Shapeshifter Mountain

Shapeshifter Mountain

Jonas Bale’s Indian wife and children are murdered. On the trail of the murderers he encounters a fearful dog fleeing from something frightening. Troubled by what he experiences Jonas seeks advice from Dezba a medicine man, who says oral history tells of a legend of man-made terrestrial beasts created by ancient beings who once lived on earth. Shapeshifters, as they are called, are extremely dangerous. Jonas meets twenty year old Rebecca Hagan who has come west after receiving a letter from a military tribunal concerning her father but soon learns her father is dead. Rebecca chooses to stay in Arizona, as it is the first time she has had something to call her very own. Jonas is attracted to Rebecca but the shapeshifting beasts, at war with him, kidnap her in an attempt to lure Jonas to their lair to kill him. He travels deep into their mountain but finds rescuing Rebecca much more dangerous than he expects. Rebecca fights, determined to live, and in the process they find love, security and mutual respect.

$5.99

shapeshifter mountain

Jonas Bale was tall, broad shouldered, muscular framed; a dark brooding man with thick coffee colored hair and a practiced face that was often hard and void of emotion; just as it was now. His wide mouth, framed by a reddish-brown circle beard, accentuated cold slate blue eyes. A thin straight nose, high cheekbones, and tanned complexion completed his naturally good looks that invariably drew women to him like moths to a flame, but they were always burned for their trouble.

 

In life Jonas had always been a loner, some say a shootist; a gambler and he could lie with the best in his profession. He had learned early how to read the eyes of his opponents with his hard as nails attitude for God knows, he’d been alone for most of his thirty years and had his share of suffering. In happier times it would have been natural for him to be warm-natured in more open moods because truthfully Jonas wasn’t a born killer.

 

Until now; now he was out for blood. He intended to kill.

 

As he guided his horse through a mountain range in the southern part of Arizona, he normally would have enjoyed being in its granite fortress and untamed canyons with its unique rock formations, but he wasn’t here for pleasure. Jonas Bale was in pursuit of the killer or killers of Nanabaa, his Indian wife of ten years who he wed in 1854, along with their children, Ashkeii, a boy of eight, and Nezna, a girl just six years old. They were murdered three months ago. When Jonas found them they were naked, their eyes gouged out with things done to them that made him sick. Jonas had always lived with a deep void inside of him conveyed from his own past and he’d been running from that for most all of his life. Now that void was even deeper, and angrier.

 

When he stopped to water his horse it was close to dusk. Just as he was about to remount, a lone dog with erect ears burst from the shadows of thick shrubs and bushes on his right and ran straight to him, panting, making woofing sounds. He could tell, as it came close, it had expressive gray eyes and markings similar to a wolf but it wasn’t. Its wiry coat was thicker, shaggier, and longer, and was damp, dirty, tangled, snarled full of burrs with broken bits of weeds and leaves.

 

The animal was young maybe a little more than a year old but had reached its full growth and Jonas estimated it was over a hundred pounds. Bigger than any dog he knew of with the sprightliness of a young pup. It stopped in front of him, sat, cocked its head, and looked up at him with an undeniably friendly expression.

 

Filthy as it was, the animal was nonetheless appealing. Even though he was on a hard driving mission he felt compelled to stoop and pat its head giving it a scratch behind its ears.

“Looks like you’re lost, huh fella?” Jonas said.

 

It made of low grumble sound as if it understood.

“You’re a friendly one. You belong to somebody?” He said.

 

It nuzzled his hand and whined.

 

He noticed that, in addition to its dirty and tangled coat, it had dried blood on its right ear. Fresher blood was visible on its large front paws, as if it had been running so long and so hard over the rugged terrain that the pads of its feet had begun to crack.

 

“Looks like you’ve had a difficult journey. Running to or from something are you?” He said as the animal whined softly, as if agreeing with him. He continued to stroke its back and scratch its ears, but after a minute or two he realized he was seeking something from this animal it could not provide: meaning, purpose, relief from his despair. Besides, he had business to attend to.

 

“You need to be on your way now.” He gave the animal a light slap on its side, rose, and stretched but the canine remained in front of him. He stepped past it, intending to mount his horse but the dog bolted around him and blocked him causing his horse to shy backwards.

 

“Come on now, I need to be moving along and so do you. Go find your owner, or whatever.”

 

The dog bared its teeth and growled low in its throat.

“Whoa,” Jonas said frowning. When he tried to step past it again, it snarled and snapped at his legs. His horse jerked back and he hung onto the reins as he danced back two steps.

 

“What’s gotten into you?” The canine stopped growling and just panted.

 

When Jonas advanced again, the animal lunged at him more ferociously than before, not snarling just giving off a deep growl it snapped repeatedly at his legs, driving him backward across the clearing. He dropped the horse’s reins, took eight or ten clumsy steps, stumbled over his own feet, and fell on his knees.

 

The moment Jonas went down, the dog turned away from him. It padded across the rock clearing to the brink of a sloping trail down into the canyon and peered below. Its ears pricked up and it turned its head from side to side.

 

“Damn animal,” Jonas said.

 

It ignored him.

 

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Jonas said curious now.

 

Something was happening.

 

Standing on the rock strewn floor, the dog continued to stare down into the bottom of the canyon slope. Its tail was down, almost tucked between its legs. Jonas, by this time, was seized by an irrational determination to go where he wanted to go, by God. This day of all days, he was not going to be deterred or even delayed by this obstructive animal.

 

He got up, shrugged his shoulders took a deep breath and walked boldly across the area headed towards his mount. The dog growled again, softly but menacingly. Its lips skinned back from its teeth. Step by step, Jonas’s courage faded, and when he was within a few feet of his horse, he opted for a different approach. He stopped and shook his head and gently berated the animal: “Bad, bad dog, you don’t look as if you were born bad you certainly seem like a good dog, an intelligent dog.”

 

He felt completely foolish trying to sweet-talk the large canine, but it had stopped growling. Its bushy tail, held erect now, wagged once, twice, tentatively.

 

“That’s a good boy,” he said slyly, coaxingly.

 

“That’s better. You and I can be friends, huh?”

 

The dog issued a conciliatory whine.

 

“Now, we’re getting somewhere,” Jonas said, taking another step toward the animal with the intention of stooping and petting it.

 

Immediately, the animal leaped up at him, snarling, and drove him back across the clearing. It got its teeth in one leg of his leather black chaps then hooked into his black wool trousers and shook its head furiously. He kicked at it, missed. As Jonas staggered out of balance from the misplaced kick, the canine snatched the other leg of his pants and ran a circle around him, pulling him with it. He hopped desperately to keep up with his adversary but toppled and slammed to the ground again, his blue oil cloth canvas duster twisted around his body.

 

“Shit!” he said, feeling immeasurably foolish.

 

Whining again, having reverted to a friendlier mood, the now decidedly more domestic dog licked one of his hands.

 

“You’re crazy, you know that?” Jonas said, “With a split personality!”

 

The dog returned to the other end of the clearing. It stood with its back to him, staring down the trail. Abruptly, it lowered its head, hunched its shoulders. The muscles in its back and haunches visibly tensed as if it were preparing to move fast.

 

“What’re you looking at?” Jonas said suddenly aware the dog was not fascinated by him or the land and trail itself, but perhaps, by something on the trail.

 

“What? See a mountain lion down there? Plenty of them around.” He said as he got to his feet considering if he should pull his pistol or not. He had no intention of shooting this dog because now it certainly had his interest. The dog grumbled, not at Jonas this time but at whatever had drawn its attention. The sound was low, barely audible, and to Jonas it seemed as if it was both angry and afraid. Jonas pick up the reins of his horse, but did not try to mount instead he secured the reins to a manzanita branch nearby, curiosity having overtaken him.

 

A big canine like this afraid of something?

 

Not likely, but what could be out there that would make an animal like this fearful?

 

Wolves? Plenty of them roamed the canyons and hills. A pack of hungry wolves would certainly alarm any sturdy animal. A dog they’d likely kill, so yes that was something to fear. But it still didn’t seem right to him. He’d seen no sign of wolves in the area.

With a startled yelp, the dog executed a leaping – scrambling turn away from the trail. It dashed toward him, past him, to another arm of a flat rock strewn area, and he thought it was going to disappear into an adjacent area. But the canine stopped and looked back expectantly. With an air of frustration and anxiety, it hurried back to Jonas swiftly circled him, grabbed at his chaps again, and twisted backward, intending to drag him with it.

“Wait, wait, okay,” he said. “Okay.”

 

The animal let go. It issued one woof, more a forceful exhalation than a yelp. Astonishingly the canine had purposefully prevented him from moving in the direction he’d wanted to go; something had to be near – very near.

 

Something dangerous.

 

Now this dog was making it obvious it wanted him to leave in the other direction because some dangerous thing was drawing near.

 

No doubt in Jonas’s mind any longer. Something was coming. But what? He thought the actions of this dog were extraordinary. Had it been chased, by this whatever was coming up the trail? It seemed scared enough for that to have happened.

 

Shrill cries of crickets and cicadas and other insects abruptly cut off simultaneously, in unison, and the area was suddenly, unnaturally silent. Then Jonas heard something rushing up over, between and around rough high rocks, low growing brush and juniper and Manzanita trees.

 

A scratching, scraping noise.

 

A clatter of dislodged stones.

 

A faint rustle of dry brush.

 

The thing sounded closer than it probably was, for sound was amplified as it echoed up through the narrow rocky trails. Nevertheless, whatever creature it was, was coming fast.

 

Very fast.

 

For the first time, Jonas sensed he was in grave peril. His gut told him that this danger was not from any human.

 

This was something else.

 

His heart hammered.

 

Above him, on higher ground, the dog was aware of his hesitation. It chuffed, yodeled and growled agitatedly.

 

The thought of an enraged bear or cat racing up the trail, driven mad by pain or plain anger was coming seemed plausible at first, but now he knew it was not. This was something else. From the sound of it, the unknown beast was within seconds of reaching the gorge clearing between the lower and higher rock trails. Jonas quickly untied his horse and pulled it in the direction the canine wanted him to go.

 

He expected something to pounce on him and tear his throat out. He pulled his pistol out of its holster with one hand and held it out in front of him ready to shoot. He detected a rustle in the thick brushy grasses of yucca stalks and low growing sage, then a snapping twig, the soft crunch of dry leaves on small stones – and the unnervingly peculiar, heavy, ragged breathing of something big. It sounded about forty feet away, but he could not pinpoint its location.

 

Jonas turned warily in a half circle, crouched in a shooter’s position, listening; waiting. At his side, the dog went rigid. Its erect ears were pricked, straining forward. The unknown adversary’s raspy breathing was so creepy – whether because of the echo effect of the canyon, or because it was just creepy to begin with.

 

The canine stared at his gun. Jonas had the weird feeling that the animal knew what the revolver was – and approved of the weapon. Wondering if the thing in the woods was a man, Jonas called out:

 

“Who’s there? Come on out where I can see you.”

 

The hoarse breathing in the brush was now underlain with a thick menacing gnarl. The eerie guttural resonance electrified Jonas. His heart beat even harder, and he went as rigid as the dog beside him. The horse snorted out in fear and tried to jerk free. Jonas grabbed for the reins. For interminable ticking seconds, he could not understand why the noise itself had sent such a powerful current of fear through him.

 

Then he realized that what frightened him was the noise’s ambiguity: the beast’s growls definitely sounded like an animal . . . a vicious animal but it also held the indescribable quality that bespoke intelligence, the inflection and tone nearly like the sound an enraged man might make. The more he listened the more Jonas decided it was not animal and it was not human, it was something in between.

 

What the hell was it?

 

Then he saw a shadow of something stirring in the brush off to his right.

 

Below.

 

Something was coming up. “Halt,” he said sharply.

 

“Alto!”

 

It kept coming.

 

Now thirty feet away Jonas saw the shadow again, something on two legs – bipedal. Was it a man?

 

Now moving slower than it had been, a bit wary perhaps.

 

But closing in nevertheless.

 

The dog began to growl threateningly, again warning off the creature that stalked them. But tremors were visible in its flanks, and its head shook. Though it was challenging the thing down on the trail, it was profoundly frightened of a confrontation.

 

The dog’s fear unnerved Jonas. Dogs like this one, maybe carrying wolf blood were renowned for boldness and courage. They were hunters, top predators and could easily take down animals much larger than they were. What peril or foe could provoke such dread in a strong, proud animal like this?

