I didn’t go back to my empty house, but walked directly to the station. When I got there, I was worn out and emotionally drained.
In the reception area, I saw a group of officers together, talking in hushed voices and many other people crowded into waiting room. It looked like Officer Pearson and Officer Grant had already called on people to form a search party. Everyone looked distressed and alarmed.
I looked around and was shocked to see a table covered in weapons. I walked over to table and examined them. There were tasers, tranquillizers, knives, rifles, and guns.
“Excuse me, miss. What are doing here?” Someone touched my shoulder and I instantly jerked away. I turned around to see a young officer scowling down at me.
“I’m Alexia Mercier.” His expression immediately changed, and he looked surprised. “I’m supposed to come with you guys.”
He nodded speechlessly. Behind him, I saw Officer Grant coming through the door. He saw me and walked quickly over. “Oh you’re here. Good. We don’t want to piss off Officer Pearson, so I suggest that you get ready.”
I nodded and looked at the younger officer. He didn’t look much older than Aric and Xavier. “What’s your name?” I asked quietly.
He gave me a small smile. “I’m Officer McAdams,” he said while running his hand through his black hair. I nodded and started to walk over to where the others were gathered. Officer McAdams fell into step with me. “I’m surprised you’re going with us. You’re pretty courageous.” I didn’t answer, but I did nod.
Officer Pearson looked at me with a pleased look — which surprised me. “OK, so as everyone is here, I would like all of you to take at least two weapons with you. You’ll need them for sure.” When everyone nodded, he continued. “Is everyone dressed for searching in the woods?” The officers looked at each one of us and finally nodded. “OK, then. Let’s get going. Group A will be searching the west side of town, while Group B will be searching the east side.”
As people formed into groups, I went over to Officer Pearson. “Where do I go?” I asked, my lips stiff from nerves. For a moment he stared at me, and then his gaze softened. “You’ll be coming with me, and officers Grant and McAdams. We’ll be searching the forest.”
My heart was beating so wildly that I feared I would pass out. “What do we do if we see it?” I asked as I fought to catch my breath.
“We will kill it. That’s my order to every officer.”
I nodded and then frowned. “Hmm, should I take a weapon?”
“Yeah. Take a knife.” I shuffled awkwardly towards the other side of the table and chose a knife. I looked up and saw officers Grant and McAdams standing on either side of Pearson. They were all watching me.
I gave them a reassuring smile. “I’m ready.”
“The sun has already set, so the forest will be really dark. We need to be very careful,” Grant said.
“That’s why I thought it would be easier if we went on the search tomorrow morning,” McAdams stated tensely.
“And then what? Let that thing kill other people while we wait for the sunrise?” Officer Pearson said in disgust. He grabbed his weapons and moved towards the front entrance. “Let’s go!”
We followed him to the police cruiser. During the ride, everyone was silent. The air was tense and filled with frustration and dread. Officer McAdams kept fidgeting beside me and Grant’s posture was rigid.
“OK, we’re here.” Pearson’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts. I got out of the jeep and noticed that we were practically surrounded by the forest. I shuddered.
“We’ll start here. If we get separated, you find your way back to this point,” Officer Pearson said while pointing at the forest and then pointing at the jeep. “This road leads back to the town centre. We’re not very far. Less than three miles.”
All of us nodded our understanding, and before he could continue, I asked quietly. “What if we get lost?”
“The other group will come looking for us. We have our cell phones. OK.” Officer Pearson’s gaze sharpened. “You guys will follow me. Ms. Mercier, you will be walking behind me, McAdams will be behind you while Grant will be taking the rear. We’ll be walking in single file. Understood?”
I nodded and stood up straighter. “I’m ready!” I said in a hard tone.
“Let’s get going then,” Pearson Grant muttered.
Pearson gave his final instructions. “Keep your eyes and ears open and let’s move quietly.”
We all flipped our flashlights on and followed Officer Pearson into the forest. My heart was thumping really hard. Being back in the forest reminded me everything of that had happened the first time we’d seen that thing. Almost immediately, I tripped over a branch and would have fallen if it hadn’t been for McAdams grabbing my arm. “Careful,” he said quietly.
I nodded when I heard Officer Pearson say through gritted teeth, “Watch where you’re going! We don’t have time for clumsiness right now.”
“I’m sorry.” I swallowed hard, and kept my gaze forward.
