He gritted his teeth and waited for the pain to pass as he watched from the shadows. Watching as his prey steadily approached. He hoped that after a century of looking, this was finally the one.
The icy wind blew gently through the park, gently shifting the branches of the trees, the sound of rustling leaves carrying through the night. The girl walked quickly through the park, her breath visible as small clouds of fog with every exhale, her way lit only by the dim lamps lining the footpath, not knowing that she was being watched. Liz approached a playground on her right, keeping a brisk pace, but was startled by a sudden movement and a voice coming from the darkness.
“Got a light, darlin’?”
She stopped in her tracks and looked in the direction of the voice. She saw a man appear from the shadows, holding a cigarette between his fingers, leering at her. He had a shaved head and was wearing a black singlet over baggy jeans. Liz eyed him apprehensively.
“Sorry,” she said. “I don’t smoke.”
The man stepped closer. “I didn’t ask if you smoked,” he replied. “I asked if you’ve got a light.”
Liz took a step back as the man continued to casually walk closer. “No, I-I don’t.” She was scared now. She wondered if she would be able to outrun the menacing stranger. He looked lean and fast. And still he kept walking toward her.
“You in a hurry or something?” he asked her.
“Um, yeah, so if you don’t mind, I’ll just-” Liz turned to leave, but froze when she saw three other men stepping out the darkness all around her, each one grinning and leering at her.
“Why don’t you hang out?” the first one said.
“Yeah, we’ve got beer,” said another, holding up a six pack, minus two. “Stay.”
Liz felt panicked now. She kept turning on the spot, watching as the men came closer. She wheeled around and tried to run through a gap between two of them, but they moved fast and grabbed her by her arms, lifting her off the ground.
“Let me go!” she screamed. “Get off! Help!”
“Keep quiet, bitch,” the first man said, stepping in front of her. He lifted his hand and Liz saw something glinting in the dim lamp light. The man had flicked open a butterfly knife and was now pointing the blade at Liz’s chest. “Scream again and you won’t be so pretty no more.”
Liz, held immobile by the brutes on either side of her, quivered as the man lowered the blade to her chest.
“Please, there’s money in my purse,” she whispered. “Just take it, I won’t say anything, just take the money and don’t hurt me. Please.”
The fourth man, an overweight man with far too many piercings in his face, stooped down and picked up the purse Liz had dropped when they grabbed her. Looking inside he said, “Score, fifty bucks!”
“That won’t even cover the beer!” said the one on Liz’s right.
“I’m not looking for a payout tonight, darlin’,” said the first man, leaning in close enough for Liz to smell the alcohol on his breath.
He placed the blade of his knife under the top button of Liz’s blouse and, staring into her eyes, slashed the button right off. Liz cried out with the swish of the blade, looking away as she realized what the man wanted.
“Ahhhhhhhh!” came a scream. But not from Liz. It was a man screaming, a terrible shriek that chilled the blood. She and the three men turned toward the sound, looking for the source. All they could see was Liz’s purse lying on the ground. The man who had been holding it was nowhere to be seen.
“Hey, where’s Levi?” said one of the men.
“Yo, Levi!” yelled another.
“Shut up!” hissed the first man, turning away from Liz and keeping his blade ready at his side. He took a step into the darkness, scanning the shadows for a sign of movement.
Suddenly, out of the corner of Liz’s eye, she saw something she couldn’t explain. It was as though the night itself opened up and swallowed the man holding her on her left. As it took him, his scream echoed in the night and was then smothered by the veil of the shadow. The scream and the man were as if they had never been there.
“Wh-what the hell is going on, man?” said the one still holding Liz.
“What did you see?” said the first man, stepping closer, his eyes flashing with anger as he tried to understand a situation that could not be understood. “What happened?”
The other man, now clutching Liz’s arm more out of fear than anything else, was looking around like a trapped rat, searching for an escape.
“The night, man,” he whispered. “The night took Eddie!”
The first man rushed forward and slapped the other hard across the face. “Talk sense, you idiot!” he shouted. “What the hell do you mean, ‘the night?'”
“Like I said, the night!” the man shouted back. “The goddamn night took ’em, man!”
“That’s stupid, you dumbass!” the first man screamed. “How can the night ‘take’ someone?”
But the panicking man had apparently had all he could take. Breathing fast, short breaths, he tossed Liz aside, stepping away. Liz fell to the ground, then watched as the man began to run away, shouting over his shoulder, “You’re on your own, man!”
That’s when Liz saw it. As she watched the man run away into the night, she saw a shape even blacker than the night flying through the air toward the fleeing man. It moved too fast for Liz to make out what it was, but she watched as the man saw it at the last second and turned to look at it. It flew right into him, there being no sound of collision as it grabbed him and lifted him off his feet. The only sound was the man shrieking bloody murder as he was carried off into the night