Author of Dark Fiction
Excerpt from The Werecat Chronicles
I saw and heard more than I should.
It shouldn’t be this hot; I shouldn’t be this hot. Pushing the tangled, sweat-stained sheets away from my body, I rolled onto my stomach. The breeze that rustled the palm fronds outside my window was cool by Florida standards, yet my skin burned.
The November night with its scent of orange blossoms beckoned me. I could almost hear it whispering, “Come on. You know you want me.” Unable to resist, I slid out of bed and floated down the hallway and out through the front door, still in my white cotton pajamas.
Possessed, I sprinted like an animal down Whirley Road, past massive new homes with cathedral ceilings, past small older homes connected to horse farms and past the bare skeletons of newly constructed suburban monstrosities. On autopilot, my body headed for the southwest corner’s secret entrance that led through a soccer field, beneath power lines into the six hundred acre Lake Park, a huge oasis in a busy part of North Tampa. I was dimly aware of being barefoot, but it didn’t concern me.
This greenway conservation area saved me from the monotony of day-to-day life and gave me access to the forest I so loved. Finally I arrived at the shelter of the dense trees that understood me, the ferns that cooled my feet. I needed relief from a heat that threatened to melt my brain.
Along with the heat came an insane sharpening of my senses. How could I possibly hear the fluttering of bats’ wings, the burrowing of an armadillo? I darted through the underbrush, losing all track of time and feeling better by the moment.
Then I heard it—the jarring sound of people talking, along with the crackle of a bonfire. Who had invaded my forest? Definitely people who wanted privacy. Buried deep in this suburban jungle, they were hidden from passers-by and from the one park ranger who patrolled only the main trails.
Instinctively, I turned to go in the opposite direction. When I heard footsteps behind me, my senses jarred me into reality, and I realized what a dangerous position I’d put myself in. Was I imagining things? I stopped; the footsteps stopped. I sped up and so did they. I say “they” because it sounded like several sets of footsteps. Shit. This wasn’t good.
I knew that predators pounced when their prey ran. Still, I couldn’t help myself; I sped up, then broke into a sprint until I was back out onto the main trail. Then I kicked my body into some kind of overdrive and ran through a strip of scrub palmettos until I was back onto the street. I prayed for just one car to pass, but that didn’t happen, so I dashed around the corner, calculating how to get back to my house. Damn, I was all turned around, so I flat out sprinted for it. Fruitless. One of the guys had gone around the other way and cut me off. I skidded to a stop. He stood there, a slight guy in his twenties with fashionably spiked up hair wearing a USF hoodie. Not exactly the kind of person you’d expect to be attacked by.
“You look like a tasty morsel,” he said while licking his lips. “You looking for some fun?”
My heart just about beat out of my chest. “No. Let me by, please.” I turned to run in the opposite direction, but his other two friends blocked me. They were similarly dressed indie cool. Not ghetto, not trashy, not what you’d expect.
“Please, just let me go.” My pleading sounded pathetic even to me. How was this happening in my woods that used to be safe?
The three of them positioned themselves around me, like they were used to doing this. One of them moved in on me, and despite trying to weave my way around him, he wrenched my arms behind my back. It felt like he dislocated my shoulders in the process. The other tried to grab hold of my legs, but I kicked out. These thugs were not going to get me. I connected with one of them and smashed him right in the crotch. He doubled over and spit up on the sidewalk. I hoped I’d ruptured him.
That just made the other two madder though, and the one guy had my arms pinned so hard, I wasn’t able to kick with the same force. The guy in the USF hoodie got hold of my legs. He was crazy strong, so much more than you’d expect from his build.
When they started lifting me, I remembered all the things I’d been told by my parents and teachers about not letting someone take you to a second location. I got a surge of adrenaline then, which made me fight back with a vengeance. I screamed for all I was worth and thrashed against them, getting one leg free which allowed me to kick one of the guys in the face. That only made him madder though and he again clamped down on my legs.
The guy who wasn’t holding me slapped some duct tape over my mouth. I continued to struggle full-out, but more and more my exertion against the steel bands of their muscles drained me until my body ran out of steam and there was no fight left in me. I only hoped that they wouldn’t kill me, or if they were going to kill me they’d do it fast.
That’s when something astonishing happened. A dark car, low to the ground, sped up the street then came to a screeching halt. The window slid open. A man’s voice, young sounding, said, “What’s going on here?”
The two guys froze in mid-act of carting me off. For a split second I got the feeling that they knew him. Something about the way they stopped so suddenly.
Then the man in the car flung the door open and leapt out. “Leave her alone.” He seemed like he was about to jump on one of them when they looked at each other and scattered like cockroaches, dropping me hard on the pavement. I felt like I’d shattered my tailbone. The guy I’d kicked in the nuts, who was lying in the grass, got up and limped after them.
I peeled the duct tape off my mouth and lay there panting.
“Are you okay?” He extended a hand to help me up.
That’s when I recognized him—Luis, one of the cool kids from school. A track team jock, he was new to school this year. The first thing I noticed about him was his eyes—dark and warm with long lashes, they were greenish with unusual gold flecks around the perimeter of his irises. He was tall—maybe about six feet—had long black hair, a little wavy, and was dressed in black jeans and a white shirt that looked like linen. Smelling of spicy cologne, he had something special, confidence maybe.
