(Condensed version. From the Collection of Short Stories: Scream At Will)
He kept running, the mud continuously splashed on him as his shoes stamped hurriedly on wet soil. No one seemed following him though his inner voice warned him of personal injury if he stopped.
An hour ago he passed by the well-lighted cemetery as late visitors began to vacate the premises. His routine has not been broken once since he discovered the short cut from his classmate’s house back to his place. The long way added another hour to his journey and the lateness of the hour did not sit well with his parents.
“Why go home so late?” his mother asked, worried for his safety. “You know it’s dangerous walking at night.”
“Ma, I have to use a computer. You know I need it but we can’t afford to buy one.”
“Your father is working overtime. Just wait, please.”
“I understand, Ma. It’s a sacrifice I have to bear. I want to finish high school like the rest. I have dreams.”
His mother could only sigh. She could not do a thing except pray for his son’s welfare.”
“Are you sure you can take care of yourself?”
“Don’t worry, Ma,” he smiled to allay his mother’s fears. “I always carry my lucky coin.”
Ahead, the big branches of an Acacia tree were the perfect cover for some rest. His lungs could burst if he continued his pace. All he needed was a minute to collect his thoughts and to plan his escape.
He heard the unmistakable sound of flapping wings descending as if ready for a landing: there were no birds at such unholy hour. It had to be the creature following him.
“You can’t run this time,” the ghoulish voice called out to him. “You’ll be like me.”
“You are not real!” Paul screamed, hiding in the shadows of the tree. “You’re a wretched spirit!”
The terrifying laughter sounded more like screeching tires, prolonged for its desired scary effect.
“Oh, yes! I am real. You will see once I get you.”
“Never!” he shouted as he automatically broke into another sprint.
The sound of flapping wings neared him, quickly closing the gap. His legs could no longer match the aerial speed of his pursuer.
Suddenly, he felt the air brushing him from behind, then sharp claws tried to hold his shoulders, ripping his shirt in the process. It was very close miss that slightly wounded him, but he was free.
Still, he ran, taking advantage of adrenaline flowing through him.
Another swoop and the creature successfully planted its claws on his waist, ready to lift him up like a captured prey. The creature screeched, its sound not of laughter but disappointment. It could not lift him as if he weighed a ton.
He was loose once more, running, giving his all to decrease the creature’s chances of another attempt.
Paul saw the small plantation with rows of year-old mahogany sampling, his natural allies where the flying predator would have much difficulty swooping down on him.
He entered it: he slowed down, catching his breath.
“I will get you,” the creature followed his path. “You’ll be mine!”
He was too tired to run further. A few hundred meters more and there would be another clearing. He would be defenseless unless …
The creature circled above waiting for his next move. If he stayed where he was till sunrise, he could fall victim to other creatures of the night, venomous and similarly deadly.
“You have to kill me first before you can get me. I am useless to you, dead.”
The screeching laughter came once more.
Paul picked a round piece of broken branch from the ground. Like a baseball bat, it became his crude weapon to fight back.
Calmly, he walked out of the plantation and into the edge of the clearing. He was prepared for the creature’s immediate attack.
From his left side, it came, like a seabird diving fast. He was ready, a man at bat waiting for the pitch.
He did not hit a home run but a wicked foul ball, the creature’s head receiving a hard whack, its loud agonizing screech painful to the ears.
It fell hard on the ground, dazed, its body like a downed spread eagle, wings temporarily immobilized.
Paul rushed to it without fear, watching it helpless like any ordinary human, injured.
From his pocket, he took out his lucky coin and pushed it in the creature’s open mouth to swallow. With a follow up blow to its face, the coin would not come out again.
“I don’t need that anymore,” he shouted, looking down on his vanquished foe. “It’s yours!”
The creature’s face displayed fear, his existence uncertain.
“What have you done?” the creature tried to vomit, trying to flap its wings. “I can’t fly!”
Paul’s derisive laughter was something the creature has not heard of before.
“Come sunrise, you don’t need to.”