…I pushed open the door and stepped out onto the road. Instantly I felt the cold air on my bare calves. I took a step away from the car and in that moment I heard the engine roar.
I saw Elena lean over and close the passenger door as the car pulled away.
I tried to run after her, but it was no use. The red lights grew smaller and smaller and then disappeared into the gloom. I was alone.
She would come back. I was sure of that. She would definitely come back. This was a situation, but she would come back.
I stood by the side of the road, trying not to think about the Jersey Devil, about the drawings of a hideous creature with wings and claws and antlers, about the story that scared me so much I dug a hole in the sand behind our house and buried the pages a foot down.
I called Elena’s cell phone. Of course there was no answer. She would be back, I was sure of that. She always came back.
I knelt at the side of the road, trying not to notice the cold breeze on my shoulders or the horrible sensation that I was being watched. I hugged my arms around myself and tried dialling Elena again. Nothing.
The scream caught me by surprise. It faded so quickly I wasn’t sure whether I had imagined it. Then I heard it again. A horrible, caterwauling, inhuman scream.
I stood up, mouth open in horror, body tensed, ready to run.
In the woods opposite I saw movement. A shape, a darker mass, moving in the gloom. Another scream echoed out from the woodland and I gave an involuntary yelp. A fourth scream. Closer than the others.
My legs started moving before I had worked out where I was going. I stumbled and ran across the brushy tussocks of wild grass by the edge of the road and into the musky darkness of the forest. I passed a few trees, than I turned and knelt, kneeling behind a trunk. I peered through the gloom.
I was sure that I could see that shape in the woods across the road. It was moving again, and it was getting bigger. I thought I could try staying still, close to the road and hope that whatever it was, it didn’t see me. But that required bravery and steely resolve and I had none of those qualities. I wanted to run and run and never stop running, and with another little yelp, I pushed myself off from the tree and ran into the darkness.
Covering the ground wasn’t easy. My heels were flatter than Elena’s, but they picked up all manner of leaves and grit and dirt, and my thin black dress snagged on branches and trunks and bushes. After some time running aimlessly, I stopped and rested against a tree. I tried to think clearly. I had a rough mental image of where the road was and came up with an optimistic plan to circle back around and join the road further up. But it didn’t work. My mental map was completely inaccurate and whichever way I walked seemed to lead me further and further into the dark. The tears that had been welling up in my streamed down my face as I stumbled on, hopelessly lost.
From time to time I tried to get a hold of myself. I leant on a tree trunk and practised my Zen breathing techniques. But every time that I began to calm down, I heard another eerie forest sound, a distant screech or a chatter or a scraping noise that propelled me forwards in blind panic, wandering through the endless pine forests, lost and tearful. I would have given anything to see Elena again, anything. I replayed this thought in my mind as I ran, replayed it over and over again. I would have given anything to see her again.
After what seemed like hours of hopeless wandering, I crashed through a thicket of saplings that scraped across my face. I closed my eyes as I pushed through the spiky branches and when I opened them again, I was standing at the edge of a clearing
The clearing was bathed in moonlight, which turned the grass a sickly, dark shade of green. I took a few wary steps into the light. Looking up I could see the edges of clouds skirting the moon. The bright white orb shone pure and straight into this eerie space.
Then I saw it. A movement in the trees. A dark shape, a mass in the trees opposite. I knew I should run. But the light in that clearing was a relief after the depths of the forest, and I was exhausted. My dress was stained with mud and dirt; my feet ached. I couldn’t move.
The dark mass emerged from the trees and as its shape entered the clearing, I felt my skin prickle with horror. It, whatever it was, moved with the muscular power and ease of a centaur, though it seemed to have a hunched back. It had four legs, but there was something strange about its front legs and as it moved into the light, I realised with horror that the legs were scaly. The head of the creature seemed twisted and deformed and bore two giant, cruel antlers that gleamed in the light. The shadow of the forest clung to it, then I realised that the shadows were wings. Giant, leathery wings, half-spread. It was the New Jersey Devil. It was real and it was looking right at me.
I was struck motionless with terror as I watched the creature move easily, languidly towards me. As it lifted its front legs alternately to step through the grass, I could see that they ended not in hooves, but in claws. I felt a wave of revulsion. I stumbled backwards a few steps, but I was too scared to turn my back on it. As it walked, the shape on its back unwound and slipped off, dropping onto the grass and standing upright. It was a human. Whoever it was walked towards me, and I could see that she was a woman. Short, with wide hips, naked, her full breasts gleaming as she strolled through the moonlit clearing. It was Elena!
“Elena! Run!” I half-shouted, half-whispered. The creature tilted its head as though listening. Elena was getting closer, but she didn’t seem to be in a hurry. She was smiling, as though she was in a daze. The creature began to move again.
“Elena, run!” I said.
“Run,” she smiled, “Why would I do that?”
She stopped maybe ten feet from me, and the creature was now level with her, its massive bulk towering over her. She smiled up at it. She was gazing at it, adoringly. Then she pressed her lips to the leg of the creature. She kissed its rough hairy body, running her hands over it before turning to me, smiling and beckoning me to join her.
I shook my head.
“There’s no need to be afraid,” she slurred.
The horror of it was too much. I snapped. I turned and ran, headlong back to the forest. But I wasn’t quick enough. I heard rumbling behind me, then a gust and a creak of those great leathery wings. As I stumbled forwards I half-turned in time to see the body of the creature loom over me. I screamed but my screams were muffled as a sudden, overwhelming weight pressed me into the ground…