Chapter 5: South Dakota

Anna’s hatch pulled into the parking spot at the garage. It had been a long day and she was looking forward to seeing Maria. As she stepped out the car, she saw Hanska sitting with Robert Quickfoot in the office. The pair was in deep discussion. Hanska had certainly grown stronger over the last few weeks. The returning to the old ways had seen him regain some of the lustre of his youth and he was engaging with many of the other elders. Always in secret he never once told her what he was talking about. Although she was curious, she knew that when Hanska was ready to tell her, he would. She decided to leave the pair and headed to find Maria.

“They’ve been talking non stop for a while now.” Maria pulled herself out from underneath the old jeep. Covered in grease, the cleanest part of her was her mechanical leg. She pulled herself up and gave Anna a kiss. Though Anna was careful not to get any oil on her, she did find Maria very attractive when she had been working like this.

“Any idea what they’re talking about?” Anna followed her out the back as Maria removed her overalls.

“No. My Lakota is as good as your Spanish.” Maria, she smiled as she put the overalls into her locker. Maria had three brothers who were all into cars, their friends were into cars and she spent time around them. Her time in the Marines had allowed her to expand her practical experience and she found working around cars an enjoyable experience. It made her feel useful and Robert was too smart a businessman to turn down that much experience.

Anna started to recap the events of the day. Though Maria never stopped moving, Anna knew that she was listening. Maria stood before the washbasin at the back of the garage, removing the grease and oil from her hands. Scrubbing hard she watched Anna in the mirror. A smile on her face as Anna tried to recount the day’s activities in the most positive way that she could. Hope and optimism were important parts of Anna’s approach to life and Maria like that she would find a way to put a shine on almost anything. There were days when it had been a blessing.

Anna was so wrapped up in her story that it took a moment to realise that Maria was no longer listening, or washing her hands. Rather she was staring at the black shape in the mirror creeping towards the pair.

Maria was reacting before Anna was even certain what was happening. The giant cat like creature leapt towards her. Maria had pulled her from the creature’s path towards the door to the office, the force of her action nearly tearing Anna’s arm from her shoulder. The creature in mid flight unable to adjust its movement mid flight landing on the vacant spot that moments ago had been occupied by Anna. The pair moved as quickly as they could. Anna felt a nauseous feeling wash over her. A deep sickness that seemed to drain the energy from her, if it hadn’t been for Maria she would already been dead. She stumbled into the office as Maria forced the door closed behind her as the cat charged.

Inside Hanska and Robert had heard the noise and had come running towards the same door. Hanksa was a little older than Robert and was a little slow to reach the door. Robert though, instinctively braced the door with Maria as the cat creature slammed into it from the inside the garage. The force of the impact was strong enough to cause the doorframe to crack under the onslaught. Hanska added his weight to the door but after the third successive charge it was clear that the door would not hold for long. Anna tried to help but she stared to vomit. Like a toxic well had erupted inside of her, she felt awash in the filth. Instinctively she knew it was from the cat. Correction. Cats.

The window that overlooked the gas station shattered as a second cat leapt through the glass and the situation went from bad to worse very quickly. The door itself started to splinter from the impact of the animal in the garage. Anna pushed herself against the door. Sick as she was, she had no intention of doing nothing.

The extra body against the door gave Maria the moment that she needed. She abandoned her effort to hold the door, lunging for the shotgun that rested beneath the counter. It had been a while since it had been used but Maria, when she had taken the job, had made a point of returning the weapon to the best condition that she could. After all, no marine would ever let a weapon in his or her care, rust. It was an old twin barrelled weapon and she prayed it would be enough. The cat that had come through the window had been stunned a little from the impact and the confusion as the shelf that it had landed on collapsed beneath its weight. Maria made the decision, the counter providing marginal cover from the cat in the store, she screamed for the group to move from the door. Robert helped Anna out of the way as the cat charged once again, breaking through the unsupported door.

Maria fired twice as best as she could into the body of the creature. Far closer than one should ever use a shotgun, the recoil and heat from the blast caused her to flinch. Hanksa had been on the wrong side of the shotgun and Maria heard him grunt. She knew he had been hit but she prayed that it would only be a grazing. The creature dropped to the floor and Maria turned her attention to the cat on the other side of the counter. It had recovered and had proceeded to leap onto the counter. Maria would not have the time to reload. Instead she used the shotgun as a club and swung it at the head of the cat as hard as she could. It did practically nothing.

Outside, people were coming to see what was happening. The cat gave them no mind though, its attention focused on Maria it swung its paw slashing out at her. The counter was a little narrow and the cat, in an effort to maintain it’s balance was not able to extend fully, but still connected, it claws not in the right angle barely grazed her but the force of the blow knocked her across into the register and she fell to the floor. The cat ignored her and leapt again through the empty door where Hanska, Anna and Robert had fled. It landed gracefully, it’s eyes capturing the movement of Hanska and Robert moving behind the jeep that Maria had been working on.

Anna thrust the large screwdriver with all the force she could muster into the animal’s head. Pressed up against the edge of the door she had been holding her breath, hoping that their desperate plan might work. The cat howled in pain, turning to face it’s attacker. It was the first time that Anna had really looked at the creature. The crystal in its forehead, glowing a hot, red colour. Anna felt the nausea returning as she tried to get some distance. The screwdriver had gone in through the animal’s neck towards the brain but had clearly not gone deep enough. The creature would likely die, but not before it killed Anna. In the mirror’s reflection Anna could see what she thought was the police, running, armed towards where she was but there was no way they’d be there in time.

The cat lunged for Anna as the shotgun rang out again. Torn and bloody, and a little dazed, Maria stood in the door and fired the second shot at the creature. The first had been at the creature’s outstretched leg as it swung at Anna, stopping it clear of its intended target. The second shot, into the creature’s head, finishing the job that Anna had started. There was no mistake this time. The creature fell to the floor dead. Maria, stood in the doorway like a warrior of old, bloodied but victorious and for a moment Anna saw a time long ago. A similar scene, etched in her minds eye. She stood in a land of blood and fire.

A hand grabbed her and she returned instantly to the garage. She could hear the voices of the concerned officer but they were lost on her as she stared into the crystal in the cat’s forehead. Instead of the hot red, it was now like it’s host, lifeless.

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