“How much longer till we—”
My question was cut off by a chillingly familiar jagged screech. I stopped. I felt my heart stop too.
“What was—?” Jack began, but another cry cut him off too. We stood still for a moment. I peered through the darkness. The call had been close, too close.
“Mina, what was that?” His voice quavered. I saw his fight-or-flight response mimic my own. That sound wasn’t supposed to be in the city. Surely not. It came again, and Jack grabbed my hand. My voice was hushed. “It’s…it’s the thing we saw in the forest. It’s here, in the city.” And I wasn’t quite sure I was inhabiting reality anymore.
I looked for a place to hide, anything sheltered. Across the street, another couple stood rooted in place. They were the first people I’d seen in a while. I was about to call out a warning to them, when out of the darkness a lithe and rough figure emerged. It was the beast. It had arrived, and it was hunting. The woman screamed, but the sound was cut off. The man struggled, but only for a moment. I was thankful for the darkness. The sounds of flesh rending came then, and teeth flashed. Jack was pulling me into an alley, but my feet weren’t agreeing with me. I stumbled, drunk on wine and fear.
“Mina,” he whispered, his breath reeking of terror. “Crouch down with me. Get down!”
I obeyed. The hulking creature was devouring those people, and there was nothing we could do. It was too fast, too lethal. The sound of bone sliding against bone, wet flesh and organ, gobbled down like the soufflé we had just enjoyed. I felt my bile rise.
“Stay very, very still,” Jack gasped.
I was certain that wouldn’t matter. If it wanted us, it would take us. Interminable moments passed, and the thing across the street finished. It looked around, its head darting about with an implacable intelligence. It had our scent but didn’t approach. A leap up and forward, and it was gone.
We stayed there for several moments, breathing raggedly. “Dear God, you were right. I didn’t believe you. I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you.…” Jack was close to hysteria now, but was still a solid foundation I could lean on. I got to my feet, shaky.
“We have to go over there. Maybe…” But I knew my hope would be dashed as it had been with Cayman.
Whatever it was, it was thorough. I knew we’d find nothing but blood. Of their own accord, my feet crossed the shadowed street, and my eyes found the wetness. Jack was right behind me, his firm grip urging caution.
“It…ate them. It just…ate them whole.” I choked out this realization, then I turned and vomited. Jack crouched down, oblivious. He reached a hand out to touch the blood stains but a cry of pain stopped him. He grabbed his neck, doubling over. I recovered from my own bent posture to lean over him. My terror, which had ebbed, now peaked again. Had he been hurt somehow in all this?
“Mina, my neck! Something is moving…” He fell forward again, his hands landing in the sticky remains.
His back arched. And his scent changed. Somehow, and I’d never know how, his essence shifted. And I could smell it. My heart kicked.
“What is it? Are you hurt? What’s wrong?”
Meaningless questions. I felt impotent. His voice grated out through his pain.
“The blood. It’s…Mina, it hurts. I can’t control it. What’s happening?”
My heart broke at this vulnerability. I rested my hand against his back but startled back when I felt it move unnaturally beneath my fingers. Rending along the seam, his tunic split. He was bent and spasming now, sharp cries gasping from his throat. Ripples along his spine and limbs alerted me to the change taking place within him, which I was powerless to stop. His limbs began to lengthen impossibly, and horny protuberances emerged along his now bare back. His screams were strangled now, and in the dim light of this nightmare street I could see teeth like scythes begin to grow out of his now-deformed mouth. In a spray of blood, a slice of claw burst forth from his hand, and I recognized it. Dear God, I prayed. No. I was rooted in my spot,
watching my love convulse and grow into the thing I feared the most. And deep within the most ancient part of my brain arose the question: “Stay and die, or run and live?” He was shaking his head now, back and forth like a dog being stung repeatedly by hornets. His cries began to change, too. His voice was deepening, metallic now. The sound tore my eardrums and my heart. He managed one more word:
“How much longer till we—”