The sun dipped below the horizon. Broad brushstrokes of red and purple soaked the sky and the flowing water of the bayou. Night creatures were stirring in the half-light. They croaked and chirped to each other. It was time to hunt.
Grass shushed underfoot. Brio trotted beside his human, paws almost soundless. His tags jingled together in time with his gait. A glob of slobber flicked from his jowls to Aria’s leg.
“Buddy, that’s gross,” she said, swiping it away in disgust.
He snuffled at something on the ground and ignored her completely.
She rolled her eyes, then peered ahead. A bridge spanned the flow of water. The banks of the bayou sloped sharply downward in a roll of greenery and rocks and…
What is that?
A silhouetted figure stood in the water beneath the bridge. Lank hair framed its face and sank into the water. Yellow eyes shone glared at the trespassers.
Aria fumbled at her waist for the little flashlight she always carried during night walks. She couldn’t look away from the thing under the bridge. Wouldn’t.
The flashlight clicked on, and Aria pointed the beam of light under the bridge like a weapon.
The creature was gone, but water still rippled with its presence.
“What’s that, Brio?”
His head popped up at the cue, looking around for danger. A small wuff escaped his throat. His ears pricked forward.
A low growl started in his chest and radiated up the length of his leash.
He stared at the space under the bridge.
“Time to go,” Aria whispered. They broke into a jog. Brio didn’t look away from the space under the bridge, but kept pace easily with his charge.
The circle of light bobbed in front of them. A chill slid over her bare arms, raising goosebumps. They’d reached the road, and the bridge.
Do I go back along the bayou in the dark or book it across the bridge and get into the neighborhood?
Across the bridge, Christmas lights twinkled. A couple pushed a stroller, talking animatedly to each other. The child in the stroller babbled and pointed to a black cat streaking across the street.
Brio craned his neck, trying to see the creature. He looked up at his human. Ready.
“Let’s go,” Aria commanded. They sprinted over the bridge. When they reached the middle, an icy wetness scrabbled against the back of her neck, and she pushed herself harder. A stench like hot sewage choked her. The creature was close. She kept going.
Finally, they reached the end of the bridge. Brio craned his neck to look behind them, and his lips pulled back in a snarl. Aria followed his gaze.
The creature’s yellow eyes bored into hers. Mottled flesh pulled back from broken teeth in a snarl. Sludge dripped from its lips. Dripping, black hair hung from its scalp, surrounding Aria’s face like a curtain.
“Remember me-e-e-e?” the creature asked.
“Not real, not real, not real,” Aria said under her breath, squeezing her eyes shut. When she opened them again, the creature was gone.
Brio looked up at his human as he tried to herd her deeper into the neighborhood. They both knew the truth.
The evil wasn’t gone. Just hiding.
It would be back.