For anyone who knew him, that he should have decided to go for a stroll would not have come as a surprise. After reading and sleeping, it was his favorite thing to do. He didn’t have anywhere in particular in mind when he went walking, yet the vast majority of his walks brought him to one of either two destinations, one of them being the wrought iron arch decorating the city’s exit onto the hill. Tall and black, with the top spreading out like a giant fan, it always struck Billy as gloomy, like a park of dead trees. Even the roses his father had planted at its base couldn’t hide its depressing nature. That’s not to say the arch didn’t hold some kind of attraction for Billy; that so many of his walks led through it was a clear indication that it did, and as he approached it on that chilly May morning, he couldn’t help but notice the roses, and how brilliant they looked.
“Must be the weather,” he thought. “With a day as gray as this one, anything with color is going to stand out.”
He didn’t have time to really think about it though, for almost as soon as he stopped to examine them, a disturbance happened somewhere down the hill.
It sounded like crows, dozens of them. Not really thinking, Billy started in the direction of the noise. Could it be the mountain lion? Or an eagle? He’d seen a big bird through his bedroom window just the other morning, circling slowly above the rooftops. Sometimes when an eagle’s soaring brought them too close to a crow’s nest, all the crows in the area would gather into a noisy throng, rushing the larger bird until it decided to leave. Whatever it was, it must have been causing the crows a considerable amount of stress, because not only did their screaming continue, but it seemed to be gaining in intensity.
“I bet it’s the mountain lion,” Billy said to himself. “She caught herself a crow and now its friends are trying to drive her away.”
Billy continued down the hill, following the noise through the trees, until he noticed the ground on which he was traveling was level. “How long have I been walking?” he wondered, anxiously running his fingers through his hair. The forest he knew existed at an angle, and not to see it like that was enough to send his heart beating. He wasn’t really lost, though; the road leading back to Entry was only a few yards off to his left.
“That’s a relief!” he said, moving to stand on the road’s edge. Following its passage through the trees, Billy was able to discern a slight change in angle as it started up an incline. “So if the hill’s back there,” he thought, turning to peer in the opposite direction, “the flats must be relatively close by!” He stood there, picturing the road as it exited the forest to cut across a vast prairie. And then it occurred to him: “What would happen if I kept going?”
It was while Billy was contemplating the ridiculousness of that thought that he noticed how still the forest was. “What happened to the crows?” he wondered. It wasn’t much later that a bloodcurdling howl filled the air. Too terrible to be a dog, it caused the hair on his neck to stand to attention. The horrible noise was still echoing through the trees when a second noise appeared: the cries of a man frantically calling for help.