“Give that back!” she shouted at a boy who was no less than five inches taller than her.
He grinned. “Make me.”
He ran away, and she shot after him. They ran into the sea of trees that haunted the town just as the sun made its exit from the sky. She found herself drenched in a darkness that was only thinly penetrated by the meager light of the crescent moon that hung pathetically above her. An unnerving stillness blanketed the forest, the animals she had seen just moments before disappearing into their respective havens, clinging to a safety she would never find.
The silence was deafening. She had heard nothing louder than the great lack of noise that brought all impending action in the forest’s night to a muted crashing halt. She could not bring herself to take a single step for fear that any sound she made would create a ripple effect of ultimate cacophony destined to ring out across the ominous compilation of trees and draw attention that she would do anything to evade.
She heard a twig snap behind her and immediately shut her eyes. Nothing good would come of knowing what was about to attack her. She waited, taking care to remain as still as possible, but no other noise reached her ears. She let out a breath and opened her eyes, but as soon as her lids parted, she saw another pair of black pupils not two inches from her face.
She stumbled back and fell over, twisting her ankle in the process. Almost as quickly as they had appeared, the eyes vanished. She saw nothing but darkness, again. Moments later, a shrill scream pierced the air. The sound was so high-pitched, so sharp, that she was unsure that it had even been human. The screaming was continuous, not a moment spared for breath, and it only seemed to grow louder with every passing tenth of a second.
Just as she had managed to gain balance on her aching foot, the scream was accompanied by the sound of something crashing to the ground. So strong was the impact that the earth beneath her shook, forcing her to fall to her knees. She heard a howl in the distance, and someone—or something—was slamming what sounded like a thick bar of metal against a tree to her far right. The slamming steadily grew louder, as the being responsible moved from tree to tree, periodically connecting whatever weapon it wielded against trunks that would lead it right to her.
She heard a silk, mirthless snickering to her left, this sound also playing on a perpetual loop without pause, joining the screaming in perfect mismatched harmony that drilled holes into her ears. The person assaulting the trees had come so close that she could hear the footsteps, as well as an unidentifiable humming that protruded from the voice box in its throat.
Someone grabbed her and pulled her up, and just before she screamed, a hand covered her mouth. Her breathing came in short, painful gasps, and her heart beat so hard that it could be felt through her shirt.
“Quiet,” the person said, and her panic dwindled as she recognized his voice. He pulled her up and held her face. “Nothing bad happens in Mathews County. Nothing bad ever happens in Mathews County.”
The slamming, the screaming, and the laughing suddenly stopped. They fell into a agonizing silence once more.
“We’re okay,” he said.
As soon as the words left his lips, all three sounds erupted in unison around them. She nearly fell over, but he caught her. He pushed her behind him and faced the direction of the approaching assailant, her body shielded by his, leaving him defenseless and exposed.
The humming resumed just as the screaming ceased, and the person approaching them began to hit the trees with greater force. The metal connected with the bark almost melodically, like violent church bells on a bitter Christmas night. It had drawn so close that the gentle connection of feet to floor faintly reached her ears even over the hums. The tune was soft, sad, as if meant to play at a wake or funeral. It was the sort of melody that could draw a crying child to a peaceful sleep and a peaceful widow to a sea of tears. There were no octaves that could rationally encompass the sound that wound itself around her, filling her lungs and stealing her breath, contaminating her intake of air with an emotionally jarring tune.
Seconds later, the bat fell to the ground, and eyes appeared mere inches in front of them, again.