Victor paused. “It’s so far away.”
“Oh, good grief, you’re not a toddler, Gary. You can walk fifty feet by yourself.”
Victor turned and reached for the torch.
“Leave that there,” the man snapped. “Eight years old and still afraid of the dark! I didn’t have the luxury of battery powered lights when I was young, and you can do without it too.”
“Or are you a coward, Gary?”
Victor looked down and shook his head feebly.
“No?” said the man. “Well I hope not. I won’t have your mother raising a coward. All right then, off you go.”
He laid a powerful hand on Victor’s shoulder and shoved him out the door. The tent zipper whirred behind him.
Victor stood there in the cold darkness, with a puzzled look. He blinked and shook his head.
“What the hell was that?” he wondered. “I was like a child in there. Couldn’t say two words to him.” He looked at the three hundred metre path through the trees to the toilet block. “So… I guess I go to the toilet?”
He set off, his shoes crunching over the carpet of twigs and rocks and frosty grass. Leafless trees lined the way; their twisted branches lurched forward in the wind. Above, the night was moonless and black. Only a handful of stars peeked out from behind the long, dawdling clouds to watch the nattering fruit bats flap past.
The walk was long. About halfway, Victor began to hear another set of footsteps. He stopped and looked around.
“Hello? Who’s there?”
A silhouette darted across the path ahead of him.
“Hey! I see you there. What are you doing?”
A tiny glint of light in the bushes drew Victor’s attention. A shadow stood there watching him. There was a heavy flapping above, and in a tree nearby, a high branch creaked, sinking under the weight of a dark, pointy-headed beast. The crunch of another set of footsteps behind him—Victor swung around. He saw no one, but heard a low, guttural growl. With a quicker step he turned and headed for the light at the end of the path.
A sidelong glance revealed shadows among the trees, following him. He increased his pace. The treetops behind him rustled, and then a rhythmic whooshing passed overhead; enormous, angular wings momentarily blotted the stars. A gentle, metallic jangling kept pace, not far off the path. Victor started jogging. Footsteps pursued. As he looked over his shoulder he trod on a pine cone and stumbled. He set his hand down on the icy grass to steady himself, and gasped when he looked down: in a patch of mud next to his hand there was a deep paw print the size of a dinner plate. Victor got up and ran.
The toilet block was now a hundred metres away. He sprinted as fast as he could, straight along the path, leaping the odd puddle or fallen branch. Three, maybe four sets of footsteps gave chase through the trees. Up ahead, the giant wings soared across the path, just above the treetops; a grating screech, like a rapid-pulsing steam whistle, shook the air. Victor’s heart beat double-time, and his feet almost ran him off balance. He closed in on the toilet block, whose buzzing amber light now seemed to him a precious beacon. He crossed the final stretch. At his feet came a snarl and a snap of jaws, and in the darkness at his side a clanging, and a harsh laugh—”Ha-Hargh!”
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