This is an original work, all copyright reserved, 2009
I would rate this R, for mature
content. There is extreme violence, bad language and sex between two
Author's Note: This story was written in less than a week and has only had a cursory editing. Any mistakes are therefore my own. Also, this is a very dark tale, so there are no rainbows or bunnies. Instead, there's death and blood and horror. Please do not read if you are easily . . . squicked.
Thanks to Rushin.doll for the quick beta read.
Comments are more than encouraged. I may not respond to all of them, but I will try. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Changing Moon
The last thing she remembered was being at the club and suddenly getting light-headed. She'd leaned against a wall to close her eyes for a moment, and now she was waking up in a moving vehicle, with three shadowy figures around her. It was no wonder she screamed.
"Hey, shut up!"
"You shut up, all of us did the same thing." One of the nearer shadows loomed over her while the other two stayed back. A deep voice asked, "You okay, kid?"
"Where the hell am I?" As she blinked things came into focus and moved out again. "Who are you?"
The first voice answered her. "I'm Billy and you're the same place we all are, in the back of a fucking van. What, you blind?"
"Shut the fuck up, Billy."
Try as she might, she couldn't make out detail in the very low lights, but by the voices two of the people in the van with her were men.
The closest shadow leaned a little closer. "Name's Jack, you met Billy, and this here's Max." The third figure, silent so far, nodded at her. "Who're you?"
"Cory." She put a hand to her forehead, wincing. "What happened? How'd I end up here?"
"It was a nuclear bomb and we're the survivors." There was obvious sarcasm in Billy's voice and then the sound of a slap echoed in the van. "What?"
"Shut up, fucker." A new voice, presumably Max.
"Then tell the bitch to stop askin' dumb fuckin' questions."
"She just woke up; you didn't know fuck-all when you woke up. You still don't."
"And you do?"
The van pulled to a stop, all them being thrown toward the front, Max crashing into Cory before grunting an apology.
"Looks like we're here, where ever the hell here is. Let's just keep our cool and see what's what."
"Yeah, that makes sense, thanks, Yoda."
Another slap was heard, and Billy squealed. "Stop that, motherf--"
Suddenly the back of the van opened and light poured in. A masked figure appeared, then another. The first appeared unarmed, the second carried a whip. "Out! All of you, get out!"
Billy was out first, then Max, and then Jack. Cory scrambled after them, grateful when Jack turned and offered her a hand to help her step down.
"So, what the fuck are you, a reject from a haunted house?" Billy had stepped up to the first masked figure. "Must be a bad one if you gotta fuckin'--"
Something whistled through the air, ending in a solid crack, and Billy screamed, dropping to his knees and grabbing at his face. He was grabbed by other masked figures that hauled him to his feet, slamming him into the now closed doors to the van. The one with the whip was now coiling it as he watched. "You will not speak, meat. You will obey, until time. And then -- you'll run." He motioned towards the figures holding Billy, and they began to drag him away from the van. "You three, follow. And no talking."
They followed, Jack staying close to Cory, with Max bringing up the rear. In the distance came the sounds of other vans arriving, other people being shouted at, whips cracking. Cory had counted four masked figures herding them, and wondered how many there were in total. The fact that they were masked gave her the slightest hope that she'd get out of whatever was happening; if she couldn't see faces, she couldn't identify anyone.
Billy was pushed to a set of stone steps and dropped. The whip cracked beside him, and he jerked.
Slowly, he did. The other three followed. At the top, Cory slipped, tripping over broken stone and skinning her hand. Jack took advantage of helping her up to whisper in her ear. "Hang in there. We'll get outta this."
She really wanted to believe, and clung to his hand as well as his
words, until a figure moved in their direction, and she pulled away
quickly. With a nod, the figure moved back.
Cory took a moment to look at the men around her. Jack, to her right was a tall man, with dark skin and hair. She couldn't tell his ethnicity, but figured he might have some latino blood in him. His voice was masculine, but not a bass, and he was dressed in what looked to be a blue work jacket, with his name embroidered in a white oval on the front. Catching her glance, he nodded, then shifted his shoulders, his head down, but his eyes watching carefully.
If Jack was tall, Max was even more so. She'd always had trouble judging height, so she thought in steps; If she was the floor, Jack was a step up and Max another step after that. Max was black, his shoulders wide, and he reminded Cory of a football player. Unlike Jack who was slumping slightly as he watched, Max was standing straight up, hands in his pockets. He didn't have a jacket but was wearing a sweatshirt that said 'Brenner's Gym.' She wondered if he'd just come from working out.
The last member of their foursome was still looking angry, like he wanted to protest or lash out, but since the lash had fallen he'd been quiet. Taller than Cory, but not as tall as the other two, Billy was white, with brown hair that fell over his eyes in front and brushed his collar in back. Wearing a polo shirt and a thin leather wind breaker with the sleeves pushed up, he looked like a frat boy on his way to a date. The image was spoiled by the still bloody whip mark that ran down his cheek.
Looking beyond the three of them, Cory could see other people now, being herded by other masked figures, until they were part of a larger group standing with their backs against a stone wall. Cory could see other women among the group, but all of them were silent. Jack stayed by her side, like a silent beacon, though Max and Billy seemed to drift into the crowd at large.
Suddenly a group of overhead lights came on, illuminating the area and making the group blink in the sudden brightness. As their eyes tried to adjust, more masked figures appeared, forming a half circle in front of the group, keeping them against the stone wall. The captives didn't speak, most either huddling against the stone, or wrapping their arms around themselves as they gazed at the wall of people in front of them. A few glared defiantly, hands on their hips. Most just looked scared.
Cory figured she was among the frightened, but she refused to huddle, standing with her arms to her sides, hands in the pocket of her old leather jacket. Like the rest of her group, she didn't speak.
Finally, a tall figure in a dark cloak stepped forward. Even with his mask in place one could mark him as the leader by the respectful way the men around him moved aside. He held no whip, but Cory could easily make out a sword hilt at his side. She'd seen others among their captors, but none so ornate, so obviously a king's sword, and the man who wore it made her nervous as he surveyed the people in front of him like a hunter with his prey.
He studied them a moment longer, then spoke, his voice booming in the cold night.
"Welcome! You have all been chosen to take part in an ancient rite. You should rejoice! This next twenty-four hours will see your life change -- or end."
There was a loud guffaw from the crowd, and Cory winced, expecting it to be Billy. It wasn't, though. A tall black man, his hair in dreadlocks, raised his arms. "What the fuck is this? Who the fuck you work for? Is this some goddamned Halloween trick, cause I ain't laughin'!"
Several other voices were raised in support, a restless feeling passing through the captives. Cory could hear words and phrases passing around her; "only got whips," "ain't seen no guns," "bunch of pussies." Jack, still standing by her, seemed to pick up the feeling as he stood a little taller.
Laughter came from the masked group, all but their leader. He waited for a moment, then beckoned the black man forward. "You wish to see a trick?" He cocked his head to the side, his hand going to his blade. "Allow me to show you one."
Cory jerked even as the sword was pulled in a fluid motion, the blade arcing through the air with a whistle before circling around and being resheathed. For a moment no one moved --
until the black man's body began to tilt backwards, his hands reaching for his throat as blood ran down his body in rivers, flowing across the ground even as the people around him backed away with gasps. No one moved to help him, and after several moments of twitching, he stopped, his hands falling away, his eyes staring into the lights but not seeing them.
