Hunting Shadows

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Chapter 8

It was an odd thing to be in a prison full of rough, rowdy men. It was loud and fights would break out randomly among the prisoners; short and brutal, only lasting a few minutes before the guards would step in and break things apart. He drifted as a shadow among the inmates, searching for his target. He was death incarnate, fear and hatred rolled off him, his charging powers crackled like electricity shivering along the skin of the guards and inmates alike. His target was a man that had been on death row for 30 years; a convicted murderer who was to die by lethal injection.

The man stood close to 6’ 5”; was covered in tattoos and had a piercing gaze that seemed to go straight to your soul. Of course, if JB had a soul he wouldn’t be in the prison taking someone’s life. He would still be married to Eryn and she wouldn’t be afraid of him… Shaking the memories, he let the Reaper dull the pain and wash away the memories of his human life. He had a job to do; he could think about things later.

He waited patiently for the guards to enter, the prisoner shackled and bound between them. Even from where he stood, JB could sense the man’s aura and presence.

His entire posture and demeanor spoke of a hard life and a ruthless prison life. His eyes though dark had a fierceness in them that would terrify most people. JB wasn’t human, and merely watched from the corner with a bored expression on his face. The countdown began when the man had been strapped into the chair. The countdown ended and the guards injected him.

Within seconds the inmate began jerking wildly against the restraints binding his wrists and legs as his heart went into overdrive.

They had removed his hood and the audience watched with a sick kind of glee and boredom as the murderer strapped to the chair continued to writhe and jerk, clenching his teeth as his heart pounded wildly in its last few minutes. JB watched quietly and waited in the corner until his heart stopped completely and the man’s soul was ready to be collected. Moving from the corner he brushed his hand along the man’s arm, severing the soul chain and sent him onto the next stage. For anyone who was taking pictures, this would have shown up a flash of light with a darker shadow in the corner of the room farthest from the viewing window.

With his assignment done, he disappeared in a flash of black red light.

Three pathways stretched out before her; leading to any number of worlds, realms, dimensions and universes.

Picking a direction, she chose the pathway on the left, following the winding path downhill as it twisted deeper in on itself. The gnarled trees snaked out, snagging her clothing and crisscrossing her path creating treacherous footing. The sky overhead began to darken to a near pitch black and no moon rose to bleach the land of color. She looked back, hoping to see the exit but all she saw were gnarled and snagging tree branches.

She struggled through the underbrush, hacking and slicing away at the dry limbs that reached for her. Bleeding from scratches and gouges along her arms, she finally tumbled free of the grotesque dead trees. Gasping for breath and trying to still her pounding heart, she could hear small nocturnal creatures beginning to stir. She had come out in a field of tall waving grasses; a steady breeze was blowing towards her, and carried with it the scent of death, decay and rot. Something was wrong, very wrong with this world. Looking back the way she had come, the brambles through which she had come out of were no longer there; just endless grass.

A warning of fear and panic shivered down her spine before she stamped it back. She would not let it consume her. Alarmed and wary, she transformed fully into a panther, slinking quietly through the field. There was something calming and peaceful about being able to run through a natural environment as a panther. It allowed her mind to empty and she could focus on the soft ground beneath her feet, the wind through her pelt and every little sound rustling though the grass. Something skittered by her feet and her eyes immediately went to track the movement. The scent of warm blooded prey drifted across her nose making her mouth water.

Crouching down, she shrugged off the backpack and became the very animal her father had turned her into. Farther along the horizon a crop of trees sprang up, looking just as gnarled and evil as the trees she had crossed through to get to the field where she presently was. Instinct told her that she would have to go through those trees to find a way out of this world.

The ground began sloping downward, getting steeper and steeper until she felt as if she were walking vertically.

She was halfway to the bottom, when she tripped over a root and went sprawling down the steep incline to land in a tangled heap of limbs and pain.

Somewhere between tripping and landing she had become human again. Groaning she sat up and rubbed her head. Looking back up the hill, it was quite the distance between the top and the bottom. Like a small Cliffside. She was going to have some nice bruises for the next couple of days. Moving stiffly, she shook the twigs and dirt from her hair, pulled on a pair of thick woolen sweatpants, a t-shirt and sweater and began making her way up the other side of the ravine.

The creature watched her silently from behind a tree at the top of the hill. Wary of new creatures in his world, she had just appeared out of nowhere and now she was making her way through storm valley.

There was something special about her, the way she moved and held herself. He hadn’t been around humans for a long time; but she was interesting. He decided to leave it for the time being; and disappeared into the trees on the other side of the ravine.

She glanced up, and caught the silhouette of a figure disappearing into the trees on the far side. Unnerved she bared her teeth in a feral snarl, growling low in her throat. Shifting forms slightly, she disappeared into the growing shadows and growth. In panther’s form, slipping through the undergrowth wasn’t nearly as bad, and though branches snagged against her backpack and pelt, she could get through without too much difficulty.

Lightning flashed jaggedly in the night sky and electricity danced through the air. A storm was coming, and by the sudden drop in temperature it was going to be bad. There was no thunder yet, but the sky over head had turned an ugly black color; darkening the landscape to an eerie dark grey.

The crevice lay like a jagged scar on the land. She didn’t want to spend the night in a tiny cave without JB, but she knew she didn’t have a choice. Vaguely she wondered who JB was ferrying onto the other side of life and if he missed her or thought about her when she was away. Eryn had just squeezed through the opening of the crevice when lightning spiked across the sky lighting it to blinding brilliance.

Below her in the ravine, she thought she had seen the same creature she glimpsed earlier; but it was gone with the flash of lightning that sparked across the sky. Electricity danced on the air currents and she hissed towards the sky. The animal in her didn’t like storms or bright lights and noises.

Slipping further into the crevice, away from the immediate entrance she could water trickling down from somewhere deeper in the cave. It was damp and smelled of earth and wet stone. Stalagmites grew in half-hazard directions, sticking up through the floor of the cave like jagged teeth.

It was well past midnight when the sound rain woke her. It fell steadily in sheets, obliterating the landscape outside the cave. She lay watching it come down and shivered at the unexpected freezing temperature.

Reaching a hand out, she immediately pulled it back hissing in pain. The rain wasn’t water, but ice; the pellets had stung her skin leaving behind small red welts. Lightning crackled jaggedly across the sky and the ice continued to slice down, pounding into the ground. Flicking on her flashlight, she crept farther into the crevice tunnel, hoping for an alternative exit. Following the sound of the water she crawled through the tunnel, mindful of the massive stalagmites that poked up like broken teeth in some huge monster’s mouth.

The trickle became a stream, flowing down into the darkness beyond. Incidentally that adage about curiosity killing the cat came to mind and she chuckled darkly. Of course, whenever she thought about death, she always ended up thinking about JB and how he had died.

The memory of their time on Pandora’s Planet came back, and with it the memory of JB getting plugged into the mainframe of the scientist’s computer. Frowning she pushed those memories back to the deepest parts of her mind.

JB was back now, he was a Reaper, but he was back… and that’s all that mattered… do you really believe that or do you just like lying to yourself?

The sane voice of reason questioned. “That’s all that matters.” She spoke quietly to herself, hating the fact that she was still afraid of him. Her voice echoed eerily up and down the tunnel, bouncing off the close walls; as she continued further into dark, wet tunnel. The ground beneath her was becoming slick and slippery with water. The electrical ice storm continued to rage outside and she could hear it echoing down through the mouth of the crevice.

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