TITLE: Between the Shadows
GENRE: Science Fiction
Two trains and fifteen minutes ago, Daniel Evans’ life was perfect.
The locomotive was in motion before Daniel had a chance to think. His footsteps, fast and uncompromising, led him instinctively to the back of the car. Three men stood caught in conversation, oblivion to the world around them. They were dressed in similar black suits, like dirty carbon copies of himself. Praefects. His disheveled suit was a mockery of their position.
As he pushed past the men, one of them pivoted to the side, running smack into Daniel’s shoulder. The man, unsteady on his feet, fell over and into a pole reserved for those who opted to stand. A yell followed after Daniel as he pried the door open to pass between cars.
Don’t look back, he told himself. Never look back.
The Wretched were after him now.
All he had left were exaggerated stories and water cooler discussion to guide him through the underworld of the city. He didn’t put much faith in any of them.
The air in between howled around him, calling for him or anyone foolish enough to venture out too long. A sharp gust of wind pulled at his jacket, claiming only his loose tie. It fluttered in the air for a moment before being ripped to the side and away. A flash of flesh twisted his face to the side.
He pulled his coat tighter, grasping no comfort from its tight fabric. He searched the mixed darkness and artificial light. When nothing revealed itself, he entered the next cabin. A light at the back flickered slightly. Shadows played on each person’s face, obscuring their features and transforming them into something else.
Something less than human.
The intercom above crackled to life, freezing Daniel in place. “Next stop . . .”
Daniel’s eyes locked on the singular exit. He prepared to bolt.
“Central Square,” the announcer stated in a calm and soothing voice. A click signaled the end of the announcement. Daniel breathed a sigh of relief.
As the train ground to a halt and the doors started to open, his breath caught in his chest. In those fleeting moments, the doors seemed unwilling to budge for any man. Finally, they broke free of what had held them.
Before they opened completely, Daniel squeezed through the narrow gap. Daniel wrestled himself free as the doors slid shut behind him. He let out a pent up breath and the silence around him was comforting. He looked around in sudden confusion. Something was wrong. There was no one here. Daniel turned back to the train and watched it disappear into the darkness.
The lights above the platform shut off.
In an instant, the knot in his stomach tightened into an unbearable grip. His joints seized and a cry escaped his lips. The pain was gone as quickly as it had come, but a dull ache replaced it moments later.
Daniel sprinted toward the exit.
The Wretched crept onto the platform. The clicking of their claws echoed off the stone walls, mixing with their wet breaths, twisting into an eerie harmony. They anticipated the brief chase . . . anticipated the takedown. The exhalations came out in gurgles, as if they were drowning in their own fluids.
Another light went off.
Darkness nipped at his heels, toying with him, as it brought the Wretched that much closer. His panicked breathing filled his ears. The world became infinitely smaller in those moments, focusing on the damned as they came closed to one another.
The hunt was on.
Running on instinct alone, Daniel dodged right toward the thin sliver of light. The breathing of the approaching Wretched intensified to the point of near hyperventilation. An overzealous Wretch landed just short of its mark. It skidded in a shower of sparks as its claws dug into the concrete below. A growl erupted from the darkness behind him, something unearthly and ancient.
Daniel didn’t look back.
The open doorway seemed to widen as he neared it. He pushed his aching muscles harder. They screamed in protest but followed his commands. A burst of adrenaline propelled him out of the station into the humid night air.
A fresh breeze lit his skin afire. Bathed in light of a fluorescent bulb, Daniel breathed a sigh of relief. A dull ache filled his joints as he bent over and tried to catch his breath.
Blue light washed over the street, the marquee of time circled each of the grey buildings. Daniel tensed once more. He had to find somewhere to hide out.
A low buzz filled the air as the bulb above brightened. Daniel turned to look at the light, a growing sense of dread filling his bones.
A hand shot out of the darkness of the station, pulling him back in.
Daniel slammed into the pavement. A thud filled the humid air. Pain shot through Daniel’s chest as the air ejected from his lungs. His face ached, blood flowed into his mouth.
He spat without much force, the mixture of blood and saliva landing right in front of him, and then regretted it a moment later. Without hesitation, his face smashed into the ground once more.
“Oh god . . .” Daniel managed to moan as the Wretched swarmed around him. Looking toward the last source of light, Daniel saw the single beam falter as the door slid shut.
They’re always watching, Daniel thought as the hunters smothered him with their hot and sinewy bodies.
Screams filled the air in the next moment.
“Twenty-three minutes and two seconds,” a man noted. A metallic snap followed. “Impressive run, Evans. Too bad it ended a bit quickly. I was starting to have fun.”
His voice was lost amongst the screams.