Even though I could barely stop shaking, I took his hand, and it felt warm and reassuring as he lifted me up. “Uh, yeah, I think I’m okay. Oh my God.” I felt dizzy, like I was going to fall over, but he caught me.
“You need to sit down. Are you okay with getting into my car?”
I hesitated, my mind still in a blur of pain and fear. After what I’d been through, I didn’t know if I could trust him. Then I realized I was being silly. He’d saved me after all. That was reason enough to trust him, wasn’t it? “Oh, sure.”
I walked over to his car door and reached for the handle, but he beat me to it. “Allow me.” As he said that, one of his eyes actually caught the light and twinkled. I captured that image in my mind like a snapshot. He opened the door to his car and helped me in. The seats were low, so I sunk down too fast and hit the bottom of my bruised spine in an uncomfortable way and let out a little, “Uhh.”
“Oh, careful. I meant to warn you about that.”
Everything happened so fast, I was still taking in the fact that I wasn’t being carried off by some guys who were going to do God-knows-what to me. After I settled myself and he got into the driver’s seat, I said, “Thank goodness you came along when you did. Thank you so much.”
“Hey, don’t mention it. I’m glad I could help. I’m Luis by the way. I’ve seen you at school.” He extended his hand and I took it. He grasped it a little more than you’d expect a casual acquaintance to and rubbed his thumb against the inside of my wrist.
“Kenley.” When he turned the key in the ignition, the car made a sexy purr, and I could see his smile in the glow from the dashboard. “What were you doing outside at this hour by yourself? And in your pajamas.”
“Being stupid, I guess. Sometimes I get these urges late at night to go out and run, get some air and think.” I wondered if maybe I’d told him too much, that he’d think I was weird.
“Yeah, I know what that’s like, needing to get away to think.” He looked pensive for a moment, then he snapped out of it and gazed at me. “Let me take you home.”
“I just live a couple of blocks away.”
“Perfect. I’ll feel better seeing you safely inside.”
I happened to think, it seemed odd for him to be in this neighborhood this late at night. “What were you doing here?”
“I have a friend who lives a couple of blocks away. I was just coming from her house.”
Her house. He had a girlfriend. Mental note. My thought of him being interested in me changed then, but I exhaled, thinking more about how grateful I was to be actually safe. I shuddered at the thought of what might have happened. “Wow, it was a great coincidence that you were driving by just then.”
Luis gave me an intense look, his dark eyes shining from the reflection of the street lights. “There are no coincidences, Kenley.”
“No, I suppose not.”
We were at my house. All too quick. We sat there for a moment.
“I don’t suppose you might feel like getting together some other time?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Yeah, I guess so.” My head swam with too much sensory input, a combination of terror and attraction that was hard for me to process.
“I’m sorry we had to meet this way, but I’m glad that we did. Meet.” I could see the shadow of his slight smile in the moonlight.
“Yeah, the school is pretty big. We might never have crossed paths.” And I wouldn’t have thought of approaching him. “Well, I should go.” I reached for the car handle.
“Wait a second.” He rushed over to open my door for me. “Let me walk you inside.”
“I’ll be fine. Really.”
“Okay. Is there someone else home? You’re not going to be alone, are you?”
“My parents are on an overnight trip to buy some artwork.” Why did he want to know that? Maybe I shouldn’t have told him I was alone. Maybe I should be afraid of him. God, I was so jumpy I didn’t trust anyone.
“Maybe you should come home with me. My parents have a big house. You can have the guest room,” he said.
“I’ll be fine, I’m sure. This house has a security system like Fort Knox.” I grinned and turned to walk toward our front door.
“I was just worried that you’d be scared being alone after what you’ve been through tonight.” He rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a pen and the scrap of a receipt, scribbled something and handed it to me. “Text me later and let me know you’re okay. I mean, I know you’ve had quite a shock. You can text me any time. I’m a night owl.”
“Okay. I will.” God, he gave me his number.
“See you at school, then.” Luis waved to me, got back into his car and started pulling away but he stopped and backed up. “You really should call the police and report those guys.”
“Oh, right. Thanks!”
He waved and drove away.
The house was dark so I used my code to turn off the alarm then slithered into my room. The contradictory feelings inside my head were about to drive me insane. I’d come so close to being abducted and raped, tortured and possibly killed, all because of my own stupidity. I owed my life to Luis. Funny how someone I’d barely known before had instantly become the center of my thoughts.
I took a hot shower and noticed that pink water ran down the drain from the deep scratches in my legs and feet. How stupid was I to have run barefoot? I got into a fresh pair of pajamas, made myself some Sleepytime tea and tried to settle down. I knew I was safe inside my parents’ house, yet I sat in my bed staring at the door as though those men in the park might come in and attack me. A completely irrational thought. Was this what being shell shocked was like?
I knew I should call the police, but if I called they’d come out and question me, and I didn’t want to deal with it. I’d do it tomorrow.
Then I thought about how I’d said “maybe” when Luis asked me if I wanted to get together some time. What was I thinking? How dumb was I? No wonder I didn’t have a boy friend. I remembered that Luis asked me to text him, so I did. Hi Luis, I’m okay. Settling down now. How can I ever repay you?
Almost instantly a message came back, I’ll think of something 🙂 just glad you’re ok. sleep tight.
Wow. He answered right away.
After that I felt a little better and drifted off to sleep wondering about the mysterious Luis.
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