Though the sun shone brightly in the almost cloudless sky, the cold air bit into any exposed skin it could reach. The snow that had fallen days before had now compacted into ice providing little stability for those who were brave enough to walk on the dark patches. Almost all were unprepared for the unpredictable weather.
A single bird was perched motionless upon a low branch of a leafless tree. Unknown to the rest of the world it sat there in silence, moving only when the winds blew the branches and even then hardly any of its slick black feathers were ruffled. But the stillness and the silence kept it from the minds of all those who happened to glance up as they walked bellow. Hardly giving a second thought, if even a first, to the silent crow.
That is, all people but one. A young woman who walked with her gloved hands stuffed in the pockets of her coat. She had her arms pressed into her side and her shoulders were slightly hunched pushing up her scarf and protecting her from the wind's icy bite.
Her name was Cassandra. Though she preferred people to call her Cassie. It was her boyfriend, Dean, who had started to call her by such a name when they had first met in their childhood. The two of them had grown up close friends and some time later, they fell in love. It had been two years since the beginning of their relationship. Cassie was eighteen years old and in her second year of college, like Dean and most of her friends, and was studying Chemistry, Biology and English Literature. People often remarked on her intellect, almost as if surprised that she dreamed of becoming a doctor and providing health care to people in third world countries. But it was something that Cassie had always wanted to do; help people.
It was just by chance that Cassie looked up to the tree where the silent crow had perched. Her walking slowed and her brow furrowed a little as she continued to watch the stillness. There was something odd about this particular bird that she had noticed which none before her had. She couldn't quite place her finger on what the oddness was. The frown remained on her brow for a while longer as she continued on her journey home.
Later that day, she was stood just outside the front door to her house when a car pulled up, its engine going silent as the driver motioned to leave the car. Cassie smiled when she her eyes focused on Dean, the sight of him enough to bring warmth to her. She walked with caution to the car so that Dean need not come to knock on the door. Her careful steps managed to keep her upright on the last of the ice that lingered on her drive way. Anticipation filled her as she slid into the passenger side of the car, smile still in place.
"Ready to party?" chimed the familiar voice. Cassie turned to Dean, his oak leaf green eyes shining bright on the dim light provided by the dashboard.
"Of course," came Cassie's reply with a light chuckle. "You?"
"Aren't I always?" Dean's smile widened as he leant forward to peck Cassie on the lips. Though their lips were together for a fraction a second, Cassies lips tingled with the warmth left behind by Dean's own. Their eyes locked for a moment before Dean turned back to the steering wheel, the smile making his eyes shine even brighter. With the turn of the key, the engine roared into life before calming to an almost content purr. Dean moved the car forward and onto the road, his hands moving about the car with an already professionalism that he had grasp soon after getting his licence. Cassie watched as the world passed her by, the sound of the radio playing a song with a familiar beat to which she taped her fingers against the window.
"It's freezing!" Cassie exclaimed as she and Dean walked toward the black painted door together. Dean squeezed Cassie's hand gently as they walked, his other occupiued with the bag of clinking bottles. When at the door Cassie knocked firmly so that it could be heard over the sound of the booming music, the bass of which seemingly caused the door to shake a little. As they waited for the door to open and be welcomed into the warmth of another teen party, Cassie found her eyes almost scanning the surrounding area almost as if in search for something.
Her eyes caught it then; a crow, perched perfectly still on a black gate, the paint of which had been chipped over the years. The world seemed to fall away as he continued to stared at the creature, something like familiarity sting in the back of her mind.
"Cass?" She turned to Dean's voice, her brow furrowed a little in slight confusion. "You okay?" Cassie's confusion was matched only by her boyfriend's worry. She glanced back to the gate for a second as if to confirm what she saw. The crow was gone. She cast her eyes upward as she tried to drown out the muffled sounds of the music coming from within. There was no use looking, which Cassie realised after seeing the faint light of the brightest stars against the black of the night.
"M'fine," was her response as she turned back to Dean with a somewhat forced smile.
Before the questioning look in his eyes had chance to form into an actual question, the door flew open and the chorus of some song that Cassie had never heard before came flowing out as an already tipsy dark haired guy called over the music "Cassie! Dean!" The unnamed guy hiccuped before standing aside to allow them into what was apparently his home. "Welcome!"
Cassie stepped over the threshold with a grateful smile. Having Dean step in behind her did nothing for the uneasy feeling that still lingered. Taking a deep breath and removing her coat, Cassie pushed through the gang of people, who had decided that in front of the door was the best place to stand, in search of someone she knew as Dean remained by the door talking to his tipsy friend, the host.
The night passed by quicker than Cassie had anticipated. As midnight approached, Cassie found Dean sat in the kitchen with a friend of his, both of them taking shots with the same scrunched up expressions at the taste. She laughed as she pulled him into the garden that was lit with small lights along the wooden fence that stretched around the perimeter. The rest of the people had gathered outside too, the music blasting out of the window. The countdown began and at the stroke of midnight, Cassie's lips collided with Dean's, the two of them caught between smiling and laughing as they pulled one another closer as thought to shield each other from both the cold and roaring sound of the rest of the party screaming and shouting in jubilation.
Cassie spent the next three hours trying to make Dean sober with multiple cups of coffee and almost a full loaf of bread. When it was finally time for them to leave, half an hour was spent saying goodbye and trying to convince those that were still awake that they had to leave. With Cassie almost asleep in the passenger eat, Dean help her with her seatbelt and started the engine for the first time that year. The noise dragged Cassie back into the waking world with a start. Dean chucked lightly at Cassie who retorted only with a small smile and an eye roll.
"Y'know, maybe you shouldn't drive." Though her words were a little slurred from the alcohol and tiredness, Dean answered Cassie with sincerity.
"We've gotta get you home, remember. Besides, I'm sober." He chuckled. "Do you know much coffee I've had?" Cassie wanted to interject but the tendrils of unconsciousness worked their way around her and pulled her into the borderline between sleep and consciousness, the unsettling feeling returning with a nauseating kick.
Cassie had lost the ability to accurately determine the passing of time after the third shot but it couldn't have been more than five minutes into their journey when it happened. Her lids covered her eyes for only a moment but when they opened once more, she found herself dazed and confused. A dull thud was sounded. The cracking of what sounded like thick branches began. Cassie's limit to tolerate pain was obliterated a matter of seconds. In screaming agony, she sank into the abyss of unconsciousness. The blurred world that was once before her became nothing. The jaws of darkness snapped shut. It was too late. She had been consumed.
The darkness was all Cassie knew for a short while as the harsh cold wind bit into her skin. Her jaw began to move on its own, the chattering of her teeth the only sound to Cassie's ears. She opened her eyes to see nothing more than when they were closed. Her brow pulled together once more and the now ever present feeling of unease was more intense.
And that's when she heard it; the howl in the dark followed by a low growl that seemly came from every direction. Every muscle in Cassie's body became rigid with fear as her breathing increased. She slammed her hand against her mouth in hope that it would muffle the sound from the creature that she could feel getting closer. The growl returned, this time louder. Cassie's legs acted before her mind even registered the thought of running. They moved faster than she could ever remember, carrying her into the unknown. A small part of her, in the back of her mind, knew that now she had started running the beast would follow. The game would never end. Now that she had started running, she would never be able to stop.