A low growl interrupts the silence. Another scream pierces the air, tipping the scale from curiosity to terror.
There are more screams and shouts as everyone bolts for the doors, pushing and trampling one another. I’m certain I can see blood splattered on clothes, on faces. By the time I reach for Brie she has been pushed across the room.
The surrounding chaos muddles my thoughts, but for some reason I have to know what is happening. Everything in my body is telling me to get the hell out of there – fight or flight, preferably the latter – but there’s one very calm part of my brain that says I should know what I’m running from first. I’m pretty sure it’s the part that gets everyone killed in horror movies.
It’s easy enough to find the source of the panic, but harder to push past the people still trying to cram out of two small doors. In the middle of the living room is a dead body. Not just dead, but mangled. I take one stupid, curious step forward and feel something under my foot. I look down to find a forearm. Just a forearm.
I should vomit, I think. I should feel sick. Instead, I feel numb. My brain scrambles to deny the evidence in front of me: It’s impossible. It must be a prank. This is not something that fits inside the tidy box labelled “Selene Kondo’s Life.”
I stare at what was once part of a living human being and is now a piece of meat under my foot until a snarl pulls my attention to the other side of the room. Past the smashed glass of the coffee table is a massive dog. Its fur is black and matted with drying blood. I try not to think about the wet mass between its impossibly large teeth or the unnatural yellow glow of its eyes. There is a person… body… corpse… under one dinner-plate sized paw. Green eyes I had only recently found stunning stare past me, now lifeless and cold. The lump of another corpse rests behind the beast – the green-eyed man’s companion. I can’t help but notice he is missing an arm.
Realization crashes over me like a wave. I can’t catch my breath and I begin to heave. Believe me, I know that this is terrible timing, but shock and panic are like that. Inconvenient and deadly.
I grab the wall beside me and turn to flee; everyone else has long escaped. I try not to think about the animal behind me. About how there is no way I can outrun a creature like that. About how it will feel when its teeth rip through my flesh.
I reach the back door, still flung open to the cool night air. I have no intention of looking back to see if I’m being pursued until I hear a familiar voice screaming:
“STOP! PLEASE GOD! WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!”
I turn around. The dog is still standing over the body, but now its head is cocked towards the stairs. There is more screaming, most of it unintelligible. The dog slowly begins to walk towards the stairwell.
I take a deep breath and step back into the house.
This is stupid this is stupid this is stupid. I pass through the kitchen and grab a large knife from the wooden block on the counter. I glance at the stairs and see the dog meandering up like a glutted lion. I take one more breath, certain it will be my last, and rush it with every iota of strength my shaking body can muster.
It begins to turn its head as I fall onto its massive back, using my weight to bury the knife between its shoulder blades. The feeling of metal tearing past thick fur and skin into muscle is sickening beyond belief. The dog snarls and snaps, but it seems confused. It misses me multiple times, its strength already slipping away. As it falls onto the stairs I step on it with one foot, pulling out the blade and burying it into its side. I try to pull it out again, but the black plastic handle is slippery with blood. I kick the animal down the stairs instead.
I watch as it tumbles onto the linoleum at the bottom of the stairs. I watch blood pour from its wounds and its mouth until it lies motionless. Hot tears trickle down my face and I wipe them away without a thought to the dog’s blood covering my hands.
There’s shouting upstairs now. A man’s. It sounds familiar.
“THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HER. JUST STAY THE FUCK AWAY.”
A crackle of electricity raises the hair on my head and arms, making it tingle. The man is screaming. I hurry up the stairs as quietly as possible, wishing I had managed to keep the knife. When I reach the landing I slip into the sitting room and grab one of the empty bottles from the table.
The door to Brie’s bedroom is ajar and the lights are on. From the angle I am approaching I can see most of the room. Brie is crouched in the far corner, sobbing. Her dark brown hair is pulled at odd angles, as if someone has grabbed her by it. Black eyeliner runs in rivulets down her cheeks. Her nose and mouth are slick with mucous and saliva.
In front of her, near the door, are two men. One is standing with his back to me. There are streaks of scarlet in his blond hair, like he’s dragged bloody hands through it. He is holding the second man, who is slumping to the ground. I can tell that this man is Grant by his overly gelled black hair, prematurely greying at the sides. His usually smug expression is replaced with a grimace of pain. He looks as though he’s about to lose consciousness.
I notice his right hand; not only does it look black and scorched almost to his elbow, but all of his fingers are missing. I purposely refuse to look closer at the small black objects scattered on the floor around his knees.
It takes less than a minute for me to take in the entire scene. The strangest detail dawns on me last. At first I think the blond man has his hand down Grant’s shirt. He moves it around as though he is searching for something. Then I realize the hand is not inside his shirt but through it. Through Grant. Inside his gut, searching.
What the hell is happening here?
I suppress the thought along with my fear; I’ve already crossed the point of no return. If I had turned away at the door step, maybe called the police and accepted that I was too weak to be of any use… but I didn’t. To walk away now would be to make a choice. To choose to let Brie die at the hands of this monster. To choose my life over hers. I like my life, but I don’t think I’d like it much after doing something like that.
So I rush the man, just like I rushed the dog.
Unlike the dog, the man sees me coming. Well, Brie sees me coming, and the man sees Brie’s eyes focus on something behind him. He turns and calmly faces a palm towards me. He speaks, “Averaste.” That’s it. He even grins.
I dodge beside his hand and the bottle connects with his face, shattering against his eyes and nose. His grin fades into a look of pain and confusion.
The man’s bloody hands shoot up to his face and Grant tumbles to the ground with a hole in his shirt, blood pouring from a gaping wound above his belly button. Brie crawls over and together we pull him through the doorway and onto the landing. Without hesitation she pulls off her blouse, revealing the expensive-looking bra underneath. She presses the balled up fabric hard into his gut then looks up as if waiting for me to tell her what to do next.
“We have to get him down the stairs,” I say. She opens her mouth to reply, but before she can I feel someone grab me from behind. Next thing I know I’m against the wall with the blond man’s hands around my throat. He is lifting me off of the floor and I can’t breathe.
He leans his face into mine. I can barely distinguish his features through the blood dripping from his eyes and nose. A tiny sliver of brown glass is sticking out of his left eye. There are spots swimming in my vision as he whispers in my ear:
“Protection spells only work against magic. It won’t stop me from choking the life out of you with my bare hands, you bitch.”
I’m overcome with pain and an ever-growing desperation every time I fail to catch my breath. I try to understand his words but my world is already blurring and fading to black.