Time went wonky when night slammed shut like a hammer against an anvil. Herbert and Grace were left with only the stars to guide them through the trees, up the lane, back to the village where families awaited them.
Shadowed things passed between them and the sky, circling as if looking for something. They never saw the being, but they felt the wind shift with each flap of what must have been huge wings.
“Monsters,” Herbert whispered, his breath coming heavy as they kept up as quick as pace as Grace’s skirts and petticoats would allow.
“Maybe not. Maybe angels to protect us.”
“Uh, yeah, against the monsters.”
“Tis always monsters with you.” Grace tugged at her skirt, ripping it from the hold of a branch, she imagined.
That was Grace. Never seeing the beasts, but Herbert did. Always had. Where she saw a branch, he saw a clawed fist.
“Best we hurry,” he said, grabbing her hand, ducking as the shadow passed again. The creature was quiet. He gave it that. Not a whisper to warn its passing.
The village came into view just beyond the rise. Lights twinkled. The clock tower stood sentry. Herbert picked a light just to the left of the tower and imagined it were the bakery where he worked with his mum. Grace and he resided above the sweet smells of loaves.
“Faster now. Almost there,” he managed through great gulps of air as Grace faltered. She would have fallen but for his grip on her arm.
“No more. I need respite.” Grace’s face turned toward the heavens, her eyes unfocused.
The shadows darkened their path once again and then passed.
But even Herbert’s steps slowed to a stop. They rested. Their hearts pounded in their heads. Herbert counted the time lost, time that might have saved their lives had they continued. With each second that passed, he became more sure of their demise. A demise that did not come.
With a gulp, Grace said, “I’m ready. We can go,” but not before the next pass of the winged beast, so close this time that they could feel the whisper of wings atop ducked heads.
In time, they made it to the village outskirts. The lights so bright ahead. The village so silent that Herbert wondered if he should cry out an alarm. Surely his people would want to know the fate awaiting them.
He caught his breath and opened his mouth, but a touch and a hush from Grace quieted him.
“Nay. We are safe. They are safe indoors. Why startle them until we know for sure? Please.”
And he nodded as they continued into the village proper, the clock tower straight ahead.
The shadow passed again, hardly noticeable with the village lights below it unless one was looking for it, and Herbert was. He followed the shadow as it grew and then shrank back, shading the tower, and then it did a curious thing. The shadow stopped, or time did. Herbert was unsure which.
In the smallest of increments, the shadow deepened and settled around the clock. Herbert did not even realize he had stopped to watch until Grace giggled from the far side of the street.
“Look at your monster, Herbert.”
From where he stood, he saw only shadow, but as he moved to Grace’s side, the shadow evolved into butterfly, large for sure. Beautiful? A given. Dangerous? Hardly.