The screeching brought me back to reality and I put down the murder mystery I was reading. I looked out my window and saw a group of frantic people running past the side of my house and into the woods. The tallest one was also the fastest and although he ran by in a flash, I swear he looked familiar. The sounds that followed were absolutely terrifying. I searched my house for some type of weapon and only came up with a baseball bat. I’d never had the balls or the extra cash to buy a gun. I was on the phone with 911 when the strange group emerged from the woods without the man they’d pursued there. They ranged in age from children to withered old ladies, about six in number. I ran out my front door with the bat in one hand and my cell phone in the other. The operator yelled my name as I put the phone away from my ear to speak to the group.
“Hey! What the hell is going on out here?” Most of them ignored me and continued their walk down my driveway and onto the street.
An older man with an all grey beard stopped to speak with me. “Only you can save him,” he said.
“What? Save who?”
He looked at me but his eyes weren’t really focused on my face. It was if he remembered something horrible and was completely lost in the experience. His pupils were dilated to an odd degree. He must be on something. My grip on the bat tightened. I hoped he wouldn’t give me a reason to use it.
“He won’t last long. You have to find him in the woods and convince him. He’ll forget to breathe.”
The message was as confusing as it was frightening. “Why can’t you help him?” I asked still having no clue who the “him” was in this case.
He finally focused on me and got very angry. “Because he won’t see me you idiot girl. You’re the one he loves! Go, NOW!” He pointed to the direction of the woods.
The force in his voice propelled me forward and I dropped the bat and phone at the same time. Something told me that neither of them would be of use. I ran on a frightened adrenaline high and was completely out of breath after reaching the tree line. With my hands on my knees I caught my breath then checked behind me to see if anyone were following. There was no one there. Whatever the mob had come to do, it had already been done. I gathered up my courage and moved forward into the woods. I was thankful this craziness was taking place at 3pm when there was still plenty of light. If it had been dark I might not have found the courage to investigate, no matter what the old man said.
After dodging several spider webs and one black snake I finally saw what the man warned me about. Even with the misshapen face, enlarged head and elongated limbs I still recognized him. My sneakers crunched on the on crispy fall leaves as I approached. He opened his eyes and my heart nearly stopped. His face was devoid of recognition. I felt something inside my chest contract. I hadn’t seen Christian in years but I still thought of him every day and dreamed of him at night. The way we’d parted had been so strange and I simply hadn’t been prepared to never see him again.
He opened his mouth and instead of words a low pained chirp escaped lips that were transforming into a beak. His skin was rough and covered in a blanket of pebbly gooseflesh. Hot tears rolled down my face at his obvious pain. Half his deformed body had been absorbed into the trunk of the tree. I reached up to touch his face and he tried to swat my hand away but his arms had mostly been incorporated. He shook his head from side to side. When I stroked his cheek he calmed. “What’s happened to you, Christian? What the hell happened? I could barely get the words out. He squawked back at me and tears formed in his eyes.
“There is at least some of you left in there.” I reached up to him and did the only thing I could think to do. Despite what the strange old man had said I didn’t think I could do anything to help except keep him company. “I’ve missed you so much,” I said. I placed the softest of kisses on his scratchy face and he became frantic from the contact. He did not want me there. Maybe whatever he had was contagious?
I shook my head. “Uh, uh. I’m not going to leave. You’re the one who leaves, remember?” I held his hand in mine and his long fingers curled around my hand. His newly formed talons pierced the back of my hand but I didn’t let go. “I’m so sorry this happened to you, whatever this is. I was mad at you for a very long time, but I never stopped loving you.” I felt that if I could help him remember his humanity and remember what we’d been to each other…
He looked down at me and I put my arms around the trunk of the tree in an attempt to hug what little of him was left. My cheek was flat against his chest when I felt it rise and fall for the last time. “Christian, no! Don’t give in to it. You have to breathe. Remember, what it was to be human? Remember when you broke your leg and I came to your hospital room? Our first kiss? That night in my car when we just parked and listened to the radio?”
His eyes closed and I fell to my knees in frustration. I’d skint my palms on the bark of the tree. I cried liked I’d never cried before, big racking sobs shook my entire body. “We were supposed to be together,” I whispered to no one.
A rustling sound above me caught my attention. He was still alive and struggling against the tree that held him. He talons reached out for me, a sight that would have filled me with terror if it hadn’t been a boy I onced loved asking for help. I held both his hands in mine and pulled him toward me with all my strength. He emerged from the trunk in one piece and the entire weight of his 6ft frame fell on top of me.
Christian crushed me to the ground but I didn’t complain. He positioned his weight on his hands above me and I watched in amazement as enlarged avian head sank inward. His beak once again became lips and the gooseflesh evened out becoming a smooth handsome face once again. His forehead wrinkled and he closed his eyes in pain as his limbs constricted back into their original shape. And just like that, he transformed back into person I’d loved since we were 12 years old.
“Good to see you, too,” he said. Then he kissed me, and then it was my turn to forget to breathe.