More swords were unsheathed. The captives moved back, instinctively seeking protection in the crowd. A couple of the women began to cry. Cory shivered, but blinked only a single tear from her eye. Perhaps it was shock, she thought, or just fear, that kept her from breaking down then.
"If I may continue." The leader stepped forward again, one hand at his side, the other caressing the hilt of his sword. Slowly turning to the right, he took slow steps, his men closing in behind him to fill the gap he left. "Most of you probably think of hunting as something men do, but there was a time when man was the prey, the hunted, not the hunter. Man ran, man hid, and man shivered in the night, fearing the darkness. Then he learned his own power, he learned the ways of the beast, and he accepted them, becoming like them, killing, feeding on flesh, and existing in the embrace of nature itself." He turned back to the left, keeping his paces slow and even. "Then man betrayed himself, betrayed nature, and created civilization. He turned his back on the hunt, and the gods grew angry with him. They sent the beasts against him, and a war was fought, with man having to choose between his civilized world -- and the nature of the beast."
Again there was a slow turn. Cory watched him, unable to take her eyes from his dark form. The story he told made no sense to her, but his voice, the way he told the story, underscored his very belief in it, and she listened, trying to make sense of his words.
"In the end there was a treaty; an agreement between civilized man and the gods of nature. The needs of each would be fulfilled. Man could live in his villages, build his cities, but there would always be those who were chosen to exist in both worlds, to be both man and beast. And there would always be a hunt."
Returning to his starting place, he faced them again. "It is a rare occurrence that a full moon falls on All Hallow's Eve, but that is what will happen tomorrow night. Before then, the ancient rites must be fulfilled. We, the few who live in both worlds, will hunt those who have been chosen." He opened his arms, raising them as if he was going to hug them all. "You are the chosen. "
There were gasps and murmurings among the captives now, as his intention was understood. Cory took a quick breath, but didn't step back like many of the others. Beside her, Jack tensed but stayed still.
"As in all hunts, this one does not have to end in death. For you, there are three possible outcomes. First, you can die." Stretching out his leg, he kicked the booted foot of the dead man, chuckling as it rocked back and forth. "Those of you who live will either go back to your own life, with the hunt a memory, or you'll find yourself changed. Forever." He kicked the foot again. "And you will come to understand the beast that lives in man."
The crowd had gone silent again, but a woman stepped forward, tears drying on her cheeks. "What about me? What about the women? We're not men, we're not beasts, why are we --"
"Do you really think you're immune because you have tits and can bear a child?" The leader snapped his fingers and a smaller figure stepped out of the crowd. Though the hair was pulled back in a pony tail, the obvious breasts proved that the figure was female. She moved smoothly to her leader's side, and his hand gently stroked through her hair before settling on her back. "Females can be just as vicious as males, especially in defense of their young. They fight harder, they bite just as fiercely, and they are just as dangerous. Even more so." He stroked the woman's hair again, and her head came up, a sound like a purr coming from behind her mask, before a gentle push on her shoulder made her move back in the line behind him.
"So. You are the hunted. There are rules to this as in all of nature. The moon rules in the hunt, and we obey." He pointed to the sky, to the horizon, where the silver disc was dropping out of the sky, slowly disappearing. "Tonight she sets. When she does, the hunt begins. You will leave here, singly, or in pairs, or even as a pack if you wish. You will make your way south, through the city, finding your way with your wits and your own power. You will not use modern transportation. To do so is death." He kicked the booted foot in emphasis. "The hunt ends tomorrow night, when the moon rises high in the sky. Before it reaches its zenith you will arrive at your destination: the abandoned fountain in the south end of the park."
It was obvious his henchmen were getting excited, as a few started
bouncing on their feet. The leader himself seemed to catch their
energy as he paced again, this time with a faster step. "If you
arrive before or at the appointed time, you will have beaten the
hunt, and will go free. If you follow the rules, but do not make it
to the park in time, or are captured before hand, you will survive --
but you will be changed." Then his smile turned cruel. "And
if you choose to flee, if you do not follow the rules, then your life
will be forfeit." His head moved slowly as he looked at all of
them. "Do you all understand?"
"And if we all just take off, go home? How the fuck are you gonna know?"
Cory recognized the voice as Billy's.
The leader reached out to one of his men, who slapped something into his hand. "You might have noticed, none of you have your wallets or purses."
Murmers went through the crowd as people checked and cursed. Cory didn't bother to reach for her back pocket, she'd realized earlier that the comfortable weight of her wallet was gone.
A new voice spoke up. "What if we go to the cops?"
One of the masked men stepped forward, opening his jacket. A gold badge gleamed in the lights. "I am a cop." His friends roared with laughter, while one of the women among the captives began to sob.
"Any other questions?"
More of them were bouncing now, and Cory could almost hear them panting in their eagerness. Her own breath was still coming fast from fear and adrenalin, her stomach knotting with reaction to both.
Someone near her spoke up, a woman, her voice angry. "Yeah, I got a question. What kind of sick joke is this and who the fuck are you?"
More laughter. Their leader raised a hand for quiet before taking another step forward. "I am the one, the chief, the leader of the pack, if you will, and who are they?" He swept his hands toward the outer edge of the circle, encompassing his followers. "Didn't I tell you? They are the beasts who will hunt you down." He reached for his mask, pulling it over his head, his followers doing the same, revealing themselves for the first time. For a moment there was silence, and then the woman screamed.
The faces weren't human. A blend of beast and man, there was a jutting jaw with tusks there, a pig's snout here, and cat's eyes further on. Everywhere was fang and tusk, and wild eyed snarling.
More screams and cries went up, answered by laughter and howling. There was glee in the voice of the leader as he raised his arms. "You have a two hour head start! No cabs, no subway, no buses, and don't bother stealing a car, because we will find you! Central Park, tomorrow night at moonrise! Now go! Go!"
His men swarmed down and into the crowd. Screams and cries rang out, and people broke out of the circle, running in different directions, trying to escape the mass of inhuman figures that laughed and roared and snapped at them.
Cory was still a little lightheaded, but she managed to keep her feet and run when everyone else did. As small as she was, she slipped between bodies, making it almost out of the circle before a snarling cat face appeared in front of her. She screamed and ducked, tripping over a stone and rolling out of the way of other running feet.
Before getting to her feet, she glanced back and saw their pursuers breaking off the hunt, turning away and gathering around something on the ground. Then there was a howl, and the sounds of ripping, and cracking, and one of the beast people raised a bloody hand into the sky --
Scrambling to her feet, Cory ran.
"Cory! Hey, Cory!"
She thought she recognized the voice, but she wasn't sure. Still, they knew her name, and it was reflex for her to slow her running and look back.
Jack came up beside her, gasping for breath. "Damn, but you can run, girl." She slowed, and he motioned toward a wall ahead of them. "Take a breather? I'm thinkin' . . . we'll be better off . . . stickin' together." Another breath. "How 'bout you?"
She nodded, breathing hard herself and slowing to a stop by the brick building. "Do you even . . . know where . . . we are?"
