I wrote this short for a horror-themed publication but I recently discovered thanks to my paranoia (long story) that said pub actually went under, so I reached out to them and officially told ’em I was taking it back from them in case they somehow wanted to come back from the dead. I wrote it specifically for that pub/project (a ‘zine basically), so I don’t have the inclination to shop it around to anyone/anywhere else (also it’s relatively short). Anyway, here it is with a slightly-more polished ending, enjoy.
“Devils Moths Owls” by Costa Koutsoutis
“Ahhh, ladies and gentlemen, this is your driver, just letting you know I spoke to one of the officers from the accident up ahead and we should be mov…”
Ty woke with a start, wiping drool from his chin, the old man next to him on the bus still knocked out. The bus was dark, unmoving, and he looked at his watch, groaning.
They’d been on the road for hours trying, and he was already half a day late getting to his parents’ house in south Jersey. They’d left upstate New York hours ago, and were barely a third of the way there, somewhere on the Jersey Turnpike barely out of New York, in the dark in deadlocked traffic. He turned to look out the bus window, into the darkness of the trees on the other side of the turnpike barrier, a blackness darker than the dark of the sky.
Something red blinked at him from within the trees, wide and oval, like a squashed stoplight. And another, and another…another, another.
There was a cluster of them, red pairs, occasionally blinking, watching the bus through from the darkness of inside those woods, the masses on the sides of the Jersey turnpike that no one ever looked into, looked at, thought about, the spaces between townships, lining the roads, the highways, the state. No one else on the bus seemed to see them, just Ty, the bunching almost directly across from his window as the bus sat there, unmoving, unable to drive past this one dark spot.
Ty stared, rubbing his eyes. This couldn’t be right. “What the hell?” he muttered softly in the dark of the bus, looking right at the cluster of red, as one pair after another blinked periodically. It didn’t seem real, but they had to be. Could it be some signs? Some kind of red light that was for sensing speed or something? No, it couldn’t, they were in the middle of nowhere.
One set of the red eyes disappeared, and the tops of the trees, darker against dark, seemed to shake and shudder. Ty looked up, his face pressed against the bus window, seeing…something, emerge from the tops of the trees. It was hard to tell, some kind of tall bulky body with no head, just a fat bump, shoulders bulky..no, not shoulders.
Giant, feathery…maybe, feathery? Not like, dragon wings, but, bird wings. Giant bird wings.
The rest of the eyes, red and periodically blinking in the cluster of the center of the darker-on-dark of the trees still stared out at him, and even through the distance and the window of the bus, Ty shivered. It wasn’t something stupid like the Jersey Devil or whatever, more like, like a bird. Like an owl or something, an owl nest, just a trick of the light. He looked back up at the treetops, at the one…owl…that was up there now, an owl, just looking bigger because of the night, the lack of sleep, with the fat round head and giant wings…and long torso and humanlike legs.
No. No, that’s not right. He stared harder, at this point face directly against the glass, his breath fogging the window, at the tall headless figure with the bright red eyes and massive wings perched on impossibly-long legs on the treetops, looking like it was switching between preening its wings and staring down at the bus, staring at him, a headless man with large folded-back wings and red glowing eyes from a face in that broad chest, just like the clutch of eyes from within that darkness below from the trees.
It was some kind of giant owl, an owl-man, maybe, Ty thought, groping for his phone in his pocket, afraid to look away but knowing he had to, had to look it up, look up something that was tickling at the back of his brain along with that other thing, the old fear. The impulse to hide from a predator that prey feel, an automatic chemical thing that humans had long ago lost. His fingers worked without his eyes breaking away from the window as the giant at the top of the trees stretched out those large wings, spreading wide and blacker-on-black against the sky.
The bus started to move suddenly, a jump forward shifting into an accelerating glide forward, and the view began to shift. Ty turned, as much as he could, backwards to look back at the eyes, watching them continue to slowly blink out of existence in the dark of the side of the highway, the one last pair, the largest, up on the top of the trees, continuing to watch like red pinpricks against the darker-on-dark of the woods by the side of the turnpike.
Ty slumped against this bus seat, realizing he was drenched in cold sweat, like he’d just avoided something, unspeakable, horrible. He looked down at his phone, hands automatically having typed something in, the search results for “giant owl red eyes” loading, ready to be seen just by scrolling the down the phone’s screen.
The bus rolled on, and the whole time, his hands rested on the phone, never looking down, preferring instead, he thought, closing his eyes as the darkness out the windows was replaced by the artificial brightness of street lights and restaurant windows, a comforting shield against whatever was behind those eyes.