Mike and Kenny squinted at the shape over the town, and although it was swerving both left and right, what started with an unsure dread was becoming a certainty that the monster was moving toward them. Mike said, “It must know we’re getting close to its treasure. It’s coming for us.”
Kenny, “You think this is like the dragon Smaug from The Hobbit, mad because we’re messing with his treasure horde?”
“I’m telling you: it wants to defend the treasure.”
“Come on. We don’t even know what we’re seeing.”
As they watched the shape moved spastically in every direction, but neither Mike or Kenny could ignore that it kept getting closer. When they thought it was close enough to see them, Mike spoke, “Kenny, I think we better get out of here.”
“What do we do?”
The monster made a quick turn in their direction and Mike shouted, “Run!” They abandoned their gear at the campsite and ran up the trail into the forest. The trail continued uphill and within half a minute both of them fought to breathe. Kenny jogged most days and was in decent shape, and he quickly got ahead of Mike.
Mike looked up and saw the monster in the air above the trail, so he swerved left into the woods until he found a big pine tree to hide under. He stopped, panting and looking around. In the half-light of dusk he only saw tree shapes but nothing above him.
Kenny reached a place where the trail leveled off and he jumped to the right side, hiding behind a larger tree. He looked back but didn’t see Mike. He, in his loudest whisper, said, “Mike?”, but he didn’t hear any answer. He waited. When his breathing returned to normal Kenny started counting. “When I get to 100,” he thought, “I’ll call out for Mike again.” When his count made it to 100 he spoke, in a normal voice, “Mike?” Again, silence. He braved a half-shout, “Mike!” He heard no reply. Kenny thought, “I’ll count to 100 and try again.” When Kenny made it to 35 on the second counting he heard steps in the leaves. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. “Mike, is that you?” Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Each crunch of the leaves had a second’s pause between them. “Mike?” Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Kenny reached to grab a stick for defense, and at the sound of his movement the steps on the leaves accelerated to as quick as a drum-roll. Crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch. He looked in the direction of the sound and saw the shadowy outline of a squirrel run up a tree. “Lord, help me. It was only a squirrel,” he thought. He clutched his stick and started walking back along the trail, sticking to just behind the tree line to stay hidden.
Meanwhile Mike moved back in the direction of the camp with a crawl. After about 30 yards of crawling he was brave enough to stand, but still crouching he snuck back through the woods toward their camp. When he could see their campfire still burning he slowly crept to the edge of the camp clearing. He waited, hidden, until he could see something. Ten minutes later he saw Kenny, clutching a tree branch and looking left and right, step into their camp. Mike jumped out into the clearing and said, with relief, “Kenny.”
Kenny stopped and held his stick in a Samurai Warrior pose; when he saw it was his friend, he dropped the stick and said, “Mike, what happened? You scared me there.”
“I couldn’t keep up with your runner lungs. Is it gone?”
“I guess so.” As soon as Kenny said “so” a dark shape rose up from below the overlook. It was moving and shifting as it flew above them. They didn’t have a chance to turn and run again, and with the monster only 20 or 30 yards away they could see the flapping of hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny wings and hear the chirping of the little bird voices. As the shape hovered above them and turned back toward the town Kenny spoke up, “Mike, you idiot, it’s not a monster, just birds. It’s just a flock of birds.”
Mike, bent over and started laughing and said through his laughs, “Oh, man. I thought it was all over there for a second.”
Kenny gave his friend a half-punch in the arm. “And thanks a lot for leaving me as we ran up the trail. You were going to make my kids grow up without a father.”
Mike was still laughing, “All these years and all the spooky stories. They thought it was a monster and all they were seeing was a flock of birds.” He threw his stick on the fire. “Well, at least we didn’t spill any of our booze,” seeing their cups of bourbon on the ground by the fire. “After that I could use a drink,” They clinked their tin camp cups, and Mike said, “Here’s to the Thomasville Monster,” and they took big swigs of bourbon.
“Think about it,” Kenny said. “Back when they thought they were seeing a monster was probably when city light were a new thing. The glow from the town illuminates a flock of birds swooping around, and in their paranoid minds they’re sure they’re being visited by a monster.”
The next morning, after a blessedly uneventful night in the tent, Mike and Kenny are hiking up the Indian Trail, hoping to find some ruins of the Germans’ hideout. After a couple hours they drop their packs for a break. Mike tears off half his beef jerky and hands it to Kenny. “So how long are we going to hike this?”
“We’ve both got to be back for Sunday. Maybe we reassess things when we make camp tonight.”
Dong. Dong. Dong.
“Kenny, do you hear that?” Mike asked.
“Yeah, Mike. I hear that. I’m not deaf.”
Dong. Dong. Dong.
“Is that the bell the Germans were to follow?”
“Mike,” Kenny asked. “How could we be so dumb?”
“Why didn’t I put two and two together? We’ve heard this bell before. That’s the monastery.”