By: Writes with Block
A fat raindrop fell along with its siblings from the heavens and splashed onto the shingled roof of a house down below. It splattered but gathered itself once again and began a gentle slide down the tilt of the roof. It dangled precariously on a corner for a long moment, dancing wildly in the wind. Then it fell, twinkling and reflecting the dark back drop of the storm clouded sky. The rain drop splashed against the cheek of the corpse dangling off the porch railing, gaining a slight pink hue before dropping to the ground to join its brothers. And the rain continued to fall, sliding over and down the face of the woman on the porch, dripping merrily into her open mouth and wide, staring eyes.
The young man stood in the yard, hair plastered to his face. He regarded the corpse with solemn, grieving eyes. He had been too late and now she was dead. Moving quickly, he knelt next to the corpus and, pulling a board white cloth from his wrist, covered her face. After a moment of consideration, he gently removed a thin gold bracelet from the woman's left wrist. Pocketing the jewelry, he removed a red plastic tie from his back pocket and tied it to the porch railing. There was no time for mourning and no time to waste. There were others who were being targeted. Another team would come in after him and take care of this mess. It wasn't his job. Turning away from the ruined house and the dead woman, he ran into the rain.
Kalen McCathery looked down at her watch and sighed mentally. Squinting her eyes, she looked up at the dim street lamp she was standing under. Its color was a dull, hazy yellow and small insects flew around it in lazy circles. The sky beyond was dark with rain clouds and the moon was nowhere in sight. The young high school student shifted nervously when the street lamp flickered and dimmed before blinking back into dull life. Kalen scratched at her nose, right where a constellation of freckles inhabited, and her brow wrinkled. Something felt strange about his night, as if someone were watching her intently. The feeling had persisted all day long, no matter where she was. At school, at the shop, and at the library where she worked. Nothing and no one had been behind her when she checked but the feeling refused to go away. A great sense of impending doom settled in her stomach like a lead weight. It made her nervous and over sensitive to every sound, sight, and scent. She was afraid to make a lot of noise, anxious to keep whatever was stalking her at bay.
'I never should have volunteered to work that extra shift,' Kalen thought angrily. 'If I hadn't I would have gotten here sooner and it wouldn't be nearly as dark out here.' Sighing again, Kalen craned her neck to look up the path that led to her Dad's house. 'If something is out there why doesn't it just eat me all ready? The anticipation is worse than the fear.'
"Okay," she mumbled softly to herself. "All I have to do is walk less than ten feet up this path to get to the house. The house is safe. It has doors and locks and knives. Nothing can get into the house." Despite her little pep talk, she was reluctant to leave the illusion of safety the street lamp represented. Security was in the light and only monsters prowled about in the shadows before her. "You will have to go the house eventually. You can't just stand here forever. You'll get bit by a bat or something. Are bats attracted to light?" She skittishly looked up at the street lamp and swallowed with difficulty. "Great. Now I'm freakin' myself out."
Her hazel eyes narrowed as she once again tried to see the house but the beacon of safety was around a curve in the road and out of sight. That fact made it hard for her feet to get motivated. Kalen made a soft sound in the back of her throat, half anger and half nervous agitation. If there really were anything out in the dark it could have eaten or destroyed her by now. The longer she stayed out here, hiding in plain sight, the worse it would be when she finally started moving.
'I've walked this same path to the house for ten years. Unless that crazy raccoon is back there's nothing to be afraid of,' she reasoned mentally. 'And the raccoon wasn't that scary in the first place.' Even as she thought those comforting thoughts, another part of her brain knew it was a crap argument. It wasn't what was up on the path that was scaring her so badly; it was whatever was stalking behind her. She wondered if this was what it felt like being on a lower rung of the food chain, always knowing and waiting for something to decide you looked tasty.
"I am not a tasty snack cake," she said definitively and stepped out of the ring of light. As soon as she did a great chill ran up her spine and she realized all at once that she'd made a terrible decision. Whatever had been watching her was held at bay only by light. Now it was free to chase and pounce and feed. Heart suddenly in her throat and feeling dizzy, Kalen sprinted up the path toward the house. She could hear it getting closer, its horrible footfalls a clear toll of death. She rounded the curve of the path and rocketed out in the green lawn. She could see the house. It was only a few feet away!
