The Few Surviving Raptors

I have to tell you about the craziest thing that happened recently…

After work on Friday, I had to get out of the house. I had spent all day on the phone, and I needed to get away from technology. I made plans with my friend Ryan to come over. When he arrived, we went for a hike in the forest behind my apartment. We grabbed beverages and, because he felt as overstimulated as I did, he also decided to leave his phone behind.

I mention both of our phones to explain how we would end up in such dire circumstances. Had we been near our phones, we would have heard the jarring chime of the emergency broadcast system warning of apex predator sightings in our area. And of course, then we would have stayed home. But we didn’t have our phones, so Ky, Ryan and I walked down the street, up the hill, and toward the trails. We were having a blast, being loud, absorbed in each other’s humor, completely ignorant of the danger in our midst.

I led Ryan to a fireroad that doubled as a trailhead. It was late, but the moon was full, so we walked by moonlight under the tangled canopy of the live oak trees. I had a destination in mind. I took Ryan to a picturesque, cutaway-through-the-juniper view of the Austin cityscape, overtop the Lake Austin section of the Lower Colorado River. As we were taking in the view, I got an idea.

Often, as I walked the trails that snaked those woods, I would take a shortcut back to my apartment behind an office building. I led Ryan this way, but not to go home, but to experience the view of the hill country, river, and city from the top floor of the parking garage. This is where things began to spiral out of control…

First, we came to a short fence. We climbed over, but I instructed Ky to “go play” — his command to go do whatever he wants. He took off. Ryan and I walked to the top. From a corner, looking down into the forest, I saw one of the juniper trees shudder. It dusted itself as it shook with a cloud of cedar pollen. Then the ground shook. A massive creature moved beneath the canopy, shaking the earth and trees.

I asked, swallowing, “Ryan, are you seeing this?”

The look on his face was confirmation. He cursed, whispered, “Raptors…” I saw him check his pockets instinctively for his phone, his waist for his holster. He had neither. “We need to leave,” he said soberly. “Now.”

Forty-feet below, trees snapped. The raptor headed our way, following the trail of our warm cologne. There was nobody out there but us. It was immediately apparent that the creature was tracking us.

“Let’s go,” I said. We dashed into the stairwell and down the stairs. As I took the stairs three at a time, I thought momentarily of Ky, urging him to go home. I prayed. I sent him orders telepathically.

Ryan flung the stairwell door open at the ground floor to an unwelcome sight. Cops. One squad car, lights on, two patrolmen with their guns drawn.

“Trespassers,” one of them addressed us. “Please step over here.”

“Officers,” Ryan said respectfully. “It’s okay. We belong here. It is okay that we’re here.”

“You are trespassing on private property.”

Against my better judgement, I decided to speak. “Gentlemen,” I began, my voice catching. “Let me explain. We’re hiding. There’s something in these woods. There’s a predator out here.”

Ryan said the word, “Raptor,” but neither officer could hear him over their own laughter. In response to my warning, the arresting officer said, “I’d say there are two predators out here.”

“Very funny, sir. But I’m not kidding.”

“You two are under arrest for trespassing and public intoxication.”

Ryan complained, “I don’t drink, Officer,” but he did not resist. Something was agreed upon between us non-verbally. They had us cornered, unless we wanted to jump the concrete wall and take our chances with the raptor in the woods. Instead of putting up a fight, we both assisted the officers with the arrest and quickly got into their squad car.

Once in the backseat, I said, “Officers, you need to listen to us.”

“Anything you say can and will be used against you in court, son,” the driver said, still amusing himself.

“Have there been reports of raptors out here, sir? I swear there is one out here. I am not kidding. We both saw it. Surely, there are other reports of something, right?”

The cops looked at each other.

“What?” Ryan demanded.

“Look, if we had a penny every time we got a report about a predator out here, we would both be retired in Cabo San Lucas by now. And yet, no raptor in over a decade. Go figure. Do us all a favor — yourself included — and be quiet.”

“Fellas,” the other officer began, “You talking about raptors is going to go in our report, which is going to read like paranoia to a judge. Unless you want to add a pot charge to the mix, why don’t you take the subtle advice of my partner. Howbout it?”

Ryan and I scooted away from the windows into the center of the backseat. We looked out into the night without breathing.

CRASH! The cruiser squealed and spun out. I caught a blur of scaly green. Something — no mystery to us — had charged out of the woods and collided with the side of the cruiser. The car slid into the curb, snapping an axel.

Ryan shouted profanely.

The cops jumped from the car, weapons drawn. They opened fire on the ancient predator, riddling it with bullets. Each gunshot took the oxygen out of the air. Before it dropped, it reared back its head and released an earsplitting shriek — calling its friends.

The crash had damaged the mechanism that prevented my door from opening. While the officers were distracted, we bolted up the street toward my apartment.

At the bottom of the hill, behind us by two hundred yards, I spotted another raptor. It spotted the officers scattering into the woods, and then it spotted us. It began charging up the hill, closing the distance fast. My heart was in my throat. We were in trouble. That was it, I thought, this is how it ends. We had half a mile of straight road ahead of us. We had no chance to outrunning this thing…

Another shape moved nearby. I almost screamed, but then I saw it was Ky. He leapt into the lead, darting ahead, dashing into the woods, revealing a hidden trail I had never seen before. It cut into the woods straight toward my apartment.

Ky, Ryan and I sprinted through the woods, taking branches to the face in stride. We stumbled over loose rocks, down a muddy slope, hauled across a meadow, booked it through a parking lot, charged up my stairs, and ran into my warm apartment. I flipped the lock and the deadbolt, out of breath.

The three of us looked at each other. Then we turned off the lights, grabbed a bottle of tequila and a box of Cheez-Its, and huddled together in the walk-in closet.

We listened for the longest time. Nothing. Eventually, we all fell asleep. In the morning, the notifications on our phones revealed that it was not a dream. I should say, it was not a nightmare.

Stay safe out there.

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memmorey

Writer of Black Mirror stories, poetry, essays on love and life.