Camera Obscura

It happened during my freshman year of college, when I was back in my hometown for Thanksgiving break. I’m from a small town in New England, the kind of place you can’t wait to get away from because nothing ever happens there. I guess maybe this was my town’s way of getting back at me for thinking like that.

It was late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I was at a friend’s house, happily reunited with my best friends from high school, since we were all home for the holiday. A fog settled in that night, owing to the classic New England mix of chill and humidity.

As I drove home, I went by our town’s library, which is situated next to a small duck pond. The fog was extra thick over the water and illuminated by the lamp posts surrounding the pond. It gave it an eerie, golden glow. Being the film student that I was, I had my camera with me, as always.

Without thinking, I turned my car around, and pulled into the library parking lot, which overlooked the pond. I considered walking down to the pond for a moment, but something told me not to do that. It wasn’t fear- not yet. I remember not feeling any fear at all, just excitement and awe of the sight in front of me.

But still, I didn’t get out of my car, and that decision probably saved my life.

Instead, I kept my car running, headlights still on, and rolled down my window. I stuck my arm out the window and took a few photos of the pond and the fog. I pulled my arm back inside, and looked over the photos. They were pretty terrible, given how bad of a technique I was using.

This was the first time something felt wrong. As I looked at the photos, I just felt… the best way I can think to explain it is that, sometimes, I have nightmares about being in open water. I know that there are sharks swimming beneath me. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there. I realized I was having that same feeling in my waking life, as I looked through these pictures. I felt the danger before I saw it.

I looked up from my camera, fully alert and peered in front of me, but saw nothing for a moment. Then, a figure materialized out of the darkness around the pond and into the beams of my headlights.

It was a man. He was wearing dark jeans and a black zip-up fleece jacket. His hair was dark and short. I don’t remember his face.

He was walking in the direction of the library. In the direction of my car. I waited, not wanting to let my fear take over. Maybe he wasn’t walking toward me. Maybe he was going to the road.

But he kept coming toward me, walking faster and getting closer. I remembered my window was down and quickly rolled it up.

Then, he was right in front of the hood of my car, and I could tell beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was staring straight at me. The look in his eyes- his face was expressionless, but his eyes were intent, determined.

The moment we made eye contact, the moment I saw that look, I just reacted. I don’t remember feeling fear or panic. Just being more alert than I ever had been. I never took my eyes off of the man, as I threw my car into reverse and spun out of the parking spot I was in.

But I went the wrong way. Instead of turning my car toward the exit, I turned toward the back parking lot. Yes, there was another exit I could get to, but I would have to drive around the entire library to get there. Either that, or reverse all the way out onto the road, and risk hitting something- a tree, another car. I didn’t want to risk crashing- then I’d have no escape. I decided I would have to go around the library, it would take longer, but it was the safest option. All these thoughts went through my head in an instant.

The man ran to get in front of my car. One of my biggest regrets in life is not running him over there and then. But I didn’t. I put my car in drive and waited. He stopped running once he was in front of the car, then took his time. He walked slowly around the hood of my car, staring at me the whole time. Our eyes followed each other. He smiled.

The moment he was clear of the front of my car, two things happened:

He lunged for my car door.

I floored it.

I remember the sight of my car sailing past his outstretched hand. I drove as fast as I’ve ever driven, taking the corners at speed around the library. As I came out the other side, the exit was in sight, but the man wasn’t.

I drove as fast as I could toward the exit. As I got in front of the library again, I looked over, and saw the man running as fast as he could to get to my car. I sped out of the library parking lot and onto the main road.

The police station was a block away, and I made a beeline for it, still driving recklessly fast, hoping to be pulled over by a cop.

I got to the police station, and that’s when the fear finally settled in. I sat in my car and cried, breathing raggedly, completely frozen. I couldn’t get out of my car. I was terrified that the man had followed me there, that as soon as I got out, he would get me.

A police officer came out to my car and escorted me inside. They must have seen me on their security cameras.

I spoke with a female sergeant. I told her what happened. Gave her the best description I could. They immediately sent cars out, but found no one. I assumed that the man was after my car, my camera maybe, and said that aloud. The female sergeant looked at me and shook her head. What she told me, I’ll never forget:

“I don’t think he was after your car or your camera. He was after you!”