The clock neared eleven, and Mordy and Elaine were among the handful of customers remaining at the small coffee shop. An employee went about the empty tables flipping chairs up while another churned his mop in a bucket of murky water in the first’s wake.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Elaine said.
Incredulous, Mordy asked, “What do you mean you’ve never heard of the Shidduch Stalker?”
“Is this one of those dating blog things? I don’t read those,” she rolled her eyes. “They’re full of such shtus. And you should see the comments,” her chin jutted forward as she extended her neck and her mouth gaped slightly. “Talk about loshon hara!” She reeled her head in and shook it back and forth in disapproval.
Mordy dismissed her remarks with a waggle of his hand. “No, this is real. My friend’s chevrusa, who knew the guy it happened to, told him all about it.”
Elaine raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Uhuh, sure. So it’s one of those stories.”
Mordy rested his forearm on the table and leaned forward. “What’s that supposed to mean? ‘One of those stories’?” he injected an extra measure of sarcasm into his voice to surpass Elaine’s.
“You know, one of the made up stories guys tell girls on dates to impress them.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Mordy recoiled, presented both palms outward. “Are you accusing me,” he flicked both thumbs back toward himself, “Of trying to impress you?” Elaine giggled. “Chas V’Shalom! I’d never be so gaiva-dig.”
“Mmhmm,” she murmured and rolled her eyes again.
“Anyway, so the story goes that about 50 years ago, there was a boy from the city who heard about this amazing girl, really a ten out of ten, gorgeous, with wealthy parents who were willing to support them forever, with yichus all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu-”
Elained pointed a finger at him, “Now I know you’re lying. No one’s ever been able to trace their yichus back to Moshe Rabbeinu,” she retorted disparagingly.
“B’li neder, this is the absolute emes,” he pressed both hands to his chest. “No sheker here!”
Elaine sighed playfully. “I’ll be the judge of that.” She spun her hand in a little vertical circle, “Nu, go on.”
“So yeah, this boy heard about this amazing, fantastic, beautiful girl. The absolute best of the best. And seeing how he was the top bochur at his yeshiva, he knew he’d have the best shot at marrying her. He knew anyways it was meant to be because he had just gotten a bracha from the Rosh Yeshiva for hatzlacha in shidduchim that very day.”
“This sounds too good to be true,” Elaine crossed her arms.
Mordy fixed a disapproving look at his date. “Weren’t you the one who just told me to ‘go on’?” She made a quick zipper motion across her lips with her index finger and thumb held together. “Thank you,” he nodded in mock appreciation.
“So, he went through all the right channels, their parents met and arranged everything, and it looked like everything was set all the way to the chuppah, even before their first date.” He flung his index finger up, hunched over and looked back and forth. “Then it happened…”
Elaine craned her head to the side, “Then what happened?”
Mordy straightened up in his seat and thumped the tabletop lightly with his hand. “If you’d let me finish and quit interrupting, maybe I could tell you,” he flashed a wry grin.
“Sorry!” she retracted her neck inward like a turtle, lifted her shoulders land offered an appeasing smile.
He took a moment to clear his throat and sip gingerly from the straw in his drink. “The shadchan had it all worked out. Everyone knew this was it, and they all eagerly awaited the happy couple’s return from their first, and most likely, only date with news of their engagement. Alas, it was not meant to be…”
“On the way home from their date, they were walking down the sidewalk, so engrossed in their conversation, their stares glued to each other’s face, that they didn’t notice the late night construction crew closing up shop .”
Elaine trembled, chewing at the tips of her perfectly manicured fingernails.
“As they happily strolled along, oblivious to their surroundings, the boy smacked right into a construction worker! He quickly turned to check on his date, and she was gone!”
“Gone?” Elaine squeaked with fright.
“Gone,” Mordy snapped his fingers. “Like that.” Elaine’s breathing became rapid. “While her beloved almost-chosson had smashed into the burly worker, she stepped right into an open manhole!”
“That’s horrible!” Elaine squealed, tears welling in her eyes. “Did they rescue her?”
“Of course that was the first thing on his mind. The boy frantically told the construction guys what happened and they sent two men down there wearing those helmets with flashlights on the front to search for her. After an hour, they came back and said they saw no sign of anyone in the sewers. They thought she might have hit her head and gotten washed away, so they called up their buddies at the processing plant to check.”
“I can’t imagine how she must have felt, all that icky stuff in her hair…” Elaine absentmindedly stroked at a lock next to her ear.