Tripping over something hidden by the grass, Kalen desperately pin wheeled for balance but there was no hope in it. She sprawled out across the lawn, cracking her elbow harshly on the ground. She kicked frantically at the ground but was unable to gain any traction on the dew slicked ground. She heard the monster, that horrible thing behind her, gave a cry of absolute triumph. Crying out weakly, Kalen knew there was no hope. She couldn't escape this. Nausea overwhelmed her and her head throbbed so acutely she thought her eyeballs might explode. But suddenly everything stopped. Only it wasn't everything that stopped, it was just the monster. The monster had stopped because it was afraid.
What was a monster afraid of? Looking up from the slick grass, her eyes moved to the large, overgrown tree a few yards to her right. She focused there without really knowing why. The tree had been there for as long as she'd lived in this house and it had, for some odd reason, grown outward rather than upward. It wasn't much taller than the average adult male but was more than twice its own size in circumference. A sudden breeze made the leaves rustle darkly and a red eye winked at her from within their grasp.
The breath she'd only been starting to regain strangled in her throat and became solid. The muscles in her neck twitched and her all ready wide eyes widened even further. The wind pulsed again and the tree swayed. Something was inside the leaves, something that remained solid and stoic. The branches settled again and the solid thing took on the shape of a man. That red eye winked again maliciously from the shadow of the trees and the man-shape Kaleen's body twitched spasmodically and she uttered a soft sound of fear. She couldn't tell what was more frightening: the frozen monster behind her or this man thing hiding in the tree.
The man-shape detached itself from the tree and took a long, slow step toward her. The red eye winked again, burning wickedly in the darkness. The dark stranger continued its slow amble toward her, its steps muffled by the dewy grass. As it came closer, Kalen's brain began to scream at her to run but her body refused to respond.
'We're sorry but all circuits are busy right now. Please try again later,' Kalen thought inanely. She tried to push herself off the ground but there was no strength in her arms or legs. Her limbs felt useless and foreign. Another squeak of fear escaped her mouth when the dark man stopped at her side and reached down toward her. Closing her eyes tightly, Kalen wasn't prepared when the stranger pulled her too her feet as if she weighed nothing.
Surprise caused her to reopen her eyes and she found herself looking into the chest of a stranger whose face she couldn't make out in the dark. The man-shape had something hanging from his mouth and, her eyes following the motion, Kalen suddenly realized it was a cigarette. He took a long drag and removed it from his mouth, breathing out slowly. The smoke billowed around her face, its scent slightly different from the norm. Instead of tobacco the smoked smelled like sharp spices, slightly sweet and musky at the same time. The young man, at least she assumed he was young, put the cigarette back in his mouth and turned his eyes to the darkened path.
He hissed something in a foreign sounding language and the sudden illness that had fallen of Kalen began to reside. If she strained her ears, she could dimly hear something crashing through the trees. The monster was running away!
"Are you going to breath?" he asked finally. His voice had a strange accent to it, a softening of the vowels until the sounded like nothing more than a breath of air. The smell of smoke hit her as he spoke and Kalen's chest burned painfully even as her mind cleared. She chanced a quick, strangled breath and the guy smirked. "Such foolishness."
Hearing his voice again Kalen decided that his accent might be eastern European. Then she wondered why it would matter.
"What are you so afraid of? If I was going to kill you I would have done so all ready." He looked at her for a reply and grunted when he received none. "Go inside. I've wasted enough of my time making sure you arrived safely." He took a long drag off his cigarette, blew the smoke in her face, and walked away.
"But the monster!" Kalen shouted. "There was a monster chasing me."
"Monsters don't exist," he called over his shoulder.
"You scared it away!"
"Go into your house," the stranger replied. "You're just having a nightmare."
Before she could work up a reply, the stranger disappeared into the shadows. Her brain running on mostly adrenalin Kalen looked around the yard for some kind of sign. Other than the pain her elbow and the lingering smell of herbs there was no proof that anything had happened. Even the nausea and headache had disappeared as quickly as it had come on.
"It wasn't a dream," she mumbled to herself and numbly went into the house.