Landon left the office much later than usual. But it was Friday, just before his vacation started and he had a special project that had to go out, no exceptions. He was the only one left in the brightly lit office building except the night cleaning crew. He nodded to a couple of the cleaners on his way out of the building.
The short, balding man smiled a satisfied smile, confident that there would be no interruptions of his plans now that the project was finished and deployed. His boss wouldn’t have any reason to call, his co-workers would be impressed, overall, Landon was entirely pleased with himself.
The street in front of his office was nearly deserted. The slow city wind silently blew through, skipping discarded papers along the pavement to catch on darkened parked cars. Landon glanced at his wristwatch, the simple leather-strapped device a throwback to a simpler time that his colleagues teased him about. The pale, glowing dial read 7:13.
The pudgy man’s smile faded a bit, as the idea that he was wasting vacation time floated through his mind. He quickened his pace. The normal route home, along well lit streets, would take him twenty minutes. But, he knew a shortcut, through several alleys, that would cut that time in half.
Determined to get the most of his work-free time, Landon turned into the alley a half-block from his workplace. But just inside the mouth of the dark, narrow area, he noticed several men, speaking quickly and near-silently while hovering in a tight cluster. Being a long-time city dweller, Landon knew a decision to enter the alley would end badly, so he backtracked the few steps to the main street and resolved to take the long way home.
Moving his short legs as fast as they would move, Landon rushed past the alley, into the main thoroughfare. The area was brightly illuminated by the amber glow of streetlights, evenly placed along the roadway. The road was deserted as was usual after dark on a Friday. Relieved to have left the danger behind, the short man allowed himself a sigh and a slower pace.
His relaxed demeanor faded with the first giggle.
Landon’s balding head whipped around, searching for the small child whose laughter floated so eerily into the night. But he saw nothing. Ignoring it as his imagination, the small man continued his trek home.
The second and third sets of laughter stopped Landon in his tracks. Despite his frantic searching, the street remained steadfastly deserted.
“Who’s there,” he called, his voice cracking. But silence was his only answer.
Frightened, Landon darted down the street, anxious to reach the safety of his home, only five more blocks away.
Behind him, the yellow pools of light vanished, one by one, each accompanied by a peal of laughter. Then the light he was under flashed out. The man’s steps faltered and stopped. Landon was exhausted.
He watched in horror as every street light along the street blinked out. He tried to still his racing heart, but the approach of children’s laughing voices made that impossible.
The voices surrounded the vacationing man. Landon reached for the closest voice, hoping to connect with something solid he could push away, but empty darkness was all he found.
The giggling rose in intensity, driving Landon to the ground, arms atop his head. He was still cowering, frozen in fear, when the Saturday morning papers arrived on the backs of the big box trucks.