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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Chapter 4: Seattle

Xed pulled up when he saw the police cars. A crowd had formed on the sidewalk, looking at the house trying to get a glimpse of the gruesome sight that lay within. An officer flagged him to the side of the road and Xed stepped from his vehicle. He spoke briefly with the officer and was escorted under the taped off area. As he neared the house, Xed caught the distinct smell of vomit in the air. A few officers were standing around, clearly traumatised by what they had seen in the house.

Ronald met Xed, at the door to the house. An old friend from high school days, Ronald had become a homicide detective in Seattle and though they met up for drinks every so often, they had seen each other less and less, especially in light of the amount of time Xed was spending in the Cascades. He was surprised to get the call and even more surprised to ask him to immediately get his gear and come to a crime scene. Ronald explained the rules as he led Xed into the house. What greeted Xed was the worst sort of carnage that could be seen.

The entire family was dead. Torn apart by vicious animals. Far to frenzied to be any sort of dog, the animals had ensured that there was nothing left alive in the house. They had come in through the glass door that overlooked the jungle gym in the back garden. The glass had offered no protection from the animals. Xed looked at the bodies. He had been in war zones, seen friend blown to pieces and had become accustomed to scenes like this. Never from animals, though. Never like this. Ronald led Xed through the house to where the baby, or what was left of her remained in the bed. The animals had not eaten, just attacked. Xed left the house and headed to the back. Ronald spoke but Xed barely listened. It turns out in the Seattle region there had been three attacks in the last forty-eight hours. This was by far the worst though. An entire family wiped out in one swoop. Neighbours had reported screams early this morning but by the time anyone went to see, the killing was finished. Xed remembered hearing on the news about something like this happening in Missoula. He knelt and studied the tracks of the animals. They were feline, sort of, and like nothing he had seen before. Coming from the reserve at the back of the house. Xed climbed the fence and found the tracks on the other side. Ronald didn’t speak as Xed went about his work.

After the war, Xed returned home and had gotten a job assisting researchers keep track of animals within the Northern Cascades. He had grown up with a grandfather and father that loved to hunt and Xed had been tracking animals in the wilds since he could remember. Xed stopped at the edge of the stream and studied the tracks. There were three and all of them were large predators. Ronald had started talking again. Everyone handled violence in his or her own way. Ronald had seen enough and he found talking kept his nerves under control. Xed was half listening. It was clear he was here to track the animals but it was the last statement from Ronald that was the most clear. Find them and stop them. Four other police officers had joined Ronald and Xed. Xed recognized Mackie. He had seen him in the Cascades hunting once or twice. He wasn’t certain about the other three but all looked like they had spent time getting shot at. Either way, these men looked steady and not afraid of a little rough living.

They talked briefly and plans were made to follow the tracks whilst they could. There was an aerial search going on but that was more to make people feel better than to yield results. Xed headed back to his car to get his gear. As he unlocked his cage and removed his rifle, he made a verbal list of additional supplies that they would need. Xed would start tracking with one of the other men. The others were going to get supplies and would join them soon after. Mackie knew what would be useful and ensure that the others didn’t overpack. Xed travelled with most of his gear ready to go. He liked to slip away sometimes and just lose himself in the Cascades for a few days and his job was such that he could justify it easily enough.

Xed returned to the tracks and headed off into the reserve. It was highly unlikely that the creatures would still be in the area and suburbia was the worst place to track but the creatures were heading north-east. It looked like Xed was going to the Cascades sooner than he had planned.