There was blood everywhere.
It covered the buildings, matted the asphalt, dripped off the benches and its scent–thick and overbearing–coated the air.
Dead bodies were strewn across the street. Limbs were scattered. Screams reverberated in a symphony of madness, orchestrated by the wild beasts running amuck.
No one was safe.
You could try, but you were merely postponing the inevitable. Death would come swiftly regardless.
They weren’t without causalities themselves, but it paled in comparison to the others. They were skillful, clever, and too smart for the mere animals they appeared to be.
Somehow, in a span of minutes, humans were no longer the hunters.
The balance of power had shifted. Now they were prey.
Piercing, crimson orbs stared down at her. Jaws parted to reveal razor-like fangs. Its breath reeked of carnage.
Her blood stilled and fear tugged at her heart.
I don’t want to die.
Her final thought before it sank its fangs into her throat.
The blood rushed out in waves. She threw her hands at the wound trying to cover it up, but it wouldn’t stop flowing.
“Marissa! Marissa, wake up!”
Someone was calling her but it didn’t matter. She was trying to get the blood to the stop. Her hands were soaked, as was her face from the tears that poured out her wide, frantic eyes.
Why won’t it stop?
“The blood, it’s still going. I can’t stop it.”
There was so much of it. It was everywhere and she could still hear that thing growling at her.
Oh God, it’s still here.
It was waiting, wasn’t it? It would attack her again, just to make sure the job was done.
“Shit…” He cursed, and then she felt herself being held.
Panic washed over her. “GET AWAY FROM ME!” She screamed and thrashed about, trying to get away.
He’ll kill me. He had a gun, he was going to...
She remembered being with Shawn, remembered how he’d hurt her, remembered the gun he so casually threatened her with.
But the person kept their hold on her, firmly pressing her to their body. In the background of her screams, she could hear them whispering that it was okay, that she should calm down and no one was going to hurt her.
The voice was oddly familiar, and the more it spoke, the more relaxed she became. It kept speaking to her and then began softly stroking her hair. Suddenly, she felt too tired to fight.
“That’s it. No one’s going to hurt you.”
Her screams dulled into sobs and she pressed her face into the person’s body, soaking their shirt with her tears.
“I’m so sorry.” He apologized. For what, she didn’t know.
The two of them sat there for what seemed like forever while she cried. He didn’t utter another word to her during her breakdown; instead, he just kept alternating between rubbing her back and stroking her hair until she finally drifted sleep from exhaustion.
This wasn’t her bed.
This wasn’t even her room, she noticed while rubbing her swollen eyes. Her head was pounding and her mouth felt dry. Just what the hell was wrong with her? She took a minute to take in her surroundings, and then finally looked down at her body. She wasn’t wearing her own clothes. Her body was being swallowed by a T-shirt, and she wore no pants, just her underwear.
Wait, that wasn’t her underwear either.
“Oh, you’re awake?”
She jumped, startled by the voice. Standing at the door was Jamoy, a tray of food in his hand and the softest expression on his face. She wasn’t sure what to make of the situation.
“Where am I? Why are you here?” She asked, thoroughly confused.
“You don’t remember then…I guess it’s for the best.”
What didn’t she remember? She racked her brain for what he could possibly be talking about. How did she even get here? She hadn’t seen him at all last night. Was she that drunk? She remembered going out with Mel and Jada, she drank, she danced. Then she went outside and met some guy…
It all flooded back to her then; Shawn, the gun, the pain, the panther.
Jamoy quickly placed the food down and rushed to her side. He gathered her up in his arms and tried to soothe her again.
“It’s okay. You’re not in any danger.”
“He…He would have killed me…Then that thing…” Oh god. She felt sick to her stomach.
“This guy…Shawn…He, I…” She couldn’t breathe. Her lungs felt like they were being squeezed together.
“Calm down. Just take deep breaths. Relax.”
Where was he? Was he dead? Was it dead? Why was a panther even in town? It was too large to even be considered normal.
Then she remembered all the blood. Had it been a dream?
“D-did anyone die last night?” That kind of massacre couldn’t have been real.
“There were so much of them; dead people everywhere. And there were cats, large wild cats killing people. It was awful.”
