Crenshaw was running hard. The air around him was thick with mist, and as he ran he muttered in between breaths and his muttering pulled the mist closer around him like a cocoon. Light of the full moon shone through and glowed about him, and he could see the shadows of the trees as he ran. Soft hoof beats sounded in the distance, slightly muffled by the closely-spaced trees. Suddenly, Crenshaw’s foot caught a root and he went sprawling to the dirt. But there was no time: the sound of hoof beats drew nearer, and he bolted to his feet and was off like shot again, muttering louder and drawing the mist tighter and tighter around him. He hoped this would shield him from the beast’s sight, but he knew that he would have to try harder than that to escape for good.
Crenshaw pushed himself, and as he dodged below a low-slung branch and rounded the next tree, suddenly found himself in the middle of a clearing. The trees surrounding the outside seemed to grow and loom, closing the gaps between them: Crenshaw could not pass through. The only way out was back where he came from, back from where the beast was coming. The hoof beats grew louder. Crenshaw slung his backpack to the ground. As it hit the dirt, the beast stepped into the clearing; a great four-legged, sleek black creature with silver eyes. It looked streamlined, as if made for running. A strange black cloud seemed to hover around it, and as he scrabbled through his pack, Crenshaw saw the cloud condense and grow darker, before reforming into a humanoid figure. An ordinary person may have been scared witless by this beast, but not Crenshaw. Though apprehensive, Crenshaw was used to dealing with such things. For Crenshaw was a preternaturalist: an agent trained in handling the non-physical. Crenshaw was the one that you called when your plates started throwing themselves off the walls, or the taps began to run blood instead of water, or the mirrors in your house began to tremble and shake when you looked into them.
Usually, paranormal manifestations could be cured with a sprinkling of salt and a few lit candles, but this creature was a manifestation far more powerful than usual. It was actively hostile towards Crenshaw, actually hunting him. He’d dealt with deadly stuff before, but that was back at headquarters with a lot more equipment. Like silver chain, giant mirrors, banishing circles and portable sunshine. He felt in his pack: all he had was a pistol with silver bullets, and a small jar of iron filings. The rest of the stuff must have fallen out when he fell, thought Crenshaw. What he had would only allow him to delay the beast. Still, delaying the beast would allow him to escape, which would allow him to find out exactly why a giant feral shape-shifting spirit was wandering the countryside.
Suddenly, the beast spun on the spot and the dark cloud surrounding it expanded, stripping Crenshaw of his fog cocoon. The moon went out and the stars were hidden as the beast turned and faced him. Thinking fast, Crenshaw grabbed the jar and hurled it at the beast. It hit and shattered, and the beast spluttered for a moment giving Crenshaw time to aim; the beast launched forward at Crenshaw, he dropped to the ground and fired once, twice, three times: the silver bullets tore great chunks of darkness from the beast as they flew. With an ear-splitting screech, the creature rose up into the air and swooped down at Crenshaw to tear at him, but he was too fast: he ducked and rolled to avoid the claws and landed hard on his back at the base of a tree while the creature passed overhead. The creature flared out its black cloud again, but Crenshaw got off another shot and it was thrown backwards as more chunks of it were ripped off. It rose into the air, screeched again, wheeled round and took off, disappearing like smoke in the wind.
The moon burst into life and the stars erupted in the sky as the beast left. The trees seemed to shrink and become less menacing. Crenshaw groaned. With the running and the fighting and the falling, he was aching. The screech of the beast seemed to serve more than just as a distress cry: Crenshaw found that it seemed to ring in his ears, long after the creature was gone. Crenshaw lay on the ground and breathed slowly to calm himself. He had time. The creature would need a while to re-form, before chasing after him again. He needed to call base.
Crenshaw reached into his pocket and felt his cellphone still there. He flipped it open and pressed speed dial. He was calling headquarters. Kel would answer, and he would ask her to set up a portal for him. She would ask why, he’d give her the short version, she’d admonish him for wandering into a dark wood and losing his way, he’d tell her to get a move on with the portal and she’d say “Yeah, yeah” like she always did and he’d feel the familiar tingling vibrations that teleportation caused and in a heartbeat he’d be back at HQ, appearing in the carved binding circle, Kel just outside the circle with a bucket of warm salt water and a relieved expression. He would have to wash any lingering supernatural effects off of himself with the salt water, then stand and go over to Kel and tell her the long version of what happened. He could already see her face as he told her about dropping his pack when he fell: she’d roll her eyes and cross her arms and tut at him. Maybe he’d leave out that part about dropping the pack, Crenshaw thought. After all, the long version doesn’t have to include everything that happened. But Kel had a way of knowing when he was leaving things out.