"Nah. But I saw . . . a train station . . ."
Cory shook her head. "They said . . . no . . ."
Finally catching his breath, Jack waved her words away. "No, I don't mean take the train. Gotta be a map of somekind there, right?"
Feeling her own breath slowing, Cory nodded. "I get it. Find the map, find ourselves, figure out how to get somewhere." She looked at Jack. "You think it's for real? You think they'll kill us?"
Glancing at her, then looking away, Jack nodded. "You think that guy on the ground was fuckin' around with us?"
She wondered if he'd seen what she had, and her voice came out in a whisper. "No."
Another nod, and he pushed himself away from the wall. "C'mon. Station's a few blocks that way."
Together they jogged across the street, saving their breath for the run.
The map showed mainly the train routes, but it was enough to let them know where they were and how far outside the city.
"Means we're gonna have to cross through some bad areas to get where we're goin'."
Billy and another man had joined them, and the new guy pointed to one train route, following them with his finger. "We can follow the tracks till we get the interstate here, where they cross under. After that, we can hitchhike or --"
"No, no cars. They said no modern transportation."
Billy glared at Cory. "When the fuck they say that? No cabs, buses, subways, and no jackin' a car. Didn't say --"
"Earlier. He said," she closed her eyes to remember better, "'You will not use modern transportation. To do so is death.'"
"She's right, Billy." Jack spoke up. "She's right. No hitchin'. But if we follow the interstate it'll take us to the turnpike downtown, and then we're just a few hours' walk from the park."
"Good plan, but do we wanna stay tight on the highway with those fuckers after us?" The new guy shrugged. "I'll take my chance on a quick ride down the road. Ain't no way they can be watchin' all the damn time." He slapped Billy's shoulder. "You comin'? We're wastin' those two hours."
"Right." Billy backed away, following the guy. "Jack, what about you?"
Jack glanced at Cory, who shrugged. "It's the best route I can see. Might as well join 'em."
Following the railroad wasn't easy. While most of the time they could just jog at an easy pace, there were times when the sides fell away from the tracks and they were slogging through mud and water, leftovers from the early snowstorm a week ago. Cory was cold down to her toes, and her breath was coming in ragged gasps. But she pushed on, not wanting to be left behind.
It was Jack who finally called a halt, but nobody argued. They'd been jogging for half an hour, and by Cory's watch they had eaten up most of their head start.
When he got his breath back, the new guy, whose name Cory still didn't know, looked at all of them. "Still think you wanna just walk it? You'll all be dead before mornin' if you do; you'll fuckin' freeze to death."
Jack shook his head. "No choice. Gotta keep movin'."
"There'll be somewhere . . . along the way . . . where we can stop and get . . . warm." Cory took another deep breath and let it out. "Truckstops, gas stations, fast food. We'll be okay."
"Right." Nameless guy rolled his eyes. "That's perfect. Those places won't let you stay if you can't pay, and nobody's got a wallet."
For the first time Cory's tendency to keep cash in her pocket seemed like a good idea. She'd felt the bills earlier while trying to get her hands warm. "I've got cash." She shrugged. "I'd been at a bar, and it's quicker if you're not reaching for a billfold all the time."
Billy raised an eyebrow, but turned away, licking his lips. Nameless guy snorted, and Jack just chuckled.
"A gal after my own heart, pretty, smart, and damn can you run."
Cory smiled. "I ran cross country in college. No speed, but I got stamina."
Jack laughed and clapped her on the back, then stood. "Well, come on. Got a long way to go, and only a day to get there."
It was getting even colder and a light rain had started. Till now Cory's jacket had kept her warm enough, but the rain was starting to dribble through her short hair and down her neck, slipping under her collar to slowly dampen her shirt. By the time the highway was in sight, their light jog had slowed to a fast walk, and then a slower one. More than one of them had started coughing from the cold air.
"That's it. Ya'll do what you want, I'm hitchin'."
Nameless guy, as Cory had started calling him in her mind, started jogging again, then climbing up the embankment to the right side of the tracks. When he got to the top, he waved to them a last time and dodged across to try and catch a ride into the heart of the city.
Billy watched him go, then glanced back at Jack and Cory. "Ready to climb, bitches?"
They took an easier route up the side, heading to the left of the overpass instead of the right, where it slowly leveled at the top instead of continuing straight up to the road. Jack cursed when he slipped, getting the knees of his pants dirty, but they made it. Cory was proud of herself for only needing to grab an outstretched hand once for help. Billy just glared at his wet shoes, their non-slick soles not a defense against the rain and mud.
"I think we should hitch, too. Not all at once, but -- he was right. They're not gonna know." Billy shook his arms, obviously beginning to freeze. "I'm feeling like a popsicle, here."
Cory shook her head. "I'll hoof it." Blood running on the ground was thick in her mind.
Jack shrugged. "Think it's best we stick together, man. Strength in numbers and all that crap."
"Right, well, then you two have fun sticking together." Billy eyed the oncoming traffic, looking for an opening to cross the road. When he got it, he took off, making it to the median before climbing the barrier there and continuing on. He was soon on the other side, his thumb out, flagging at a car, which passed him without slowing.
With a shake of her head, Cory motioned to Jack. "Come on. We better get goin'."
There were into the city now, which meant buildings and lights, but they didn't dare stop. They'd seen Billy catch a ride on the other side, and Cory had shivered as he grinned and waved at them a final time.
There was an all night coffee house not far off the road up ahead, Jack had said, and they were shooting for that, to get warm and get food. Cory had about thirty bucks in her pocket, and while it wouldn't last forever, it would get them fries and coffee, and that was enough.
"So, what's your story, Jack? How'd you end up here?" Maybe if they talked, Jack wouldn't hear her teeth chattering. The rain had turned to sleet before finally ending, and they were both soaked to the bone and freezing. Cory had pulled her arms out of her sleeves, keeping her hands against her body to warm them.
"Damned if I know. I was doin' a late shift; this lady needed her fridge fixed, right away. Rich bitch, fancy house. I fixed it, packed up my gear, and headed out. Stopped at this gas station, to get a drink? Next thing I know, I'm wakin' up with Billy's smelly ass next to me, and Max sittin' watchin' me." He was rubbing his cheeks, trying to get some feeling back. "I thought it was all a joke till I saw you, still sleepin'."
"Yeah. Some joke."
"What 'bout you? You hang out at a lotta bars?"
"Only one." She shrugged. "I like to play pool. And the bartender's cute."
They left the highway, slipping down a cement wall, sliding partway to the bottom, before cutting across the road and a long parking lot.
"Jack? Why d'you think we haven't seen anybody else? I mean, we couldn't 'a been the only ones to think of lookin' for the map."
"Naw, I don't think so, but there are lots of ways to get outta that area. Head west and hit the river, follow it down. Go straight south from the park and take surface streets." He shrugged. "And I'll bet a few at least jumped a train or somethin'."
Cory tripped, but managed to stay upright. "You think we should have hitched? Like Billy and that other guy?"
Jack shook his head, rubbing his hands in anticipation as they got closer to the building. "Nope. I had a bad feelin' about it the first time they mentioned it."
"Yeah, me too." Her stomach growled. "I need food. Race ya' to the door?"
"Save your energy, kid."
