"Oh my god," she murmured, taking two steps away. She needed to call 9-1-1. "Oh my god," she said again, taking one step back. She shouldn't leave him like this, should she? "Oh my god, oh my god, I'll be right back, I promise," she urged him, and then ran as fast as she could for her house and the phone. It wasn't far and it was just stupid to go pounding on any of the other doors in the neighborhood. They were all either crack houses or owned by trigger-happy gun owners who would just assume she was a crackhead looking for one of the crack houses.
It's not like he's going to be any less dead if you get to a phone faster, pointed out a voice in her head. But she ran anyway -- paramedics might revive him, it might just be some kind of drug coma, and every minute probably counted....
"Aw, what do we have here?" A hand reached out from the alley beside her house and snagged her wrist. She cried out, but inside the laugh track blared on the television, obliterating the sound. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she realized it was Brad and Deegan, lurking in the narrow alley between the two houses. A whimper revealed the reason -- A.J., the boy who had run, in a crumpled heap on the ground.
"It got him, too?" she blurted, confused for a second. Then Brad shoved her against the wall and she realized what it was that got A.J.
"No, I got him. Little shit Hutched my car. Come running down the street and tried to jump over the hood as me and Deegan were headed on a beer run. Scratched my car." He looked back to glare over his shoulder. "No one scratches my car."
Embarrassed that she let her imagination get away from her for a moment yet again -- it had to be nerves, this had been a worse night than usual -- she tried to focus on the important matter at hand. "Brad, I need to get to the phone. Some kid is hurt down at the basketball court."
"I think it's going to have to wait," Brad said, pulling a Maglite out of his back pocket. It was a big one, and there were smears on it that looked grey in the dim light of the alley. He used it to push her throat back against the wall, pushing one leg between hers. "You and me got some business. I see that no matter where I go, you're trying to get me alone again."
Now? Seriously? "Brad. This isn't the time. I think he's dying." The words came out a little strangled. She pushed impatiently at the flashlight and felt a slight tinge of panic when her efforts only made him smirk. "Brad! Listen, you can play these games later, I won't tell anyone, but I need to get to the phone." He switched his grip so that one hand clamped over her windpipe, knocking her head back against the wall. With the other hand, he clicked on the flashlight and shone it in her eyes, interrogation style. It was one of the bright, D-battery models and she let out a little cry, completely blinded. "Deegan! Go call 9-1-1 and tell them there's a kid on the corner who needs help! He's dying! Please! I think he OD'd!" "The shadows ate him," whimpered A.J., forgotten and dribbling blood down the front of his shirt. "I saw them. A hand came out of the ground and then the shadows ripped his skin off."
Deegan let out a crude, stuttering laugh. "Fuckin stoners, man. 'Shadows ate him'."
Brad was fumbling with her pants, pulling at them despite her struggles. In one of those surreal moments she was more familiar with than she cared to be, Shara was concerned with the feel of the house siding against her skin as she tried to get enough leverage to push him away. It was slippery, probably with that mold that seemed to be cropping up everywhere since the weather had turned just a little warmer. Oddly, she was less bothered by the fact that Brad was about to force himself on her, in front of some neighborhood kid and Deegan, than she was angry at how cavalierly they were taking a medical emergency. That and the fact that if her sister found out about this, Shara was going to end up hurt worse than the kid they worked over for touching Brad's car.
"They did," A.J. piped up again, apparently shaking off some of the stupor. He probably had a concussion. He tilted and fell down as he tried to stand up. "They tore all the skin off him. I saw it." He started to cry, sobbing like a three year old. "I saw it happen."
"Please, Deegan, just call help."
"Shut up, bitch," Brad snarled in her face. "No one said you could talk. It's just a trick to get the cops here, Deegan."
"His skin came off! In long strips like this," the boy held up his hands. "It made a tearing sound! And his ears came off with it...."