“Ahem,” Mordy furrowed his forehead at her.
“Oh, sorry!” She blinked a few times “So what happened in the end?” Dread crept back into her voice.
“They never found her,” he paused to let that sink in. “It was like she had vanished into thin air, like she had never existed in the first place.”
Elaine dabbed at the corner of her eye with a tissue she extracted from her purse. “That poor boy!” She sniffed “Whatever happened to him?”
“He was totally heartbroken. Utterly miserable. Completely torn up inside,” Mordy tilted his head to the side. “You gotta understand, this was his bashert we’re talking about. His one chance at true love had gone down the drain…” Mordy stopped midsentence, narrowed his eyes in confusion, then refocused his gaze, “...literally,” he smiled at his unintended clever turn of phrase.
Elaine snuffled into her tissue. “What’d he do with his life?”
“Some say he gave up on getting married and dedicated his life to becoming a Kabbalist somewhere in Israel,” Mordy glanced upward for a moment. “Others say he was driven mad because of his grief,” he looked into Elaine’s eyes which were widened with fear. “And now he roams the streets late at night, plodding along in a crazed stupor, still looking for his lost love. He stalks young couples who are out on shidduch dates… and they say if someone happens to bump into him they’ll never been seen again!”
Suddenly, every light in the room shut off, engulfing them in blackness. Elaine screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Sorry!” A voice called out in the darkness. The lights clicked back on, and a lone employee stood by the switch on the wall by the exit. “I thought all the customers had gone home already.”
“It’s okay, we were just about to leave,” Mordy glanced over at Elaine, who was hyperventilating and clawing at the collar of her shirt as though it were trying to strangle her. “Shall we?” He offered. Elaine nodded jerkily and began to rise.
A cool autumn breeze blew past as the door closed behind them. Elaine shivered and pulled her jacket tighter around her torso to ward off the chill.
The remaining employee’s keys jingled in the door lock. “Goodnight, stay safe!” He waved to them and disappeared around the corner. Mordy and Elaine walked onward together in silence for a few minutes.
“So,” Elaine began furtively. “That whole Curse of the Shidduch Stalker isn’t really real, right?”
“What do you mean?” He asked in neutral tone.
“It’s just a story. It never happened,” her voice trembled.
“You can think that if you want to, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. I trust my friend’s chevrusa, he’s a pretty honest guy,” he replied, completely indifferent to Elaine’s mounting distress.
“Uhuh…” she nodded, rattled by her date’s total lack of reassurance.
A sudden crash from a nearby alley made Elaine jump. They came to a stop by a group of fading, white construction barriers. The blinking orange lights had burnt out on two of them.
Mordy glanced at the alley and smirked. “Oh, that’s probably some homeless cat knocking over a trashcan. It just wants some dinner,” he declared.
“I want to get back to my apartment as soon as possible. Where everything is safe,” she pursed her lips and hugged herself.
From the darkness of the alleyway a gravelly voice shouted, “Where is she?!”
“What was that?” Mordy whipped his head around to locate the source of the indignant question.
“Where is she?!” the mysterious voice repeated.
“Mordy, you’re going to get us killed! That’s probably the Shidduch Stalker!” Elaine’s face was a mixture of anger and terror. “Why’d you have to tell me that stupid story!?” She demanded, almost hysterical.
A hunched over form appeared out of the gloom. It shuffled along, holding its hands outward, crooked fingers splayed as though grasping for something.
Elaine’s breath caught in her throat, stifling the scream that had been building up.
The figure angled its head to focus on them. “Do you know where she is? Where did she go?”
“Look mister, this isn’t funny. We don’t have any change to spare. Leave us alone,” Mordy responded, doing his best to sound brave.
The figure hobbled into a circle of light cast by a lamppost, revealing an old man. His remaining grey hair was frazzled, poking out in all directions. An unkempt beard coated his slackened jaw. The scraggly facial hair Contained bits of food and a streak of foamy saliva dripped down at the corner of his mouth. His eyes appeared dazed, and his left eye was yellowish, cloudy and unfocused. An old, well-worn suit practically hung off his gaunt frame, and a tattered, dusty yarmulke was perched on his wrinkled, partially bald head.
“You know where she is!” The old man pointed a kinked index finger with a lengthy, uncut fingernail at
Mordy. “Tell me. Where did she go?”
Mordy began to tremble and fought himself to prevent Elaine from noticing his panic. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about, mister. Have a good night, we’re going,” a twinge of stutter broke its way into his words.
