The warm summer sun was not quite ready to set as the young boy, for the fifth time, ran as fast as he could down the grassy hill behind his house. Each time he reached the bottom; his hands on his knees gasping for a clean breath, he would turn and head straight back up for another go. This time however, he paused to rest, sitting on a patch of taller grass halfway up the hill. The hill was filled with dandelions. He leaned back on his elbows and allowed his gaze to drift skyward. The darkening sky appeared as if it were painted; hues of orange and purple like brush strokes across a dark blue canvas.
After a short while and thinking about nothing more than chocolate cake, he stood and turned towards the top of the hill to head home. All at once he froze. His muscles stone inside his young skin. On the crest of the hill, silhouetted in opaque blackness was a figure. To the frightened boy, the figure looked like a woman. It stood motionless like a statue; casting a long woeful shadow down the entire side of the hill.
Terrified beyond belief, the boy forced his boney legs to move backwards. If this thing started towards him he wanted to have a healthy start. He lifted his right leg first; slowly but with a linebacker’s determination. Certain that he was making no sudden moves; he placed the foot behind him, keeping his eyes on the shadowy figure looming above him; as he did so it moved, not towards him or away but with its hand. It was calling to him from the top of the hill. It wanted to show him something he thought. The boy stood fast, glued to the ground but ready to burst at a moment’s notice.
Lightning blazed from a cloudless sky and for the slightest moment the figure was illuminated under the flash. The boy cocked his head to the side; straining his neck to catch a glimpse of the apparition holding him at bay. He rubbed his eyes with the heal of his hand. His focus was blurred from the sudden burst of electricity. What he saw once his vision returned set his feet to movement quicker than his mind had a chance to program it to do so. He ran. He ran harder and faster than his thirteen year old legs ever have before. He ran so hard his side cramped up and his hands began to shake. The trees from the surrounding woods flew past him in a blur. Despite the heat, a cold sweat ran down the length of his back. He wanted to look back; to see if the thing was following him, or possibly that he had imagined it all. He chose instead to continue his sprint out and away from the park.
Exiting the park, he turned left down Forest Hill Drive; running even faster now and trying to push the image from his mind like swatting mosquitoes. He made another left on to Parkview Ave. Two more blocks and he would be home. Tears pooled in his eyes and he whispered a silent promise to the thing that he would tell no one: fearful that he would suffer some terrifying reprisal.
The street lamps were just coming on as he got closer to home, trying even harder now to not look back. He past Ted’s house; the lights inside immediately shut off and for a split second he swore he could see his best friends face staring back at him through the front living room window. He was smiling, but not the happy smile of a young boy seeing his friend, but a fiendish one. And his eyes were yellow and feral like a wolf on the hunt. He ran. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. The closer he got the more terrified he became.
He could see his front yard now, the light from the television painting a yellowish haze on the freshly mowed grass. He was two houses away. He could see his little sister’s wagon resting safely against the front fender of the Buick his father had purchased only a few weeks ago. He had hoped to one day drive the fancy new machine, but before he could even smell the freshly tooled leather interior a thick, scaly hand gripped him hard by the back of the neck. He struggled instinctively to break free. The grip was too strong for his young muscles. He turned his head around to see if what he saw back at the hill was real, and it was: wings. As he floated above his neighborhood, he tried, unsuccessfully to rationalize what was happening to him. The only glaring conclusion he could come to was just as frightening as the winged creature that was holding him. He was about to die. He looked up at his captor now carrying him high above the world and came face to face with the most beautiful vision his young eyes had seen his entire life; a face more beautiful and more captivating than his own mother’s. He stared at her for the longest time, unable to turn away from eyes as blue as the ocean. He wanted to speak. He began to in fact, but words were now foreign. His thoughts were a muddy puddle of incoherence.
She looked back at him with sorrowful, mournful eyes. Without warning her face turned cold and hard, like rain on an early winter night. She was saying something to him; mouthing words he couldn’t hear or understand. Paul. The grip on the back of his neck loosened and the boy knew that his ultimate fear was soon coming to pass. Paul. This time he heard it: His name. He looked down at the dark abyss below his dangling sneakers and saw nothing. Again, he heard his name, louder this time. Paul! He was falling now; not quickly like a skydiver but slowly as if he were suspended by balloons from a carnival vender. The closer he got to earth the louder the shouting became: Paul, PAUL, PAUL!
Paul sat straight up in bed and looked around the room as if he had no idea where he was or how he got there. He checked the back of his neck then the rest of his body. ‘still there,’ he thought to himself.
“Paul, are you getting up or not?” His wife yelled from the kitchen.