Alice ran as fast as she could and the shadow chased her.
Blood fell from her shredded arms like bits of crimson starlight scattering in the grass. Her every labored breath fled from her lungs in terror, abandoning her to disappear into the dark of the night. Clearly, this couldn’t be happening.
This had to be just another vision.
But she knew it wasn’t.
Her death-visions were very different. For one thing, none of them had ever tried to kill her. And the monsters she saw were always attached to a person. They were terrifying, but they always lacked the physical threat to put her in any real danger. The death-visions would appear and scare her brainless, then fade away again as if they’d never been there at all, leaving her to question her own sanity. Often as a child, she’d been able to convince herself that they weren’t real.
But the shadow thing behind her was real. She had felt its claws on her, felt them bite into her skin like razors, and they were as real as Alice herself. She knew she had to keep running, or this thing that had stepped out of her most horrifying visions and into the reality of her world would tear the flesh from her body and scatter her remains across the neighborhood park.
Alice tore across the park, her feet flying with the speed of fear. She headed for the row of houses on the other side of the street, praying she would find help there. Halfway across the grassy space, she began to hope she might make it. She risked a quick glance over her shoulder. Nothing. The shadow monster wasn’t there. She barely had time to register the thought before her foot caught on an unseen rut and she went down, sprawling face first in the cool grass. She broke her fall on her injured forearms, wincing at the sharp sting of pain, then spun around to face the danger she knew was back there. Her lungs panicked, forcing rabid breaths through her open mouth, and she felt her heart pound like a frightened beast, threatening to tear its way through her shirt. Alice still couldn’t see the shadow thing, but she had no doubt that it was there, hiding somewhere in the sea of late-night darkness.
As if to confirm her suspicion, one pool of shadow a few feet to her right began to move. The monster rose from the ground as before, flowing into the space above the grass in liquid silence. Its twisted arms reached for Alice and she had no more time to run, no strength left to fight. She closed her eyes as the terror clutching her heart hardened its grip, waiting for the death that had found her to drag her into the final dark.
“Hey, shit head!”
The voice that echoed across the park brimmed with confidence and authority, and held the keen edge of anger, like an executioner’s ax ready to dole out justice and strike head from body.
Alice turned toward the voice and as she did she saw the shadow monster turn as well, its movements somehow betraying the same surprise that Alice felt.
A few yards away, stood a tall, broad-shouldered young man whose presence lit up the deep shadow of the park like a spotlight. Both of his hands glowed, surrounded in brilliant orbs of blue-white energy, each with writhing tendrils of electricity whipping the air around them like living creatures and tracing angry lines up the boy’s bare arms. His Van Halen t-shirt and loose acid-wash jeans rippled in the current of a breeze that wasn’t there, and the midnight-black hair that would have hung in his eyes did the same, moving at random in a violent dance above his head. Alice saw the young man’s face clearly, his pale skin, strong jaw, and slightly rounded cheeks illuminated by the glow of his eyes as they burned into the night like tiny globes of blue-white fire.
“Time to leave the girl alone,” the boy said.
The young man thrust both arms in front of him. His hands flared in a blinding flash, and a seething beam of light burned through the night, hammering into the shadow creature and driving it away from Alice. She felt a tingling heat on her face, and a strange warmth rose in her chest as if in response to whatever power the boy had used. The monster shrieked its pain and rage, a sound like nails dragged across a pane of glass. It tumbled along the grass as bits of its shadowy form shredded and burned away at the touch of this young man’s light. The creature cast a final glance at Alice, its eyes flaring red daggers in the dark, then dove to the ground, losing substance and disappearing into the night as if it was never there.
Silence reclaimed the park. Alice stared after the shadow monster, breathing hard, still frozen with fear and not quite believing the danger was gone. When a few seconds had past and the creature had not reappeared, Alice slumped to the grass, flat on her back, pushing a sigh of relief toward the night sky. She closed her eyes, allowing her mind to spin on its own and coming to grips with what had just happened. When she opened her eyes again, a pair of cool blue eyes had appeared to join the stars twinkling in the sky above the park. The tall young man who’d saved Alice from the monster looked down at her with a careful hesitation written across his handsome features.