"Brad," Deegan was starting to look a little concerned. "Hey, maybe we should go check it out." "Fuck that, shadows don't eat people. It was probably some crackhead from the house down the street on a bad trip, chopped the kid up." Brad's sneer faltered as his own words sunk in.
A thought occurred to Shara. A silly thought. But what did she have to lose? "Brad, please. I saw him running this way. He could be out here."
"I thought I told you to shut up." But Brad looked less certain. She could smell the wet, dank smell of the mud and slime, auto oil spilled back here long ago, cat shit, all of it faint under the scent of Brad's aftershave, but now she could also smell a faint acrid tang of fear. Tightening his grip on her neck and thumping her head against the wall again, he bared his teeth at her in a snarl, angry at allowing himself to get sidetracked, angry at the implication that he might have been wrong, angry that for a moment he was afraid in front of them. "Go check it out, Deegan, if you're stupid enough not to realize they're lying. You can have seconds when you come back." Please don't thump my head against the side of the house, Shara was thinking as Brad undid his pants. Please don't let Tina hear.
"Don't do it," the boy whimpered. "She'll call the shadows to get you! Her father is a demon!"
"Deegan, shut that little twerp up before you go."
"Look at the sky if you don't believe me! Look at the sky! See how the clouds are dripping blood?"
Gritting his teeth, Brad forced her legs wider. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Deegan glance quizzically up at the sky, then tilt his head. "It's the haze of hell," she rasped. "It's driving people mad. Don't you see? The boy spouting nonsense, Brad trying to rape me, the crackhead murdering the boy? Deegan, everyone is crazy."
"Shut up!" Brad grated, shaking her.
"It's a madness. They're out there stalking the streets. Killing. Raping. Beating people down."
Uncertain, Deegan shuffled his feet. "Brad..."
"You shut up!"
"Deegan, he's got the madness, too! You're the only one, Deegan! Everyone else is crazy!"
Deegan took a step back and Brad turned his shoulders away to level a menacing finger at him. "Knock it the fuck off, Deegan, and keep an eye out while I shut this bitch up!"
"Deegan, they're coming, they're coming," Shara said, feeling their suspension of disbelief almost like she could feel the slime under her fingernails as she clawed at the wall, trying to brace herself so that Brad couldn't bang her head against it again. "They're looking for blood, Deegan, they want to feed..."
"They killed Sean," A.J. wept, "I saw it, don't you understand?"
Deegan looked from the girl to the boy then to Brad. Shara pressed home. "They're not human anymore! They're looking to feed!"
An inarticulate scream of rage reverberated through the alley between the two houses as Tina appeared out of the night and beheld her sister up against a wall, with Brad propping himself between her legs. Her face contorted into a mask of hatred as she charged Shara.
"I'll fucking kill you!!"
Everything happened at once.
With a look of horror and belief on his face, Brad shuffled back and swung the flashlight at the raging thing charging them, dropping it to ground with one, powerful stroke.
From down the street, there was a woman's scream and a voice shouting, "Somebody help! There's a dead boy in the basketball court!"
"It's all true!" Deegan let out a little whimper, staring with horror at the limp body on the ground.
Wasting no time, Shara took advantage of the situation and slipped out of Brad's reach, repositioning her clothes as she moved and heading for the only way out of the alley. The only help she could possibly be was to get to a phone, maybe get Brad and Deegan chasing her and away from Tina. What a night this was turning out to be.
"It's getting back up!" Shara didn't even pause at A.J.'s terrified cry, only glanced as he pointed. Tina had groaned and was trying to prop herself up, blood streaming down her face in a mask. Deegan and Brad dove upon her, kicking and striking her with the flashlight over and over again until the wet heap that used to be Shara's sister stopped moving.
Shara hadn't waited around that long. She was already gone down the street. She'd catch a ride into town, find a phone and call the police, but then she'd have to leave. Leave town, maybe. She certainly couldn't go home. If she was lucky, Brad would end up in jail, but even if he did, he had friends and he would send them to look for her there.
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