 

The thing in the rocks continued toward them, staying expertly hidden, seemingly camouflaged and hardly any more than twenty feet away now. Though he had as yet seen nothing extraordinary, he was filled with superstitious terror, a perception of indefinable but uncanny presences. He kept telling himself he had chanced upon a cougar, just a cougar that was probably more frightened than he was. But a cougar walked on four legs, this was definitely bipedal. The icy prickling that began at the base of his spine extending up across his scalp now intensified. His hand was so slick with sweat he was afraid the gun would slip out of his grasp.

 

Eighteen feet.

 

It was near dark and all he could make out was a shadowy man–like figure that scurried low, staying hidden, from rock to rock.

 

Now fifteen.

 

Jonas pointed his Colt in the air and squeezed off a single warning shot. The blast crashed through the air echoing down the canyon off the granite boulders.

 

The dog didn’t flinch, but the thing in the brush immediately turned away from them and ran north, upslope, toward the rim of a small valley. Jonas could not see it in the darkness, it kept low in upper rocks but he could see shadowed movement and heard its footfalls on the ground.

 

For a second or two, he was relieved because he thought he had frightened it off. Then he realized it was not running away, from the sounds it made it was heading north – northwest on a curve that would bring it to the upper trail above them.

 

Jonas sensed that the creature was trying to cut them off and force them to go out of the canyon by the lower route, where high boulders sat and the trail was narrow. It would have more and better opportunities to attack.  He did not understand how this creature knew that.

 

His primordial survival instinct drove him into action without the need to think about each move he made; he automatically did what was required. Trying to keep his eye on the telltale tremble of sounds to his right, Jonas leaped into the saddle and rode down the steep trail at a neck breaking speed, the dog already running ahead of him. Fast as he was, however, he was not fast enough to put distance between him and the still unknown, unseen enemy.

 

When he realized it was heading to the path well above him, he fired another warning shot, which did not startle or deflect the adversary this time. He fired twice into sporadic areas in the rocks, toward the indications of movement, not caring if it was a man out there, and that worked. He did not believe he hit the stalker, but he seemed to have scared it away.

 

Off the steepest part of the trail down to relative flat ground Jonas kicked his horse into a faster gallop.

 

The dog let out a whine and darted across the top of the rock ridge and started making its way down the trail following him. Clearly, the dog believed they were not out of danger and ought to keep moving, fast. Jonas shared that conviction.

 

As he rode across the short valley and up the canyon trail his mount seemed to sense his growing urgency and lengthened his strides until his powerful legs were a blur and the dust was a yellow wall behind them.

 

Jonas’s atavistic fear and the reliance on instinct that it invoked sent him riding finally over the far side of the ridge, and out of the area, with the dog following. He rode across the rocky sandy landscape of the desert, across sage brush, between creosote trees and the tall, short, and round cactus before passing into the next mountain range. His horse was close to collapse before he finally stopped.

 

He unsaddled his mount and tethered him close to a small creek with running water and patches of green grass so the animal could rest and eat. Then he made camp, hoping that he had put enough distance between him and whatever it was that had stalked, first the dog, and then him. After eating a meal of beans, the dog lay near the fire next to Jonas the rest of the evening, close enough that Jonas could scratch his ears.

 

The act gave them both some sort of comfort but the dog remained watchful and guarded the camp nervously.

 

The evening sky – which was dark in the east, was still streaked with deep orange, red and purple light in the west and seemed to be descending like the lid of a box, covering them as coyotes set up a howl.

 

Something out in the night, neither animal nor human, howled back.

 

Jonas felt the prick of fear crawl up his spine as the dog pricked up his ears and stared out into the night listening.

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

The wind had worked up into a brief squall as another burst of raindrops slapped hard against Bale’s face. His deep set blue gray eyes, now the color of the massive storm clouds, rose to appraise the situation. The storm had moved in for the day, but regardless how severe, Bale knew there was no time to stop and take shelter. Doggedly he raised an arm to pull his roughrider hat down tighter over his dark hair then he lowered his head against the rain, pulled his rubber coated black rain slicker up and hunched his broad shoulders.

 

He urged his horse on.

 

For the first time in his life, Bale had felt threatened. If he held any kind of strong religious belief he would have thought hell had surely brought forth a demon to walk the earth. He didn’t see it, didn’t have to know that it was something entirely new and horribly frightening. Its presence had shaken him up enough to seek help from the only person he hoped would give him answers, Dezba, a Navajo medicine man from Nanabaa’s tribe, and her uncle.

 

Bale’s life had been full of danger and tragedy, but he’d never flinched from anything. In the worst of times, he confronted danger, loss and pain, with fearlessness and had kept his emotions under control. Not this time. For the first time in his life, this peculiar thing brought him, he was ashamed to say, a very deep fear and he’d run from it. He’d actually panicked and run. It had been an innate fear. It had pried into him, touching a deep and primitive level where nothing had ever reached him before. He’d not been alone in his fear, the dog, which even now still followed, exhibited instinctive fear that only served to make his own deeper.

He was faintly nauseous with apprehension.

 

Chilled. Slick with sweat. Shivering.

Something was terribly wrong.

 

As he rode, even in cold rain, he felt the gooseflesh and cold sweat overcome his body, he felt suddenly damper, slick with a different kind of sweat, the cool, sour sweat of fear.

 

He knew his response was irrational. Even illogical. But the prickly sensation along the back of his neck and the iciness in his gut remained with him and, he hoped, were symptoms of purely superstitious terror that had let his imagination run away with his common sense. He had simply turned over the reins to the frightened child–savage that lives in every human being, the genetic ghost of what we once were, and he could not easily regain control of that even though he was aware of the absurdity of his behavior. He needed help to calm him down, speak the language of reason. Brute instinct was ruling, and instinct told him to ride on, just ride hard through the rain and stop thinking, just ride; ride for guidance, ride for help. For beneath the waves of the fear that washed across the surface of his mind, there were undercurrents of his grief, rage, hatred, and the fierce desire for vengeance.

 

He urged his horse on.

 

***

Dezba stood six feet one inch tall, an unusual height for a Navajo. He had a bent, roman type nose that emphasized a wide full mouth and silver hair worn in a traditional bun tied with a white wool string. The old medicine man was an intriguing cross between a personification of Dignity and Probity, formidable and well respected in the tribe. He had studied since early childhood to learn the chants and medicinal plants that could heal both mind and body. He was protector and healer of the Navajo that lived along the banks of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat.

His fingers work deftly to cover his face with a light brown paint. He prayed while he worked. “Talking God of the Holy People, a Giver-of-Life, you made Thunder Bird, the source of thunder and of all supernatural power. You created this land for the Navajo people and we are tied to this land forever. Never let me forget or question, only direct my actions.”

He smiled and remembered back to the days when he could run twenty-five miles or more through blistering heat and still had energy to fight. No more. That was gone. It was a strange thing, this winding down of life, so natural and accepted. Lately he had been feeling anxious and sensed that his help would soon be needed.

He touched his umbilical cord his mother had sewn into a small buckskin pouch shaped like a lizard for comfort that he wore around his neck so he would have a long life. His mother’s placenta was buried next to his Hogan it further tied him to his beloved land. A sweat lodge sat nearby. He wore only a breechclout and moccasins with a wide sash of red cloth around his waist and across his head.

Along the banks of the San Juan, the river had a break in the circle towards the east, where the sun rises. A beautiful place covered with coarse salt grass for the horses and a large number of sunflowers for food. Wood was plentiful. His tribe moved often, but they came back here when they could. They were like creatures of the night, traveling silently through it. Many of the women in the tribe carried scars on their arms or legs, where they had slashed themselves in grief over the loss of a father, husband, or son. Many wounds were fresh, because killing was everywhere.

There was a nagging doubt that crept into Dezba’s mind of the white man who had come into his life after he’d married his niece and had now been on his mind daily. Nanabaa did a good job in schooling her husband to speak Navajo and he had learned to trust and respect him.

Something was about to happen.

Uneasiness had been filling him so he planned a ceremony to help him better understand his angst. Now inside his basketlike sweat hut, a womb of bent willows with various animal hides over, the area was small, maybe eight feet across with an earthen floor. He did not eat or drink even water for two days in preparation and found he was feeling the effects of that with a slight swirling in his head.

He had carried and stacked stones from the surrounding steep slopes of the mesa and placed them beside the deep pit just inside the door of the small hut. A fire had been built inside the pit so that through its flames he could be made pure and come closer to the source of all power. He removed his clothes and entered the sweat lodge, bowing low as the entrance was only four feet high. Inside he gave a prayer to the Great Spirit then began to move around in the direction of the sun. Ending up by the door he sat silent for a while.

Finally Dezba picked up a full tobacco pipe, placed inside earlier, and put it in front of him, the stem facing west. The air was pungent with sage. The fire in the side pit heated the stones until they glowed like coals. He took a large forked stick and slid a glowing rock to the center, his knees nearly touching it. Dezba took the pipe and touched the rock with the end and gave thanks in Navajo. The rock in the center of the hut began to glow a fiery red as he closed the willow flap and placed a blanket woven by his mother over the entranceway.

He guided more rocks to the center, one for each direction, one for the earth, one for the sky. He offered his pipe to the sky, the earth, and the four directions then he lit his pipe. He took a puff and rubbed the smoke all over his body, then laid the pipe at the edge of the center pit. Dezba placed a bonnet on his head he had made earlier by following every detail given to him in a dream. The bonnet gave him great immunity from arrows and bullets. It was painted with black pigment made from a tree set on fire by lightning from the eyes of Thunder Bird. One buffalo horn was centered at the front and a kingfisher skin tied to the top. An entire bat was attached to the right side because a bat moves through the darkness with ease.

In blackness, that represented the darkness of his soul, Dezba intended to purify his ignorance. He sprinkled water onto the rocks from a wooden cup with his eagle feather fan all the while praying to the ancients. The fragrant steam hissed and coiled upward. He began a chant, his voice rising, continuing the droning singsong for hours, calling on his power to tell him what was causing this sense of ill dread that had settled over him. Finally he stopped convinced he would receive no answer this night. He cleared his throat and climbed slowly to his knees, his breath coming in short hard gasps.

His body suddenly stiffened, as his eyes locked hard on a fleeting vision of a face, a face beyond time and place, a face floating towards him in the night, a face of death, a fleeting glimpse of a dog running for its life, and the face of Jonas Bale.

The old medicine man was shaking.

He crawled out of the hut, wrapped himself in a blanket and sat near the creek to think. As he studied the flowing water, he was not surprised to see Jonas’s reflection in the water before him.

“I have been expecting you.” Dezba said.

 

Jonas Bale nodded. He said. “I came to seek your wisdom.” He stood looking down at the old Navajo, his thumbs hooked into his black leather gun belt. From the shadows a large boned dog cautiously approached then silently sat down next to him.

 

The old medicine man climbed to his feet then looked carefully at the animal in an appraising way. The canine turned its gaze towards the old medicine man and looked at him with soft gentle gray eyes.

 

“I have seen this animal in a vision. I saw you too.” He said.

 

Jonas sighed and looked away. No matter how painful it was, life was, he realized, nonetheless precious. He actually felt as if a higher power had sent the dog to show him, to remind him that the world was full of surprises and that despair or violence made no sense when one had no understanding of the purpose – and strange possibilities – of existence. It had amazed him and scared him a little too. He couldn’t figure out where it had come from or how a person got to be what you are, but that dog couldn’t have come to where it was more needed.

 

He still felt all of the pain from the turn of events in his life. His parents killed, murdered in the same manner as Nanabaa and his children had been. Their deaths now seemed like an omen and had taken on terrible importance. As a kid, he hadn’t yet been burdened with guilt. There wasn’t anything a six year old boy could have done to stop the insanity but he didn’t understand that, didn’t even understand what he’d seen then. He had an older brother Harry who died too. Then it was just Jonas. There was no getting around it. It seemed clear to him at the time that he was jinxed, that it wasn’t safe for people to get close to him. When he loved somebody, really loved them, they were surly going to die. He learned to keep his distance from everyone after that until he had let his guard down, got involved, loved, and look what happened.

 

Only a child could have been convinced that those tragic events meant he was a walking curse, but Jonas was a child then, and no other explanation was so neat. He was too young to understand. At six, he needed meaning in order to cope, so he told himself he was cursed, that if he made any close friends he would be sentencing them to an early death. He had found it almost too easy to turn inward and make do with his own company.

 

After so many years he had almost convinced himself the curse wasn’t real, until Nanabaa and the young ones. He’d been lax, and they paid the price for his mistake with their lives.

“I need to know more about what you saw.” Jonas said trying to shake off bad memories. He hesitated then went on. “You have my gratitude for being my friend and mentor through these years.  I’m afraid just being here might endanger the entire village, if I’ve been followed and this dog has run from it.”