But they jogged, both eager for the warmth of a well lit restaurant.
The french fries had just arrived when the door opened, bringing a blast of air and two wet and frightened looking women. Choosing a table by the window, the two of them spoke quietly, digging in their pockets for change. Something about their demeanor made Cory watch them, even as she drank a second cup of coffee.
"So we stick to the highway, right? All the way in?" Jack ate another french fry, then noticed she wasn't looking at him. "Cory?"
"Hm? Yeah. Follow the highway." Her gaze went back to the women who were counting pennies as the waitress appeared. One of them looked familiar, and Cory had a flash of a woman's crying face in harsh lighting. She couldn't hear the words the two women said, but their server wasn't exactly using a soft voice.
"Sorry, if you can't pay for both, you only get one. And no back and forth; that's cheating."
Cory looked at Jack. "Safety in numbers, huh?" Then she stood and moved to the other table, adding another two dollars to the change laid out on the table. "Here. Let them have some coffee."
The waitress raised an eyebrow, but nodded and filled both cups before moving away to find another chore.
"Thanks." The woman Cory'd recognized wiped her nose and reached for a cup. "Damn cold outside."
"Yeah, and it's a long way to Central Park." Both women raised their heads and gaped at her. She shrugged. "We're stickin' to the highway, Jack and I." Cory motioned over her shoulder to her companion. "You guys are welcome to come along, after you unfreeze a bit." She didn't think Jack would have a problem with that.
"That's great. Thanks. A lot. I'm Beth." Moving one hand off her cup, she offered to shake. "This is Jevon."
"Jev for short." Her voice was soft, and she flipped a lock of short raven hair out of her eyes as she spoke.
"We hooked up at the train station. I was thinking of taking a train, but Jev talked me out of it." Beth shook her head. "Damn glad I didn't do it."
"Why? What happened?" Jack had come up, carrying the plate of fries and both cups of coffee. Jev slid over to make room for him, while Beth did the same for Cory. "Oh, I'm Jack. This is Cory." He waved to the fries. "We got enough to share, don't we, Cory?"
"Sure. It'll make sure we don't over eat. We want to be able to move, stay warm in the cold." She took one for herself, then looked at Beth. "What did you mean? Why are you glad you didn't take the train?"
Beth shivered and looked at her coffee. "You tell them."
Jev glanced out the window before turning to them and answering. "The two of us hooked up at Broward Station. You know where that's at?"
Jack nodded, swallowing a gulp of coffee. "Little north of Tanner, which is where we were. Saw it on the map."
"Right. Well, Beth here had tailed a couple guys there, hoping she could join them, stay safe. They were gonna jump the train, and I told them all, bad idea, but the guys didn't listen." She took a sip of coffee, then put her cup back down. "So, Beth and I started walking. I think I must have had the same idea you guys did; train tracks to the highway?" Jack nodded, munching on a fry. "Well, there we are walking, following these guys in the train. We must have gotten maybe a mile past the station when we found the first one."
"First what?" Jack reached for the ketchup bottle, but Beth pulled it away, shaking her head.
"First body part." Her eyes dropped to the table. "Just parts, pieces. An arm, a leg, other -- chunks."
"And a head." Beth looked like she wanted to vomit. "It was one of the guys from the station."
"They got both those guys. We found three arms -- and they had bite marks, like they'd been chewed on."
Jack swallowed the french fry in his mouth, then pushed the plate away. Cory stared at it unseeing.
"They ate that other guy," she said softly. "That black man they killed? I saw them as I was trying to get away."
Beth raised a hand to her mouth and turned away. Jev nodded. "Yeah, I saw it, too." Looking out the window, she watched a couple of cars go by on the distant highway. "Let's not take a lot of time, huh? Got a long walk ahead of us."
They started out together from the restaurant, all four huddled together, with Jack and Cory taking the lead. It took them a few minutes to find an easy way up to the highway, but they finally did, and continued walking along the side. Occasional conversations would start; each of them shared what they had been doing that night before finding themselves trapped in the back of a van.
"I was headed to my boyfriend's apartment, we were supposed to go for dinner." Beth sighed. "I was gonna change when I got there, had my clothes all packed in a bag. Damned if I know where the hell they went."
"Were you driving?"
"No, I was taking a cab." She laughed. "Must have been easy picking's for them, huh? Wonder if the cab driver was one of them or if they just paid him a lot."
"What about you, Jev?"
With a flick of her hair, Jev snorted. "I had a date. Was walkin' down Christopher Street to meet her. Suddenly everything went black." She laughed. "She's probably never gonna speak to me again."
Jack stopped, turning to her. "Wait. Your date was a girl?" He blinked. "You're -- you're queer?"
Beth raised an eyebrow, while Cory crossed her arms, watching Jack. Jev nodded. "Yeah, I'm queer. What, you got a problem with me now, Jack?"
"Naw, no problem. Just a surprise. Ain't met a lot of 'em." He turned and kept walking.
Cory chuckled as she caught up to him. "Well, now you met two."
"I told you I was at a bar, Jack. Didn't tell you it was a gay bar." She glanced back at Jev and gave a half smile. Jev raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything.
None of them noticed that Beth began walking farther away from Jev, and closer to Jack.
By Cory's watch it had been nearly eight hours since they'd fled from the circle and started their long hike. They were strung out in a line now, Jack in the lead, then Beth, then Cory, with Jev bringing up the rear. The sun had risen, giving some momentary warmth as they kept heading south. The wind was still in their face, though, and all of them were cold and tired.
"So, Cory, are you buying us breakfast as well?"
"Depends. You wanna eat lunch? I don't have enough cash for four people and all three meals."
Jack turned and faced them, walking backwards for a minute. "We could hit a store somewhere. Get sandwich meat or somethin'. Be cheaper than anythin' else."
"Could do that. Would go farther and last longer." Cory nodded. "You know where there is one?"
"Yep. Comin' up, over the hill and three blocks off the highway."
Beth stopped and folded her arms. "You really want us to get off the highway in THIS neighborhood?"
Jack stared back, his own steps slowing to a halt. "What's wrong with THIS neighborhood. I work here. I live here. Where do you live, Man-fucking-hattan?"
"No offense, Jack, but your skin's a lot darker than mine? I've heard they don't exactly roll out the red carpet for someone like me."
"What, you think there aren't any poor white bitches 'round here?"
Cory stepped between them and raised her hands. "Okay, let's leave this, what d'you call it, bullshit, out if it, 'kay? Have you forgotten we're not exactly just out for a tour of the city, here?"
Jev nodded. "Body parts. Remember them?"
"I remember." Beth's voice was as cold as the weather. "But I also remember that two white teens were killed here last month, and --"
"And two black ones the month before that. Yeah. All of 'em were gang bangers. Hey, I got no affiliation here." Jack lifted his arms. "You think I'd be fixin' fridges for white folk if I was in a gang?"
"Chill, Jack." Jev held up a hand. "Beth, Cory and I aren't worried, and we're just as white as you." She looked at her own hand and grinned. "Well, okay, Cory is, anyway."
Beth threw her hands up. "Fine! I'm outnumbered, so let's just go." She turned away, stalking past Jack, who shook his head at Cory, then turned and followed.