We walked for a long time, shining our torches into the forest on both sides, but we didn’t see anything. The forest was utterly quiet, which made it scarier.
“Can we stop for a while?” Grant asked.
“OK. But we can’t stay in one place for a long time. It’s dangerous.”
We stopped, and each man leaned against a tree, forming a circle around me. I stood where I was but continued to search the trees. I didn’t want to let my attention wander. “Pearson, do you have water? My bottle is empty,” I heard Officer Grant said.
“Yeah. Ms. Mercier, could you give this to Officer Grant, please?”
I looked at Pearson for the first time and saw that he was holding a water bottle and waiting for me to take it. I walked over to him quickly and took the water bottle from his hands. He gave me a reassuring smile, and I went over to Officer Grant, who was leaning on the opposite tree.
“Here you go.”
Officer Grant took the bottle from me and asked in a quiet voice. “How are you holding on?”
I nodded and looked around again. “Just standing in one place is kind of freaking me out.”
I turned back towards Pearson and let out a small scream. Pearson jumped away from the tree, reaching for his gun, and turned around quickly. Grant and McAdams grabbed their guns, but they just stood there, looking at the tree that Officer Pearson had been leaning against.
“What the hell was that?” Pearson asked when he turned back towards me. He was scowling at me and shaking his head in disgust.
I was shaking like a leaf.
“Did you see something?” Grant asked me.
I nodded because I couldn’t find my voice.
“We need to move,” Officer McAdams said. I looked at him and saw fear written all over his face.
“What did you see?” Pearson asked while coming closer to me.
I swallowed hard and finally found my voice. “I saw him. Right behind you. His eyes were glowing red. He was just standing there. I screamed, and he just disappeared.”
“Like, he just vanished?” Grant asked me worriedly.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure. All I know is that one minute he was standing behind Officer Pearson and the next minute he wasn’t there.”
“He’s close by then. Let’s search this area — and keep your eyes open,” Officer Pearson concluded. “Are you okay?” he asked, when he finally turned towards me.
“Just shaken up a little.”
We continued to roam the forest for another hour but didn’t see anything else. It was getting colder, and we were all tired.
“I think we should stop and make our way back,” McAdams suggested.
“I agree with him. It’s too dark to see anything and we have been searching for it for hours now,” Grant added.
Officer Pearson stopped and nodded. “You’re right. We’ll come back in the morning.”
Just then, I felt a cold wind. Shuddering, I rubbed my arms.
“Grant, you’ll need to lead us now. We’ve been walking straight, so it’s easy to find our way back,” Pearson said.
We all started following Grant in the direction we’d just come. All of a sudden, he stopped. “What is it?” McAdams asked quietly.
“Did you hear that?” Grant stuttered.
I went still at the tone of his voice. It was filled with fear. I swallowed hard and replied, “No. What did you hear?”
“I heard growling and like someone was whimpering,” he said in a low voice.
“What?” Pearson said out loud.
“Don’t be so loud.” McAdams took his gun from its holster. He gave me his flashlight and told me to hold it. I nodded because I couldn’t find my voice.
What if that beast was here? Near us? Watching us all this time? Panic was starting to claw at my throat and my stomach was in knots.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and let out a strangled yelp. I turned and found Officer Pearson staring at me with eyes filled with shock and terror. His mouth was wide open like he was letting out a silent cry. Before I could muster my courage to speak, he was pulled violently away from me. As he fell to the ground, I realized he was being dragged away from us by his legs. My flashlight fell from my hands, and I let out a scream. Pearson was clawing at the ground, trying desperately to grab on to something. I couldn’t see clearly what was dragging him away, but I knew it was that monster. He was in the shadows. Hiding his face from us.
“Help! Help!” Pearson finally found his voice to scream. McAdams pushed me out of the way and went to grab on to Pearson’s hands. It was no use. The force that was dragging him away was too powerful.
Behind me, Grant shot into the shadows, and from behind Pearson, we heard an answering deep growl. It sounded angry.
Everything became quiet. Grant dropped his gun and McAdams stopped pulling at Officer Pearson hands. The latter was lying limply on the ground, unmoving.
I took in a shuddering breath and heard Officer Grant mutter, “Shit.”
And there he was, the monster. I stared at him, and he stared right back at me. He was leaning over Officer Pearson, who appeared to be unconscious. The monster looked like a beast protecting its offspring. But of course, he wasn’t protecting his child. He was protecting his prey, his next victim.