Dezba patted Jonas on his shoulder. “I know. We should have a sweat for you to be in the right frame of mind before I tell you these things but I see your insistence. Perhaps it is for good reason, so I will tell you. You are more correct than you know. No tribal elder has ever spoken of this that I know of to anyone outside of our people. I tell you because I have seen it in a vision that involved you and this dog. It is yours now. This knowledge has been passed down by word of mouth from our ancestors for many centuries. It was meant to stay a secret until the right circumstance came along. This is the right circumstance.” He said and nodded. After a moment, in a quiet voice barely heard by Jonas he said.

“But in truth they are our creation.”

Startled, Jonas said, “Our creation? Whose creation?”

“You see . . . mankind has been on this planet far longer than our current wisdom allows us to believe, or to even think. There was a civilization here many thousands of years before ours . . . before written history. They were very advanced and had great knowledge and made terrible weapons. Much information about them was given to the Holy People who told us of these things through our legends.”

“A lost civilization?” Jonas said his voice was low and filled with awe.

Dezba nodded. “Perhaps . . . Lost . . . but then destroyed. I do not know where they came from, it is said they came in flying machines. That does not matter. War was a great problem for this early civilization. Because they had great knowledge, they chose to develop terrible weapons then they searched for a means of waging and winning wars against each other. In time,” he continued, “they needed foot soldiers to do battle for them. Because they were so advanced they developed the ability to . . . to tamper with inborn structures of different animals and plants. Not just tamper with them but change them. They spliced inborn structures together with their advanced ability and this allowed these creatures they developed to excise characteristics, or even add them at will.”

“Are you suggesting they were breeding animals and humans together?” Jonas said incredulously.

“Yes. That is what I am saying.”

“That’s impossible!” Jonas said. He studied the old man’s leathery face with his deep sunken eyes for any sign of untruth but couldn’t find any. That scared him. Tension vibrated through Jonas’s body, set his teeth on edge, left him feeling raw.

“What the hell.” He said low.

Dezba sighed and said. “I know it is hard to understand but you must try. The humans that lived here before us had this great knowledge, given to them from the Star People, but they misused the knowledge. In time they did create this man-made race of beasts that has intelligence equal to their creators.”

“How do these creatures change into animal form?” Jonas said.

Dezba said. “From inherited patterns for any detail of any physical appearance it wants—but one pattern is always stable, always stronger. I do not know what this is, but this is its natural state and it is most powerful in this state. Since it was bred with humans it carries their abilities and it kills, can maim in any state. But the other of itself, its actual self is much stronger, a—vital link, a changing talent. It has the ability to choose between these identities at will, to be—in all outward appearances—a human being or any animal it might choose, or be in its natural state, whichever the moment demands.”

“My God,” Jonas said as he considered the effectiveness of an army of these assassins. He was temporarily speechless. His muscles were tense, knotted, he could not relax. His throat was tight. His chest ached.

“But it’s not really a human being?” Jonas said.

“Not ever.” Dezba said. “Deadly and intelligent it passes for a human convincingly. It’s inhuman viewpoint, thinking, methods of reasoning are alien to a degree beyond human comprehension. It was designed to fit in, mingle with people, pass as human . . . then, when most appropriate, revert to its frightening reality and create an atmosphere of paranoia. . . . A thing of claws and fangs, a carefully engineered fighting machine with a heart-stopping appearance, it was not merely meant to kill but to demoralize.”

 

“How many are out there Dezba?” Jonas said quietly.

Dezba shook his head. “I do not know. They have been around so long, and because of their intelligence . . .”

“A beast that walks among us in the clothes of a common man,” Jonas said quietly “My God. Why would it have been chasing the dog?”

Dezba studied the young man’s face, his eyes mirrored in the firelight. His was a strong youthful face, with expressive eyes and strong lines

.

“Perhaps the dog got the better of it, perhaps wounded it. The creature may have tried to approach in dog form. A true animal can never be fooled by something they know, if it is fake. Perhaps these creatures eat other animals, or use them for other things.”

 

“It’s insane is what it is.” Jonas said sighing. He was feeling defeated before he even started.

 

Dezba handed a bag to Bale then watched as he tucked it under his gun belt. He sighed and clucked making a “tut-tut” sound with his tongue. “You must wear it.” He said impatiently. “A sacred talisman is meant to protect you. When you face this creature, it will give you strength.” Dezba said.

Bale’s gray eyes were clouded over, his face drawn tight. Dark stubbles were making an appearance shrouding his strong jaw line and his course dark hair was curling slightly at the nape of his neck from sweat. Maybe, maybe not but what could it hurt, he thought, and put it over his head.

 

Dark clouds had been building up in the east all day and now a sharp crash of thunder filled the sky, rolled down the mountains, into the valley and over the hut. A strange thought flashed through Jonas’s mind at the same moment as he slipped on the talisman: Thunder is a warning, an omen telling me to be careful and not be so damned sure of myself.

Dezba then reached down into his bag and came out with two silver balls and held them out in his hand. “The mountains give us this shiny metal. Many white men dig for it because it is precious to them.” He handed Jonas the silver balls. “It is said, this metal is of some consequence to this demon, and he suffers from it because his eyes are round and large, like that of the moon, meant for night-vision they often glow red. Our ancient teachers said silver metal was a gift from the moon and its power thus was weakening to this being. It is also said that these beings are hard to kill. Shoot it first with silver to weaken it then stabbed it through the neck. When it’s down cut its head off then bury it away from its body so it never rises again.”

 

A large knot seemed to be tied tight inside of Jonas, pinching vital organs and vessels, leaving him tense, restricting the flow of blood and making it necessary for him to live with all his senses damped down, forcing him to struggle along as if he were unable to get sufficient strength to his muscles. Dezba’s words untied that knot, and a full, unrestricted current of life rushed through him for the first time.

 

“I believe this.” Jonas said. “It’s crazy but I believe it. What you say is the only thing that makes sense.”

The old medicine merely nodded.

When he was ready to leave he saddled his horse, then removed the tobacco from the saddlebag he’d brought for the old medicine man, as a sign of respect as Nanabaa had taught him. As Dezba took the tobacco Jonas saw his jaw muscles knotting in his face. He knew how he felt.

Far off in the west, a dense bank of blue – gray – black clouds stretched out of sight to the north and south. More massive thunderheads would eventually roll in like ghost riders in the sky, a sign of late summer coming. As the red sun balances on the highest ramparts of the mountains, and in its waning light, the foothills appear to be ablaze.

 

A cool breeze blows down out of the sun fanning through tall dry grass growing along the San Juan. In places it streams like waves of golden fire along the slopes of the shadowed valley. As it slowly sinks behind the mountains, the sun sprays light so warmly colored, so mordant that, where touched, the darkening land appears to be wet with it and dyed forever. The grass grows red as well, no longer like a fireless burning but, instead, a red tide washing around his horse’s legs.

 

The past month had taken a substantial toll on him.

 

How many of these creatures survived? He hoped only one.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Large big, hard MUSCLES that could be gotten ordinarily from years of lifting heavy objects covered its body; even its wrists were thick and sinewy. It stopped then licked thin lips before a deep, gravelly voice choked out the low growling words, “I – am – coming.” The threat was meant for no one and everyone in its path.

It flexed big hands. A tense, vulturine look occupied its face, a look of a super predator just before it closes its voracious jaws on the cornered victim.

As the wolf, so is it.

There was not even the slightest hint of madness in the contorted, broad, sweat – greased face. In the daylight its round black eyes were like pieces of shiny coal, and the hot passion that shone in them was too monstrous to be concealed.  By night its saucer sized eyes blazed with fearful red and it meant to kill.

It turns its back to the mountains savoring steady intensifying taste of blood, and moves westward into the shadows cast by the high forested ridges. It can smell the small animals of the open meadows cowering in their burrows, hear the whisper of feathers carving the wind as a hunting hawk circles hundreds of feet overhead. It feels the cold glimmer of stars that are not yet visible. Above the peaks were cascades of stars and a full white moon but storm clouds were moving across the mountains from the northwest which would soon darken the night, turning the silver hills first to pewter and then to blackest iron.

Silence sifted down like snow. The hush was eerily deep, as unnatural as that in which the deaf lived. This was the stillness before the pounce, the quietude of the coiled snake. Its time is significant. As it moves, it alters into the guise of a human man.

It had been engineered to experience pleasure when it killed. Its only three emotions were a limited capacity for fear, hatred, and blood lust. A knife was fixed to its belt, over its right hip. It was in an open sheath, and it could free it simply by popping the metal snap on a single narrow leather strap. In one second, the blade could be slipped from the holder and wrapped tightly in its fist; in two seconds, it could be jammed deep into any soft belly, slicing through warm meat and jelly organs, letting loose the precious store of blood.

Now multiple bolts of lightning chase across the sky, as white and jagged as running skeletons. The subsequent blasts of thunder are so powerful that they rattle through its bones, a vibration that it finds most agreeable.

Unfazed by the storm, several deer suddenly appear from off the tree lined plateau, drifting between the trees and into the bordering rocks. They move with stately grace, blended into the landscape expertly but he sees them. In a silence that is ethereal behind the fading echo of thunder, he sees their eyes shine in the backwash of his predator eyes. His tapetum lucidum eyes, born with a light reflecting thick membrane to collect and re-emit light to his retina a second time, his eyes were like torches. The deer almost seem to be apparitions rather than real animals.

Two, five, seven, and yet more of them appear. Some stop as though posing, and others move farther but then stop as well, until now a dozen or more are revealed and standing still, and every one of them is staring at him. Their beauty is unearthly, and killing them would be enormously satisfying. If it didn’t have something else on its mind it would stop and kill as many of them as it could manage before they bolted beyond range.

It is flushed with nostalgia at the thought of killing these deer. The taste of their blood would intensify the redness of its own and make its arteries sing. Though usually reticent and easily spooked, the deer stare boldly at the creature. They do not seem to be watching with alarm, are not in the least skittish or poised to flee. Indeed, their directness strikes it as strange; uncharacteristically, suddenly it feels uneasy.

But it has chosen it target well. It watched her for more than a day knows that she and her son are alone. She is much more interesting than any number of deer. Oh and how it unreservedly wanted her and her boy, oh the joy the boy would bring! It felt giddy with delight just thinking about it.

It thinks of her sleek black hair, her soft body, torn and bleeding, oh yes, it inhaled more eagerly now, detecting not merely the blood but the lingering stench of terror a victim exudes when in its hands, pain, helplessness, the sex it will have with her. It is this way with all its victims to some degree. This mélange of pungent odors not only excites it but increases its pleasure that it brings. It kills because it has been programmed to kill, not for want of food; although he does enjoy their flesh; it kills with a degree of iron self-control, it kills for sheer savage pleasure but mostly it kills for power.

It is at the beginning of dusk as shadows quickly grow larger in the darkness. The moon has appeared in the sky bright as a beacon as it thinks that even if its victim use a shotgun they cannot take it before it had managed to sink its steel fingers into their throat and tear it out. Gunfire will not drive it away or even make it flinch. Its wounds heal quickly. Nothing frightens it. No one overwhelms it, no one can take its greatness, or power for it was made to be all knowing.

The night was cool and mild. The heat of the vanished sun still rose from the earth and the cooling wind that washed the mountains and valleys in all seasons had not yet brought the usual autumn chill to the air; later, toward midnight, it would be colder.

Crickets loudly chirruped in the rocks and ledges that surround her cabin as Sela Shanks finished up her daily chores. She was a very beautiful woman, a mixture of Mediterranean, English and Spanish ancestry with a hint of Irish, and long thick hair, a glossy raven-black. Her eyes were very dark too, the whites as clear as pasteurized cream with a flawless complexion, a light milky bronze shade. She had a lovely face balanced by the size of her very large round eyes and a perfect aristocratic nose with full lips.

The spring evening air was cool but not chilly. Silvered by the light of the rising full moon, its light just starting to brighten, a few big clouds glided like white-sailed galleons across the sea of night and Sela stared up at them for a while, enjoying the moment.

She crossed the small yard, carrying her basket of freshly laundered, sweet smelling clothes, and was headed towards the door of their tidy cabin, built by the sweat, blood, tears of her husband, Jess, from his sheer fortitude. Off to the left and right, their property line was defined by a white washed split rail fence that appeared vaguely phosphorescent in the moon glow. Beyond the fence lay the rest of their property, all eighty acres. They had been saving to buy the adjacent farm from their widowed neighbor, Mrs. Rice, and then Jess had been killed. Now she was a widow too. The only thing she had left of Jess was their son, Johnny.

She climbed the ladder to the single loft just before she went outdoors to get her laundry and checked on her son. All she could see was his tow-head sticking out of the blankets, he was sound asleep. At just six, Johnny was the love of her life.

