Rose tripped over an overturned dresser drawer and stumbled into the bedroom. The duffel in her hand skidded across the floor and dumped its contents like a breadcrumb trail toward the doorway. Leaving it behind, she bolted into the bathroom, crawling quietly into the bathtub. Making herself as small as possible, she cowered behind the shower curtain. The dull thunk of boots sounded against worn carpet. The stairs creaked as her pursuer came closer. A jacket zipper hissed as it brushed the door frame. Footsteps neared, slowed and stopped. Heels clicked against the thick white tile. The snap of the switch flooded the room with the overhead light. Rose shrank back, praying she was out of sight. Why hadn’t she hidden under the bed? She could have run. Now she was stuck inside with no way out.
Slowly her pursuer advanced. His shadow danced over white plastic folds. Every step echoed until he snatched the shower curtain away. The stranger grabbed her arm hard enough she cried out. Putting all her weight behind her, she backed against the shower wall. He grabbed her other arm and hauled her onto her tiptoes, his breath hot on her cheek as she turned away. Pressing his face into her hair, he inhaled. The short stubble on his cheek scratched her collarbone. Rose pressed her thighs close together. A tear slipped free, her whimper uncontrollable. She strained to keep her mouth far from his.
The grisly man chuckled lowly. His fingertip lingered at her knee. One dirty fingernail left a pink trail up her thigh. Rose choked on a scream.
A shadowy figure loomed in the doorway. Its skin was sunken between its spinous processes and ribs. It paused on all fours, its back too long, its arms too narrow and its legs bent at strange angles. Its bare skin shimmered like oil on new wet pavement. Her eyes locked with ebony pools. She shuddered.
Her aggressor turned to face the creature. “The fuck is that thing? Some kinda fucked up dog?”
The creature didn't belong to the stranger. Her palms were slick where she pawed the shower wall. Her ragged breath dried her mouth as the creature shoved head and shoulders into the bathroom. Its dark eyes swiveled from Rose to the man and back again. The man dropped Rose and puffed his chest. Brandishing a knife from his belt, he struck.
The creature howled, its face contorted in rage. It took a pair of steps back, rising to its full height. Its arm oozed from the thin gash across its bicep. With a hiss, it grabbed him by the throat and snarled. Long, sharp canines bared and glistened in the light. It twisted the robber's arm until it crunched. The knife clattered to the floor. Its forked tongue traced the man's neck as he spit obscenities. Sharp fangs touched his skin. He stopped dead. Booted feet scrabbled at the tile as the creature pulled the man into the darkened bedroom.
Creeping forward, Rose claimed the weapon.
Strong jaws crushed the man's throat. His anguished howls echoed and died against the tiled walls. The creature's mouth closed and its throat moved rhythmically. The man thrashed and then went limp. Dropping the lifeless body to the floor, the creature turned toward Rose and crouched. Its garnet eyes watched her intently. Ebony claws clacked as they settled against the stark flooring, its hands between its feet. Rose trembled and clutched the knife, the hilt against her solar plexus.
The creature turned back to the corpse. Giving a quick glance back at Rose, it nosed the body toward her in a macabre offering. Its voice was like a death-rattle. “Hungry.”
Rose violently shook her head. Her voice wouldn't come. Her feet rooted to the spot.
With its brow drawn, the creature inspected the body. It took a large bite of flesh and held the limb out to her. Rose screamed and buried her head in her hands. The knife clanked against the floor. Rose's knees knocked.
Silence settled in.
She peeked from between her fingers. The creature licked its elongated fingers like an overgrown cat. When she shifted, its long, pointed ears flicked but it otherwise ignored her. It made a face as the pungent scent of human excrement filled the space. Non-plussed, it returned to its grooming.
Whatever it was, it saved her life.
As if sensing her stare, it turned and looked at her before returning to its tongue bath. Something in its eyes reminded her of someone she knew.
No. It couldn't be.
Slowly reaching out to him, she called him by name.
(c) Carrie Fulk Vaughn 2012