2.

‘Come on, hurry up!’ your mother calls to you over her shoulder, plastic shopping bags swinging in her hands.

With a sigh, you hurry to catch up.

You’re tired from working all day and the last thing you want to do is go for a bit of late night shopping. After all these years doesn’t your mother know you at all?

It’s close to eight-thirty and the paths of the shopping district are swarming with people. It’s noisy. Music is blaring from a crowded bar and grill to your right where people are drinking and shouting as they watch football together. Engines roar and horns honk on the busy road beside you. Lights blare from countless shopfronts. In front of you a group of teenage boys laugh and snort as they swagger along in their too-low pants.

It’s the last place you think anything’s going to happen to you.

But then you see the pointing. Next, you hear the shouting. The screaming follows soon after. You turn to look. Dropping her shopping bags, your mother grabs onto your wrist, crying your name.

There, up on the rooftop of a music store just ahead, is a figure. At first you think it just a person. Are they going to jump? Are they going to shoot? Then you realise there’s something very different about them. Something very wrong.

You shake your head, speechless, dumbfounded. Maybe it’s just a costume. Halloween’s coming. Maybe it’s a scare tactic. Then it spreads its wings. The street echoes with another burst of screaming. You turn your head and see a second figure, it, too, with its wings outstretched. You see a third, then a fourth. They’re all around you. They’re surrounding you.

Your mother is screaming your name now as she tightens her grip painfully on your wrist. The crowd descends into a panic as people race to get away. Someone shoves you hard in the shoulder, knocking the shopping out of your hands and your mother’s grip free of your wrist.

‘Mum!’ you shout.

Tires screech. There’s a terrible bang! followed by the sound of breaking glass as two cars slam into each other

Pushing through the crowd, you find her on the ground, weeping and pale-faced. Just below the end of her skirt, her knee is grazed and bleeding. The crowd rushes around you as you help pull her to her feet. Just as you do, you look up at more screaming. The thing above the music store has jumped. You watch, frozen, as it plummets. You shut your eyes with a wince just before it hits the ground, then open them again.

The thing didn’t splat on the pavement. It’s flying. It’s flying!

And it’s heading right in your direction.

‘Run, Mum. Run!

Gripping tightly onto your mother’s arm, you flee along with the rest of the crowd, but your mother is a rather large woman and you’re wearing heels. You can hear it somewhere close behind you. Its wings are thudding so hard they almost seem to make the air vibrate.

You instinctively duck—just in the nick of time. You shriek as some of your hair rips from your scalp. It tried to grab you! Having missed, it swoops high into the air again.

Looking around, you find that nobody else seems to have been attacked. You’re still gripping hard onto your sobbing and stumbling mother. The crowd continues to rush and scream as the same winged man turns in the air and plummets towards the crowd again; towards you again.

You glimpse the others on the rooftops—they haven’t yet moved. What are they waiting for? Again, you run and again you can sense it behind you. It’s not just your imagination. It wasn’t just a fluke the last time. Whatever it is, it’s after you.

You try to duck again, with no success; something hard slams into you, knocking the breath from your lungs. A hard pressure wraps around your waist. And suddenly you’re in the air. The bottom sinks out of you. Everything’s barely more than a blur, except for your mother, who you can see between your feet with astonishing clarity. She’s on her knees again, her arms upraised as she reaches for you, her face upturned as she screams for you. And somehow you know, if you get out of this predicament alive, that you’ll remember that look forever.

Vaguely you realise that the thing is clutching you tightly to its chest, its arms locked tightly around your waist. That’s what you felt back on the pavement: its body slamming into you, its arms around you. It’s plucked you right out of the crowd with astounding strength. Out of all those people.

Why you? Why?

There’s nothing you can do but hold on. You’re in a daze. Your head lolls on your neck. Your legs flop uselessly beneath you. The city lights streak around you confusingly. Air blasts in your ears and through your hair. You should feel cold against the icy autumn air, but you’re so shocked that all you can feel is numb. It’s like you’re on a rollercoaster, one so terrifying you can’t even scream.

You grab onto the thing with a shriek when it suddenly hoists you against its chest with a terrifying jerk. Now it’s carrying you in its arms like a child, and for the first time you can look it in its face. It’s definitely some kind of man—but a sick-looking one. Its face is so white it almost seems to glow in the moonlight. Then there are its eyes. What’s wrong with its eyes?

He doesn’t look back, his dreadful black gaze focused on the way ahead. His hair blasts back against the wind. Then there are his wings. They’re massive, so big they almost block out the sky.

They thud loudly through the air. You turn your head at the sound of more thudding. There are more flying men on either side, all with the same black wings and same gleaming skin. Vomit swells in your throat as you glance down below. Your stomach lurches. With a cry, you do the only thing you can—you grip onto him, wrapping your arms tightly around his neck.

Finally, he looks at you with those horrifying black eyes. He says nothing, his white lips pressed hard together. You try to say something, to beg him to let you go, but your brain seems incapable of linking with your vocal cords. All you do is croak and gabble incomprehensibly. In the puddle of goo that has now replaced your brain, you realise how strange he looks. Aside from the wings and eyes, his face is too … perfect. Almost doll-like. His chin is too sharp, his nose too pointed, his jaw too square, and you vaguely notice he has no stubble. He’s strangely beautiful in a horrifying sort of way.

He’s not human. He’s not human.

An odd feeling tingles down your spine. Your body turns completely numb. Your eyes seem to roll loosely in your head. With a gasp, you press your face into the thing’s chest as you fight to clutch onto your slipping consciousness. Your mind whirls as you struggle against a blackness that swarms the corners of your vision. You blink and take a desperate breath, but it’s no use.

With a gasp, you sag in his arms.

3.