The night was still but for a few remaining crickets and nocturnal frogs. Then, all around her, the night became quieter. The crickets no longer chirped. The frogs had stopped croaking, too. The galleon clouds seemed to have dropped anchor in the sky, and the night appeared to have frozen in the ice pale glow of the moon.

She stopped in her tracks. Something moved along the fence line. She looked expectantly at the split rails for a few sizzling moments but could not see any further movement.

The night was dead silent.

Hushed.

Expectant.

It was probably only a coyote, she told herself. She was in no danger a coyote would never attack an adult, a small child maybe, but never an adult. She continued on toward the cabin but heard the rustling again and, worse, an eerie growling that was unlike the sound of any animal she’d ever heard before.

She dropped her basket of fresh clothes sprinting for the cabin. Sela was about ten yards from the door when she heard the strange guttural growling again and realized something was coming after her, bearing down on her from behind. It let out another shriek that sounded like the Hounds of Hell, and then another screech of madness and rage filled the air.

“Oh God!” She screamed out still running hard. She reached the cabin door, ran inside then threw the bar down across the door securing it. Sela leaned her back against it in relief. The light from the indoor lantern glowed softly across her freshly scrubbed wooden floor as she breathed in deep ragged breaths trying to calm down.

Then a banging on the door as a familiar voice pleaded for her to open up. Sela recognized the voice as belonging to another neighbor, Mr. Caruthers. What was he doing out there? Did he need help?  Had he chased that deranged animal away? Sela, feeling more assured called out to him then breathed a sigh of relief. She opened the door but didn’t have time to comprehend until it was too late.

“Pretty, so pretty, so nice.” The gravelly voice said.

“What? You’re not . . . not . . . Mr. Caruthers, who … who are you? What do you want?” She said looking at the man standing in front of her who by all rights did look like Mr. Caruthers, a thin, balding man in his sixties, who often came over to check on her and Johnny.

Nothing… he just took another step toward her.

She knew then, beyond doubt, this was NOT Mr. Caruthers. But it was crazy, unthinkable, a face and voice she recognized but, at the same time knew it wasn’t him. This can’t be . . . she knew at that moment Mr. Caruthers no longer lived.

It took another step towards her.

She backed away.

To be raped, in my own home, violated, she thought. It was unthinkable. It made no sense. Unless…. If this intruder, whatever he was, intended to kill her afterwards he would not be taking much of a risk at all. He would leave no clues no one would see him or hear her screams.

The man kept coming.

Slow.

Relentlessly.

Heavy steps.

Enjoying the suspense. Grinning more than ever seeing the comprehension in her eyes.

The man’s composition changed, he became stronger looking, more muscular. Sela was stunned by what she saw as she continued backing past the large stone fireplace. She briefly considered grabbing one of the heavy iron implements on the hearth, but realized she would not be quick enough to defend herself with it. The man that stood before her now was a powerful looking athletic man in excellent physical condition; he would be all over her before she could seize the poker and swing it at his damned thick skull.

What the hell was happening?

It flexed big hands, the knuckles strained at the skin.

It was a living nightmare for Sela as she backed past the heavy wood table then started moving toward her right, trying to put the table between her and this thing. Time seemed to stop for her. Abruptly, the world moved in slow motion. Each second seemed like a minute. She watched as he approached, as if he were a creature in a nightmare, as if the atmosphere had suddenly become as thick as syrup.

The instant that she spotted the knife, she froze. She stopped backing away, even though the man whose face continued to change kept approaching. A knife will do that. It chokes you up, freezes your heart brings an uncontrollable tremor to your guts.

Few people have the stomach to use a knife against another living thing. More than any other weapon, it makes you aware of the delicacy of flesh, the terrible fragility of human life; in the damage that he wreaks, the attacker can see all too clearly the nature of his own mortality. A gun, a draught of poison, a blunt instrument, or a noose rope – all can be used relatively cleanly, most of them at a distance. But the man with a knife must be prepared to get dirty, and he must get in close, so close that he can feel the heat escaping from the wounds as he makes them. It takes a special courage, or insanity, to slash at another person and not be repelled by warm blood spurting over your hand.

Then he was upon her. He placed one large hand on one of her breasts, rubbed and squeezed it roughly through the cotton fabric of her bodice.

That rude contact snapped her out of the trance into which she’d fallen. She knocked his hand away, twisted out of his grasp, and ran around the table.

A laugh like a growl, disconcerting; came from him as hard eyes glinted with a macabre amusement. It was a demon joke, the mad humor of hell. It wanted her to fight back, for it enjoyed the chase.

“Get out!” she said. “Get out!” She wailed at him.

“Don’t want to go,” it said, smiling, shaking its head. “I want to get in. Yeah. That’s it. I want to get in you. I want to rip that dress off your back, get you naked, get right up in there. All the way up, all the way inside where it’s warm and wet and dark and soft.”

For a moment, the fear that made her legs rubbery and turned her insides to water was supplanted by more powerful emotions: hate, anger, fury. Hers was not the reasoned anger of a woman toward an arrogant man’s usurpation of her dignity and rights; not an intellectual anger based on the social and biological injustices of the situation; it was more fundamental than that. He had entered her private space uninvited, a mother protecting her child. She found herself being possessed by a primitive rage that blurred her vision and made her heart race. She bared her teeth at him, growled in the back of her throat; she was reduced to an almost unconscious animal response as she faced him and looked for a way out of the trap.

On the table was a vase of fresh flowers, she picked the heavy vase up and threw it at him. He ducked at just the perfect moment and the vase missed his head crashing up against the fireplace sending pieces of glass over the floor. He bobbed his head back and forth seeming to enjoy the foray. Her fingers clutched onto the oil and vinegar condiment container and when she threw it, he was still bobbing his head and miscalculated the speed of the object. It landed a perfect glancing blow on the side of his face.

The creature touched the thin trickle of blood dripping down the side of its head and rubbed its fingers together then looked at it. That transformed it. The mouth was set in a grim, fixed line, lips tightly compressed. Its face was red. Fury wound it up as if it were a watch spring; under the strain, the muscles in its massive neck popped up, taut, impressive. It crouched slightly, ready to charge.

She expected the thing to come around the table, and she intended to circle it, staying away, keeping the table between them until she could reach something else worth throwing.

But when it moved at last, it didn’t stalk her as she’d anticipated. Instead, it rushed straight at her without finesse, as if it were a bull in a blind rage. It bent in front of the table, gripped it with both hands, then tilted it up, and in one smooth movement pushed it backwards as if it weighed only a few pounds. She jumped out of the way as the piece of heavy furniture crashed to the floor where she’d been standing. Then it vaulted over it and reached for her, and it would have had her if it hadn’t stumbled and gone down on one knee.

Her anger gave way to fear and she ran towards the one bedroom the cabin had praying she would have time to get the door open and inside before it would be on her. She wrenched the door opened and breathing hard she ran inside slamming the door shut behind. She fumbled for the lock. Over her own gasping she heard it coming. Footfalls were thunderous yelling at her in some garbled language.

She heard Johnny crying.

Her heart beat furiously, and she was shaking as if she were standing naked on a vast field of ice; but she was determined not to be incapacitated by fear. She hurried across the room, around the bed, toward the nightstand. On the way, she passed a full-length mirror her husband had brought as a wedding present. She had loved it, looked at herself every morning to see if her dress was straight, her hair just right but now it seemed to throw back to her the image of a total stranger, an owl-eyed and harried woman with a face as pale as the painted visage of a china doll.

The door knob turned then rattled. Silence. It turned again but this time was accompanied by a thud. It was throwing its body weight into the door. Sela stood back staring at the door unable to move and knew she soon would hear the rasp of the unsecured latch as it broke under its weight and strength, hear the spike-sharp squeak of unoiled hinges — she knew these were only sounds, neither meek nor furious, guilty nor innocent, and that they could be just as easily made by a religious minister rather than this insane man, but without doubt, Sela knew rage was at work this night.

Then the door splintered, cracked and gave way breaking the facing. She turned away and tried to crawl under the bed but in two steps it caught her right shoulder then yanked her up and around to face it.  It held her without difficulty, slapped her twice with such force that her mouth sagged open and her eyes swam. A fine thread of blood unraveled from the corner of her mouth, ran down her chin.

Sela was crying, tossing her head from side to side.

“No, no, no! Oh, God!” She said but then she got control of herself, locked eyes with it, gazed intently at him and said, “Listen to me. Please, listen to me! You’re sick. You’re a very sick man. You’re all mixed up. You need help.”

“Man? I am no man.” It said and smiled at her.

It slapped her again, harder than it had done before, swinging it big hand in a long swift arc, into the side of her face.

Each act of violence excited it. It was aroused by the sharp sound of each blow, by her gasps of pain and her birdlike cries, by the way her tender flesh reddened and swelled. The sight of her pain-contorted face and her scared-rabbit eyes stoked its lust to an unbearable white-hot flame.

Shaking with need, trembling, quivering, quaking it was breathing like a bull with eyes wide. Its mouth was watering so excessively that it had to swallow every couple of seconds to avoid drooling.

It shoved her down onto the neatly made bed and mauled her lovely breasts, squeezed and stroked them, roughed them up. She had retreated from the terror, had slipped back into that semi-trance, motionless and rigid.

It hated her and did not care how badly it hurt her. It wanted to cause her pain. It wanted her to suffer. As it pawed at her, it wanted her to know.

“I’m not human. Do you see?” It said in a gravelly voice. “Look at me now.”

Sela screamed when the face over her changed to more animal then back into the human again. I’m going crazy, its madness! She thought.

Now, as it knelt on the bed beside her, looking down at her breasts and at the dark pubic bush that was visible through her pale cotton undergarments, its erection grew so hard that it hurt. It was aware of the demon-half of its personality asserting itself; it felt the beast surging toward the surface, its phallus pulsated changing from smooth to edged.

She screamed again, tried to move, but its brute strength held her firm.

It clawed at Sela’s stockings, shredding them as it pulled them down her slim legs. It gripped her thighs in its large hands and forced them apart, and it moved around clumsily on the mattress until it was kneeling between her legs.

She snapped out of her trance again. Suddenly bucking, trashing, kicking, she tried to rise, but it shoved her back with ease. She pummeled him with her fists, but her punches were without force. Seeing that it was unaffected by her blows, she opened her hands, made claws of them, struck at its face, raked its left cheek with her nails, then went for its owl eyes.

It jerked back raised one arm to protect itself winced as she gouged the back of its hand. Then it fell full-length upon her, crushing her with its big, strong body. It got one arm across her throat and pressed down, choking her pinning her to the mattress, one muscular arm across her throat.

She gagged and fought for breath. Her face was red, dark, twisted in agony.

She excited him writhing under his superior weight and strength. She tried to arch her back and roll to one side, and when she failed to throw him off, she was shaken by violent involuntary muscle spasms as her body reacted to the growing interruption in her air supply and in the supply of blood to her brain. At last, she seemed to realize she would never be able to get free of him, that she had absolutely no hope of escape, and so she went limp in defeat.

Convinced that the woman had surrendered mentally as well as physically, the beast lifted its arm from her bruised throat. It lifted to its knees, taking weight off her then it shapeshifted again.

She put her hands to her neck. She gagged and coughed uncontrollably as her eyes widened in terror as its body changed from human again to some grotesque looking creature. Its round wide eyes stared down at her its skin a mottled gray, crepe texture, creepy with long claws and fangs.

She choked out another scream.

Frenzied now, the beast screamed out in rage, its heart pounded, blood roared in its ears, aching with need, it looked down at its erection and the sight of it thrilled it. The steeliness of it. The size of it. The angry color, the barbs on the sides.

It climbed onto the bed again.

She was docile and her eyes had a vacant look. It ripped off her pale underthings and positioned itself between her slim legs. Saliva drooled out of its mouth. Dripped on her breasts.

It thrust into her. It thrust its demon staff all the way into her. Growling like an animal. Stabbed her with its demonic phallus. It stabbed and stabbed her, until the semen flowed within her.

It pictured the milky fluid, pictured it flowing from its body, deep inside of her. It thought of blood blossoming from a wound. Red petals spreading from a deep knife wound. Both thoughts wildly excited the creature: semen and blood; semen and blood.

It didn’t go soft. Sweating, grunting, slobbering, it made thrust after thrust after thrust. Into her. Into. In. Finally it was finished. Then it stabbed her with its knife, severed her head, disemboweled her and tore out her eyes.

That was for all who thought it was ugly. It hates all who despise it. It does have feelings because it shares human characteristics but it feels no sorrow, it feels nothing but euphoria. Now it was finished with this bitch.

