PRIVATE PARKING LOT, MABON CITY
MONDAY, OCTOBER 20
7:07 AM


Mabon City is a study in contradictions. New, lean skyscrapers of glass and metal stood beside stocky, century-old brick buildings. There are waterways and highways, concrete industrial parks and thick, luscious forest, dingy slums and luxurious mansions. All existing within stones throws of one another.

The parking lot at the end of my street is a prime example of the peculiarities of the city coming together. The buildings flanking either side of the alley were squat, old apartment complexes. The older of the two was a red-bricked heirloom sporting the scars of a hundred years' use. The other, a twenty-something with orange-creamsicle vinyl siding, was just beginning to show its age. At the end of the ally, and across the street, a sparkly new high rise complex towered over everything. On the south side, a quaint public garden—still alive with a riot of colors despite the recent cold snap—stood defiantly in the face of the urban jungle around it.

This morning, each of them bore flashes of red and blue.

I paused at the threshold of the alleyway and parking lot, removed my earbud. The garbled mess of the police radio and the cacophony of voices from those gathered around assaulted me. Neighbors peered out of dingy windows at whatever spectacle had summoned the police. It must have been significant since there were a couple of news teams already reporting live from the edges of the police barrier. And I was just one of the many passersby who stopped for a look on the way to somewhere else. While the onlookers all vied for a better spot, I scanned the lot for a particular car. It was precisely where it should be: in spot A7. I skirted the police perimeter to reach agilisi's P. O. S. Taurus. The only advantage of being so freakishly short like I was (Come on! four feet five is short!) was the fact that I didn't weigh enough to dent the hood when I climbed up for a better look.

Cops were everywhere, snapping photographs, measuring stuff, taking notes. A few stood by their squad cars, talking over the radio. Two detectives in cheap suits were being interviewed by the press. Others stood guard on the sidelines, intent on keeping out anyone who might interfere with the scene.

The usual controlled chaos.

The first thing that really held my attention was the wreck that had been a Cadillac Escalade. The roof had been struck by something heavy enough to cave the windshield and blow out the driver's window. I scanned overhead, measuring the rooftops. I doubt even an Olympic athlete could leap the forty-some feet to land on the roof of a car in the middle of the lot. Shards of glass littered the ground beside the SUV, telling me that the vehicle hadn't been moved.

And, judging by the body bag the two guys in blue jumpsuits were jostling onto one of those wheeled beds, this wasn't a meteorite or weather balloon. There was absolutely no way the corpse was a stunt skydiver with a faulty chute. If that had been the case, there would be evidence of the chute somewhere. Ropes. Cloth. Something.

Okay, I admit; I wanted to be a police officer one day. (Not that that would ever happen with my "mental instability.") This crime scene was a test for my fledgling investigative skills, and I was getting too wound up in it. I took a deep breath to calm my racing thoughts and wished I hadn't. Among the blending smells of colognes and perfumes, car exhaust, and garbage was something else. I recalled the scent from last week's geology lesson when we studied the properties of little, yellow lumps. Though faint, I recognized this as the acrid stench of sulfur.

I wiped my nose. How the hell does sulfur wind up in a parking lot?

That was when a hauntingly familiar sensation began to wash over me. I held my breath, ready for the plunge knew I couldn't stop. Everything went numb, and the world fell away like a dream…

A guard moved through the halls, confident in his stride despite the dimness of the estate. He paused at a doorway, chuckled at his partner who stood grimacing at the eerie antique that had just been put on display, and moved on. He hadn't even gone three paces when suddenly the few lights that remained on began to flicker.

After a moment more, they went out entirely, and darkness swallowed everything. A sudden, icy chill made him shiver, and he could swear he saw his breath escape in a cloud of mist.

He heard someone stumble, and called out to see if they were okay.

Glass shattered.

An alarm blared.

The guard quickly pulled his sidearm from its holster and rushed back to the hallway he had just passed. The air was freezing and ripe with the stench of rotten eggs. His partner was on the floor; dead or unconscious, he couldn't tell in the constricting darkness. But someone… or something was standing over him. It was shapeless and darker than black, almost as if it drank in the shadows around it and turned everything darker. And in its possession was the eerie antique from the display.

The guard trained his SIG on the dark mass and shouted as boldly as he could, "Freeze!"

The shadow whipped around with a hiss that no human could possibly make. Two glowing orbs the color of blood were instantly trained on him. The thing bared startling white fangs in a grin that reminded him of an evil Cheshire cat. He aimed for the thing's trunk and squeezed the trigger. He felt his heart plummet into the pit of his stomach when he heard the bullet ricochet off the far wall. The shadow chuckled, dark and mocking. It lunged at him, and he screamed as he emptied the clip.

The next thing he knew, he was numb from head to toe and shivering uncontrollably, just as if he had been caught outside during a blizzard in Antarctica. He barely caught a glimpse of the shadow before it blinked out of existence; it was still smiling. When at last sensation began to return, he quickly realized that he was weightless, and the wind stole his breath as it ripped past him. It reminded him of his days in the Air Force's jump school. Only this time he was in freefall, and plummeting towards the ground without a lifeline.

I snapped back to reality as if someone had dumped a barrel of ice water on me. My breath came in shaky gulps of air like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. Goosebumps covered every inch of my skin while sweat traced a trail down from my temples. And the hair on the back of my neck was tingling from the slightest touch of the morning breeze. I tried desperately to shake it off, but the strange feeling only remained to plague me.

Movement on my left finally stole my attention, and I watched the two guys in jumpsuits load the body in the back of an ambulance. I knew exactly who was underneath the black plastic of the body bag. I could see his face in my mind in crystal clear HD, though I had never laid eyes on him before. He had bright, hazel eyes beneath bushy eyebrows. His nose was crooked from that time he got punched in a bar fight in Korea. A faint scar ran along his chin, a reminder from when he fell out of a tree when he was a kid.

Like I said, my name suits me.

The ambulance doors closed, and I finally looked away.

That was when I noticed a guy with shaggy, brown hair watching me as he spoke into his phone. I figured him for one of the police officers on the scene since he wore a suit like the ones I have seen the detectives on TV wear. He must have been eyeing me because I was standing on agilisi's car. I put on what I hoped looked like a sweet smile and waved a little. He continued to stare at me, but his expression changed from curious to sour. I decided it was time I got out of there. The last thing I needed was any more trouble with the police. I had to get going anyway, or my Homeroom teacher will have my butt in detention and agilisi would have me enslaved in her shop for a month.

I hopped off the hood, circled around to the trunk. Quickly unlocking it with the key in my bag, I snatched a couple of the breakfast bars I'd stashed with the spare. I devoured one as I continued my usual walk to school, though a wee bit faster due to my little side trip. The weird thing was… I kept feeling like I was being followed. But every time I looked over my shoulder, the sidewalks would be empty. It was driving me bonkers, and, for once, I couldn't wait to get to school.