Henry and the Stranger
Henry paused. That was when Henry first saw him. It was at his best friend, Richard’s, funeral. He was only noticed as Henry started. This stranger was dressed in black, as a funeral goer would be, but he was not in the crowd. He stood in the distance, watching silently. Though he was distracted, Henry made sure to recite the words as he prepared them.
“Richard was a good friend. A brother to me. He’s better. Elsewhere.”
As Henry finished his words of parting, he walked towards the mystery man in hopes to strike up a conversation. However, as Henry was distracted by the wails of Richard’s wife, the stranger disappeared. Leaving less of a trace than dust in the wind.
“It must’ve been my imagination then,” he thought to himself as he re-joined the grieving crowd.
During that heavy day, Henry heard many stories from Richard’s friends, pieces of his friend’s legacy and memory stitched together with the bonds he formed in life. There were many talks of ‘I wish I had’ or ‘I regret’. Eventually, Henry had to say something.
“Richard wouldn’t want us to linger on what could have been. We should be happy for the good that happened as is. We can’t change what we had. Especially with how sudden it was. It was God who wanted him up there a lil’ earlier than we’d like.”
As Henry said his piece, he raised his glass and headed a toast in Richard’s memory. Then, he returned home. That was where he saw the strange man again.
When he got home, he untied his tie and sat on his couch. He decided to catch up a bit on the local news on his phone. There headlines were mostly the usual; a housefire, a geriatric slipping in the shower and there was also an article in memory of Richard. Upon reading the headline for that article, Henry put down the phone and disrobed for the shower.
While he was in the shower, he washed his hair. Just as the suds foamed over his eyes, he caught a glimpse of the stranger again in the mirror, standing outside his bathroom window. In shock, Henry washed over his eyes and once again saw nothing.
“Must be a trick of the light.” He muttered to himself as he held onto his towel hanger.
After this, Henry went to bed and that was the first dream he had of the strange man. He dreamt of seeing Richard getting into his car, with the dark stranger entering the passenger seat.
“No, don’t go! He is with you!” Henry yelped as he shot out of bed.
He looked at his clock and saw that it was still too early. He decided to browse the internet for he did not want to return to that nightmare.
As he read an article about how a worker died from working too many hours, Henry felt as if he was being watched. He looked over the tip of his laptop and saw a shadow outside his living room window. He dashed across to the window to investigate the intruder. However, instead of being close to the window, he saw the stranger now standing in the road. But as the early morning bus passed the house, the man disappeared.
Henry called his mother, the only person whom he knew would be awake this early.
“Hey, mom.” He said. “I had a nightmare. I have been seeing this… thing following me around.”
His mother responded “Don’t worry it is just a dream. He won’t hurt you. Remember to go to the pharma later and pick up your things.”
Henry shakily nodded as he hung up the phone and laid in bed, staring absent-mindedly at the ceiling. Sleep couldn’t overcome him despite his tiredness, the presence of the stranger made him feel to uncomfortable.
Eventually, the sun rose as Henry prepared to go to the pharmacy. He scrolled through his phone to see a message by his boss at agency. The message read:
“Sorry about Richard. He was a good colleague. Pls take your time. Let me know when ready to come back.”
When Henry got into the car, he saw in the rear-view mirror – the man. His hairs rose like the spines of a porcupine as he barrelled out of the car and ran back inside. He went back to the kitchen and made sure the stovetops were secured. He checked that all the windows were locked. Then, he peeped out his main door to see that the car was empty once more.
With his heart beating through his chest, he slowly made his way back to the car and started the engine. He looked back at his rear-view mirror and there he was again – the stranger. Henry turned off the engine and got out of the car.
“I… I will just take the train.”
He went to the train station and purchased a ticket. He looked around to see if the man had followed him.
“I can’t go to the police. They’d think I’m crazy.” He thought to himself as he collected his ticket.
As he sat on the train, he overheard a couple talking about a train accident in Tokyo.
“I can’t believe such an advance country can have such accidents.” They exclaimed as they pointed at their screen.
It was then that Henry began to feel tired, the weight of his sleeplessness bore heavy on his eyelids. On the train seat, the monotonous rumbles drifted him away into the dark depths that is the ocean of sleep.
When he awoke, the train was still, and sunlight had been sapped from the sky. The train was devoid of passengers as Henry was truly alone. Or so he thought before he saw in the next train car – the stranger. Seeing that he was trapped, he knew that there was no running from the man, not anymore.
“What do you want from me?” he yelled.
The stranger silently continued his solemn march towards Henry. When in the same train car, his silence shattered with a booming voice.
“Why do you fear me, Henry?”
Henry’s eyes widened as he said, “You were the one following me around. Why are you following me?”
“I was always here. Only now you noticed me. And only now you are afraid.”
The voice, though commanding, was somewhat calming. Henry felt a sense of relaxation.
“So, what do you want?” Henry said.
“I want nothing. I am here for when the time is right.”
“When the time is right? What do you mean?”
“You will know when the time is right. But for now, I ask, why do you fear me?”
“I do not fear you,” Henry said with gritted teeth. “I fear this.”
Henry pointed to the empty seats around him and said, “I fear this and Richard reminded me of it. He wasn’t alone. He left behind friends, family. I don’t have that. I fear you because you remind me that I could be here, alone, before I even have the chance to-“
The stranger nodded and interrupted, “You have acknowledged this. What do you wish to do with this knowledge?”
As he said this, Henry woke up again in the train with someone prodding him in the face. Finding himself on the ground, Henry steadied himself up and assured the person that he was okay.
As Henry was prepared to leave the train to go to an emptier car, he turned around and said, “Hey, my name is Henry, what is your name?”