After it had finished using the knife, it held the blade down, at its side. Fat red droplets fell from it, one, then another and a third — the droplets rolled off the sharp blade and dripped down onto Sela’s cleanly scrubbed floor.

Plop-plop-plop.

The first two drops soaked into the porous wood. The third held its surface tension, and shimmered there like a ruby.

Another red droplet fell to the floor, as though the beast might be shedding slow tears of blood.

It found the boy standing utterly still, expectant, terrified.

 

Jonas Bale was tall, broad shouldered, muscular framed; a dark brooding man with thick coffee colored hair and a practiced face that was often hard and void of emotion; just as it was now. His wide mouth, framed by a reddish-brown circle beard, accentuated cold slate blue eyes. A thin straight nose, high cheekbones, and tanned complexion completed his naturally good looks that invariably drew women to him like moths to a flame, but they were always burned for their trouble.

 

In life Jonas had always been a loner, some say a shootist; a gambler and he could lie with the best in his profession. He had learned early how to read the eyes of his opponents with his hard as nails attitude for God knows, he’d been alone for most of his thirty years and had his share of suffering. In happier times it would have been natural for him to be warm-natured in more open moods because truthfully Jonas wasn’t a born killer.

 

Until now; now he was out for blood. He intended to kill.

 

As he guided his horse through a mountain range in the southern part of Arizona, he normally would have enjoyed being in its granite fortress and untamed canyons with its unique rock formations, but he wasn’t here for pleasure. Jonas Bale was in pursuit of the killer or killers of Nanabaa, his Indian wife of ten years who he wed in 1854, along with their children, Ashkeii, a boy of eight, and Nezna, a girl just six years old. They were murdered three months ago. When Jonas found them they were naked, their eyes gouged out with things done to them that made him sick. Jonas had always lived with a deep void inside of him conveyed from his own past and he’d been running from that for most all of his life. Now that void was even deeper, and angrier.

 

When he stopped to water his horse it was close to dusk. Just as he was about to remount, a lone dog with erect ears burst from the shadows of thick shrubs and bushes on his right and ran straight to him, panting, making woofing sounds. He could tell, as it came close, it had expressive gray eyes and markings similar to a wolf but it wasn’t. Its wiry coat was thicker, shaggier, and longer, and was damp, dirty, tangled, snarled full of burrs with broken bits of weeds and leaves.

 

The animal was young maybe a little more than a year old but had reached its full growth and Jonas estimated it was over a hundred pounds. Bigger than any dog he knew of with the sprightliness of a young pup. It stopped in front of him, sat, cocked its head, and looked up at him with an undeniably friendly expression.

 

Filthy as it was, the animal was nonetheless appealing. Even though he was on a hard driving mission he felt compelled to stoop and pat its head giving it a scratch behind its ears.

“Looks like you’re lost, huh fella?” Jonas said.

 

It made of low grumble sound as if it understood.

“You’re a friendly one. You belong to somebody?” He said.

 

It nuzzled his hand and whined.

 

He noticed that, in addition to its dirty and tangled coat, it had dried blood on its right ear. Fresher blood was visible on its large front paws, as if it had been running so long and so hard over the rugged terrain that the pads of its feet had begun to crack.

 

“Looks like you’ve had a difficult journey. Running to or from something are you?” He said as the animal whined softly, as if agreeing with him. He continued to stroke its back and scratch its ears, but after a minute or two he realized he was seeking something from this animal it could not provide: meaning, purpose, relief from his despair. Besides, he had business to attend to.

 

“You need to be on your way now.” He gave the animal a light slap on its side, rose, and stretched but the canine remained in front of him. He stepped past it, intending to mount his horse but the dog bolted around him and blocked him causing his horse to shy backwards.

 

“Come on now, I need to be moving along and so do you. Go find your owner, or whatever.”

 

The dog bared its teeth and growled low in its throat.

“Whoa,” Jonas said frowning. When he tried to step past it again, it snarled and snapped at his legs. His horse jerked back and he hung onto the reins as he danced back two steps.

 

“What’s gotten into you?” The canine stopped growling and just panted.

 

When Jonas advanced again, the animal lunged at him more ferociously than before, not snarling just giving off a deep growl it snapped repeatedly at his legs, driving him backward across the clearing. He dropped the horse’s reins, took eight or ten clumsy steps, stumbled over his own feet, and fell on his knees.

 

The moment Jonas went down, the dog turned away from him. It padded across the rock clearing to the brink of a sloping trail down into the canyon and peered below. Its ears pricked up and it turned its head from side to side.

 

“Damn animal,” Jonas said.

 

It ignored him.

 

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Jonas said curious now.

 

Something was happening.

 

Standing on the rock strewn floor, the dog continued to stare down into the bottom of the canyon slope. Its tail was down, almost tucked between its legs. Jonas, by this time, was seized by an irrational determination to go where he wanted to go, by God. This day of all days, he was not going to be deterred or even delayed by this obstructive animal.

 

He got up, shrugged his shoulders took a deep breath and walked boldly across the area headed towards his mount. The dog growled again, softly but menacingly. Its lips skinned back from its teeth. Step by step, Jonas’s courage faded, and when he was within a few feet of his horse, he opted for a different approach. He stopped and shook his head and gently berated the animal: “Bad, bad dog, you don’t look as if you were born bad you certainly seem like a good dog, an intelligent dog.”

 

He felt completely foolish trying to sweet-talk the large canine, but it had stopped growling. Its bushy tail, held erect now, wagged once, twice, tentatively.

 

“That’s a good boy,” he said slyly, coaxingly.

 

“That’s better. You and I can be friends, huh?”

 

The dog issued a conciliatory whine.

 

“Now, we’re getting somewhere,” Jonas said, taking another step toward the animal with the intention of stooping and petting it.

 

Immediately, the animal leaped up at him, snarling, and drove him back across the clearing. It got its teeth in one leg of his leather black chaps then hooked into his black wool trousers and shook its head furiously. He kicked at it, missed. As Jonas staggered out of balance from the misplaced kick, the canine snatched the other leg of his pants and ran a circle around him, pulling him with it. He hopped desperately to keep up with his adversary but toppled and slammed to the ground again, his blue oil cloth canvas duster twisted around his body.

 

“Shit!” he said, feeling immeasurably foolish.

 

Whining again, having reverted to a friendlier mood, the now decidedly more domestic dog licked one of his hands.

 

“You’re crazy, you know that?” Jonas said, “With a split personality!”

 

The dog returned to the other end of the clearing. It stood with its back to him, staring down the trail. Abruptly, it lowered its head, hunched its shoulders. The muscles in its back and haunches visibly tensed as if it were preparing to move fast.

 

“What’re you looking at?” Jonas said suddenly aware the dog was not fascinated by him or the land and trail itself, but perhaps, by something on the trail.

 

“What? See a mountain lion down there? Plenty of them around.” He said as he got to his feet considering if he should pull his pistol or not. He had no intention of shooting this dog because now it certainly had his interest. The dog grumbled, not at Jonas this time but at whatever had drawn its attention. The sound was low, barely audible, and to Jonas it seemed as if it was both angry and afraid. Jonas pick up the reins of his horse, but did not try to mount instead he secured the reins to a manzanita branch nearby, curiosity having overtaken him.

 

A big canine like this afraid of something?

 

Not likely, but what could be out there that would make an animal like this fearful?

 

Wolves? Plenty of them roamed the canyons and hills. A pack of hungry wolves would certainly alarm any sturdy animal. A dog they’d likely kill, so yes that was something to fear. But it still didn’t seem right to him. He’d seen no sign of wolves in the area.

With a startled yelp, the dog executed a leaping – scrambling turn away from the trail. It dashed toward him, past him, to another arm of a flat rock strewn area, and he thought it was going to disappear into an adjacent area. But the canine stopped and looked back expectantly. With an air of frustration and anxiety, it hurried back to Jonas swiftly circled him, grabbed at his chaps again, and twisted backward, intending to drag him with it.

“Wait, wait, okay,” he said. “Okay.”

 

The animal let go. It issued one woof, more a forceful exhalation than a yelp. Astonishingly the canine had purposefully prevented him from moving in the direction he’d wanted to go; something had to be near – very near.

 

Something dangerous.

 

Now this dog was making it obvious it wanted him to leave in the other direction because some dangerous thing was drawing near.

 

No doubt in Jonas’s mind any longer. Something was coming. But what? He thought the actions of this dog were extraordinary. Had it been chased, by this whatever was coming up the trail? It seemed scared enough for that to have happened.

 

Shrill cries of crickets and cicadas and other insects abruptly cut off simultaneously, in unison, and the area was suddenly, unnaturally silent. Then Jonas heard something rushing up over, between and around rough high rocks, low growing brush and juniper and Manzanita trees.

 

A scratching, scraping noise.

 

A clatter of dislodged stones.

 

A faint rustle of dry brush.

 

The thing sounded closer than it probably was, for sound was amplified as it echoed up through the narrow rocky trails. Nevertheless, whatever creature it was, was coming fast.

 

Very fast.

 

For the first time, Jonas sensed he was in grave peril. His gut told him that this danger was not from any human.

 

This was something else.

 

His heart hammered.

 

Above him, on higher ground, the dog was aware of his hesitation. It chuffed, yodeled and growled agitatedly.

 

The thought of an enraged bear or cat racing up the trail, driven mad by pain or plain anger was coming seemed plausible at first, but now he knew it was not. This was something else. From the sound of it, the unknown beast was within seconds of reaching the gorge clearing between the lower and higher rock trails. Jonas quickly untied his horse and pulled it in the direction the canine wanted him to go.

 

He expected something to pounce on him and tear his throat out. He pulled his pistol out of its holster with one hand and held it out in front of him ready to shoot. He detected a rustle in the thick brushy grasses of yucca stalks and low growing sage, then a snapping twig, the soft crunch of dry leaves on small stones – and the unnervingly peculiar, heavy, ragged breathing of something big. It sounded about forty feet away, but he could not pinpoint its location.

 

Jonas turned warily in a half circle, crouched in a shooter’s position, listening; waiting. At his side, the dog went rigid. Its erect ears were pricked, straining forward. The unknown adversary’s raspy breathing was so creepy – whether because of the echo effect of the canyon, or because it was just creepy to begin with.

 

The canine stared at his gun. Jonas had the weird feeling that the animal knew what the revolver was – and approved of the weapon. Wondering if the thing in the woods was a man, Jonas called out:

 

“Who’s there? Come on out where I can see you.”

 

The hoarse breathing in the brush was now underlain with a thick menacing gnarl. The eerie guttural resonance electrified Jonas. His heart beat even harder, and he went as rigid as the dog beside him. The horse snorted out in fear and tried to jerk free. Jonas grabbed for the reins. For interminable ticking seconds, he could not understand why the noise itself had sent such a powerful current of fear through him.

 

Then he realized that what frightened him was the noise’s ambiguity: the beast’s growls definitely sounded like an animal . . . a vicious animal but it also held the indescribable quality that bespoke intelligence, the inflection and tone nearly like the sound an enraged man might make. The more he listened the more Jonas decided it was not animal and it was not human, it was something in between.

 

What the hell was it?

 

Then he saw a shadow of something stirring in the brush off to his right.

 

Below.

 

Something was coming up. “Halt,” he said sharply.

 

“Alto!”

 

It kept coming.

 

Now thirty feet away Jonas saw the shadow again, something on two legs – bipedal. Was it a man?

 

Now moving slower than it had been, a bit wary perhaps.

 

But closing in nevertheless.

 

The dog began to growl threateningly, again warning off the creature that stalked them. But tremors were visible in its flanks, and its head shook. Though it was challenging the thing down on the trail, it was profoundly frightened of a confrontation.

 

The dog’s fear unnerved Jonas. Dogs like this one, maybe carrying wolf blood were renowned for boldness and courage. They were hunters, top predators and could easily take down animals much larger than they were. What peril or foe could provoke such dread in a strong, proud animal like this?

 

The thing in the rocks continued toward them, staying expertly hidden, seemingly camouflaged and hardly any more than twenty feet away now. Though he had as yet seen nothing extraordinary, he was filled with superstitious terror, a perception of indefinable but uncanny presences. He kept telling himself he had chanced upon a cougar, just a cougar that was probably more frightened than he was. But a cougar walked on four legs, this was definitely bipedal. The icy prickling that began at the base of his spine extending up across his scalp now intensified. His hand was so slick with sweat he was afraid the gun would slip out of his grasp.

 

Eighteen feet.

 

It was near dark and all he could make out was a shadowy man–like figure that scurried low, staying hidden, from rock to rock.

 

Now fifteen.

