Shadows. They reached and stretched, clawed and clutched at everything. Even at midnight, with barely any moon, they lurked. Waiting.
“Shhh.” I rounded on the man behind me, slapping a quick hand over his mouth and leaning closer against the brick wall.
Did they hear us? ****** Sam.
I listened harder. A slight whine from the wind and the dry rustle of trash on concrete. A faint moan of metal, barely audible, floated on the wind. I exhaled.
I gave Sam a look I hoped conveyed the message to ‘shut up’ then removed my hand. He didn’t speak but his dark brown eyes were wide. He looked like a frightened bunny. Sam had always been small, fragile. He was two years younger than me but since The Fall, he’d been my only friend. I tried to smile, going for the ‘it’s okay’ look.
The clink of chains rattling echoed from down the street.
The smile died on my lips. Run!
I shoved at Sam, pushing him towards the open door of an old convenient store. Once inside I instantly grabbed his hand and, almost dragging him, ran for back door. I prayed it was unlocked. We scrambled over broken bottles and fallen racks. As a stack of magazines crashed to the floor I winced at the noise and picked up our pace.
Mercifully the back door gave way. A howl sounded in the distance. Bone chilling. The sound of death. Its raspy howl echoed on and on as Sam and I sprinted across the back alley. Avoiding the broken glass, I pried on a section of the wooden fence. My hands slipped twice before I wrenched the board free.
Another wail, closer than the first one. My heart pounded, flooding my body with blood only for it to turn to ice.
“There they are!”
I didn’t look, just pushed Sam through the gap and dived in after him. We took off again. A rotting house took up most of the yard. The top floor had already fallen in and the sides looked to sag. We skirted around it, leaping over broken toys and articles of people’s lives that were blown or dragged outside. Leaping the small fence and helping Sam over, I got a good look at our pursuers.
Two men, wrapped in shadows being drug by two hulking black dogs, their fangs dripping saliva as they snapped at the air. Both men burst through the fence just before one decided to let his hound go.
For a split second, I was frozen.
Sam yanked my arm, snapping me from my fear induced state of shock. Once again, we ran. My legs began to burn and my sides ached. We couldn’t out run the hounds. I knew that. I glanced at Sam, his normally fair skin was splotched red and his hair was matted to his forehead. I could hear the beasts digging at the fence. It would only be a few minutes before they ripped through it. We weren’t going to make it.
Sam stumbled. Sliding to a stop, I spun and reached for him. The dogs had broken through. Their paws slapped the ground as they tore after us. I tugged on Sam’s arms. A howl filled the night, then another. My body shook as Sam staggered to his feet, his hands and knees a bloody mess. We kept running. We were only a block away.
It was too far.
The first snap at my heels spurred my body into a burst of speed. The second ripped a scream from my throat. I tripped, slamming hard onto the concrete. A metallic taste filled my mouth. I kicked, scrabbling backwards.
The hound snarled but didn’t back away. He stalked my movements as I drug myself backwards down the road. The second hound flanked the first, both snapping and stalking.
Blood soaked my jeans from the bite on my leg but still I tried to push away. I wanted to scream. Pain lanced through my arms and across my shoulders. The men were coming up behind the dogs. This was it. It was all over. My life, snuffed out at twenty-five on a dirty road.
I glared at the two hounds and the two men. They laughed. It was paper thin, like a mere whisper. Slowly, one of them pulled a black dagger from a long trench coat. The hilt gleamed in the pale light. Their shadows danced and swayed like living things.
“Be gone,” the man with the dagger hissed.
The two hounds, still snarling, snapped once more then ran off into the night.
I swallowed, hard and scooted back further.
Another papery laugh. “She tries.”
The weapon in the man’s hands began to glow a faint red. He stalked closer. Brighter and brighter it shone, until he flung it to the ground.
“She has more,” the man spat.
He lunged at me. I braced for impact, throwing my hands up in front of my body.
The man hung immobilized in the air. I drew a ragged breath. Before the men were free, I forced myself to my feet and limped away as fast as I could manage. Sam was running toward me. He nearly knocked me over in a quick hug before shouldering some of my weight.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
Before us a small group of people stood, faces covered by hoods, but hands outstretched. We hurried to them. I didn’t look behind me. I didn’t want to see if the men had managed to break free or if they would remain still until we were safe. I just hobbled along, leaning on Sam and trying not to cry out every time I had to step with my busted-up leg.
I heard the sizzle of magic as we passed the line of people. Once we were safely behind them, they released the Shadow Men. Their hisses filled the air but they didn’t come closer. They were outnumbered and they knew it. They slinked away, back into the shadows they came from.
A small woman pushed through the rest of the group and ran to me. “Oh Sky.”
“I’m okay mom,” I reassured her.
She began to cry and I let go of Sam to wrap my arms around her. She was like Sam, small. Fragile. The rest of the group gathered round and two of the ladies gently took mom by the shoulders, leading her away from us. Two of the three remaining men followed them, keeping watch as they made their way over ruble and around rusted cars.
The last man peered down at Sam, his face free of any emotion. “Go with them Sam.”
Sam looked at me and I nodded. He hurried after the group.
“Simon,” I said, trying to hold myself up.
He didn’t respond, only hulked over and, awkwardly, slipped an arm around my waist to hold my weight. Simon was every bit of six feet and then some. He was a mountain of a man with wide shoulders and thick arms. His hair was an inky black and it slightly brushed his forehead.
“Thanks.” I tried to maneuver myself so I could walk but it wasn’t going very well.
I felt Simon’s arm tighten just seconds before he swung his other arm behind my legs and scooped me up.
“What are you doing?” I asked, flicking a finger at his chest.
He glanced down at me, pale blue eyes roaming over my face. He didn’t say anything. Just kept walking, holding me tight against his chest. I crossed my arms, face flushing. I was never going to live this down.
Our group walked to the edge of town, skirting the buildings, trying to stay in the almost non-existent pale light. Skeletons of cars and trash grew thicker as we reached a clearing between town and wood. It wasn’t much of a gap since the trees and vines had overtaken most of the buildings anyway, but this little spot stayed bare. Our group scurried into the tree line. Before Simon followed them, his icy eyes found mine again. He held my gaze for moment.
This won’t happen again.
Simon’s voice echoed in my mind.
I rolled my eyes.
Sure, whatever you say boss.