Cory waited a step, letting Jev move up next to her. "You are darker than me. Latino?"
"You're Ind-- sorry, Native American?"
"One quarter. My grandmother married a white man."
"Yeah. What about you?"
"Irish-American. Don't call me a mick."
Jev shrugged. "Don't call me a redskin."
Cory shook her head. "I never got that. Your skin ain't red."
"Yeah, I don't get it either."
They left the highway under the cover of some trees, which gave them temporary protection from the wind and rain that had returned with the dawn. The sun had been visible for a few moments, but then disappeared again under a cloak of grey clouds. When they left the road without argument, Cory was betting that Beth was more cold than she was worried about the area.
Halfway down the slope, Jack froze, his hand on one tree, leg raised in midstep. Beth nearly bumped into him, and had to grab his shoulders to stop herself.
"What the fuck, Jack?"
It wasn't Beth he spoke to. "Cory, look."
Scrambling and sliding down the few steps to where the man stood, Cory followed the line of his finger. The sight made her stomach turn, and she gagged once, then turned away to vomit behind a bush.
One the slope of the embankment, lay a body, face up, head pointed downhill. It was a male, with his shirt ripped open, and deep gouges through the flesh that showed the white of his rib cage. On the left side of his chest was a gaping hole, about the size of a fist, right where his heart should have been.
Jev put a hand on Cory's back, but didn't say anything. "You know this guy?" she asked Jack.
"Yeah. Name's Billy."
Cory wiped her hand across her mouth, squeezing her eyes shut in an effort to shut out the image.
"Cory, come on. Just follow me, okay? I'll get you down the hill."
With a nod, she followed, Jev, letting the other woman guide her, not looking to her right or left, just at where she was putting her feet. When they reached the bottom and stepped out of the trees, Jev put a hand on her shoulder.
"Tip your head back and open your mouth. Let the rain wash the taste away."
It took a few moments, but she was able to do so, spitting out a second mouthful before saying, "Thanks."
"Sure. Come on, Jack and Beth are half a block ahead."
The rain was heavier as they left the store, a plastic bag with bread, sandwich meat, mayonnaise and peanut butter carried by Beth. Jack held an umbrella over himself and Beth, while Cory and Jev shared another one.
"Alright, gang, that needs to last us a while. I got ten bucks left."
"Now we just need a place to sit and eat. Little side park up ahead, I think there's a bandstand or something?"
It wasn't a bandstand, but an old gazebo, with a broken roof. It still gave some protection from the rain, and the four of them made sandwiches and ate quickly, sharing between them a bottle of orange juice.
"Back to the highway from here, Jack?"
He shook his head. "Won't do any good, Jev. We got the river comin' up fast. Can't take that across; no room to walk."
"We did that with a bridge or two, where we didn't want to climb down and back up. What's different with this one?"
Beth nodded. "I agree with Cory, I'd rather stay on the highway."
"That's not what I said, Beth."
Jack shook his head. "Can't do it. First, cops patrol that bridge for hitchhikers; you get picked up they take you to jail, and we won't get out till Monday. And even if we don't get picked up, that's a hell of a bridge, with no room to walk. Not someplace you want to be with a car comin' at you at sixty miles an hour in this kinda rain."
"So, no on the highway. How do we cross the river?" Jev reached for the juice. "And please don't say a boat. I don't do well in boats."
"Aw, does the big dyke get seasick?"
The bottle slammed to the table. "Fuck you, Beth."
"Hey. Come on, guys. Got a long way to go, no need to be pushin' each other." Cory turned to Jack. "S'your area, Jack. Which way do we go?"
He chewed the last of his sandwich slowly, his eyes narrowed. Swallowing, he reached for the bottle, taking it from Jev's hand. "I think the Capitol bridge. It's older, but they got a place for people to cross on foot. Teever bridge is closer, and there's a sidewalk, but you're right up against the cars. And if we take Capitol we'll come out on Washington, which will take us downtown."
Beth shook her head. "Eventually it'll take you downtown. It goes through the Burroughs first."
"So? You got a better way?"
Beth glanced between three of them, realizing all eyes were on her. She put the rest of her sandwich in her mouth and shook her head, looking away.
"Okay." Cory stood. "I know we're gonna have to find a place to crash for an hour. Other than that drugged out nap last night, I've been up for about a full day, and I'm not gonna make it without some sleep."
"After the river." Jack nodded. "I know this abandoned place we can crash in. Might not all want to sleep at once, but one up, three down should work."
Jev yawned and nodded. "Sounds good. We're off?"
Jack and Beth stayed together under their umbrella, while Jev and Cory walked behind them.
"This is really fucked up."
"I'd never seen a dead body before. You?"
"Yeah. Worked in a hospital as an orderly for a year."
"Really?" Cory shivered. "Don't think I could do that."
"Wasn't the funnest job I ever had. Was on a reservation in the Dakotas."
"There's an Algonquin reservation in Dakota?"
Jev laughed. "No. Was an Arapaho reservation, but I volunteered to help cause they needed it." She shrugged. "Wouldn't want to do it again, really, it was a pretty poor place. But it was good experience. I learned a lot."
"That's great. Did you grow up on a reservation?"
"No. If you're more white than not you usually get to grow up with your white relatives."
"Most of them. Except for my grandmother. She lived in a house out behind ours. I'd go spend time with her, even though my parents didn't like me to. They said she filled my head with stories and old legends."
"Yeah. What else are grandmothers for?" Jev smiled at her. "I think it's one of the reasons I didn't panic when those guys took off their masks."
"What, really? You didn't get scared?"
"Oh, I got scared. Just didn't panic. Cause my grandmother
told me about the changing moon a long time ago."
"Yeah. She told me always be careful around a full moon in the fall, cause it could be a changing moon, when man can turn to beast and beast can turn to man."
"Huh. And it always falls on Halloween?"
Jev shrugged. "Don't know. She just said a full moon in the fall. Don't know if it's the same legend." She looked over at Cory. "What about you? You get stories from your grandma?"
"Nah, not really. She was crazy before I was born." Cory chuckled. "Worst thing I heard about growin' up was the little people who would hide things from my mom."
"Little people? Like . . . you?"
"Oh, shut up."
It was near ten o'clock on a Saturday morning when they reached the Capitol Bridge. Built in the 1940's, it was designed for both pedestrian and vehicle traffic, with the cars above and people walking down below. While the sides of the walkers bridge were high, they didn't reach above five feet, and Jev wondered why.
"I mean, don't they have a problem with jumpers?"
"Naw. Bridge ain't high enough, river ain't deep enough. Three men jumped, none of 'em died. Fished 'em outta the water a little ways down. Last one was 'bout ten years ago."
"Right." Jev eyed the water nervously as they started over the bridge. Cory put a hand on her shoulder.
The hand squeezed. "Don't worry. Got my lifeguard badge."
"Good to know."
Halfway across, Cory slipped, her ankle twisting as she went down. Jack and Beth, who'd been in front, stopped and waited while Jeve helped her back up.
"Can you walk on it?"
"Yeah, just gimme a minute." With one hand against the wall she took a couple of tentative steps, breathing out in relief when her leg stayed under her. "Sorry, I just hit a slick spot."
Running footsteps behind them made them both turn. Coming toward them at a jog were three other figures -- and none of their faces were human.