 

Jonas pointed his Colt in the air and squeezed off a single warning shot. The blast crashed through the air echoing down the canyon off the granite boulders.

 

The dog didn’t flinch, but the thing in the brush immediately turned away from them and ran north, upslope, toward the rim of a small valley. Jonas could not see it in the darkness, it kept low in upper rocks but he could see shadowed movement and heard its footfalls on the ground.

 

For a second or two, he was relieved because he thought he had frightened it off. Then he realized it was not running away, from the sounds it made it was heading north – northwest on a curve that would bring it to the upper trail above them.

 

Jonas sensed that the creature was trying to cut them off and force them to go out of the canyon by the lower route, where high boulders sat and the trail was narrow. It would have more and better opportunities to attack.  He did not understand how this creature knew that.

 

His primordial survival instinct drove him into action without the need to think about each move he made; he automatically did what was required. Trying to keep his eye on the telltale tremble of sounds to his right, Jonas leaped into the saddle and rode down the steep trail at a neck breaking speed, the dog already running ahead of him. Fast as he was, however, he was not fast enough to put distance between him and the still unknown, unseen enemy.

 

When he realized it was heading to the path well above him, he fired another warning shot, which did not startle or deflect the adversary this time. He fired twice into sporadic areas in the rocks, toward the indications of movement, not caring if it was a man out there, and that worked. He did not believe he hit the stalker, but he seemed to have scared it away.

 

Off the steepest part of the trail down to relative flat ground Jonas kicked his horse into a faster gallop.

 

The dog let out a whine and darted across the top of the rock ridge and started making its way down the trail following him. Clearly, the dog believed they were not out of danger and ought to keep moving, fast. Jonas shared that conviction.

 

As he rode across the short valley and up the canyon trail his mount seemed to sense his growing urgency and lengthened his strides until his powerful legs were a blur and the dust was a yellow wall behind them.

 

Jonas’s atavistic fear and the reliance on instinct that it invoked sent him riding finally over the far side of the ridge, and out of the area, with the dog following. He rode across the rocky sandy landscape of the desert, across sage brush, between creosote trees and the tall, short, and round cactus before passing into the next mountain range. His horse was close to collapse before he finally stopped.

 

He unsaddled his mount and tethered him close to a small creek with running water and patches of green grass so the animal could rest and eat. Then he made camp, hoping that he had put enough distance between him and whatever it was that had stalked, first the dog, and then him. After eating a meal of beans, the dog lay near the fire next to Jonas the rest of the evening, close enough that Jonas could scratch his ears.

 

The act gave them both some sort of comfort but the dog remained watchful and guarded the camp nervously.

 

The evening sky – which was dark in the east, was still streaked with deep orange, red and purple light in the west and seemed to be descending like the lid of a box, covering them as coyotes set up a howl.

 

Something out in the night, neither animal nor human, howled back.

 

Jonas felt the prick of fear crawl up his spine as the dog pricked up his ears and stared out into the night listening.

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

The wind had worked up into a brief squall as another burst of raindrops slapped hard against Bale’s face. His deep set blue gray eyes, now the color of the massive storm clouds, rose to appraise the situation. The storm had moved in for the day, but regardless how severe, Bale knew there was no time to stop and take shelter. Doggedly he raised an arm to pull his roughrider hat down tighter over his dark hair then he lowered his head against the rain, pulled his rubber coated black rain slicker up and hunched his broad shoulders.

 

He urged his horse on.

 

For the first time in his life, Bale had felt threatened. If he held any kind of strong religious belief he would have thought hell had surely brought forth a demon to walk the earth. He didn’t see it, didn’t have to know that it was something entirely new and horribly frightening. Its presence had shaken him up enough to seek help from the only person he hoped would give him answers, Dezba, a Navajo medicine man from Nanabaa’s tribe, and her uncle.

 

Bale’s life had been full of danger and tragedy, but he’d never flinched from anything. In the worst of times, he confronted danger, loss and pain, with fearlessness and had kept his emotions under control. Not this time. For the first time in his life, this peculiar thing brought him, he was ashamed to say, a very deep fear and he’d run from it. He’d actually panicked and run. It had been an innate fear. It had pried into him, touching a deep and primitive level where nothing had ever reached him before. He’d not been alone in his fear, the dog, which even now still followed, exhibited instinctive fear that only served to make his own deeper.

He was faintly nauseous with apprehension.

 

Chilled. Slick with sweat. Shivering.

Something was terribly wrong.

 

As he rode, even in cold rain, he felt the gooseflesh and cold sweat overcome his body, he felt suddenly damper, slick with a different kind of sweat, the cool, sour sweat of fear.

 

He knew his response was irrational. Even illogical. But the prickly sensation along the back of his neck and the iciness in his gut remained with him and, he hoped, were symptoms of purely superstitious terror that had let his imagination run away with his common sense. He had simply turned over the reins to the frightened child–savage that lives in every human being, the genetic ghost of what we once were, and he could not easily regain control of that even though he was aware of the absurdity of his behavior. He needed help to calm him down, speak the language of reason. Brute instinct was ruling, and instinct told him to ride on, just ride hard through the rain and stop thinking, just ride; ride for guidance, ride for help. For beneath the waves of the fear that washed across the surface of his mind, there were undercurrents of his grief, rage, hatred, and the fierce desire for vengeance.

 

He urged his horse on.

 

***

Dezba stood six feet one inch tall, an unusual height for a Navajo. He had a bent, roman type nose that emphasized a wide full mouth and silver hair worn in a traditional bun tied with a white wool string. The old medicine man was an intriguing cross between a personification of Dignity and Probity, formidable and well respected in the tribe. He had studied since early childhood to learn the chants and medicinal plants that could heal both mind and body. He was protector and healer of the Navajo that lived along the banks of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat.

His fingers work deftly to cover his face with a light brown paint. He prayed while he worked. “Talking God of the Holy People, a Giver-of-Life, you made Thunder Bird, the source of thunder and of all supernatural power. You created this land for the Navajo people and we are tied to this land forever. Never let me forget or question, only direct my actions.”

He smiled and remembered back to the days when he could run twenty-five miles or more through blistering heat and still had energy to fight. No more. That was gone. It was a strange thing, this winding down of life, so natural and accepted. Lately he had been feeling anxious and sensed that his help would soon be needed.

He touched his umbilical cord his mother had sewn into a small buckskin pouch shaped like a lizard for comfort that he wore around his neck so he would have a long life. His mother’s placenta was buried next to his Hogan it further tied him to his beloved land. A sweat lodge sat nearby. He wore only a breechclout and moccasins with a wide sash of red cloth around his waist and across his head.

Along the banks of the San Juan, the river had a break in the circle towards the east, where the sun rises. A beautiful place covered with coarse salt grass for the horses and a large number of sunflowers for food. Wood was plentiful. His tribe moved often, but they came back here when they could. They were like creatures of the night, traveling silently through it. Many of the women in the tribe carried scars on their arms or legs, where they had slashed themselves in grief over the loss of a father, husband, or son. Many wounds were fresh, because killing was everywhere.

There was a nagging doubt that crept into Dezba’s mind of the white man who had come into his life after he’d married his niece and had now been on his mind daily. Nanabaa did a good job in schooling her husband to speak Navajo and he had learned to trust and respect him.

Something was about to happen.

Uneasiness had been filling him so he planned a ceremony to help him better understand his angst. Now inside his basketlike sweat hut, a womb of bent willows with various animal hides over, the area was small, maybe eight feet across with an earthen floor. He did not eat or drink even water for two days in preparation and found he was feeling the effects of that with a slight swirling in his head.

He had carried and stacked stones from the surrounding steep slopes of the mesa and placed them beside the deep pit just inside the door of the small hut. A fire had been built inside the pit so that through its flames he could be made pure and come closer to the source of all power. He removed his clothes and entered the sweat lodge, bowing low as the entrance was only four feet high. Inside he gave a prayer to the Great Spirit then began to move around in the direction of the sun. Ending up by the door he sat silent for a while.

Finally Dezba picked up a full tobacco pipe, placed inside earlier, and put it in front of him, the stem facing west. The air was pungent with sage. The fire in the side pit heated the stones until they glowed like coals. He took a large forked stick and slid a glowing rock to the center, his knees nearly touching it. Dezba took the pipe and touched the rock with the end and gave thanks in Navajo. The rock in the center of the hut began to glow a fiery red as he closed the willow flap and placed a blanket woven by his mother over the entranceway.

He guided more rocks to the center, one for each direction, one for the earth, one for the sky. He offered his pipe to the sky, the earth, and the four directions then he lit his pipe. He took a puff and rubbed the smoke all over his body, then laid the pipe at the edge of the center pit. Dezba placed a bonnet on his head he had made earlier by following every detail given to him in a dream. The bonnet gave him great immunity from arrows and bullets. It was painted with black pigment made from a tree set on fire by lightning from the eyes of Thunder Bird. One buffalo horn was centered at the front and a kingfisher skin tied to the top. An entire bat was attached to the right side because a bat moves through the darkness with ease.

In blackness, that represented the darkness of his soul, Dezba intended to purify his ignorance. He sprinkled water onto the rocks from a wooden cup with his eagle feather fan all the while praying to the ancients. The fragrant steam hissed and coiled upward. He began a chant, his voice rising, continuing the droning singsong for hours, calling on his power to tell him what was causing this sense of ill dread that had settled over him. Finally he stopped convinced he would receive no answer this night. He cleared his throat and climbed slowly to his knees, his breath coming in short hard gasps.

His body suddenly stiffened, as his eyes locked hard on a fleeting vision of a face, a face beyond time and place, a face floating towards him in the night, a face of death, a fleeting glimpse of a dog running for its life, and the face of Jonas Bale.

The old medicine man was shaking.

He crawled out of the hut, wrapped himself in a blanket and sat near the creek to think. As he studied the flowing water, he was not surprised to see Jonas’s reflection in the water before him.

“I have been expecting you.” Dezba said.

 

Jonas Bale nodded. He said. “I came to seek your wisdom.” He stood looking down at the old Navajo, his thumbs hooked into his black leather gun belt. From the shadows a large boned dog cautiously approached then silently sat down next to him.

 

The old medicine man climbed to his feet then looked carefully at the animal in an appraising way. The canine turned its gaze towards the old medicine man and looked at him with soft gentle gray eyes.

 

“I have seen this animal in a vision. I saw you too.” He said.

 

Jonas sighed and looked away. No matter how painful it was, life was, he realized, nonetheless precious. He actually felt as if a higher power had sent the dog to show him, to remind him that the world was full of surprises and that despair or violence made no sense when one had no understanding of the purpose – and strange possibilities – of existence. It had amazed him and scared him a little too. He couldn’t figure out where it had come from or how a person got to be what you are, but that dog couldn’t have come to where it was more needed.

 

He still felt all of the pain from the turn of events in his life. His parents killed, murdered in the same manner as Nanabaa and his children had been. Their deaths now seemed like an omen and had taken on terrible importance. As a kid, he hadn’t yet been burdened with guilt. There wasn’t anything a six year old boy could have done to stop the insanity but he didn’t understand that, didn’t even understand what he’d seen then. He had an older brother Harry who died too. Then it was just Jonas. There was no getting around it. It seemed clear to him at the time that he was jinxed, that it wasn’t safe for people to get close to him. When he loved somebody, really loved them, they were surly going to die. He learned to keep his distance from everyone after that until he had let his guard down, got involved, loved, and look what happened.

 

Only a child could have been convinced that those tragic events meant he was a walking curse, but Jonas was a child then, and no other explanation was so neat. He was too young to understand. At six, he needed meaning in order to cope, so he told himself he was cursed, that if he made any close friends he would be sentencing them to an early death. He had found it almost too easy to turn inward and make do with his own company.

 

After so many years he had almost convinced himself the curse wasn’t real, until Nanabaa and the young ones. He’d been lax, and they paid the price for his mistake with their lives.

“I need to know more about what you saw.” Jonas said trying to shake off bad memories. He hesitated then went on. “You have my gratitude for being my friend and mentor through these years.  I’m afraid just being here might endanger the entire village, if I’ve been followed and this dog has run from it.”

Dezba patted Jonas on his shoulder. “I know. We should have a sweat for you to be in the right frame of mind before I tell you these things but I see your insistence. Perhaps it is for good reason, so I will tell you. You are more correct than you know. No tribal elder has ever spoken of this that I know of to anyone outside of our people. I tell you because I have seen it in a vision that involved you and this dog. It is yours now. This knowledge has been passed down by word of mouth from our ancestors for many centuries. It was meant to stay a secret until the right circumstance came along. This is the right circumstance.” He said and nodded. After a moment, in a quiet voice barely heard by Jonas he said.

