The cage door screeched as it opened, and Marissa wondered if it was her fear that had heightened the sound. While it struggled to completely open, she dashed across the room. The last thing she wanted was to be trapped against the door when whatever was behind those bars came out. She needed room to run and think.
At the end of the exceedingly long corridor, the room split off and dim lights came on. Left and right were her only options. She darted to the left and saw another opening on her right. She skidded into it and paused. The next room was a straight path but there were openings on both sides of the walls. She counted 6 on both sides. God, she hoped she wasn’t in a maze.
Wait. She hoped she was in a maze. Then she could just hide away somewhere until a week passes by, right? When she jumped, feeling excited, she felt the wet slush under her feet. Her body froze in fear. Slowly, her eyes looked at her feet, seeing that it was still covered with the blood and god knows what else. Then, she looked behind her and gasped. Footprints. Hers. Trailing along the path that might as well had a sign reading “I am here.”
She then saw a shadow slowly creeping up.
Quickly, she tried dragging her feet on the ground to wipe the blood off.
God this will never work.
When she saw the shadow draw closer she took off, down the corridor, then dove to the right into one of the open spaces. She didn’t bother to plan or think, she just ran and then skidded into another space. She looked behind of her, feeling relieved at the lack of footprints. Facing ahead of herself, she took a sharp right, running past another opening.
She ran back toward it, seeing that it wasn’t another opening, but just a small space. She heard a growl further behind her and without thinking she squeezed herself inside, backing up as far as she could before her back hit the wall at the end. She couldn’t see the creature, and the smell of blood was so thick she couldn’t make out any scent but that. But, call her crazy, she could just feel that it was nearby.
As if it were conjured by her terrible imagination, a large jaguar prowled by the opening. No sound heralded its arrival. Its paws made no noise against the floor. There was no growl or even the sound of breathing from the creature as it went by. A true, silent, predator. She wasn’t sure when she had stopped breathing, but the burning of her lungs told her she had to take a breath sometime soon. Nervously, she wondered if the creature could hear her heart hammering in her chest.
Seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness. She wasn’t sure if to move or not. Her body relaxed then, not feeling the presence of the feline. Then, she was tense again, feeling when it returned. Sure enough, the creature came back, and once again passed the opening, but didn’t look inside.
The gears in her brain started to work a mile a minute. Piecing together George’s purpose for her.
She released a breath as it all came together.
At the wrong time.
Found you! She swore she heard it speak.
The Jaguar suddenly pounced at the opening, no doubt hearing her relief. It squeezed itself inside, scurrying swiftly towards her trembling body.
She felt the gun in her hand, knew she had to use it, but her body was shaken to its core. The metal shook in her hands.
She was really going to die in a crevice in the bottom of a fucking hospital? From the moment she opened her eyes in that damn room everything went to hell. For a split moment, she saw George’s face grinning at her smugly.
Hell no. She wasn’t dying until she got to wipe that damned grin off his face.
Her hands finally decided to work just as the creature closed the distance between them. She raised the gun right to its face and her fingers squeezed the trigger twice. Its heavy paw came down on her and swiped her face. Blood dripped from the stinging, open slices on her cheek. She was going to shoot again when she felt its heavy body plop down on her knees.
Marissa didn’t move. She sat in her place, still grasping the gun between her hands, even after the wound on her face healed. Then, the jaguar moved. She gasped and kicked the thing away. Its body barely budged, but then she heard cracking bones, and soon skin started to replace fur.
A man’s body lay naked at her feet. Contorted in an odd angle because of the limited space.
She couldn’t take it anymore and slunk out of the space, crawling over the corpse and back out into the maze.
She was barely out before a woman shrieked and tackled her.
The gun skidded across the floor. Hands wrapped around her neck. She hissed as her back hit the icy ground. Her lungs struggled as air circulation was cut off.
Marissa swung her fist, striking the woman in the face which only served to piss the woman off. Her hands squeezed tighter, and Marissa started to see black spots as she fought to breathe. The woman’s fingers dug into her throat, her claws broke skin and blood trickled out of the wounds. She punched the woman again, and again, harder each time. Her feet kicked futilely behind her, useless while the woman straddled her. In a last-ditch effort, she punched the woman in her side, and then struck her in her breast. The woman grunted, caught by surprise. Her hands loosened, and Marissa shot her body forward and head-butted her.
The woman toppled off her, clutching her head and her breast. Marissa, dizzy but enraged, was the first to stand and swung her foot, kicking the woman in her ribs just as she shifted into her lioness form. This time, the scream was coming from Marissa while she continuously kicked at the now female lion on the ground. When it snarled at Marissa, she snarled back at it.
