It was following; of that Henry was as certain as he was the pain in his left side would bring him to a dead stop before he could possibly escape. He was conscious of the sound of his footfalls, clattering through the wide, empty streets—conscious too, of the echoing footfalls, not his own.
Henry slowed his pace. But that thing was closer now—he could make out the foul smell of it, like dead fish—warm chum. Henry drew in a sharp breath and picked up his pace.
This was all Mary—his wife’s fault. She was the one who insisted on catching the last bus down here into this poor excuse for civilization. All that ended last month—after the shortest war ever. But Mary had thought it a lark—coming down here, that is; “A bit of drink ’n maybe a sniff.” That’s what she had said and Henry thought, “What the hell, if it’ll make her happy for a bit.”
The war, well invasion, more like, had changed everything.
Henry stopped; the stitch in his side had become a dagger. His chest heaved, but he couldn’t get enough air inside. He bent forward, hands braced on knees, sucking in deep breaths.
It was following.
Henry stepped around a building into an alleyway, trying to hold his breath. It was quite close by now—Henry could hear its labored breathing. A sudden flash of recent memory! Mary lying at the base of that decrepit staircase, mouth agape, bleeding quarts, dear God! And screaming—screaming curses at Henry, who then fled—leaving her to her death and all alone with that thing hovering over her!
As he quickly departed, her screams suddenly stopped short. That was when he had started to run—that’s when it had started to follow. A manic laugh escaped Henry’s mouth at the horrid thought of suddenly being once again single. He thought about that new brunette at work, despite himself, and wondered where she might be.
Then suddenly, his pursuer entered the far end of the alley, walking deliberately toward Henry. He stood his ground. Well, he could run no more. It was tall, Henry realized, topping eight feet. Muscled thickly, it was broad-shouldered, had a head like a watermelon, arms that hung nearly to the ground and ended with ham-sized hands and fingers like serrated knives.
It drew close. Black, lifeless eyes looked down into Henry’s green ones with a malice that Henry could never have perceived—not before this night. It swung a heavy fist and Henry found himself on the cracked concrete of the alley’s floor. He was bleeding much as Mary had—quarts! He never before realized how much blood was held in one’s body.
Mary and he had considered themselves lucky—lucky to have survived the war. But then came the victors—minions of some foul wanderer from the dark dimensions. Predators who loved the hunt—enjoyed, too, the kill.
“Lucky. That’s what we were,” thought Henry as the color ran from his face and his blood colored the dirt-caked floor of the alley red.