“Uh, are you ok?” His voice held a gentleness that it hadn’t a moment before, the harsh authority gone along with the frightening glow of power.
“Yeah,” Alice said. “I think so.”
The boy helped her to her feet and she stood in the dark and brushed herself off as the sharp burn of adrenaline cooled in her veins to leave a jittery tremble in its absence. The pain in her arms had become a persistent throb, slowing now along with her decelerating heartbeat.
“What the hell was that thing?” She asked, cradling her wounded arms to her chest.
“Something very bad,” the boy said, casting vigilant eyes around the empty park. “It’s gone for now, but it will be back, and we don’t want to be here for that. I took it by surprise this time, but it will be ready for me next time.”
“Ok —” Alice said. She shook her head to try and clear it, fighting through the pain of her injuries. Nothing made sense. Everything she’d seen today was impossible, and she needed to find a way to deal with it so she could decide what to do next. “Well, thanks for the rescue. That was far out. I think I’ll be going home now.”
“That’s not a good idea,” The boy said. He reached a hand toward Alice and stopped just short of touching her shoulder. “That thing knows where you live. It’s already looked for you there, and it’ll know if you go back.”
“It has?” Alice took a step away from the strange boy, realizing that she didn’t really know anything about him. “How do you know?”
The young man wasn’t looking at her. He continued to survey their surroundings, his body language telling of his eagerness to be away from the park. Alice felt the same, but she didn’t know where she should go, or if she could trust what the boy said.
“We saw his car pull up in front of your house,” He replied.
His car? The only car that had pulled up at her house this evening was —
“Wait, that was the dead guy?” she said, pointing in the direction the monster had gone. “That shadow thing?”
“Well, that was the creature that’s been living inside the dead guy,” the young man said. “But apparently it ditched that body. The next time we see it in human form, it won’t look the same.”
“The next time we see it?” she said, moving back another step. “What we? I don’t even know who you are. Or how you found me. Or why you were outside my house.”
The boy noticed her movement and turned back to Alice. His face softened again and he took a step back as well, raising his hands in a calming gesture.
“Ok,” he said. “I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start over.”
He rested a hand on his own chest and actually freaking bowed to her just a little.
“My name is Jacob Acheson. I’m a friend. Or I’d like to be.”
Alice watched the boy with interest. He offered a small smile and extended his hand for her to shake. Jacob didn’t look like a threat, at least not now that his hands and eyes were not glowing and spitting out lightning. His face struck her as genuine, with its smooth planes and firm edges, long dark hair brushed aside to reveal eyes that held an honest intensity. She wanted to believe his words, he had saved her after all, but she had no way to know for sure that she could trust him. She couldn’t be sure of anything right now. Her thinking was clouded by fear and shock and not a little bit of disbelief.
None of this should even be possible.
Still, she had to do something. Jacob was right about the danger of staying in the park. Alice didn’t want to be here any longer. Whatever that shadow creature was, she did not want to be around when it came back for round two. And if it did manage to find her again, she would clearly be safer near Jacob than on her own. She didn’t know who or what this young man was, but between Jacob and the shadow monster, the handsome boy with the glowing eyes was clearly the better option. She didn’t have much choice. She’d have to take a chance on this strange young man and hope he was telling her the truth.
“I’m Alice,” she said, stepping forward to grip his outstretched hand. “Good to meet you.”
“Likewise,” he said. “Now let’s get out of here before your friend comes back.”
“Sure. But if I can’t go back home, where do we go?”
“I have a place,” Jacob said. “It’s not far. When we get there, we can see to those wounds on your arms and I’ll tell you more about the shadow monster. And introduce you to a couple people.”
“My family.” He paused, returning his attention to the empty night as it breathed in slow measures all around them, examining the darkness with careful eyes. “We have something very important to do. And we need your help.”