Marissa dipped her head low and her fangs sunk into the lioness’s neck. She heard it whimper under her just before Marissa clamped her jaws shut and then swung her head, tearing its throat out. Her paws pressed on the wriggling creatures side, and she was at its neck again, ripping at the flesh there.
With a final hiss in its direction, she stepped back, half-expecting it to still come after it. The body twitched, but it made no other attempts to move. Her chest heaved as she took deep ragged breaths. The room was silent again, only the occasional dripping of water breaking through the silence. Slowly, she became aware of the coppery taste of blood on her tongue. She swallowed, frightened by her lack of care of the taste and the realization of what she had done. Her gaze shifted to the pool of blood, running from the open hole in the creature’s throat. It slipped between her paws.
Her eyes widened. And then she scrambled backward. When…How? Cautiously, she crept back towards the blood, using it as a mirror. Slit, golden eyes, lined by two long black streaks, stared back at her. Her deformity somehow corrected through the change. She parted her blood-soaked jaws, marveling at the fangs inside. She paced along the blood river, watching the sleek body of a cheetah mirror her movements. Its black-tipped tail flicked behind its lean body. She was as fascinated with it as she was startled.
But how the fuck do I change–
The thought was cut short as a wolf rounded the corner and barreled into her.
One Month Later
George strolled down the corridor, spinning his cane while he walked. He was visibly excited. There was an extra pep in his step.
The guards behind him kept their stoic appearances, but they were also concerned.
There were two new men with him. The blonde, green-eyed one—James Faloy–was fidgety and just a little under 6 ft. His nerves were getting the best of him. His skin seemed to become paler and he was sweating although the room was extremely cool. It was his first assignment so it was expected. The other—Matthew Slade—was a dark-skinned male with bright hazel eyes, pushing 6 ft 4, and was the complete opposite. He was mellow. Taking in everything. They didn’t know where they were going. All they were told was that they would be added to George’s guards.
George couldn’t wait to see the results of his test. He’d left her inside for a month, certain that the added weeks would produce what he wanted. He’d be pissed if she died. Getting his hands on someone like her would be entirely too difficult.
“You could always just look at the camera, sir. There’s no need to actually go inside,” one of the veteran guards said.
“Now where is the fun in that?” George said as the doors went through the unlocking sequence.
“What’s on the other side?” Matthew asked.
George didn’t answer but smiled as the final doors opened. The men made startled noises when the smell hit them. James threw up in the corner.
Lights lit up the room and George made a pleased sound at the sight. Bodies of both animals and people were strewn across the floor. Blood dripped off the walls and bars of the cages. The men walked inside, their firearms raised and ready. Torn limbs were scattered about. Many were missing their throats.
“What the fuck is this?” James asked fearfully.
They stepped over the bodies, stopping at the end of the T shaped intersection. There was a dragging sound coming from the left and all guns shifted to aim down the hall.
A naked woman appeared at the end. Her right hand held a gun, the left was holding the leg of some creature. Her body was painted red with blood, whether hers or not they weren’t sure. It dripped off the strands of her hair, ran down her face. Her wild eyes stared back at them. She dropped the leg and sauntered towards them.
George raised his hands, signaling to the men to hold their fire. He couldn’t fight the smile that reached his eyes. “Beautiful.” He whispered.
She walked right past George and came face to face with James. No one moved, save for James’ trembling hands.
When her clawed hands slit James’s throat, she was immediately tackled by a pissed Matthew.
“Get off her,” George said calmly while the other men futilely tried to save James.
“Sir, what the hell?” Matthew bellowed, a hand around the woman’s throat, his gun pressed to her temple. She didn’t fight him. He looked down at her. She looked tired. He swore she seemed relieved as though she welcomed the thought of him killing her there.
“Don’t make me repeat myself,” George said. Matthew cursed then removed himself from the woman’s body.
“He’s a shifter,” Marissa said simply as she stood up and strode over to where James fell. She knelt down, staring at him through the bodies that had circled him to protect him.
“That’s just a flesh wound,” She spoke calmly, reassuring the tense men. “Give him a minute, and he’ll heal. It’s not enough to kill him.”
“Leave him,” George ordered. James’s eyes widened when he was left alone, holding his throat.
“No,” He said, staring at everyone frantically. “No…I’m not.”
Marissa shrugged her shoulders. “If you weren’t you’d be dead already.” She lunged at him them, intent on finishing the job. He sprang to his feet and took off down the hall. His body jerked once when a bullet him in his back, then twice more as more shots followed. He landed on the floor with a thump.
Matthew was still cursing, hating that he had to shoot a comrade. But George had ordered him to.
James struggled, pushing on his arms to get to his feet when Marissa placed her foot on his back. “They’ll only kill you next you know.” He whispered where only they could hear. “Why help them?” She lifted her shoulders in a shrug. Then shot him in the back of his head.