“No, no,” the elderly man shook his head. “ You know. Tell me,“ he took several steps toward them, stopping only a foot away. “Where. Is. She?” He enunciated each word with what seemed like malice.
Elaine started backing away from Mordy, who stood his ground shakily. She bumped into the group of temporary barriers set up around an open manhole.
“I-I told you. I have n-no idea who you’re talking about. P-please!” Mordy held his hands up in appeal.
“You know! Tell me!” The old man snarled and lunged at Mordy. Elaine shrieked and took off running, knocking over one of the white construction barriers to the pavement with a clatter.
Before Mordy knew it, his shirt was ripped, his glasses flung from his face, his cheek was bleeding, and he found himself thrown onto the street, sitting down while leaning back and supported by his elbows. The old man crouched over him, struggling to get to his feet in preparation to strike again. The orange blinking light from a maintenance barrier flashed eerily in the elderly man’s eyes like flames.
Mordy quickly backpedalled on his palms while kicking his feet in front of him, trying to put some distance between himself and his attacker. His hand slipped in a puddle and he fell backward, knocking his head hard against a fire hydrant.
Blackness swallowed his vision and he knew no more.
Mordy awoke in a hospital bed several hours later. A crew of city workers returned from their routine coffee break and discovered him unconscious in a puddle, blood smeared down his face and onto his shirt. The foreman called emergency services, and they were able to stop the bleeding and get him to the hospital where a doctor bandaged his cheek and stitched up the gash on the back of his scalp. Despite a clear scan, his doctor decided to keep him overnight for observation, just in case any unexpected effects from his head injury became problematic.
Judah, Mordy’s friend from yeshiva dropped by to visit him after morning seder.
“So you told her the Shidduch Stalker story, huh?” Judah tossed the months-old Sports Illustrated magazine onto the bedside nightstand.
“I didn’t see any harm in it,” Mordy fluffed the covers on his bed. “I was hoping it’d impress her, you know,” he added, utterly despondent.
Judah stretched out his legs and crossed his feet at the ankles. “And she hasn’t called or texted back since last night?”
Mordy checked his phone for the umpteenth time. “Nope. I’ve left her three voicemails and about a dozen text messages. The Shadchan just texted me and said that she wasn’t interested in a second date and I should move on.”
Judah nodded sympathetically and drew in a relaxing breath.
“No one is going to go out with me after this story gets out,” Mordy pouted. “Even if they don’t believe the whole Shidduch Stalker thing, they’re gonna say I’m not safe to be around or something.”
Judah raised his eyebrows and scrunched his mouth to one side in thought. After a moment he looked over at Mordy out of the corner of his eyes, “Unless someone proved the Shidduch Stalker was real.”
Mordy practically leapt from his bed, “What in the world are you talking about? Why would I want to meet up with that murderous geezer again?!”
“Who said you would? I think it might even be fun.”
The heart monitor started beeping faster as Mordy grew more upset, “Are you nuts?!”
Judah held out a hand to placate his friend. “Look, you only got into trouble because I told you the story in the first place. I didn’t think it was true at the time. My chevrusa Shimmy is such a jokester anyways, so I was always suspicious about his cousin who mysteriously ‘disappeared’ after a date.”
Mordy threw his hands up in frustration, “Now you tell me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he patted the railing on Mordy’s bed. “I’ve got a date tonight anyway. I’ll figure this out.”
“Just watch your back,” Mordy leaned back into his pillow and stared at the ceiling. “And don’t blame me if she turns you down for a second date.”
Judah stole a peek at his watch. It was a quarter to eleven and everything was on schedule. He watched another couple clean up their table and slip out the front door. His date was finishing a story about her neighbor’s cat getting stuck in a tree and how it was rescued by a fireman.
“You know, you only think those kinds of things happen in movies, and yet it really happened to your neighbor across the street,” he observed Avigayil as she finished up her coffee.
“It’s funny, right? Funny as in odd,” she clarified with a smile.
Judah had been planning how he was going to introduce the story of the Shidduch Stalker, but Avigayil started speaking again before he could open his mouth.
“So, you heard about what happened last night?” She lowered her voice and looked around the room as though conveying a secret, “With that guy and girl who got attacked during their date?”
Judah raised an eyebrow and smiled inwardly. “You mean the so-called ‘Shidduch Stalker?’” He mimed quotations in the air.
“Turns out the best friend of the girl in the story is a big-time shidduch blogger, and she told her all about it. The post said the guy was a total coward and she had to run for her life because he more scared than she was.”