At Cory's call, the big man turned, then took off. Beth screamed and followed, the bag of food bumping against her thigh as she ran.
"Come on, Cory, gotta go, gotta go!" Jev urged her on, and Cory ran, grinding her teeth at the pain in her ankle. It held, though, and she pushed her cold muscles as hard as she could.
They saw Jack and Beth make the end. Jack seemed to stop for a moment, but Beth grabbed his arm and they kept going, crossing a street and disappearing around a corner.
The end of the bridge was in sight and Cory glanced back to find Jev half a yard behind her, her face in a grim set as she ran. "Think . . . we can . . . lose them?"
"Not . . . if we follow . . . Jack . . . turn left . . . at the end . . . "
Before they got there another figure stepped onto the bridge in front of them. He had a pig's snout and boar's tusks, and an easy grin. "Here, pretty-pretty."
Jev tried to back pedal, and Cory took her arm, both of them sliding to a stop.
"Dammit!" She looked back, then at the man blocking their escape. He was moving slowly, acting as if they were fully trapped. Cory realized that they were, unless . . . "Up and over! Now!"
With a push Cory sent Jev toward the railing. "Up! Climb, dammit!"
"I can't swim!" But Jev started climibing anyway.
"They catch you, it won't matter!"
Hauling themselves up to the top of the bar, Cory swung one leg over, but the other was grabbed, and she kicked as hard as she could, banging her head accidentally on the upper bar and seeing stars. She heard a smack and a curse, then her leg was free, and she went backwards, screaming as she dropped down into the cold water.
Jack was right, it wasn't very deep here, only fifteen feet or so, and she touched bottom, kicking back up to the surface and clearing the water from her eyes in time to see Jev wrestle herself loose from someone's hold and fall, landing with a splash. Cursing, Cory fought the icy water, using all her strength to just stay in the same place until a panicked Jev was swept into her.
They went down, the current pushing them toward a bend in the river, but Cory wrapped her arms around Jev and fought back to the surface.
"Jev! Jev, stop! I've got you! Just hang on!"
Gasping and sputtering, Jev held onto Cory, who kept them above the waves, using her arms to push them slowly closer to shore. As the current lessened, she made better progress, until they were both climbing from the water, gasping for air and shivering for warmth. Cory especially was spent; not only had she practically dragged Jev from the water, but between the cold and the knock to her head made she was having trouble focusing.
"Fu-fuck. Wh-where are we?"
Jev coughed and shook her head, water drops spraying through the air. "Not sh-sure. Need to f-find someplace t-to warm up. Come on." She grabbed Cory's arm.
"No! C-Cory, come on! Get up!"
Half walking, half letting Jev drag her, Cory stumbled up the riverside, the cold beginning to wrap her mind in numbing layers. She stayed on her feet, not responding, just doing what Jev told her.
"At least th-the water w-was good f-for your ankle." Jev fought her own shivers, running her hands up and down Cory's arms as she pulled the woman along. "Cory? K-keep walk-ing. G-good girl."
Finally she found an apartment building. The last door on the end had a lot of junk mail in the box, and two or three papers on the step. After looking for an alarm of some kind she decided to chance it and broke a window on the back door. They needed to get warm. Reaching through Jev found the lock and flipped it, then opened the door and dragged a numb and stumbling Cory into the building. After a short search she found a bathroom with a shower and turned it on in hope of hot water. It was luke warm to start, but it was good enough.
The clothes were already wet, so she pushed Cory under the stream, then took a moment to pull her own clothes off. "Cory?" She slapped the woman's face, trying to get her to open her eyes. "Cory, you can't sleep! Not yet!"
"Please. I'm s-so c-cold."
Coughing, Jev started pulling Cory's clothes off, beginning with her leather jacket. "Come on, Cory. You'll be warmer without these." The shower had warmed to a decent temperature, not hot but more warm than cold. "Pants off, Cory. Those jeans'll just keep you cold."
"You'll haf-f t-to help."
Once they were both naked, Jev wrapped her arms around Cory, rubbing her back, holding her close, turning her so Cory's body was under the warmth of the spray. It took a few minutes, but Cory began to hug her back, her hands rubbing small circles on Jev's still cool skin as they both revived.
A moment more and Cory pushed back a little, letting the water flow over her head and down her face. When she opened her eyes she found Jev's staring back at her.
Neither said anything. In their situation, there really wasn't anything to say. Cory might have said that it was the need for warmth that drove her, but whatever it was, her mouth was soon on Jev's, and Jev's lips were opening, their tongues tangling, hands searching for deeper warmth, in intimate places, breathing increasing just as it had been slowing down.
The water started to cool down, and Jev reached out to turn it off. Her hand quickly returned to Cory's head, burying itself in her brown hair even as her other hand was splayed at the small of Cory's back.
Shivers were still running through Cory's body but she'd lost track of if they were from cold or from the things Jev was doing with her mouth. Her hands went to the raven head, pushing her away for a moment.
"What? Are you okay?"
Cory blinked rapidly, then let her hands reach up to rest just above Jev's breasts. "I -- I just--"
"Yeah?" Jev's fingers traced down Cory's cheek. "Do you want me to stop?"
Her head shook, and she let her hands drift down. "No. Don't stop. Just --"
"Just what, Cory?"
"Make me forget? Just for now?"
Jev smiled, leaning in to kiss her gently. "I think I can do that."
It started slowly, with teasing kisses, and trailing fingers, then moved to grasping hands and teeth nipping at skin. Cory tweaked Jev's nipples, and Jev retaliated with a questing hand that found a wet warmth waiting for it. Moments later Cory followed suit and both of them were thrusting, hips moving, fingers driving as deep as they could reach.
Cory started whining with each pant, her voice rising in tone and volume with every thrust, until Jev slipped a hand over her mouth and whispered to her.
"You can't scream. Don't scream, Cory. No one knows we're here, and these walls aren't that thick. You can't scream." She tugged on Cory's brown hair. "Here. Put your mouth to my shoulder. Bite me if you have to, but you can't scream."
With renewed energy, Jev began pushing the pace, driving Cory faster, using her thumb to rake across sensitive nerves. Cory returned the favor, and at the end it was Jev biting into Cory as Cory screamed into Jev's shoulder.
Slowly they each withdraw, and Jev reached over to turn the water back on. A quick wash later and Jev was stepping back and offering her hand. Cory took it.
"Come on. Let's go somewhere warmer."
Towels wrapped around themselves, they gathered up their clothes as they went, then spread them out along the back of a sofa, right under a vent. It would take a while, but they needed sleep anyway. Having pulled a comforter from the bed, Jev wrapped it around them both as they stretched out on the couch. "Rest, Cory."
Cuddled together on the couch, they finally slept.
Cory awoke to a light shaking of her shoulder. She blinked, raising her head. Disoriented at first, she didn't recognize where she was, didn't remember for a moment what had happened. When she saw Jev's face, she let her head drop, putting an arm over her eyes. "Damn."
"Yeah, sorry. I let you sleep as much as I could."
"Not your fault." She sat up, holding the quilt to her. "How long?"
"Few hours. It's almost three in the afternoon."