He must have thought she was crazy. Hell, she was beginning to think she was losing her mind. However, the more she thought about it, the place she saw in her dreams looked nothing like any place she knew in Auburn Valley.
She looked up at Jamoy and saw he wasn’t looking at her but instead at the door. Or rather, he was looking past it. She wished she knew what he was thinking. It was then that she noticed his body. His bare chest was covered in bruises. His arm was wrapped up as well.
“You’re hurt…”She whispered.
“Not important. I got into a fight,” was all he said on the matter. She could have sworn one the bruises faded but chocked it up to her imagination. She was hallucinating maybe.
“When I found you, you were passed out on the ground. There was no one else there. I thought you had just gotten drunk and wandered off on your own. That you just tripped and fell.” His expression darkened the more he spoke. “When you woke up before, it’s like you were trapped in a nightmare. You kept screaming and grabbing your neck. You said there was blood, and you couldn’t stop it.”
He gritted his teeth, and his brows creased in frustration. “What the hell happened?”
She explained everything in detail to him. Before she was even finished, he was off the bed and pacing.
“What were you even thinking? Why would you go off with some person you just met? And out of sight of everyone! Are you insane?” He yelled.
Marissa shrunk into the bed, not sure how to answer him.
“You could have died! Who knows what the psychopath would have done to you. He could have raped you even. Did you even think about that? How could you be so stupid?!”
“You weren’t any different…” She whispered under her breath, but somehow, he caught it.
In a bolder voice she spoke, “I barely know you, how are you any different than him? You could be just as dangerous.”
His lips parted, but no words came out. For a moment, anger flared across his face, but then he sighed and shook his head. Without a word, he left the room, slamming the door with so much force she feared it would have fallen off its hinges.
His anger confused her. She wasn’t wrong. They were strangers at best. She didn’t know anything about him.
She left the bed, walking past the food he brought for her seeing as her appetite was nonexistent. She needed to find her things and leave.
When she walked past a clock on the wall she had to do a double take. It was after 3pm! Her parents, her sister, and Jada must have been worried sick about her.
It would be suicide to tell them the truth.
Marissa scoured the house for her items and was amazed at how clean it was. If she didn’t know any better she would swear it was an exhibit. It was like no one lived there.
She found her clothes in the laundry room, fully clean and hung above the dryer. She yanked her underwear down first, feeling miffed at the sight of them dangling like that.
She placed them in a plastic bag then returned to the room where she found her purse and her phone. He went through the trouble of making her something to eat, so she made sure she downed the food despite how bland it tasted.
Checking her phone she had 37 missed calls and even more texts.
Oddly enough, the majority of the texts were from Abdul.
First things first, she called her parents. On the very first ring, they answered the phone. It was like they were sitting right next to it, waiting for her to call.
“CHILD, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” Her mother screeched and Marissa had to pull the phone from her ear less she wanted to go deaf.
“I got caught up with something.” That was all she could think to say.
“Caught up? Caught up with whom?” Marissa inwardly groaned. Leave it to her mother to assume she was with someone.
Before she could even explain herself the woman rattled on about responsibilities, being careful, abstinence, and unwanted grandbabies. She left nothing to the imagination. “Do you have any idea how worried your father and I were? Where are you?”
She couldn’t answer the last question, so she didn’t. “I’m sorry ma, I didn’t mean to worry you guys.”
“We failed at keeping your sister from endangering herself daily, I refuse to let you go down the same path.”
“You say it like she joined a gang; She just likes to party. I don’t see the big deal.” Marissa sighed.
“Of course you don’t. Neither of you will understand until it’s too late. You’re moving back in with us and that’s final.”
Marissa wasn’t surprised by the route her mother was taking. Whenever something got a tad out of hand she was quick to throw the “Move back in” card. Now she was definitely never telling them about what happened.
“Mother, I’m a bit too old for you to tell me when to come home. I’m not moving back in,” She paused and added “and I don’t have to report to you everything that I do. I’m not a child. I don’t need your permission to breathe. It’s my life. Allow me to live it.”
Ooh, that felt good.
Her mother gasped on the other line and wasted no time in summoning her father.
His gruff voice came through the line with far too much authority for her tastes. “You’re coming home.” He stated in that end all tone he loved to use.