“But in truth they are our creation.”

Startled, Jonas said, “Our creation? Whose creation?”

“You see . . . mankind has been on this planet far longer than our current wisdom allows us to believe, or to even think. There was a civilization here many thousands of years before ours . . . before written history. They were very advanced and had great knowledge and made terrible weapons. Much information about them was given to the Holy People who told us of these things through our legends.”

“A lost civilization?” Jonas said his voice was low and filled with awe.

Dezba nodded. “Perhaps . . . Lost . . . but then destroyed. I do not know where they came from, it is said they came in flying machines. That does not matter. War was a great problem for this early civilization. Because they had great knowledge, they chose to develop terrible weapons then they searched for a means of waging and winning wars against each other. In time,” he continued, “they needed foot soldiers to do battle for them. Because they were so advanced they developed the ability to . . . to tamper with inborn structures of different animals and plants. Not just tamper with them but change them. They spliced inborn structures together with their advanced ability and this allowed these creatures they developed to excise characteristics, or even add them at will.”

“Are you suggesting they were breeding animals and humans together?” Jonas said incredulously.

“Yes. That is what I am saying.”

“That’s impossible!” Jonas said. He studied the old man’s leathery face with his deep sunken eyes for any sign of untruth but couldn’t find any. That scared him. Tension vibrated through Jonas’s body, set his teeth on edge, left him feeling raw.

“What the hell.” He said low.

Dezba sighed and said. “I know it is hard to understand but you must try. The humans that lived here before us had this great knowledge, given to them from the Star People, but they misused the knowledge. In time they did create this man-made race of beasts that has intelligence equal to their creators.”

“How do these creatures change into animal form?” Jonas said.

Dezba said. “From inherited patterns for any detail of any physical appearance it wants—but one pattern is always stable, always stronger. I do not know what this is, but this is its natural state and it is most powerful in this state. Since it was bred with humans it carries their abilities and it kills, can maim in any state. But the other of itself, its actual self is much stronger, a—vital link, a changing talent. It has the ability to choose between these identities at will, to be—in all outward appearances—a human being or any animal it might choose, or be in its natural state, whichever the moment demands.”

“My God,” Jonas said as he considered the effectiveness of an army of these assassins. He was temporarily speechless. His muscles were tense, knotted, he could not relax. His throat was tight. His chest ached.

“But it’s not really a human being?” Jonas said.

“Not ever.” Dezba said. “Deadly and intelligent it passes for a human convincingly. It’s inhuman viewpoint, thinking, methods of reasoning are alien to a degree beyond human comprehension. It was designed to fit in, mingle with people, pass as human . . . then, when most appropriate, revert to its frightening reality and create an atmosphere of paranoia. . . . A thing of claws and fangs, a carefully engineered fighting machine with a heart-stopping appearance, it was not merely meant to kill but to demoralize.”

 

“How many are out there Dezba?” Jonas said quietly.

Dezba shook his head. “I do not know. They have been around so long, and because of their intelligence . . .”

“A beast that walks among us in the clothes of a common man,” Jonas said quietly “My God. Why would it have been chasing the dog?”

Dezba studied the young man’s face, his eyes mirrored in the firelight. His was a strong youthful face, with expressive eyes and strong lines

.

“Perhaps the dog got the better of it, perhaps wounded it. The creature may have tried to approach in dog form. A true animal can never be fooled by something they know, if it is fake. Perhaps these creatures eat other animals, or use them for other things.”

 

“It’s insane is what it is.” Jonas said sighing. He was feeling defeated before he even started.

 

Dezba handed a bag to Bale then watched as he tucked it under his gun belt. He sighed and clucked making a “tut-tut” sound with his tongue. “You must wear it.” He said impatiently. “A sacred talisman is meant to protect you. When you face this creature, it will give you strength.” Dezba said.

Bale’s gray eyes were clouded over, his face drawn tight. Dark stubbles were making an appearance shrouding his strong jaw line and his course dark hair was curling slightly at the nape of his neck from sweat. Maybe, maybe not but what could it hurt, he thought, and put it over his head.

 

Dark clouds had been building up in the east all day and now a sharp crash of thunder filled the sky, rolled down the mountains, into the valley and over the hut. A strange thought flashed through Jonas’s mind at the same moment as he slipped on the talisman: Thunder is a warning, an omen telling me to be careful and not be so damned sure of myself.

Dezba then reached down into his bag and came out with two silver balls and held them out in his hand. “The mountains give us this shiny metal. Many white men dig for it because it is precious to them.” He handed Jonas the silver balls. “It is said, this metal is of some consequence to this demon, and he suffers from it because his eyes are round and large, like that of the moon, meant for night-vision they often glow red. Our ancient teachers said silver metal was a gift from the moon and its power thus was weakening to this being. It is also said that these beings are hard to kill. Shoot it first with silver to weaken it then stabbed it through the neck. When it’s down cut its head off then bury it away from its body so it never rises again.”

 

A large knot seemed to be tied tight inside of Jonas, pinching vital organs and vessels, leaving him tense, restricting the flow of blood and making it necessary for him to live with all his senses damped down, forcing him to struggle along as if he were unable to get sufficient strength to his muscles. Dezba’s words untied that knot, and a full, unrestricted current of life rushed through him for the first time.

 

“I believe this.” Jonas said. “It’s crazy but I believe it. What you say is the only thing that makes sense.”

The old medicine merely nodded.

When he was ready to leave he saddled his horse, then removed the tobacco from the saddlebag he’d brought for the old medicine man, as a sign of respect as Nanabaa had taught him. As Dezba took the tobacco Jonas saw his jaw muscles knotting in his face. He knew how he felt.

Far off in the west, a dense bank of blue – gray – black clouds stretched out of sight to the north and south. More massive thunderheads would eventually roll in like ghost riders in the sky, a sign of late summer coming. As the red sun balances on the highest ramparts of the mountains, and in its waning light, the foothills appear to be ablaze.

 

A cool breeze blows down out of the sun fanning through tall dry grass growing along the San Juan. In places it streams like waves of golden fire along the slopes of the shadowed valley. As it slowly sinks behind the mountains, the sun sprays light so warmly colored, so mordant that, where touched, the darkening land appears to be wet with it and dyed forever. The grass grows red as well, no longer like a fireless burning but, instead, a red tide washing around his horse’s legs.

 

The past month had taken a substantial toll on him.

 

How many of these creatures survived? He hoped only one.

 

CHAPTER THREE

Large big, hard MUSCLES that could be gotten ordinarily from years of lifting heavy objects covered its body; even its wrists were thick and sinewy. It stopped then licked thin lips before a deep, gravelly voice choked out the low growling words, “I – am – coming.” The threat was meant for no one and everyone in its path.

It flexed big hands. A tense, vulturine look occupied its face, a look of a super predator just before it closes its voracious jaws on the cornered victim.

As the wolf, so is it.

There was not even the slightest hint of madness in the contorted, broad, sweat – greased face. In the daylight its round black eyes were like pieces of shiny coal, and the hot passion that shone in them was too monstrous to be concealed.  By night its saucer sized eyes blazed with fearful red and it meant to kill.

It turns its back to the mountains savoring steady intensifying taste of blood, and moves westward into the shadows cast by the high forested ridges. It can smell the small animals of the open meadows cowering in their burrows, hear the whisper of feathers carving the wind as a hunting hawk circles hundreds of feet overhead. It feels the cold glimmer of stars that are not yet visible. Above the peaks were cascades of stars and a full white moon but storm clouds were moving across the mountains from the northwest which would soon darken the night, turning the silver hills first to pewter and then to blackest iron.

Silence sifted down like snow. The hush was eerily deep, as unnatural as that in which the deaf lived. This was the stillness before the pounce, the quietude of the coiled snake. Its time is significant. As it moves, it alters into the guise of a human man.

It had been engineered to experience pleasure when it killed. Its only three emotions were a limited capacity for fear, hatred, and blood lust. A knife was fixed to its belt, over its right hip. It was in an open sheath, and it could free it simply by popping the metal snap on a single narrow leather strap. In one second, the blade could be slipped from the holder and wrapped tightly in its fist; in two seconds, it could be jammed deep into any soft belly, slicing through warm meat and jelly organs, letting loose the precious store of blood.

Now multiple bolts of lightning chase across the sky, as white and jagged as running skeletons. The subsequent blasts of thunder are so powerful that they rattle through its bones, a vibration that it finds most agreeable.

Unfazed by the storm, several deer suddenly appear from off the tree lined plateau, drifting between the trees and into the bordering rocks. They move with stately grace, blended into the landscape expertly but he sees them. In a silence that is ethereal behind the fading echo of thunder, he sees their eyes shine in the backwash of his predator eyes. His tapetum lucidum eyes, born with a light reflecting thick membrane to collect and re-emit light to his retina a second time, his eyes were like torches. The deer almost seem to be apparitions rather than real animals.

Two, five, seven, and yet more of them appear. Some stop as though posing, and others move farther but then stop as well, until now a dozen or more are revealed and standing still, and every one of them is staring at him. Their beauty is unearthly, and killing them would be enormously satisfying. If it didn’t have something else on its mind it would stop and kill as many of them as it could manage before they bolted beyond range.

It is flushed with nostalgia at the thought of killing these deer. The taste of their blood would intensify the redness of its own and make its arteries sing. Though usually reticent and easily spooked, the deer stare boldly at the creature. They do not seem to be watching with alarm, are not in the least skittish or poised to flee. Indeed, their directness strikes it as strange; uncharacteristically, suddenly it feels uneasy.

But it has chosen it target well. It watched her for more than a day knows that she and her son are alone. She is much more interesting than any number of deer. Oh and how it unreservedly wanted her and her boy, oh the joy the boy would bring! It felt giddy with delight just thinking about it.

It thinks of her sleek black hair, her soft body, torn and bleeding, oh yes, it inhaled more eagerly now, detecting not merely the blood but the lingering stench of terror a victim exudes when in its hands, pain, helplessness, the sex it will have with her. It is this way with all its victims to some degree. This mélange of pungent odors not only excites it but increases its pleasure that it brings. It kills because it has been programmed to kill, not for want of food; although he does enjoy their flesh; it kills with a degree of iron self-control, it kills for sheer savage pleasure but mostly it kills for power.

It is at the beginning of dusk as shadows quickly grow larger in the darkness. The moon has appeared in the sky bright as a beacon as it thinks that even if its victim use a shotgun they cannot take it before it had managed to sink its steel fingers into their throat and tear it out. Gunfire will not drive it away or even make it flinch. Its wounds heal quickly. Nothing frightens it. No one overwhelms it, no one can take its greatness, or power for it was made to be all knowing.

The night was cool and mild. The heat of the vanished sun still rose from the earth and the cooling wind that washed the mountains and valleys in all seasons had not yet brought the usual autumn chill to the air; later, toward midnight, it would be colder.

Crickets loudly chirruped in the rocks and ledges that surround her cabin as Sela Shanks finished up her daily chores. She was a very beautiful woman, a mixture of Mediterranean, English and Spanish ancestry with a hint of Irish, and long thick hair, a glossy raven-black. Her eyes were very dark too, the whites as clear as pasteurized cream with a flawless complexion, a light milky bronze shade. She had a lovely face balanced by the size of her very large round eyes and a perfect aristocratic nose with full lips.

The spring evening air was cool but not chilly. Silvered by the light of the rising full moon, its light just starting to brighten, a few big clouds glided like white-sailed galleons across the sea of night and Sela stared up at them for a while, enjoying the moment.

She crossed the small yard, carrying her basket of freshly laundered, sweet smelling clothes, and was headed towards the door of their tidy cabin, built by the sweat, blood, tears of her husband, Jess, from his sheer fortitude. Off to the left and right, their property line was defined by a white washed split rail fence that appeared vaguely phosphorescent in the moon glow. Beyond the fence lay the rest of their property, all eighty acres. They had been saving to buy the adjacent farm from their widowed neighbor, Mrs. Rice, and then Jess had been killed. Now she was a widow too. The only thing she had left of Jess was their son, Johnny.

She climbed the ladder to the single loft just before she went outdoors to get her laundry and checked on her son. All she could see was his tow-head sticking out of the blankets, he was sound asleep. At just six, Johnny was the love of her life.

The night was still but for a few remaining crickets and nocturnal frogs. Then, all around her, the night became quieter. The crickets no longer chirped. The frogs had stopped croaking, too. The galleon clouds seemed to have dropped anchor in the sky, and the night appeared to have frozen in the ice pale glow of the moon.

She stopped in her tracks. Something moved along the fence line. She looked expectantly at the split rails for a few sizzling moments but could not see any further movement.

The night was dead silent.

