Even though she spent most of her day in the air conditioned car and house, the idea of the summer heat still exhausted Emily. She fell asleep almost as soon as she crawled between the cool sheets of her bed, but her sleep was fitful and restless. Eventually, she slipped into the deep sleep of dreams.
It was dark, almost so dark that she couldn’t see her own feet. Her eyes adjusted and she saw that she was standing on a city sidewalk. The streetlights were out, there were no lights coming from any of the buildings that she assumed surrounded her, and no cars were on the road to cast a helpful glow from their headlamps. Trying to get her bearings, Emily stayed completely still.
The darkness was a problem, but it wasn’t quite as weird as the silence. All she could hear when she strained to make out any sign of civilization was her own speeding pulse rushing in her ears and her panicked breathing. She took a few deep breaths and tried to calm down. A clear head was what she needed then, not a rush of adrenaline that would have her making hasty and dangerous decisions.
As she regained her wits, her eyes adjusted even further and she could tell that she was in an older residential neighborhood in the city. Was it her own? She studied the houses as best she could and saw that they were a little narrower and closer together than those in Church Hill, so she figured this must be someplace else. Looking up towards the sky she could see bright stars twinkling between wisps of summer clouds, something one never could have seen if the streetlamps were lit.
Emily stood on that strange sidewalk and took in the stillness and the beauty of the night and let it further calm her. She was just getting the confidence to start walking until she found a landmark or street name that she recognized when she heard a noise in the distance that made gooseflesh rise on her arms.
It sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place it. The screech of a hawk or an eagle? No, that was almost it, but it wasn’t quite right. The sound grew louder, and Emily presumed closer, and then fear struck her in the pit of her stomach.
The noise was one she knew, but not from this place or this lifetime. It was something her ancestors had heard. Something in her blood knew it, and that same something was telling her now to run and hide as quickly as she could.
She took off in a sprint towards the gap between two of the row houses, sweat breaking out across her skin and a lump forming in her throat. Just after she ducked into the narrow walkway, she heard it again, and much closer this time—a feral screech that sounded eerily human and completely malicious. Between the screeches she could just make out another noise, that one lower and more rhythmic, almost like the heartbeat of some giant beast.
Emily pressed her back against the bricks of the house and held her breath to listen carefully. The sounds were so close that she was certain that whatever was making them knew that she was there. She thought that maybe it was even there for her when suddenly everything went quiet.
Straining to hear something, anything, she slowly leaned to peek from between the buildings to see what was in the street. Her eyes scanned the sidewalks, the road, and even the porches of the nearby houses and saw nothing. Had she really imagined the whole thing? She assumed it was possible. Maybe the dark and the quiet had been playing tricks on her brain.
She took a deep breath and wiped the sweat from her brow when the gooseflesh returned to her arms and the hair on her neck began to tingle.
“Oh, no,” she said.
Before she could move, the thunderous beating sound came from overhead and a wild, rasping howl erupted behind her. She opened her mouth to scream as her feet left the ground.