"Yeah." Jev handed Cory a bowl of soup. "Here. Something warm. Just Ramen, but I found some canned chicken to add to it." She chuckled. "I'll have to send this guy a money order or something."
"Dear Sir, we broke your window, used your shower, slept on your couch, and stole your food, but we can pay for it."
"Don't forget the clothes." A sweatshirt landed next to Cory. "It'll keep you warmer than that little leather jacket of yours."
"I like my leather."
Jev grinned. "I do, too; you look really good in it."
Cory blushed, then reached for the rest of her clothes, which had been folded and placed on the coffee table. "When this is all over, remind me to take you out for a game of pool."
"Only if you go dancing with me."
"Me? Dance?" She noticed Jev had turned away, and quickly pulled her bra on. "Not that great on my feet." She noticed a bruise on her shoulder where Jev had bit her and smiled at the memory.
"Ah, come on. Great runners are usually great dancers."
The panties slid over her legs. "I said I ran cross-country. Didn't say I ran it well."
Jev chuckled. "I'm sure you did great." She waited. "Can I turn around yet?"
"No." She pulled her shirt on, then buttoned her jeans. "Okay."
"Cool." Jev turned, her eyes raking quickly over Cory's form. "Don't forget the sweatshirt. I think your jacket will still fit over it. Jeans dry or mostly dry?"
"Mostly, but it's not bad. 'Sides, we're just gonna get wet again."
"True." Jev reached for her own coat, a bomber jacket that looked like it was still half wet. "Finish your soup. Probably won't have time to stop anywhere until late."
"No money anyway."
"I made sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly, but they'll keep."
"Only if you wrapped 'em in plastic." Sweatshirt on, Cory reached for her jacket. "You think we'll make it on time? We still got a long way to go, and with those things after us . . . "
Jev nodded. "We'll make it. I got a plan." She zipped up her jacket. "Better than yours at the bridge, too. Up and over?"
"What? You didn't like the results?"
Jev laughed. "You just wanted to get me wet and naked."
Cory grinned. "Like you didn't want to do the same?"
Jev smiled, but shivered at the same time. "Believe me, if I just wanted to get you naked, I'd have found a better way. I really hate water."
"Well, we made it." Stepping closer, Cory slowly reached up and touched Jev's face. "You did good, y'know."
"I try." She leaned over and kissed Cory softly, letting it deepen for the moment before pulling back and smiling. "We better go."
They left the house in a light drizzle around three-thirty. Leading them out the back door, Jev kept a close eye out for anything or anyone suspicious.
"Anyone notice us?"
"Nope. Hope that person's gonna be gone a while."
They turned a corner, then another one, and Jev led them south on Levert Avenue. "Okay, here's the plan. It's Saturday afternoon, we should be able to lose ourselves in the crowds on Braden and First, near the mall, then cut over to Alameda and follow it down to Gerard. From there it's ten blocks over to Central, then an eight mile walk."
"And Central Avenue leads straight to Central Park." Cory nodded. "Good plan, takes us right past Washington, where it hits Braden. Think we'll run into Jack and Beth?"
Jev shrugged. "We can only hope." She kicked at a stone on the sidewalk. "I'm still pissed they just took off like that. If they'd waited for us we wouldn't have had to go over the side. Jack and I could have taken care of that last guy."
"You don't know that; the others might 'a caught us from behind by then. Beth got scared, Jack followed her. No big deal."
"I know." She glanced at Cory, whose hair was already plastered to her scalp again. "You warm enough?"
Cory shrugged. "For now. Nothing else we can do." She sniffled a little. "How're you feelin'?"
"Better. Aspirin helped. You took some?"
"Yeah. Did you keep the bottle?"
Jev patted her pocket. "Sure did." She moved a little closer as they waited for the light to change. "I was serious about the dancing, by the way."
Cory didn't say anything, but she grinned.
Conversation was occasional, but easy between them, and they made good time, reaching the mall along Braden street just before four. Cutting across Braden they passed Washington, keeping an eye out for Jack and Beth, but not seeing them anywhere.
"What time do we have to be there?"
"He said by ten, but I'd rather get there early." Jev pulled Cory under a canopy as the rain began coming down harder. "Would be an easier walk if the damn weather would cooperate."
They moved from store front to store
front as the rain worsened, then left the safety of the street mall
to turn down Alameda, heading for Gerard.
"How long do you think it'll take us once we hit Central?"
"Depends on how cold we are, and if the rain keeps up." Jev looked at her watch. "It's almost five now. I think if we make it to Central by six we should be okay. It'll put us in the park by nine."
"That's good." Cory shivered a bit. "Feels like the wind's finally slackin' off. Once this is over, you wanna get a late dinner with me?"
Jev grinned. "You askin' me out?"
She got a shrug and a half smile. "Maybe."
"Well, then, maybe I'll say yes." Jev nudged Cory with her shoulder and winked.
They stopped on Gerard, just before Central, to eat their meager sandwiches.
"I want steak tonight."
Jev grinned at Cory, who was grimacing over her peanut butter sandwich but didn't answer.
"Well, what do you want?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Steak's fine, but pizza sounds good, too."
"Eh. I could do pizza. Could we get a meat lover's?"
"Absolutely." Jev stood. "Ready?"
It was just past six when they made Central. The rain had subsided for the moment, though the wind was still cold. They jogged for short stretches to keep their bodies warm, but with so little rest, and minimal amounts of food and water, their energy faded fast, and time began to slip away. By eight-thirty the park was ten or twelve blocks away, and they were dragging their feet. They had crossed into an area known for drug deals and car thefts, and Jev just wanted to get through it.
"Jev, can't we rest a little? I know you wanna get there early, but he said ten. Gives us an hour and a half."
"Which will go by faster than you think. Come on, Cory, if you sit down you won't wanna get up." Jev wrapped her arms around Cory. "I know you're cold and tired; so am I. But it's not much further, and then we can rest."
"Right. Not much further." She kept putting one foot in front of the other, counting the blocks as they went.
With six blocks to go, still in a bad area, both of them froze as a black van drove down the street. It pulled over and parked ahead of them, and two men got out. Both had human faces, and Cory relaxed a little. Jev didn't.
"Cory! Down the alley, now!"
"But they're --"
"Just do it!"
Cory obeyed, turning into the next alley. Jev followed, then grabbed her hand and started to jog. "Come on! They're hunters!"
"How d'you know?"
"His jacket -- driver of the van I was in had that same design."
Moving faster, they headed for the other end of the alley, ignoring the laughter and catcalls as their pursuers followed them into the cramped space between buildings. Jev spotted some garbage cans by a back door and yanked them away from the wall, sending them rolling back towards the hunters.
They'd gotten to the end of the alley, Cory slightly in the lead, when something struck Jev in the back. She went down, cursing, rolling, trying to get back to her feet. A third man, this one with a furry face and clawed hands stepped out from shadows, grabbing Jev and throwing her against a dumpster with enough force to rattle the metal frame.
Cory turned back. "Jev!"
"No! Cory, go! Run!"
The other two men were just steps away when Cory wheeled around and fled. One of them chased her to the very end of the alley, his laughter and that of his companions echoing strangely in the cramped space. He almost had her, as she felt his hand claw against her back, but she turned the corner and put on speed, dodging around people and cars as she switched sides of the streets. She didn't look back until the park was in sight, just two blocks away.
