Matt and I had been hiking all afternoon in the mountains behind his home on Spring Mountain Road above St. Helena. After recent rains we’d been searching for salamanders and frogs and had lost track of time. We were jogging to get home before the sun set.
When we reached a small, open meadow ringed by dense forest, Matt stopped dead in his tracks and grabbed my arm tightly.
“Ouch,” I said.
He loosened his grip, and before I could say more he thrust his other hand over my mouth.
“Shhhh,” Matt said in a hushed, trembling voice.
He turned his face upward.
The setting sun had filled the sky with golden fingers of light and rose-colored clouds. Around us, the shadows had lengthened, merging into dark pools.
The deer path we’d been following through the forest continued to snake its way through the grassy meadow. Eventually, on the opposite side of the glade, the trail passed underneath an enormous valley oak that stood tall and majestic in the dim light.
My gaze followed Matt’s, and what I saw made my heart race and my palms sweat. High in the ancient tree’s gnarled upper branches a dark, shadowy figure about the size of a small Golden Retriever hung upside down. Wrapped tightly in something akin to the sinewy flesh of bat wings, the object looked like an enormous cocoon. The only distinguishing feature was a small, blunt, hairy snout that thrust downward from its otherwise impenetrable shroud.
Keeping his eyes fixed on the shadowy object, Matt leaned in closer and whispered into my ear. His breath was hot and smelled like black licorice.
“They’re not supposed to be this far north,” he said. “We have to get home before it wakes up.”
Weeks before, Matt and I had learned from Chad (who had been told by his cousin’s mother’s friend) that a group of teenagers had unearthed an ancient gravesite up off Napa’s Partrick Road. The group of troublemakers had been searching for some clues to the origins of the Rebobs. Growing up in the Napa Valley, we’d always known of the existence of these clawed and fanged flying monkeys. For as long as I could remember I’d imagined one day hiking up to the old cemetery and waiting for them to begin their nightly hauntings. My idea, however, was to do it when we were prepared for battle, not wearing tennis shoes, tattered jean cutoffs and a tank-top. I thought we would be covered in chain mail and carrying BB guns.
Up to that point, these gruesome monsters had stayed put in the hills above Napa, only attacking those who disturbed their peace. But now it seemed as if one of them had traveled north. Matt and I both knew that after such a long journey, this one must be hungry. We also knew the only food it would feast on was the flesh of the young.
We could make a run for it, sprinting to the house that was a few hundred yards down the trail, or sneak our way back into the protection of the dark forest and wait it out.
Just then, the creature began to move.
Matt and I stood motionless, hardly breathing. Initially the monstrosity made only a few twitches with its snout. Seconds later its entire body began to writhe and contort, reminding me of the time my brother was trapped in his sleeping bag and the zipper was stuck shut.
We began backing away in the opposite direction from the house and toward the forest from which we’d come. The sun was gone, but the rising moon caste a silver sheen on the world around us.
With each step backward, we held our breath, hoping not to attract the creature’s attention. Luckily, the rains had moistened the forest floor, so when we moved our steps were muffled by damp leaves and soil. A few more steps and we’d be fully hidden under the cover of trees and brush.
Matt grabbed my hand and squeezed.
“Almost there,” he whispered, his tone somewhere in between giddy and insane.
Just then, my foot landed on a large pine cone. The papery cone crunched into the earth and made a sound as loud as if I’d stomped on a bag of cornflakes.
The entire forest went quiet. High up in the distant tree, the creature became stiff, the only movement now its snout, which seemed to sniff the air in short bursts, like a dog, followed by a small flash of reflected light, perhaps from its searching eyes or the glint from its fangs.
A drip of something sticky fell on my forehead. When I wiped it away I noticed that it smelled metallic.
As we peered up through the thick branches above us, all the trees seemed to squirm and undulate as if each were a fistful of writhing earthworms.
Matt was also looking skyward, his eyes wide and terrified, his lips moving slowly as we realized that all the surrounding trees were full of the heinous demons.
“They’re everywhere,” he whispered.
“The cave’s our only choice,” I whispered back.
“It’s too far,” Matt said, his voice rising. He pulled against my hand.
“The trees will provide us protection,” I said, pulling him toward me.
Above, the air that pulsed around us sounded as if a growing swarm of gigantic bees had awakened from a long slumber.
“There’s no other way,” I said and tightened my grip.
He nodded his agreement.
As we ran through the forest, our faces became scratched by branches as we bounced from tree to tree. Through the darkness we stumbled on, the only illumination small stripes of moonlight guiding us toward the old water-cistern cave that lay somewhere in the distance.
“Almost there,” I said at the exact moment something yanked Matt from my grip.
I fell to the ground and scrambled under a bush. I couldn’t see Matt any longer, but I could hear his hoarse screams as they trailed off into the darkness.
What happened next is another story.
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