Stephen was glad to see his shift come to an end. He had been working second shift at Waldensian Bakeries for at least a couple of months, and even though he had grown accustomed to the hours, he was still fairly exhausted by the time it was over. With an exaggerated stretch of his tired, aching muscles, he slipped on his jacket. Not even a moment later, he had pushed open the glass double doors, walking out of the well-lit confines of his job, and into the night’s shadowy embrace.
The streets of Valdese were empty and lifeless as Stephen started down the road that would take him home. A cool breeze sighed in the trees of the old church across the way, stirring any stray papers and leaves in its wake. The hulking shadows of the various buildings seemed to press closer and closer to the roughly paved roadway. In the distance ahead, the hollow tone of the Old Rock School’s clock tower echoed defiantly against the almost tangible silence that hung oppressively in the air; tolling the coming of the hour. As if to answer its call, a dog howled, its lone mournful wail careening through the night.
Stephen couldn’t suppress the icy chill that ran down his spine. He wasn’t, by any means, a stranger to traveling the streets of the small town during the late hours of the night, having done so almost nightly since starting his job at the bakery. There was something different about tonight, though, something elusive, that dulled his senses just enough to slip by his perception. Maybe it was darker than usual, or maybe it was the way that the chill lingered, poisoning the air with an utter depression, a grim sorrow he just couldn’t escape. He crossed an overshadowed side road, his hands thrust in his pockets, and his jacket pulled tightly about his frame. As his foot found the sidewalk once more, an unsettling feeling washed over him, raising the hair on the back of his neck. It was a malign and dreadful feeling that let him know that dark, malevolent eyes had fixed themselves upon him. Stephen swallowed hard at the dry lump that had formed in his throat threatening to choke him.
Warily, he allowed his eyes to scan the area, careful not to draw attention to the fact that he was aware of anyone‘s watchful gaze. Stephen’s heart pounded against his chest as though it might break free at any moment abandoning him to face the fear alone. A feeling of immense dread came over him as he noticed that the streets were devoid of any living thing other than him. Up ahead, the feeble glow of a dim street lamp struggled against the impenetrable darkness just over a small hill. With a renewed measure of hope, he quickened his pace; heading for the single light that seemed to beckon like a candle in the night.
Once under the light of the street lamp, Stephen gathered enough courage to glance over his shoulder. His heart sank, leaving only a cold, empty void where it once had been as his eyes fell upon his pursuer. Hovering just out of arms reach was a creature of which had no affiliation with heaven or earth. It was humanoid in form, though that was where the resemblance ended. At first glance, the creature was gargoyle-like in appearance, however, as it came into view; its features were a twisted mockery of man and bat, coupled together and sculpted by a madman in despair. The thing glided through the air using a pair of thick, leathery wings, which propelled it silently through the night air.
Stephen’s first instinct was to put distance between him and the thing that followed him. He began by walking faster, only to find that the creature seemed to match his pace. Again, Stephen hastened his step to a brisk pace, but to his dismay, the thing moved even faster staying on his heels. Without warning, he broke into a dead run hoping to get away from the hellish thing that pursued him. Behind him, the creature followed relentlessly. The town flew by in a surrealistic blur, as the various shadows seemed to meld with one another. Stephen’s lungs cried out for air, his breath was labored, threatening to spill him helpless and vulnerable on the street. Inside he knew that he couldn’t slow down even for an instant lest the thing would be upon him faster than he could get away.
From where he was running, Stephen could see the old railroad come into view. He knew that he was nearly home if he could just keep going. He spared a dangerous glance behind to see if his stalker was still there. A looming, winged shadow gave him the dreaded answer to his unspoken question. He took the sharp turn to his right at a full sprint- praying that he wouldn’t lose his footing. His legs gave warning pains that they were about to fold beneath him as he started up the hill. They carried him solely out of fear now, his exhausted form ready to collapse, ready to give in and let the infernal stalker have him. Before long, he was running up the steps to his house keys in hand, and hoping beyond hope that his wife hadn’t locked the door.
The door burst open with Stephen tearing inside and all but slamming the door shut. His wife raced into the living room to see what was wrong. When she saw her husband, he was drenched in a cold sweat, and out of breath. He practically collapsed onto the floor, trembling violently. On his face, she could see the terror of what had happened in that ghastly encounter, though he refused to talk about it at that moment. Without further inquiry, she aided him to bed.
After an uneasy rest, Stephen told her about the events of that terrible night. He even described to her what he had seen following him using the pictures from an old family bible to show her similar illustrations of what it looked like. His wife went on to retell the story to her sisters and other members of the family. Stephen on the other hand, when asked about that night, will give a knowing smile and answer with a simple statement. “It’s best to leave the Devil alone.” Then he’ll drop the subject entirely.