Copyright © 2012 by Ica Iova
Once Joseph stepped out in the rain, he breathed a sigh of relief; the school was finally over. In the fall, he would go to high school. Play with the big boys. He sighed and decided to take a shortcut through the woods. The absence of traffic and the serene backdrop allowed him to consider all the things he could do over the summer. Early in the spring his parents had split up, and this year it didn’t look like either one of them was up for an out of town vacation.
The sound of heavy footsteps on crunching leaves interrupted his thoughts. He stopped and turned toward the sound. His friend, Raul, came into the view.
Joseph and Raul had known each other since kindergarten and their friendship became stronger when Joseph stood up to some kids who bullied Raul during grade four. However, when Gina moved to their neighborhood, she drew a wedge between the two best friends. Raul liked her, but she seemed to like Joseph. To the untrained eye, Raul and Joseph still looked inseparable because Raul kept his personal feelings hidden, but Joseph knew better.
“Hey. What are you doing tonight?” Raul inquired once he caught up with Joseph, shifting his weight from one foot to another.
Joseph shrugged. “Hey. Nothing, I guess. You?”
“Let’s play Flashlight Hide and Seek,” Raul suggested.
“Who else is coming?”
“Sandy and Gina.”
Joseph sensed the same anger in his friend’s tone that he had been detecting throughout their grade seven. However, as usual, he acted as if he hadn’t noticed. If Raul decided to confront him, he would deal with the situation accordingly. Until then, better not stir the pot if nothing smelled. “Okay. I’ll see you tonight,” he agreed.
When Joseph’s parents separated, his father moved out allowing Joseph and his mother to live in their family home. Located next to an old church on one side, and the woods on the other side, Joseph’s backyard provided endless places to hide. With plenty of room to play a good game of Hide and Seek, they always played behind Joseph’s house.
Flashlight Hide and Seek was as much fun as it was scary. While the seeker had a flashlight, none of the other players did, so they sat in the dark waiting to be found.
When Joseph arrived home, a note from his mother waited for him on the kitchen table. ‘I’ll be working late. Beef stew and mashed potatoes are in the fridge. Love, Mom.’
He piled a plate with food, carried it in the living room and began to watch a movie.
Joseph wasn’t sure when he fell asleep but awakened suddenly by banging on the front door, he jerked and headed toward the sound. His journey halted momentarily as he stopped to turn on the interior lights, revealing a pathway from the messy living room to the front hallway. An inexplicable shudder ran up his spine as his hand reached forward to open the door. Nightfall had engulfed the atmosphere and his friends had come for the game.
How long was I asleep? He shrugged and stepped outside to greet his friends.
“Hi guys,” he said groggily.
Gina placed a hand on his shoulder drawing an immediate gaze from Raul. “You just woke up, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I feel asleep on the couch,” Joseph said, massaging the back of his neck with one hand.
“Well, c’mon, let’s play,” Raul urged them.
With all rules pre-set, stepping over a pile of rocks deep in the backyard, they spread in different directions and the game began.
A few rounds later, it was Joseph’s turn to be the seeker. He gave everyone a few minutes to hide before he began his quest to find his friends. He first started to go toward the church in search for them but changed his mind and began to walk down the tree line toward the moss-draped woods. Some rustling in the woods caught his attention and he smiled knowing he had found someone. Slowly, creeping up on the sound he could see branches and tree trunks. Massive dew-covered rocks glistened in the dim moonlight. The brushwood crunched beneath his feet. He took a few more steps and began to feel as if someone was watching him. A strong feeling that it was not his friends settled in the pit of his stomach. Whatever it was, made him feel very uncomfortable, so he began to withdraw. He made it out of the woods and then began to walk further down the tree line when he heard that same noise again.
Pushed by curiosity, he decided to see what it was. With his flashlight aimed at the ground in front of him, he walked a few feet then stopped to listen. Then walked a few more feet, and then he stopped again. The noise seemed to come from his side and slightly in front of him. He slowly lifted his light upward and strange grayish feet, long, powerful legs and a hunched back appeared in the ray of light.
Joseph froze and his hand shook violently, dropping the flashlight. With only the moon as his light, he saw the form turn around and reveal what had been hidden in the darkness. Joseph took a step back; his breath caught in his throat as the creature moved slowly, twigs snapping beneath his feet. In the moonlight standing motionless in front of him, was a creature that he had only seen in horror movies. Seven feet tall with wings tucked behind itself, and arms hanging by its side, the creature horrified Joseph. Joseph did not look up for facial features frightened of what he would see, but two glowing red eyes drew Joseph’s gaze to a lipless hole filled with sharp, blackened teeth, and no nose to speak of.
The moonlight amplified the horrific features, and as the creature began to raise its head, a high-pitched scream escaped its throat. It came fast and quick as if the souls of thousands expressed their torment. Behind its teeth a bloody red, jagged and forked tongue wiggled, overpowering Joseph’s brain.
Frozen with fear Joseph gasped and took a shaky step back needing a plan to get out of there as soon as possible. He took another step backward and slowly began to retrieve trying not to make a sound, although deep down he knew the creature was aware of his presence. Slowly, very slowly, he kept walking backward. The creature remained motionless. A few more steps and he would be out of the woods.
He could no longer see the creature but when he heard sticks breaking, he knew it was moving. Only moments later the monster stood in front of him blocking his way. Joseph tried to go around, but the creature picked him up and threw him in the air. He landed on his back with a loud thump a few feet away. Rolling onto his stomach, Joseph scrambled to stand but before he succeeded, the creature picked him up and threw him in the air, this time more forceful.
Sure that this would be his last living day as his strength wavered, Joseph forced himself to hold on. His body screamed as his energy slipped away. His brain gave a series of commands, which his body ignored. He wanted to cry, but he couldn’t. He wanted to shout, but he couldn’t. Wanting to survive more than anything else, his adrenaline kicked in. As the creature prepared for another attack, Joseph gathered all his energy and crawled out of the creature’s way. Just then, he caught sight of a form collapsed against the rocks.
“Oh God, that’s Gina! And she is not moving,” Joseph cried out. “Help! Someone, please help!”
He shouted louder hoping someone would come and help, but when no one did, he shakily stood and wobbled as fast as he could toward his house. He reached his backyard and stood there breathing heavily and wondering if the creature was real of just his imagination. Just then, he heard a loud swooping noise like a giant bird taking off. He turned around and saw the most incredible thing he had ever seen in his life. The giant creature was flying. In the moonlight, Joseph saw its enormous wingspan before it disappeared from view. He remained there in the middle of the lawn speechless and looking at the sky. Still in shock, he forgot that he and his friends were playing.
Sandy appeared from the tree line. “What’re you doing?” he asked Joseph seemingly unaware of what had happened.
“Did you see it?” Joseph asked still scanning the sky.
“See what? What’re you talking about?”
Suddenly, Joseph remembered Gina and took a few steps toward the tree line. Still unclear about Joseph’s trance-like state, Sandy followed closely behind him when Gina emerged from the woods and ran toward them.
“Raul,” she gasped, trying to catch her breath.
Joseph breathed a sigh of relief. “I saw you laying there. I thought you were dead.”
“Raul,” she mumbled. “He tried to kill me.”
Joseph’s eyes widened in surprise. “What? No. It was the creature. Where is Raul, anyway.”
“Raul is the creature. He left me alone when I wasn’t moving,” Gina said, still shaking.
For the rest of the night, all Joseph could think was the unbelievable creature. Was that really his best friend? How? Where did he go? Why didn’t he kill Gina and him? Would he return?