Kelly has been running all her life, but now something’s caught up to her that she can’t escape from. The ugly little world she’s been trapped in for the past ten years is being whittled away, piece by piece, person by person. The monster destroying it is as much a mystery to her as he is to himself. Her only hope is to find a way to run before it’s too late.
Dark. It was always dark around him. He tried to imagine what daylight would feel like again on his skin, but the fleeting memory of it only lingered a moment, and the ghost of it made him try to remember a life he had left behind so many years ago. There were times all he wished for was salvation from the hell he survived in, but there was no end for him. Never-ending, that was his existence, and he knew it, no matter how many times he tried to find a way to sever the thread of life that ran through him. Fire had licked his skin and burned away his muscles, but when the pain left his limbs and he was barely more than a thought, his body reworked itself and he found he was whole once more with the hunger wracking his body until it drove him to action.
Driven by the starvation, the need to feed. That was his purpose and had been in those early years after the change. Time had changed him, chiseled away at his purpose, until he was not so sure anymore. There was always the hunger, but he found that, too, much like his body’s ability to rebuild itself, was something that just was. It neither controlled him nor let him have full control of his will. So when the woman stepped across his path and he heard the gentle thrum of her pulse, he both wanted to devour her and then not.
The light from the hallway glowed around her silhouette. Light. He blinked at its brilliance and growled under his breath.
“Hello?” she called softly. “Anyone here?”
He had chosen this place of hiding because, from the looks of it, he didn’t think anyone had been there in years. There was trash crumpled in the corner of the main room, and a distinct scent lingered that spoke of neglect and dust.
He supposed she was attractive or would be to the others like her. He wasn’t like them much at all anymore. The idea of attraction really only applied to his need to eat. He remembered having sex so long ago, but that idea didn’t spark any interest in him now. The idea bored him.
Her heeled boots tapped as she walked into the main room of the apartment. “Well, damn,” she whispered to herself. “I must have the wrong address.” She kept rambling on to herself. He hated when they did that. Made them seem loony.
He sighed and figured she heard the soft sound. It didn’t matter. They never lasted long once they stumbled upon him.
Kelly glanced at the paper Rick had given her, the key to the door dangling from its ring on her pinky finger. “Four thirty-three Rose Street, apartment seven. This is the place. That ass must have stopped for ice cream again.” A shiver ran up her spine. She glanced around the dark space and frowned. Behind the couch, a shadow moved. Just a little shift. Then the sigh. She swallowed and froze.
“Ah, well, I guess I better get going,” she forced out, trying to sound normal. But what did normal sound like anymore? She didn’t remember. Her life was a long string of bad luck and constant change. It was never normal.
She backed away. Whatever, whoever, it was in the shadows was watching her. She didn’t want to turn her back and get caught by surprise. Something was very wrong here. Rick never sent her anywhere he didn’t mean to. Sure, she’d screwed up last time, but she didn’t think it was bad enough for him to off her.
A growl reverberated in the room. It wasn’t a dog. She knew that much for sure. Then the shadow rose slowly as if it were a beast on four legs that had learned to stand like a human on two. It was dark, so black that the shadows of the room flowed into it, drawing her eyes and keeping her mesmerized.
Only it wasn’t an it at all. It was a he, male and naked, his parts hanging out for all to see. She drew her attention up from his crotch and took in his body, roughly hewn muscle and scars, so many thin, black lines that they made an artistic pattern across his skin.
Kelly couldn’t move. Her conscience screamed at her to run like hell, but her body did not respond. She’d seen a lot of freakish things since she started working for Rick. Weird trinkets he sold in the shop, stuffed, dead things that couldn’t or shouldn’t be real. But nothing compared to the monster standing by the worn-out couch in apartment seven.
“Shit,” she whispered.
His cold eyes narrowed. His mouth opened as if he might speak, but he only snarled and started walking toward her.
Fear stole her breath. She started to wheeze, her asthma constricting her throat. The monster might as well have been choking her to death without laying a hand on her.
“What...do...you...want?” His voice sounded dry and long since used up.
She wished she could get away from him; anywhere would be an improvement. Please, God, she begged in silence. Get me out of this one, and I swear I’ll go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life. But God had not answered her, not even once in her life. She did not expect God to answer now.
