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Ten year old Jack sprints along the sidewalk in a hurry, his eyes darting back and forth in terror. He can feel the pounding of his heart everywhere; in his throat, his wrists, his chest – ka-boom, ka-thump, ka-boom, ka-thump. The darkness of night envelopes all except for a few dim, flickering spots of light on the ground, created by street lamps. He stops running to listen closely, trying to detect any giveaway sounds - trying to hear whether the thing is still after him. Stopping, even momentarily, was a decision which could have killed him. But luckily for Jack, the sounds are gone. This time.
Convinced he had finally outrun the thing, he starts to walk, but still panting hard and cautious. He realizes that there are walls on both sides of the street; he is actually walking down a wide alleyway. The silence is chilling. He knows he needs to be careful; there are so many nooks where the thing that was chasing him could unexpectedly spring out from.
A twig snaps under his foot. He yelps, breaking the silence. His heart starts to ka-boom again after that temporary startle, but it soon relaxes. Crying in fear, he acknowledges that he is lost and vulnerable, then continues to trudge on into the depths of the darkness and unknown, afraid to turn back. He doesn’t want to bump into the thing he so fortunately shook off again.
The branches of the trees are like long tenacious fingers, black threads against the dark blue sky. If he squints, they look like two hands clasped together. They outline the exit of the alleyway in an arch.
Wait a minute… are the branches moving?
It could easily be a trick of the light, or a product of his imagination. Tree branches can move, but the way they were twisting seemed like something out of a horror movie... like alien tentacles. Jack whimpers, more tears sliding down his cheeks. He stares with concentration, trying to make out what the hell is happening.
The branches are growing. They are starting to close up the exit at the end of the alleyway! If Jack doesn’t get out before they seal it up, he could be trapped in there forever. Trapped with the monster. He needs to get out in time. Jack bolts like a cheetah, jumping for the gap between the branches. More branches begin to pile beneath the arch.
Oh, drat. If only he could run faster. He feels like he might just make it – he could possibly squeeze through the tiny space if he arrived there fast enough. He’s getting closer… and closer… and closer…
Just as he gets there, the gap is blocked out completely. The branches twist into each other, and more start to grow. The pounding in his wrists, throat and chest begins to return again when he realizes the truth; he cannot escape.
He stands completely still, panting for a few minutes. Then he rummages around the branches and looks for openings in the walls. There are none. His heartbeat becomes a crescendo, the ka-booms and ka-thuds slowly rising in tempo and volume.
He’d have to go back out in the other direction. He’d have to risk bumping into the thing again. That was his only option – or he’d have to starve to death. Perhaps it wouldn’t smell him if he advanced quickly and quietly.
He takes a few steps forward, pausing after each one. There is a noise behind him – a low, humming noise. Then he hears leaves crunching under footsteps, and a light cackle. He turns around, but he is only greeted by darkness. He turns back.
A huge man is standing in front of him. It is the thing, and it has found him.
The man is dressed in a long, black gown, tied at the waist. The gown’s sleeves are huge, and open up like loudspeakers when he lifts his arms. Jack looks up; the man has messy black hair which hangs low on his forehead and slightly beneath his neck. Large goggles are strapped to his head.
Most prominently, a thin, curved beak protrudes from where the man’s mouth should be. The beak is at least three feet long; this guy is the equivalent of a human scythe. Under the faint yellow lamplight, Jack can see that some thick liquid is dripping from the tip of his beak-knife.
He makes a mad dash away from the man, forgetting that the branches had blocked up the exit. The man walks closer towards him, and Jack tries to back away, screaming for help. He is only able to bunch himself up against the thick wall of branches. He prays that someone is awake and will hear his terrified shrieks, but his luck has run out.
The man knocks him to the floor and he continues to scream. He feels the beak pierce his eye, and yells even louder, this time in extreme pain, writhing and thrashing around. The bird-man pecks out his eye and swallows it. Then he stabs his beak into the bloody void where Jack’s left eyeball used to be and sucks the blood from the hole using his beak as a straw.
The bird-man then tears out his chest and stomach, tugging away long strips of flesh and intestine. Jack has stopped screaming, but is still twisting about on the ground from the pain. Then, the bird-man raises his beak for the final time and–
A little girl passes out, lying immersed in her own vomit. At least a dozen other children sit shivering in their cages, sucking in the snot from their noses, whimpering, eyes shimmering with fear. A fire blazes wildly beside them as they stare at their captor through metal bars.
“Okay children, I think that’s enough for story time today,” chuckles the crooked old man. “And remember, don’t you dare try to run away like Jack did, or the bird-man will get you.”
He points at the empty cage sitting in the corner of the room.
Written by Rinskuro13