Paranoia [Short Fiction]

I had this strange idea the other night that maybe paranoia or other such mental delusions could be described as creating threatening narratives around ordinary everyday details (not that I know anything about psychology). So I figured I’d try writing a short piece about a man who ties completely unrelated details into some web of conspiracy. Not sure if I pulled that off… but had fun messing around.
-Imran

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Paranoia by Imran Lorgat

      The child was staring at me. Of that much, there could be no question. His wide, ignorant blue eyes were locked onto me as he stood there, lips parted in awe and snot bubbling from his nose. Disgusting. I lifted the newspaper up to cover my face and pretended becoming absorbed in some utterly mundane article about a car accident for a few moments before looking up again. The child was still staring at me unabashedly and it was making me feel uneasy. A less careful man than I would have dismissed it as the simple curiosity of a baby. But some part of me wondered if it was perhaps not… more than that. It wasn’t worth taking the risk. I folded my newspaper, got up swiftly and walked off, trying not to accelerate too much lest I draw attention to myself. I paced through the crowd, turned a corner and then took a sudden sharp left into the first shop whose door was open. I only realized then that I was panting as I stared out of the window, hoping that the child had not followed me.
     “Can I help you sir?” it was a dark-skinned woman at the counter. She was standing behind a display fridge with an assortment of cakes and confectioneries. It appeared I was in some kind of bakery. The woman at the counter continued to look at me expectantly.
     “No,” I answered.
     I turned my attention back to the window, just to make sure that the child or anyone else had not followed me. I felt a prickling sensation on the back of my neck, like I was being watched. I turned back to the woman.
     “Why are you staring at me?” I confronted her. Her mouth opened in surprise; caught in the act.
     “I’m sorry sir,” she replied, “I didn’t mean to-” and then I noticed the cake knife in her hand. I gulped, it was time to leave. The woman was looking down now, feigning some kind of embarrassment. I turned to the door and walked out immediately.
     I weaved in and out of the crowd, making sudden turns wherever I could and taking shortcuts through the various stores. After a sudden right into an elevator, I took a moment to catch my breath. Certainly by now I had lost them? Whoever ‘them’ were supposed to be. I gritted my teeth. Today things had gone horribly wrong. A simple reconnaissance mission had nearly gotten me caught out twice. What the hell had been giving it away? I had been wearing the most dull and harmless grey suit possible; I should have been blending in to the background.
     The door of the elevator opened one floor up. I exited swiftly and continued along the walkway, trying not to draw too much attention to myself. But I could hardly contain my reaction at what I saw on the wall. I had to put my hand over my mouth to stop any sound. It was one of those promotion placards on the wall. Bell Appliances was having a knife sale on 16-05. I was choking up. Deep breath in, deep breath out; I needed to calm down. I took another look at the placard to confirm my suspicion. It could have just been a coincidence. No but that’s what ‘they’ wanted you to think; that’s how ‘they’ delivered their messages. Bell was my mother’s maiden name. The knife in the picture had been pointing right at me. The lady in the bakery, she had carried a knife too. And hadn’t I seen a very similar knife on the cover of a cookbook in the window of a bookstore I passed. It was all starting to add up in an eerie fashion. 16-05 was only two days from now. It was clear now beyond the shadow of a doubt. ‘They’ had found me… and now ‘they’ were sending threats. I needed to get out of this wretched place.
     I turned to face the south entrance and began walking as fast as I could without running. The last thing I needed was to alert ‘them’ to my presence. I kept the newspaper raised, my head lowered. The door to the parking lot was in sight. It was just-
     “Oof!” I felt a bump against me.
     “Agh!” I cried. When I lowered the newspaper I saw a teenage punk sitting on the floor. He had walked straight into me. The nerve of the stupid boy.
     “Watch where you’re going!” I barked at him.
     “I’m sorry man,” he offered both his hands in surrender. And then I noticed another curious detail that turned my blood to ice. The emblem on his black hoodie was a skull; another of ‘their’ symbols. I could barely contain my shaking. ‘They’ were everywhere.
     “Where you following me?” my voice was tremulous.
     “What?” the boy asked. He even appeared to be surprised; a good actor.
     “Where you following me!?” I repeated, louder this time, towering over him.
     “God’s sakes no!” the punk replied, “I was just standing here!”
     “Security!” I called out. Moments later two uniformed men had arrived, “This little brat was following me!” By now, a crowd was gathering to watch the commotion.
     The two security guards looked at me unimpressed, one of them turned to the boy, “Is that what happened son?”
     “Heck no!” the punk replied, “I was just standing around and this geezer walks straight into me.”
     I balled my fists in anger, “He’s lying!” I shouted at him. People were around were beginning to stare; it was making me uncomfortable.
     “Excuse me sir,” one of the securities said, “Could the two of you please follow us to the back so we can clear this up without causing a disturbance?”
      I looked at the security guard and then to the teenager before realization finally dawned on me. The boy, the officers. They were in on this thing together. It had just been one elaborate ploy to get me alone in their office for God only knew what purposes. Three-against-one, I wouldn’t have stood a chance. I needed a way out and I needed one fast.
     “Alright,” I told the officer, “I’ll come.”
     “Thank you, sir” he replied.
     For a moment I pretended to help the boy up. But just as he extended his hand, I batted it away and tossed the newspaper at the officers. Then I turned ran through the crowd, pushing and shoving; knocking some people over. I didn’t look back to notice if the guards had followed me or not. I just continued until I reached the exit; and the sweet smell of freedom. I ran to my car, parked right at the front in case I needed an emergency getaway. I plugged in the key, kicked the engine into life and drove off, pumping my fist in victory; I’d made it.
     Back at the mall, the two security guards stood with their arms folded.
     “That guy again,” the first officer shook his head.
     “We don’t get paid enough for this crap,” the second one added.
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