Jake slowly raised his head and peered down the gloomily lit seventh floor hallway. He listened to the silence, waiting. The floor that he and Ma lived on was brighter than this one. You could always smell the sauces cooking in Old Lady Dardanelles apartment and the classical music coming through Mr. Collander’s door. You could hear people laughing and children playing down there on the third floor but not here. The seventh was as silent as a tomb.
Then he heard it, there it was! No mistaking it, but it came only once. It was coming from 7 that was for sure. The hair stood up on his arms and he knew that he had to go forward. Ma had told him not to come up here. He wouldn’t get any help from her. He was in full disobedience mode, he was on his own and he was scared. At least the hallway was carpeted so he could step silently. He supposed that was a good thing.
All the doorways were on the left, windows on the right. Windows had all been blacked out. He stopped at the first door and got down on his hands and knees, looking for light coming out from below – nothing. He put his ear against the cool wood and listened. Maybe he heard a soft scratching sound but he couldn’t be sure. It was probably his imagination. It wasn’t the cackle that he had heard before. He listened for a while longer and then crept deeper into his nightmare. His hands were shaking, his mouth was dry, and his heart was racing. A timpani drum was pounding in his chest.
He heard it again. It was coming from the end of the hall. He heard the cackle and a rustling noise that might have been paper or clothing or, God forbid, may have been wings folding back in place behind the angel of death or behind Richard.
Ma had told him stories of Richard whose wings turned black with the full moon and hindered his ability to fly and hunt. Maybe he and Wilson, his magnificent and bloodthirsty lion companion, were hiding on 7 waiting for his wings to change back so they could hunt from the air again. He knew from Ma’s stories that they were killers. They killed for amusement and they killed for food.
Was it a full moon? He couldn’t remember. He heard the cackle again, the lights flickered but he saw nothing down the hall. Jake pulled himself erect and threw his shoulders back, show no fear.
“Who’s there?” he called. The lights went out and he heard the sounds of scuffling and that cackle again. Jake yelped.
Seconds later, the lights came back on there was a man leaning against the wall, not three feet in front of Jake. He wore a black suit and had black wings folded behind him. His dark hair was slicked back, heavily pomaded, perfectly coiffed.
“Look, Wilson.” the man said, “Dinner has arrived. I’m famished.”
Jake looked over his shoulder when he heard the roar, “Splendid.” The lion said and he roared a second time.