Judah chewed his lower lip, biting back a defense of Mordy and chose to feign ignorance instead. “You don’t really think they got attacked by the man from that story, do you?”
“Hey,” she raised both hands in a shrug, “I only know what I read. It seemed pretty authentic to me.”
“Tsshh,” Judah enunciated in disbelief. “Not everything on the internet, let alone shidduchim blogs, is even remotely true.” Judah turned as someone gently tapped him on the shoulder.
“I hate to interrupt your date, but we’re closing up for the night,” an employee informed them with a polite smile.
“Thanks for the notice,” Judah replied. “Ready to go home?” Avigayil nodded and started gathering her trash together for disposal.
They left the café alongside the remaining employee and started walking toward the nearby lot where Judah had parked the car. He had deliberately chosen a lot that was in the exact path Mordy and his date had traveled the night before when the so-called “Shidduch Stalker” appeared and confronted them.
Avigayil talked on about another blog she read regularly, while Judah listened and offered an occasional verbal acknowledgement to prove he was following her narrative. His main attention was focused on scanning the darkened alleys as they passed by for unusual signs of movement or anything else out of the ordinary. Up ahead, he noticed a section of the street that had its upper layer of asphalt torn up and was surrounded by beaten up white barriers with blinking orange lights. A steamroller and an asphalt distributor truck were parked off to the side, unoccupied for the time being.
“-then my cousin sent me this other blog I hadn’t heard of before, but this one was written by a guy, and…” she trailed off and looked over her shoulder. “Did you see that?”
Judah felt a tension mounting in his gut, “See what?”
“Something just scampered from behind the steamroller into the alley over there,” she indicated with a nod.
Judah took a few steps closer and peered down the dark, narrow passageway. “I don’t see anything.”
Avigayil yelped as something metallic clanged behind her. Judah spun on his heel toward his date. An unkempt, elderly man wearing a well-worn suit stepped out from behind the asphalt truck, holding a trashcan lid and a soup ladle. He banged the ladle on the metal cover and flashed a malevolent smile, showing off his missing or otherwise yellowed and crooked teeth.
“Where is she?” He asked through clenched teeth.
Judah moved in front of Avigayil, who gratefully stood behind him and peered over his shoulder. “Where is who? What do you want?”
The old man fixed his one clouded eye on Judah and gestured with the ladle, “You know where she is, so tell me.”
Judah couldn’t believe this was actually happening, and he started reaching for his cell phone to call the cops. “Let’s just take it easy now, no need to, uh, whack anyone with that thing.” As soon as the phone cleared his front pocket, the old man lashed out and smacked him on the wrist with the ladle. His phone spun off into the recessed area where the asphalt had been removed. Its screen glowed white from the dark crevice.
“Do you have your phone one you?” Judah asked Avigayil, keeping his eyes facing forward in case the elderly assailant made another move to strike.
Avigayil patted the pockets on her skirt. “Darn, I left it back in my apartment,” she sounded disappointed. “If I could only have videoed this for one of those blogs!”
“I think we need to worry a little bit more about making sure the story the bloggers write isn’t about a dead couple than documenting this guy to confirm he’s real,” Judah said, an edge of annoyance creeping into his voice.
“Where iiiiiiis she?!” The old man practically sang, waving the ladle back and forth in the air. “Tell me!” He poked Judah in the chest with the serving implement then backed away tentatively.
Judah took a deep breath, trying to maintain some semblance of calm. “Avigayil, I think we’re going to need to bolt in a minute before this gets any more violent. I’ll count to three and you take off running toward the busy intersection to flag down a cop or something.”
“And just what are you going to do?”
“Distract him so you can get away,” Judah sounded confident.
“I appreciate your offer of thrilling heroics, but I’d rather not leave you to be spooned to death.”
Judah glanced over his shoulder at her, “That’s very sweet of you.”
“It is, isn’t it?” She smiled.
Their bonding moment was interrupted as the old man bellowed, “Tell me where she is!!!” and started charging toward Judah, ladle raised high above his head.
“Oh, Fer cryin’ out loud! That’s the second time this week!” A gruff, male voice shouted, the sound echoing off the buildings to either side. Judah and Avigayil whirled around and saw a heavyset man in a stained grey jumpsuit wearing a hard hat with an attached flashlight come running up the street with two similarly dressed men in tow.
“Jimmy,” the rotund man said to his younger coworker on the right, “Go call the home and tell them he’s out again and needs to be picked up.”
