The bird of prey swooped down and landed on a branch across the street. Its beak flashing to the side as it looked straight at me, waiting.
“You persistent little bugger,” I said. My eyes were just as glued to the raptor as its was on its target.
I lifted my hand and brushed it against the soft scales of my beloved snake, Ori. She was resting around my neck, my other hand wedged under her so that she couldn’t squeeze too tightly, and her tiny tongue tickled as it flicked against my chin. Her muscles were tense, but I didn’t feel any wounds.
With a relieved sigh, I rubbed the side of her head. “That was a close one, Good Girl. I didn’t think a bird would be so bold as to try that.”
A voice came from behind, “Is everything alright there, sir?” It was the barista. Her and several customers were starring.
“Ah, yes—I mean no,” I replied. “That bird out there attacked my sweet little girl here. I’m not sure how I’m going to get her home safely with it out there.”
My fingers thrummed along the table as I thought. I can’t just run; the bird is much faster. The thrumming got louder. And I can’t just flail my arms the whole way back. I’d get too tired and might scare Ori even more. I let out a groan and rubbed my temples, I had virtually zero options.
A clink on the table pulled me from my thoughts, the barista had brought my coffee. I just need to calm down. I pulled the hot mug away from my curious snake and looked out at the clouds as I tried to relax. Weird how fast the clouds disappear. It was just raining an hour ago, I thought.
And then I had an idea. My eyes scanned across the café, and sure enough someone had an umbrella with them. I paused. Am I really going to do this? But no sooner had I thought to ask, the thought of what would happen to my beloved pet if that bird got its hand on her flashed across my eyes. I grabbed the stranger’s umbrella and hurried out the door.
The walk was mostly uneventful. I was constantly keeping an eye out for the bird, or for a shadow that could signal its presence. But nothing out of the ordinary happened. Any birds that I saw were much smaller, or of harmless flocks. I began to think that maybe the bird really had given up by the time I left the café.
I could see my apartment just up ahead; I was almost there! I thought about how effective the umbrella would have been if the bird had shown up. “I should have been doing this all along, huh, Good Girl?” I said to her, peering down at her head resting on my shoulder. I was so caught up in thought and admiring her that I almost failed to notice a shadow swooping close from below the umbrella rim.
At the last second, I caught a glimpse of it and jerked back in surprise! Inches from my face, that same bird tore through the air, barely missing its mark. In a flash it was gone again, a shriek piercing my ears. It was waiting for its chance! I broke into a sprint, holding the umbrella close with one hand, and Ori closer with the other. Only a few blocks ahead was my apartment.
Another cry rang out, and my eyes swept the ground for the shadow. From the left! I pivoted the umbrella, so the head faced my left. A third cry and the ruffle of wings reached my ears as the creature aborted to try a different angle. I pushed forward, only two blocks left.
I stumbled and gasped as I ran. Ori was becoming tense again, and her body squeezed around my neck for support. Below, the shadow of the bird circled around me, searching for an opportunity. One block left, the door was right there!
One last screech range true. The shadow passed behind me; it would try my blind spot. My hand on Ori clamped down on her tense grip, both pulling her from my neck and bracing to not let her go. Likewise, I slid to a stop on the concrete, bracing myself, and turned. With a desperate swing of my arm, I pivoted the umbrella to cut off the predator’s assault.
Almost too late, the umbrella failed to simply block the assault, but instead swung into the predator. A thud, a cry, and a flurry of feathers, everything came to a head at once. The crumpled shape of the bird spiraled to the ground.
I didn’t bother to see if it would get up. I finished my dash for the door, swinging it open and closed behind me with barely any breath left in my lungs.
Tristin Mendoza comes from the mountains of Northern Georgia and has traveled from coast to coast. He’s been writing as a hobby since he was thirteen and has always had a taste for the macabre. Follow him at @Expired_Uncle_D