off near home. I’m only three blocks from the
He hesitates, and then traveling man
lies, “I’m headed over to Toms River. I’m
This is a peninsula and there’s
only one way in and one way out and that is over the Toms River
bridge and there is no other way to get over to Toms River unless you
have a boat and that car you’re driving doesn’t
amphibious and I can’t believe you rotten S.O.B. that
not going to help me out. What is wrong with you people,
you see there is a van at the end of the street with a psycho waiting
for me to leave this porch so he can do whatever he wants with me and
Of course I say none of this.
After waving good-bye to traveling man
the five porch dwellers walk back up the stairs.
Bad enough that there’s this guy
in a van who is truly gunning for me, but this whole group has me
flummoxed. What is going on? I’m confused
reaction. Can’t they see I’m in need of
Where is their humanity? Where is the sympathy?
My concentration has been so focused on
the van’s favorite spot on C Street I can’t believe
missed a phone booth sitting at the intersection of D and 40.
Yes! When he makes his surveillance trip around the block
have a good minute to run down to the phone booth. All I have
to do is make sure to stay in the shadows which shouldn’t be
too hard and, let’s see, if I make a point of standing on the
porch with the porch dwellers, he won’t know whether to
me on the stairs or the porch. That might do it.
three other women on the porch he’d have to search me
Yes, he needs to see me on the porch talking to the porch dwellers.
Here he comes.
I stand on the top step and turn my back
to the street, to the van. I explain to the porch people my
plan to run to the phone booth and call a cab and if they would stay
out on the porch until I’m able to make the call and return
safely, I would certainly appreciate it. It would be very
helpful because I don’t think he’s going to give up
you guys have been so gracious with your time and allowing me to stay
on your porch and really I think your presence is the only reason I
haven’t been attacked yet so…
On and on and on I go until from the
corner of my eye I see the van slowly cruise by. No one says
word. Times wasting, the van has turned the corner.
I stay in the shadows and walk along a
thin dirt strip (now mud strip) that runs alongside the brick
building on the corner. Coming to the phone booth I slide in
and crouch. No sign of the van. Finding two taxicab
numbers I punch in the number for the first one. It rings a
good ten times before I replace the receiver and dial the next cab
number. After the third ring a dispatcher picks up and upon
hearing where I am located tells me I need to call the other cab
company. I blurt out the short version of the terror-filled
hours and ask him if he could please send someone.
He apologizes and sympathizes, but can be fined if he’s found
on this side of the island. He’ll come over only if
the other cab company one more time.
The van reappears at his preferred spot
on C Street. The headlights are off and flumes of smoke encase the
entire vehicle. The van inches forward.
to get a better look down 40th
trying to see if I’m on the porch.
The van inches up some more.
I softly click the receiver down, wait a
few seconds, slowly release it and then dial
The operator comes on the line and in a breathless whisper I tell her
the short of the long story. I finish by telling her I
care if she sends the police or a cab I need someone to get me out of
The van makes a lazy turn down 40th
He doesn’t see me yet, but it’s
just a matter of time. He’s coming for me.
The van picks up speed jockeying from
side-to-side as he races down the street. I run past the
and four houses. The van is closing in fast. As I
crisscross the lawn of the property next door to the porch dwellers
house, I see the van brake so hard the driver’s whole body
jerks forward then back. His head hits hard against the seat
back. His right hand is already on the steering column as he
throws the van into park. His left hand is already on the
as it swings open before the van even has a chance to stop.
as I turn onto the walkway I see my predator bolt from the
Racing up the front walkway I feel the trail of three fingers down my
I jump onto the first step of the porch,
taking the rest two at a time.
The porch dwellers are now house
dwellers. As I race up the stairs I can see them through the
screen door at the other end of the house in the
What if the screen door is locked? My
mind screams an alert, “Do not open the screen
“You’re dead if you try to open the screen door and
My feet meet the porch with a resounding
thump. Everyone in the kitchen turns. I attempt to
myself, but the force in which I’ve hit the porch is
me forward. I bump up against the screen door almost going
The door of the van slams shut.
Tires squeal as it peals away.
I yell to the house dwellers, “Hi,
I’m back. I was able to make my call”,
so in case he is watching or in hearing distance he’ll think
the dwellers and I are on friendly terms. I turn to sit on
top step and fume over their inconsideration. Finally, I
breathe a sigh of relief that they are here. Even though they
are incorrigible, it seems this place is a safety zone.
Five minutes later a police car pulls
One of the women from the group walks to
the front of the house, looks out the screen door and yells back in
an incredulous voice, “Oh for heavens sake, she called the
I race down to the cruiser.
I tell the officer my tale standing
outside in the rain, pointing to the various places the van parked
and telling him how the van is probably now parked on C Street.
“Get in the cruiser.”
Of course this makes sense. How
else to find the guy but to get in the cruiser and look for him. Yes,
obviously let’s get this show on the road. Besides,
rain is coming in on the officer so it makes sense to have this
discussion in the cruiser.
The policeman leans over the seat to
open the passenger side door.
“Where you going?” he asks,
staring out the window. Thinking this is a standard
question to get all the facts straight in the case, I explain how I
was headed to a party on 44th
Street, but repeat that I’m
sure the van is on C Street.
“I’m not driving you to a
party.” He looks at me sternly.
“Why of course not,” I
counter, in amazement I might add.
“Where do you live?” he asks
as if I’m some dullard.
I tell him.
He starts to drive me home.
“Wait,” I say.
“Aren’t we going to look
for the van?”
“Yeah, I’ll do that later
after I drop you off.”
There is no report being filed. He
hasn’t even written down a single word I’ve
There is no way he is going to look for the van when he drops me off.
What is going on here?
Does he know the guy in the van?
I’ve only been in town a half a
day so I don’t know all the ins and outs of this
Could this man be a well-known oddball in town?
know that Joe, he’s always driving up and down the boulevard
frightening woman. Heh-heh. Ya know one of these
he’s really going to scare a young thing, but heck,
harmless. Just having a little fun”
I plead with the officer to look for the
man in the light blue van, but he dismisses me as if I’m an
unwelcome child he’s been instructed to taxi home safely.
Home, in my new apartment, I pull a
large sharp knife from the kitchen drawer and clutch it in my hands
while changing out of wet clothes.
Curling up in bed with knees drawn to my
chin and arms wrapped around my legs, I can feel the outline of the
knife under the pillow. Tomorrow I’m buying a
The tears come now and unabashedly I wail. We are animals
capable of the barest of emotions. The rawest of
We are animals capable of the most
For a long time I lay bare my emotions
and hug this precious body of mine.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Story list and biography for L. Rehfuss
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