She looked over at the men, who had their weapons drawn at her yet again. She rolled her eyes at their display. George wouldn’t let them kill her. She was certain of it. And if he did, she wouldn’t mind. Not at this point. She was just so tired.
The sound of George’s hands clapping drew the guards’ attention.
“Exceptional!” He cheered. “Come, come, talk with me. There’s much to discuss,” He waved his hands, gesturing for her to come with him. She did as she was told and walked beside him. He pressed his hand into the small of her back, not caring of the blood on her and ushered her towards the exit. The men followed without question, except Matthew.
He lingered, staring down at James’ body. They weren’t especially close, but he’d gotten to know him a little when he transferred over. This didn’t make sense. He ran his hand over his head and cursed. George had ordered him to do it. He didn’t feel comfortable doing it, but this was the reality of what he signed up for. Orders were orders. Disobeying them wasn’t an option. Not in this organization. That’s how you ended up eating lead…or poison…whatever the fuck was in those bullets. Normal bullets wouldn’t put down a Felid–A shifter rather. Because they’d learned over the years that it wasn’t just felids. There were other animals. Wolves, bears and wild cats were common. They had yet to see any others, but that didn’t mean they weren’t out there. Bears were especially difficult to deal with thanks to their tough bodies. Absently, his hand wandered over his chest. He didn’t fuck with bears at all.
“Mr. Slade, would you like to stay.” George’s voice pulled him from his thoughts. He knew that wasn’t a question. It was a warning. He stepped over James’ body and then picked up the pace until he was with the group.
While walking back through the corridor, Matthew listened while George spoke with the woman. He asked her about tracking shifters and she shared that although she could sense them, it was clear that they could not sense her. She was blank to them. They tried to rely on her scent, but the blood-soaked rooms made that difficult. She wasn’t sure if it was practical on the battlefield. Yes, she could probably blend in for a short while, but at some point, they would realize they couldn’t find her specifically. George sounded willing to risk it.
“It’s not like I plan to send you into a room full of shifters again. I just need you to point them out,” George said.
While they continued to speak, Matthew took in her appearance. He looked past the blood covering her brown skin, noting her thick build. Her waist was small, her bottom plump and round with wide hips. He remembered the swell of her breasts, average at best, but perky. Her heart-shaped face was worn, no doubt exhausted from the hell she experienced in the basement. She wasn’t the least bit concerned about her nudity. George, he knew, probably didn’t care. He was sure, however, that the other men had to be affected by her presence. Blood-smeared or not, she was gorgeous and they had to know it.
But she’s not human. He reminded himself. He was pushing his luck so far, but he still had to ask.
“Why are we trusting this thing?”
“You disapprove,” George said.
Matthew flinched at his tone. “Sir, with all due respect, she’s one of them. What if she was wrong back there?”
George paused, forcing everyone to stop walking as well. “Yet she only killed him and is now strolling along with us? Surely, she’d have tried to kill you as well don’t you think? Maybe even these four as well.”
Matthew saw his point, but it still didn’t sit right with him. His fists clenched to his side. “She needs us to get back outside. She could be playing us.”
George stroked his chin, humoring the thought for a minute. “Are you ‘playing us?’”
“You can’t seriously be aski—” He doubled over when George struck him in the chest with his cane.
The woman eyed the interaction through uninterested eyes. “I had a choice,” She began. Matthew met her eyes. “I’ve chosen to live.”
George nodded his head and then began leading her away again. “Don’t annoy me, Matthew. I like you…don’t change that.”
Matthew growled lowly to himself, then followed them into the elevator. He stayed in the far corner away from the woman. He wanted nothing to do with her nor her kind.
The elevator dinged on the top floor. The group walked towards an isolated room at the end of the hall. Inside, another woman was seated on the edge of the hospital bed. Her head was buried in her hands. When she looked up, he recognized her as Melanie Coldwell. Her eyes doubled in size, then she tossed herself from the bed and wrapped her arms around the other woman.
He knew her as a hard-ass. A cold, empty, miserable woman who made his life—and several others—hell. This vulnerable woman was strange to him. Which begged the question of who the hell the bloodied female was.
“I’ll leave you to get her cleaned up. We’ll meet later to discuss her new arrangements and get her acquainted with everyone,” George said.
Matthew was leaving the room when George poked at him with the cane, forcing him to stop. “Oh no, you’re staying here. Melanie still has her own job to do. You, on the other hand, will be tasked with keeping our friend out of trouble.” Matthew’s jaw dropped, but he didn’t dare refuse. “Good boy. Have fun.”
As the door clicked, and George was completely gone, the woman’s legs gave out and she collapsed onto the ground.