The old man froze like a wilderness creature staring into the headlights of an oncoming car.
“Hey, Gramps, gets away from those two kids. Your ride is on the way,” he jerked a thumb to indicate
Judah and Avigayil should get behind him.
Judah’s eyebrows knotted in confusion. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“Just hold your horses a minute until they gets here, then I can tells ya all about it,” the worker waved his question away.
While they waited, the head worker introduced himself as Sal and his co-workers as Jimmy and Tom. Judah also had time to sneak over to the hole in the street and retrieve his phone. The old man was like a statue, appearing as though he wasn't even breathing.
A few minutes later, a dark van pulled up and two muscular men in white coats piled out along with a short middle-aged woman wearing glasses and her hair up in a tight bun.
“I’m dreadfully sorry about all this, especially since this is the second occurrence this week,” she gushed an apology as she trundled over to them. Behind her, the men tussled with the elderly fellow and managed to disarm him of his makeshift weapons.
Sal scratched the back of his neck, “Youz really need to beef up your security, miss-”
“That’s doctor, thank you,” she shot back curtly.
“Whatever. I can’t have this guy interrupting our work over here every other night. The city manager is gonna dock our pay if we don’t get this job finished.”
The doctor, who carried herself with an air of authority, scribbled a few things on the clipboard she had previously held tucked under her arm. “I realize your predicament, and we will do our utmost to resolve this situation.”
“Thanks,” he hooked his thumbs into his belt and stretched his shoulders.
Judah and Avigayil watched the exchange in silence. “So, uh, anyone care to explain why we were attacked by an old man with a ladle?”
“Oh, did he hurt you?” The doctor looked alarmed and held a hand to her chest.
“No, just knocked my phone out of my hand,” Judah showed her the still-functioning device.
“Thank goodness, I’d hate to have a lawsuit on our hands.”
“Sparky over there,” Sal motioned with a thumb, “keeps breaking out of the old folks’ home three blocks that way,” he pointed past them, “And goes roamin’ the streets at night, causin’ mischief.”
Avigayil regarded the doctor with concern. “Isn’t that dangerous? How does he escape, anyway?”
“He, uh,” she cleared her throat into a fist. “He has a knack for deceiving his caretaker, who gets replaced every so often since he is simply so difficult to deal with, into not taking his medication. He disposes of it in some convenient location such as a nearby potted plant.”
“And he goes a little wacko whenever he ain’t on his meds,” Sal interrupted, spinning his finger next to his temple and whistling. The doctor shooed him away with her clipboard.
“So who’s this woman he keeps talking about?” Judah asked.
“What woman?” The doctor seemed surprised.
“He kept asking us where “she” is,” Avigayil added.
“Oh my, what a misunderstanding!” She glanced over at the old man, who was presently being secured in a straightjacket by her two beefy assistants. “I think he was referring to Shia, his wealthy nephew who finances his stay with us. The man has no children and never married, as far as we are aware. His nephew placed him in our care well over a decade ago and rarely visits. I imagine he’s wondering aloud why his nephew left him at our home.”
Judah nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”
“Well, now that everything is taken care of, I bid you all a good night,” the doctor announced with finality. She signaled her assistants and they began moving the old man toward the open side door of the van.
“Hotcha!” he cried and slipped out of their grasp, bounding over to Judah and Avigayil. When he reached them, he suddenly stood ramrod straight, inclined his head toward Judah’s ear, and said in a low whisper, “I will find her, you know. Tee hee!” He cackled as one of the brawny men clamped down on his shoulder with a meaty fist. Judah stiffened, his eyes wide.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever grandpa, it’s time for a ride in the nice van over there,” the assistant grumbled. His partner joined him and grabbed the old man’s other arm with both hands. They hauled him bodily down the street toward their vehicle.
“All right youz guys, back to work!” Sal told his team and waddled over to the steamroller.
As the van started up with a sputter and drove away, Avigayil looked askance at Judah. He remained stock-still with a blank look on his face.
“You okay? What’d the creepy guy say?”
He snapped out of his reverie, blinked a few times and shook his head. “Oh, uh, just some incoherent babble. Let’s get you back to your apartment,” he began walking.
Avigayil sidled up beside him, practically bouncing from the adrenaline flowing through her bloodstream. “I can’t wait to write about this for my own blog! Just imagine, a firsthand account of the infamous Shidduch Stalker,” she said with pride.
Judah rolled his eyes and shuddered.