Cory turned back, hoping to see Jev loping down the street toward her, but there was nothing. Any view of the alleyway she'd come out of was partially blocked by a parked truck, and distorted from by the distance and the tears in her eyes.
"You were supposed to take me dancin', Jev."
Only the noise of the city street answered her, a distant horn like a mocking laugh. Running her hand across her eyes she started dragging her body once more toward the park, looking for an end to the nightmare.
She had to ask two people before she figured out how to get to the old abandoned well on the south side of the park. The wind had picked up again, and she shivered. Her throat was tight, her chest hurt, and she felt feverish. Between the cold, the rain, the long night, and the dunking in the river, she was certain she'd have a hell of a cold. Luckily, she hadn't started sneezing yet.
Near the last set of stairs a large shadow loomed out of the trees and Cory screamed, jumping back.
"Hey, girlie, shut the fuck up." Stepping further out of the trees, Max made a 'sh' motion. "I got a feelin' we're not safe till we get to that fuckin' well."
Dizzy with relief, Cory nodded. "Sorry. Long night. Glad you made it, Max."
"Yeah, yeah. C'mon."
They went down the broken cement stairs together, skirting around some tipped over trash cans that had spilled over the ground. Dead leaves crunched under their feet with every step, an occasional twig popping like the crack of a knuckle. Soon the damaged housing of the old well was in front of them, three or four other people huddling around it.
"Billy's not gonna be here," Cory said quietly.
"Neither is Jack."
She looked up at him. "What? He was fine last we saw him."
Max shrugged. "Few of us were crashed at this old abandoned building. Hunters came. Saw Jack go down, and that blonde bitch with him was screamin'. Didn't stick 'round to see what they had in mind for her."
Cory looked at her shoes, her jaw tense. "Her name was Beth."
Another shrug. "Wasn't askin'."
Despite the cold, Cory felt hot. She kept checking her forehead, worried that she'd pass out from fever before she could get home. Most of Central Park was safe, with patrols day and night, but the older part, where they were now, was abandoned for a reason. With no patrols and little management, it was overgrown and dark, the only light coming from the bright moon above them. The situation made Cory nervous and she fidgeted, more nervous than she had been for hours.
Despite the fever, her teeth were chattering, and she kept walking in circles around the well and the other huddled people, who were all men. She found herself clenching her jaw repeatedly, and tried to relax a little. Every few minutes she'd look back at the path by the stairs, hoping against hope that Jev would appear.
Instead, masked figures appeared. Last time she had thought of them as just a large group. This time, with only a few people around her, they looked like a small army, and Cory took a furtive step back.
They came down the stairs in a long line, a few hopping from step to step, others taking the stairs in a slow, leisurely manner. As they came down the path, they split off, one to either side, till they faced their former prey in a half circle around the old well.
Their leader stepped forward, taking off his mask. Cory was prepared this time and didn't flinch at the sight of his furred face, or the protruding jaw that showed his fangs. Slowly, the people around him removed their masks, and the now familiar animal visages grinned at them.
"Well done! Out of twenty-eight, you five are the final survivors! My congratulations to you all!" There was some polite, mocking clapping by the Hunters. "Don't worry about your companions. Some of them are dead, some are -- changed. But you five are free! You may go back to your homes and forget this night happened." Wallets began landing in front of the men, who stooped to pick them up. "Happy Halloween!"
Cory had been counting. There were five men and herself, for a total of six. She wanted to raise her hand and say he'd miscounted, but she didn't want to draw attention to herself.
She waited for her wallet to be thrown to her. When it wasn't, she swallowed her fear and stepped forward. "Hey! You forgot me! I made it, too."
The leader turned and regarded her with a raised eyebrow. His animal mouth somehow appeared to grin at her. "You . . . became one of us . . . hours ago." He turned his head to the side, motioning with his hand to call someone forward.
The face was that of a cat, with whiskers and stripes and fur, orange-ish fur with black stripes, topped by black hair. Cory remembered seeing the same face rise in front of her as she ran from the stone circle the night before. But it was the jacket the creature wore that made her clench her jaw in fear.
It was Jev's bomber jacket. As Cory watched, the fur began to disappear from the face, the whiskers receded, the jaws pulled back, and the very shape of the head changed until it was Jev standing before her, looking a little sad, Cory's wallet in her hand.
She made it to the edge of the park, slipping time and again in mud and wet leaves, her only objective to get away, to run, to not see what she'd just seen. Behind her she could hear Jev calling her name, over and over, and stumbled again, going to her knees and sliding down a hill to land with a thud on the sidewalk, the impact knocking the wind from her.
The fever was rising, and her muscles kept clenching, her jaw aching from the tension. As she tried to rise to her feet, pain exploded in her, unfocused, overwhelming, and she dropped back to her knees, panting for breath as it passed.
The voice was close, and she saw Jev appear in the tree line just above her. Scrambling to her feet, Cory stumbled more than ran, tiny bouts of dizzyness making her weave back and forth till she was holding onto the wall, pain and fever and fear holding her in place as she heard footsteps coming closer. She turned, putting her back to the wall.
She could see Jev's silhouette a few yards from her, and Cory tried to slow her breathing so as not to draw attention, but suddenly her breath caught in her throat, and she gagged, then coughed before gasping, drawing air into her lungs. Jev turned toward her and Cory shook her head in denial.
"There you are. Not feeling so good, huh?" Jev sounded concerned, but there was just a hint of amusement in her voice. "You'll be fine, you know. Really."
"Go . . . 'way."
"Cory, you don't wanna go through this alone." She leaned against the wall. "Trust me. It's always better with someone else."
There was pressure building, in her chest, her head, her stomach, and Cory gagged again, then fought to drag more air into her lungs.
"I'm glad I chose you, you know. I was thinking of taking Beth, but you're much better. So much stronger." Jev folded her arms, watching. "I want you to know that I don't choose just anyone. The last few years I haven't found anyone I wanted to give the gift to. But you . . . you're special. I like you. And I think we'll be good together." A hard spasm hit Cory, and Jev frowned, stepping forwards. "Aw, Cory, let me --"
"Don't come near me! Don't touch me!" The words made their way past her clenched jaw.
Jev slowed, but still moved forward, coming closer an inch at a time. "Cory, it's okay. Really. It only hurts the first time. After that it's easier."
She shook her head, fighting the pain. "Ea-Easier? What's easier? What did you do to me?"
"Cory, listen to me. Do you remember in the shower? I told you not to scream, and I had you bite into my shoulder, while I bit yours?"
The pain eased, but the dizziness was back, and Cory could only listen, her body jerking without her control.
"I drew blood. Just a little, a tiny scratch, but enough. Just enough, Cory, to make sure you'd change. And you are changing. It's okay, you're okay. I'll guide you, I'll help you. I promise." Jev's hands were on her, cupping her face, raising her chin, forcing Cory's gaze to meet her own. Heat suffused Cory's body, and pain rose inside her again, muscles clenching as she tried to just stay on her feet. "Cory, look at me." She managed to do so, her jaw so tight she thought her teeth might shatter.
Jev smiled at her. "Welcome the night. Greet the changing moon."
Cory threw her head back and screamed.
Return to the Academy