Ending her shift at the Extended Stay on Bay View, Sylvia Sanchez took the same shortcut home as she did most nights. Though generally safe, Madison Park bordered the bay bridge, a known haven for transients and sometime hideaway for more unsavory types. In an effort to avoid attracting muggers she didn’t normally carry a handbag, keeping instead a can of pepper spray ready in her hand.
The shortcut she used was a concrete sidewalk that scrolled amidst a maze of hedges and was, for the most part, adequately lit by periodic street lamps. In seven months of nightly walks she’d been accosted only once and on that occasion the would-be thief had retreated after a brief but decisive confrontation.
Being wise in the old ways, Sylvia’s mother had provided her only daughter with a superstitious upbringing. Into adulthood Sylvia continued to maintain a firm belief regarding the supernatural authority of a full moon. She did not doubt that such an event possessed the power to induce abnormal changes in certain lost souls, especially those who sought to petition its guidance. Therefore, on those nights falling just before, during and just after a full moon, she would forego the shortcut.
The alternate route took her along 2nd Street. It took her twice as long to traverse and the fact that many of its shops stayed open late didn’t really make it any safer. 2nd Street served as a regular hangout for those trafficking in unlawful enterprises. Tonight however, a collapsing storm drain at the 2nd Street intersection with Riverside had caused a blockade to be created while repairs were made. With the street and its sidewalks in upheaval, Sylvia was forced to chance the moonlit walk through Madison Park.
Although the evening seemed otherwise ordinary, twice while she was walking the can of pepper spray slipped from sweaty fingers to clatter on the concrete. Nearing the halfway point along the serpentine pathway, Sylvia noticed a sudden change in the feel of the night around her. As the light breeze at her back became still, a hush fell over the surrounding area, silencing even the chirping of the ever-present crickets and cicadas. In the eerie silence, the sound of her own footsteps and anxious breathing seemed magnified out of proportion. Even her pulse seemed to have a distinct volume as it quickened to keep cadence with the strident clapping of her simple black flats.
Although the lighting along this particular stretch of sidewalk was rather poor, Sylvia found the details of her surroundings focused into a clarity that was unusually sharp. Not yet fully aware of the tension her body was experiencing, she bit nervously at her lower lip, drawing forth a drop of her own blood. Licking it away, she marveled at the bitter-sweet flavor and at how alive the liquid felt upon her tongue. With a sudden re-emergence of the sea-breeze, loose strands of her unbound hair to brush against her neck. Normally she enjoyed this tickling wind-play, but tonight, in her heightened state of awareness, the sensation was almost painful. Overall, in the last seconds of her life, Sylvia Sanchez experienced the world through her senses like she never had before.
Hastening her step, Sylvia peered nervously about and several times looked back over her shoulder. At this point she noticed there was another smell riding on that fateful breeze, a smell that was reminiscently canine. In her memory she could see the collie pup she’d gotten for her 7th birthday and how it would smell when sorely in need of a bath.
Certain now that she was no longer alone; Sylvia paused to see if she could pinpoint the source of her distress. There was little she could hear over the excited beating of her heart, but at the edge of her vision, she felt certain she saw some movement. Staring fixedly at a nearby hedge running to within yards of the sidewalk, she finally caught a glimpse of a tangible cause for panic. Something was stalking her.
Hunched and furred the animal vaguely resembled a large dog, but rising onto its hind legs to glare at her, Sylvia realized that it was not any hound born in the everyday world. Seeing its eyes, red-rimmed and glowing through a mottling of leaves and shadow, Sylvia had no doubt that this was a creature escaped from the supernatural realm of her mother’s teachings. The touch of that unearthly gaze felt tangibly hot, like embers against her skin and though utterly, frightfully alien, it was also compellingly hypnotic.
Spiraling into a dizzying abyss, Sylvia somehow found the strength to turn her face away. Kicking off the restriction of her shoes, she started to run. The sharp snap of a branch breaking behind her, followed immediately by a blood-chilling growl, further launched the woman’s rocketing panic towards climax.. Bounding along the concrete trail with the abandon of a doe before the wolf, Sylvia ran with a speed she never knew she possessed. Even so, she had no illusions that the creature stalking her was too fast to elude.
Hoping perhaps to discourage the beast, she lofted the can of pepper-spray leaving a trail of the irritant in her wake. Yet even over the rasping of her breath she could hear it, the sound as of a loping hound in undaunted pursuit. Realizing she would find no salvation in panic, in a last desperate act of defense, Sylvia Sanchez wheeled about to confront her attacker holding her sole weapon, the can of propellant in front of her. Directing the spray toward the animal’s glowing eyes, she began to scream.