His ice-cold fingers slipped over her wrist and squeezed. Her whole body started to shake. Red and purple spots began to float before her eyes. Need my inhaler. But her fingers would not obey. The damn little thing was in the side pocket of her purse. If she had any control of herself, she’d have taken the puff and shot from that freak show like a bolt of lightning.
His face inched closer until his large, flat nose brushed against hers. Vaguely, she was aware that she could smell him, and as strange as it seemed, he smelled so very good. The darkness closed in on her vision. Her eyes fluttered. Kelly had passed out a few times in her life, but now was not the time to do so.
“What...do...you...want?” he asked again.
She tried to remember. Rick had sent her to get the package from Stephen. That was it. Ol’ Steve-O was supposed to be holed up in the apartment. Only Kelly figured she’d gotten there too early or maybe too late. He did have a penchant for sweets and being late for work.
“P-p-package,” she forced out between heaving breaths that did nothing to fill her lungs or give her any reprieve.
The monster laughed, and it was not a good sound, almost as horrifying as it was to look upon him.
His curved lips closed in until he was smothering her mouth with his. Only this was no kiss. His fingers pinched over her nose, and she couldn’t breathe at all. Kelly sucked in a gasp and tasted the same sweet flavor of the monster as his essence filled her throat.
Her eyes closed. She had no more strength, and the fear had closed off her hope of escape by causing the asthma attack.
Just when she thought she’d totally black out, his lips receded, and she felt his bulky arms scoop her up like a rag doll. He set her on the couch, not in a gentle way, her head thumping hard on the armrest.
Knock, knock, knock.
She figured it was her heart. It felt like it would beat right out of her chest.
Hinges creaked. A door slammed shut.
“Kelly?” The low voice was familiar. Stephen had finally shown up.
“Kelly? What, you takin’ a nap?”
She forced her eyes open. It hurt, like her eyelids were weighted down. Stephen was standing over her, his brown leather satchel hanging from his shoulder and his right hand clutching a waffle cone, a half-eaten glob of ice cream melting in it.
“Um....” She tried to sit up, but her body ached like she’d done an hour in the gym.
“I got Rick’s stuff, you know.” He took a bite from the cone and chewed with his mouth open. After swallowing, he flashed her a toothy grin that glowed in the dim of the room.
Kelly blinked when the shadows began to swirl in a pattern behind Stephen.
She wanted to scream, to warn him, but it was already too late. The monster closed his fists around Stephen’s upper arms and sunk his teeth into the meaty flesh of his neck.
The waffle cone fell and splattered on the wood floor. Strawberry ice cream, she realized. Stephen’s eyes went wide. His mouth opened in a silent scream. Every muscle on his face tensed, then relaxed. After a few moments, he fell forward, crashing atop her legs.
She held still, waiting for movement, a rise of his chest. There was nothing. His body was heavy, dead weight crushing her.
The monster stood there staring down at her and Stephen, his face serene, the scent of him filling the air, stronger now, so enticing. She could lose herself in that musky flavor. It was pungent, hypnotic.
He ran a hand over his head, grunted, then turned his back and loped across the room to the door. It opened, then closed with a slam.
She was alone with a dead man and a satchel full of money. Kelly struggled to find her purse and her inhaler. She puffed three times.
It took a long while for her head to clear. Life is too short for this shit. She took hold of the satchel and slid it off Stephen’s shoulder. As she shimmied out from under him, his body slid sideways and hit the floor, his face visible now. Dark blood stained his white tee. His shoulder landed in the fallen ice cream.
Kelly closed her eyes, gripped the satchel tight to her belly, and sprinted for the door. She half expected the monster to be waiting outside for her, but the hallway was as empty as it had been when she came up. The stairs were desolate. She took them two at a time and sighed in relief when she got outside into the stinky, polluted air of the city at night.
She didn’t believe much in second chances. All her life, she’d been a screw-up and had done what she had to do to get by. Tonight she’d been spared, and it wasn’t right. Kelly looked up at the stars, which were nearly obscured by the lights and filth. She hadn’t stared at the stars and really seen them since she ran away from home at thirteen.
“Maybe God heard me,” she whispered.
That same deep sigh drifted to her ears. She didn’t turn. There was something about that thing that made it impossible for her to run once she looked it in the eye. Kelly didn’t want to see those haunted eyes ever again. She ran like hell and didn’t look back.