“No.” Oh yes, this really did feel good. Putting your feet down was amazing.
“It’s not safe for you out there on your own. You’re not like your sister. You aren’t built for it.”
Well, that was new. It was probably the nicest thing they ever said about Melanie. But still…
“I’m not coming home. Now if all you’re going to do is persuade me to come back then this conversation is over. I only called to let you both know that I was fine. I love you guys and I will talk to you when you’re more reasonable.”
Surprisingly, her father hung up before she did. What a way to ruin her triumphant moment.
She called Sehjada and Melanie shortly after. Her conversation with Jada was surprisingly short. Apparently, Jamoy stole her number from Marissa’s contacts and already explained that she was safe. She supposed she should thank him for it.
Melanie, on the other hand, didn’t answer her phone. In fact, it was disconnected which was strange.
Last on her list was Abdul. She took a breath before she called him. When he answered, he, just like her mother, didn’t give her the first word.
“Are you out of your goddamn mind?!”
“Well hello to you too, I’m fine, thanks for asking.” She responded with heavy sarcasm.
“I already know you’re fine.” He snapped “Get your shit together. I’m going to come to get you and you’re going to go back home to your parents.”
What. The everlasting. Fuck?
“I had a really awful night Abdul, the last thing I need right now is you trying to play parent with me. I already told them that I’m not going back. And who the hell are you to tell me what to-”
“THIS IS NOT UP FOR DISCUSSION!” He growled at her. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
And he hung up, leaving her dumbfounded.
So she almost had a near death experience and instead of sympathy, she gets scolded? And if he knew she was fine why had he blown up her phone? Was it just so that he could yell at her?
She huffed and made herself comfortable on the king-sized bed. Abdul wasn’t her father. He couldn’t tell her what to do.
That fact that he didn’t ask where she was meant that he knew she was at Jamoy’s place.
Was there nothing the two of them didn’t tell each other?
“You look like shit.”
Jamoy didn’t humor the statement. He’d been sitting outside ever since Marissa blatantly insulted him. His head was hung low, arms resting on his legs. He was more hurt than upset, but not enough to leave her alone. Not after what she’d been through. How cruel of her though. He brought her back with him, cleaned her up, and comforted her, only to be deemed dangerous. It only bothered him because there was more truth behind it than she would ever get the chance to know.
“Forgot you attacked me this morning?”
Abdul merely snorted and brushed past him, roughly shoving him aside.
“Why didn’t you tell me about that guy?”
“Because I handled it.” He answered, curt and agitated as he went inside.
Jamoy didn’t follow.
Minutes passed before Abdul re-emerged with a severely pissed Marissa at his heels. She was cursing him. Something about treating her like a child, being unfair. She wanted him to return her things and she wanted to stay.
His eyes lifted then. She wanted to stay with him? But Abdul wasn’t having it. He gripped her arm and tugged her along.
He was about to protest when Abdul shot a fierce glare at him. “Not. One. Word. I am done cleaning up your messes,” he hissed vehemently. “You do not look for her, do not speak to her, don’t even think of her. You think this morning was bad? If you so much as breathe her name I’ll tear your throat out.”
“You’re being an asshole, I can take care of myself.”
This time the hostility was sent her way. “Wondering off with some stranger, in the middle of the night and being held at gunpoint is what you call ‘taking care of yourself?’ You are clearly too naïve to be left unaccounted for. And you,” Jamoy raised a brow when the attention returned to him. He waited for the scolding, but Abdul merely shook his head and dragged Marissa away.
He slammed the car door shut when she got inside while muttering curses under his breath.
“I suggest you lay low for a while.” Abdul suddenly said.
“He went after her, looking for you.” He reached into his coat and pulled out a thick envelope, then tossed it at him. “Trust me when I say, it’s for the best that you stay far away from her, at least until this blows over. You don’t want to get caught right now. It’ll be bad for all of us if you do.” and then he entered the car and drove off.
Jamoy watched in silence as they drove off. Once they were out of sight, he opened the envelope.
His eyes grew at the contents inside.
Pictures of him and Marissa; at the gym, on campus, at Abdul’s place, down to a very explicit photo of them both the very first time they had sex.