Hushed.

Expectant.

It was probably only a coyote, she told herself. She was in no danger a coyote would never attack an adult, a small child maybe, but never an adult. She continued on toward the cabin but heard the rustling again and, worse, an eerie growling that was unlike the sound of any animal she’d ever heard before.

She dropped her basket of fresh clothes sprinting for the cabin. Sela was about ten yards from the door when she heard the strange guttural growling again and realized something was coming after her, bearing down on her from behind. It let out another shriek that sounded like the Hounds of Hell, and then another screech of madness and rage filled the air.

“Oh God!” She screamed out still running hard. She reached the cabin door, ran inside then threw the bar down across the door securing it. Sela leaned her back against it in relief. The light from the indoor lantern glowed softly across her freshly scrubbed wooden floor as she breathed in deep ragged breaths trying to calm down.

Then a banging on the door as a familiar voice pleaded for her to open up. Sela recognized the voice as belonging to another neighbor, Mr. Caruthers. What was he doing out there? Did he need help?  Had he chased that deranged animal away? Sela, feeling more assured called out to him then breathed a sigh of relief. She opened the door but didn’t have time to comprehend until it was too late.

“Pretty, so pretty, so nice.” The gravelly voice said.

“What? You’re not . . . not . . . Mr. Caruthers, who … who are you? What do you want?” She said looking at the man standing in front of her who by all rights did look like Mr. Caruthers, a thin, balding man in his sixties, who often came over to check on her and Johnny.

Nothing… he just took another step toward her.

She knew then, beyond doubt, this was NOT Mr. Caruthers. But it was crazy, unthinkable, a face and voice she recognized but, at the same time knew it wasn’t him. This can’t be . . . she knew at that moment Mr. Caruthers no longer lived.

It took another step towards her.

She backed away.

To be raped, in my own home, violated, she thought. It was unthinkable. It made no sense. Unless…. If this intruder, whatever he was, intended to kill her afterwards he would not be taking much of a risk at all. He would leave no clues no one would see him or hear her screams.

The man kept coming.

Slow.

Relentlessly.

Heavy steps.

Enjoying the suspense. Grinning more than ever seeing the comprehension in her eyes.

The man’s composition changed, he became stronger looking, more muscular. Sela was stunned by what she saw as she continued backing past the large stone fireplace. She briefly considered grabbing one of the heavy iron implements on the hearth, but realized she would not be quick enough to defend herself with it. The man that stood before her now was a powerful looking athletic man in excellent physical condition; he would be all over her before she could seize the poker and swing it at his damned thick skull.

What the hell was happening?

It flexed big hands, the knuckles strained at the skin.

It was a living nightmare for Sela as she backed past the heavy wood table then started moving toward her right, trying to put the table between her and this thing. Time seemed to stop for her. Abruptly, the world moved in slow motion. Each second seemed like a minute. She watched as he approached, as if he were a creature in a nightmare, as if the atmosphere had suddenly become as thick as syrup.

The instant that she spotted the knife, she froze. She stopped backing away, even though the man whose face continued to change kept approaching. A knife will do that. It chokes you up, freezes your heart brings an uncontrollable tremor to your guts.

Few people have the stomach to use a knife against another living thing. More than any other weapon, it makes you aware of the delicacy of flesh, the terrible fragility of human life; in the damage that he wreaks, the attacker can see all too clearly the nature of his own mortality. A gun, a draught of poison, a blunt instrument, or a noose rope – all can be used relatively cleanly, most of them at a distance. But the man with a knife must be prepared to get dirty, and he must get in close, so close that he can feel the heat escaping from the wounds as he makes them. It takes a special courage, or insanity, to slash at another person and not be repelled by warm blood spurting over your hand.

Then he was upon her. He placed one large hand on one of her breasts, rubbed and squeezed it roughly through the cotton fabric of her bodice.

That rude contact snapped her out of the trance into which she’d fallen. She knocked his hand away, twisted out of his grasp, and ran around the table.

A laugh like a growl, disconcerting; came from him as hard eyes glinted with a macabre amusement. It was a demon joke, the mad humor of hell. It wanted her to fight back, for it enjoyed the chase.

“Get out!” she said. “Get out!” She wailed at him.

“Don’t want to go,” it said, smiling, shaking its head. “I want to get in. Yeah. That’s it. I want to get in you. I want to rip that dress off your back, get you naked, get right up in there. All the way up, all the way inside where it’s warm and wet and dark and soft.”

For a moment, the fear that made her legs rubbery and turned her insides to water was supplanted by more powerful emotions: hate, anger, fury. Hers was not the reasoned anger of a woman toward an arrogant man’s usurpation of her dignity and rights; not an intellectual anger based on the social and biological injustices of the situation; it was more fundamental than that. He had entered her private space uninvited, a mother protecting her child. She found herself being possessed by a primitive rage that blurred her vision and made her heart race. She bared her teeth at him, growled in the back of her throat; she was reduced to an almost unconscious animal response as she faced him and looked for a way out of the trap.

On the table was a vase of fresh flowers, she picked the heavy vase up and threw it at him. He ducked at just the perfect moment and the vase missed his head crashing up against the fireplace sending pieces of glass over the floor. He bobbed his head back and forth seeming to enjoy the foray. Her fingers clutched onto the oil and vinegar condiment container and when she threw it, he was still bobbing his head and miscalculated the speed of the object. It landed a perfect glancing blow on the side of his face.

The creature touched the thin trickle of blood dripping down the side of its head and rubbed its fingers together then looked at it. That transformed it. The mouth was set in a grim, fixed line, lips tightly compressed. Its face was red. Fury wound it up as if it were a watch spring; under the strain, the muscles in its massive neck popped up, taut, impressive. It crouched slightly, ready to charge.

She expected the thing to come around the table, and she intended to circle it, staying away, keeping the table between them until she could reach something else worth throwing.

But when it moved at last, it didn’t stalk her as she’d anticipated. Instead, it rushed straight at her without finesse, as if it were a bull in a blind rage. It bent in front of the table, gripped it with both hands, then tilted it up, and in one smooth movement pushed it backwards as if it weighed only a few pounds. She jumped out of the way as the piece of heavy furniture crashed to the floor where she’d been standing. Then it vaulted over it and reached for her, and it would have had her if it hadn’t stumbled and gone down on one knee.

Her anger gave way to fear and she ran towards the one bedroom the cabin had praying she would have time to get the door open and inside before it would be on her. She wrenched the door opened and breathing hard she ran inside slamming the door shut behind. She fumbled for the lock. Over her own gasping she heard it coming. Footfalls were thunderous yelling at her in some garbled language.

She heard Johnny crying.

Her heart beat furiously, and she was shaking as if she were standing naked on a vast field of ice; but she was determined not to be incapacitated by fear. She hurried across the room, around the bed, toward the nightstand. On the way, she passed a full-length mirror her husband had brought as a wedding present. She had loved it, looked at herself every morning to see if her dress was straight, her hair just right but now it seemed to throw back to her the image of a total stranger, an owl-eyed and harried woman with a face as pale as the painted visage of a china doll.

The door knob turned then rattled. Silence. It turned again but this time was accompanied by a thud. It was throwing its body weight into the door. Sela stood back staring at the door unable to move and knew she soon would hear the rasp of the unsecured latch as it broke under its weight and strength, hear the spike-sharp squeak of unoiled hinges — she knew these were only sounds, neither meek nor furious, guilty nor innocent, and that they could be just as easily made by a religious minister rather than this insane man, but without doubt, Sela knew rage was at work this night.

Then the door splintered, cracked and gave way breaking the facing. She turned away and tried to crawl under the bed but in two steps it caught her right shoulder then yanked her up and around to face it.  It held her without difficulty, slapped her twice with such force that her mouth sagged open and her eyes swam. A fine thread of blood unraveled from the corner of her mouth, ran down her chin.

Sela was crying, tossing her head from side to side.

“No, no, no! Oh, God!” She said but then she got control of herself, locked eyes with it, gazed intently at him and said, “Listen to me. Please, listen to me! You’re sick. You’re a very sick man. You’re all mixed up. You need help.”

“Man? I am no man.” It said and smiled at her.

It slapped her again, harder than it had done before, swinging it big hand in a long swift arc, into the side of her face.

Each act of violence excited it. It was aroused by the sharp sound of each blow, by her gasps of pain and her birdlike cries, by the way her tender flesh reddened and swelled. The sight of her pain-contorted face and her scared-rabbit eyes stoked its lust to an unbearable white-hot flame.

Shaking with need, trembling, quivering, quaking it was breathing like a bull with eyes wide. Its mouth was watering so excessively that it had to swallow every couple of seconds to avoid drooling.

It shoved her down onto the neatly made bed and mauled her lovely breasts, squeezed and stroked them, roughed them up. She had retreated from the terror, had slipped back into that semi-trance, motionless and rigid.

It hated her and did not care how badly it hurt her. It wanted to cause her pain. It wanted her to suffer. As it pawed at her, it wanted her to know.

“I’m not human. Do you see?” It said in a gravelly voice. “Look at me now.”

Sela screamed when the face over her changed to more animal then back into the human again. I’m going crazy, its madness! She thought.

Now, as it knelt on the bed beside her, looking down at her breasts and at the dark pubic bush that was visible through her pale cotton undergarments, its erection grew so hard that it hurt. It was aware of the demon-half of its personality asserting itself; it felt the beast surging toward the surface, its phallus pulsated changing from smooth to edged.

She screamed again, tried to move, but its brute strength held her firm.

It clawed at Sela’s stockings, shredding them as it pulled them down her slim legs. It gripped her thighs in its large hands and forced them apart, and it moved around clumsily on the mattress until it was kneeling between her legs.

She snapped out of her trance again. Suddenly bucking, trashing, kicking, she tried to rise, but it shoved her back with ease. She pummeled him with her fists, but her punches were without force. Seeing that it was unaffected by her blows, she opened her hands, made claws of them, struck at its face, raked its left cheek with her nails, then went for its owl eyes.

It jerked back raised one arm to protect itself winced as she gouged the back of its hand. Then it fell full-length upon her, crushing her with its big, strong body. It got one arm across her throat and pressed down, choking her pinning her to the mattress, one muscular arm across her throat.

She gagged and fought for breath. Her face was red, dark, twisted in agony.

She excited him writhing under his superior weight and strength. She tried to arch her back and roll to one side, and when she failed to throw him off, she was shaken by violent involuntary muscle spasms as her body reacted to the growing interruption in her air supply and in the supply of blood to her brain. At last, she seemed to realize she would never be able to get free of him, that she had absolutely no hope of escape, and so she went limp in defeat.

Convinced that the woman had surrendered mentally as well as physically, the beast lifted its arm from her bruised throat. It lifted to its knees, taking weight off her then it shapeshifted again.

She put her hands to her neck. She gagged and coughed uncontrollably as her eyes widened in terror as its body changed from human again to some grotesque looking creature. Its round wide eyes stared down at her its skin a mottled gray, crepe texture, creepy with long claws and fangs.

She choked out another scream.

Frenzied now, the beast screamed out in rage, its heart pounded, blood roared in its ears, aching with need, it looked down at its erection and the sight of it thrilled it. The steeliness of it. The size of it. The angry color, the barbs on the sides.

It climbed onto the bed again.

She was docile and her eyes had a vacant look. It ripped off her pale underthings and positioned itself between her slim legs. Saliva drooled out of its mouth. Dripped on her breasts.

It thrust into her. It thrust its demon staff all the way into her. Growling like an animal. Stabbed her with its demonic phallus. It stabbed and stabbed her, until the semen flowed within her.

It pictured the milky fluid, pictured it flowing from its body, deep inside of her. It thought of blood blossoming from a wound. Red petals spreading from a deep knife wound. Both thoughts wildly excited the creature: semen and blood; semen and blood.

It didn’t go soft. Sweating, grunting, slobbering, it made thrust after thrust after thrust. Into her. Into. In. Finally it was finished. Then it stabbed her with its knife, severed her head, disemboweled her and tore out her eyes.

That was for all who thought it was ugly. It hates all who despise it. It does have feelings because it shares human characteristics but it feels no sorrow, it feels nothing but euphoria. Now it was finished with this bitch.

After it had finished using the knife, it held the blade down, at its side. Fat red droplets fell from it, one, then another and a third — the droplets rolled off the sharp blade and dripped down onto Sela’s cleanly scrubbed floor.

Plop-plop-plop.

The first two drops soaked into the porous wood. The third held its surface tension, and shimmered there like a ruby.

Another red droplet fell to the floor, as though the beast might be shedding slow tears of blood.

It found the boy standing utterly still, expectant, terrified.

 

%d bloggers like this: