She had to be crazy to venture down here, she thought, chastising herself for the umpteenth time. What if a train came barreling down the tracks?
If nothing else, he needed help. If he happened to be homeless, maybe she could take him to a local shelter. He’d probably run from the system before she knew quite a few kids who’d done the same thing but she couldn’t leave him alone here.
“You know, you shouldn’t be down here. You could get hurt.”
A squeak of a passing rat sent her scurrying deeper into the tunnel, her eyes wide as she searched the surrounding area for any more of the offending creatures.
“Disgusting,” she said, her nose scrunching up. She’d always hated rats.
“Look, I’m going to call the cops if you don’t come out of here. This is ridiculous. You’re going to get hurt!”
A soft laughter could be heard from farther in. Frustrated, she glared toward the sound.
“I’m not going down there,” she said toward the sound. “It’s dark, and I can’t see a damn thing!”
“You’re swearing again,” the boy said, his voice full of humor.
“Hey, I promise I won’t call CPS. Just come out here, and I’ll buy you something to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” the boy said, behind her all of a sudden. Chantal whirled around, and the boy smiled up at her with an innocent expression.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Hiding,” he said with a shrug.
“Hiding? From who?”
“You know, you shouldn’t have followed,” he said, ignoring her question.
“I couldn’t walk away knowing that you were down here.” She gestured to their surroundings.
“It isn’t safe,” he stated bluntly, his shadowed eyes fixed on her, unmoving.
“Really?” Chantal said with a note of sarcasm.
“Come on, I’ll buy you a milkshake,” she said as she headed toward the direction of the platform, hoping the boy would follow her. When she didn’t hear him move, she turned to level him with a disapproving glare.
“No.” The boy’s firm tone made her pause. She faced him, seeing how he watched her with a stone posture, his resolve unbreakable. It made her wonder what he must have been through to make him act this way. She
knelt down so she could speak on his level.
“Hey, I promised I wouldn’t call anyone, and I meant that. I just want to make sure you have some food in your stomach, that’s all. You can trust me. My name’s Chantal. What’s yours?”
A hint of curiosity, bordering on mischief, lit his face.
“I’m called Damon,” he said. The way he said the name sent a spark of a remembered fear through her mind. His young, innocent voice had morphed into something new, carrying a deeper timber again. It changed him from a lost little soul to a sinister, mysterious stranger. Chantal paused for a moment, wary. That odd sense of déjà vu chilled her to the core, sending goose bumps along her arms and neck.
“Damon,” she said in a soft whisper as her heart rate picked up, and the boy laughed, seeming to be aware of her unease.
“What’s wrong, sweet girl?” he said, and the way he sneered the term of endearment brought up an old, painful memory: a man stood above her as she crouched in her closet, terrified. She could see in her mind’s eye sharp teeth glinting in the moonlight, red eyes glaring, a man’s face hidden in shadow. It wasn’t her werewolf that watched over her when she slept, leaving her feeling a sense of comfort or safety. In this sudden memory, the man’s menacing canines were terrifying, and he had appeared long before the wolf came to protect her.
“Who are you?” she said, stark terror clogging her windpipe, her throat feeling cold as ice.
“I’m sad you don’t remember me. I guess I didn’t make a memorable impression,” he said in his deep voice. He took a step back into the shadows, but not before he flashed a wicked grin. Unable to make her feet
move, she seemed frozen by confusion and fear.
“Help,” she cried, but it came out soft and inadequate just like the many times she’d awakened in the middle of the night, trembling from a hideous nightmare. Her pathetic attempt made the monster laugh all the harder.
A threatening growl rumbled from where the horrible boy disappeared, sending her searching for the source. The sound of scratching and tearing echoed off the stone walls. She heard a strangled cry of pain in the distance.
A dead silence followed, leaving her wondering why the hell she hadn’t taken off running yet.
“H-hello?” she said, her voice weak and timid, and she took a step backward, her shoe scraping across the loose gravel. It startled her, making her stop. A deep growl echoed from the darkness, and she backed away in earnest. Her head was screaming, run girl . . . danger, scary dude . . . growling! Her body barely able to move the few steps back due to fear and frank curiosity.
Out of the shadows, stepped a creature she’d only heard of in horror stories described as a hellhound. It was the size of a large horse but shaped more like a rabid dog, sharp teeth hanging from a gaping mouth. Smoke came from his huge nostrils as he breathed, his fangs dripping streams of nasty black liquid.
Holy God . . .
She took an unsteady step backward and then another, her mind catching up belatedly with her panicking, uncooperative body. The creature followed her retreat, eyes fixed on his captive. Snarling in anticipation, the thing opened its horrendous mouth and bared its enormous teeth.
Chantal screamed just as the beast leapt to attack, and then her unsteady legs gave out, sending her stumbling to the ground. She covered her head and neck in a vain attempt to protect herself, waiting to feel the bonewrenching pain that was sure to come at any moment.
The attack didn’t happen.
She flinched when she heard a loud bang echoing as if something big hit the brick tunnel hard. She heard the thing growl followed by the sound of scraping metal.
“Go!” a male voice said, and she lifted her arms to see a figure encased in odd wisps of shadow crouching in front of the beast, standing as her guard.
“Go!” he yelled again, turning with a fierce gaze, and when she saw his beautiful blue eyes, she gasped. She knew him, but didn’t know from where.
His features were somehow not completely solid, surrounded by a heavy fog. An odd sense of warmth enveloped her, the earlier panic completely forgotten. She was lost in him—time frozen—as he looked through her.
A terrifying war cry grabbed their attention, and her defender turned back to his enemy, ready to take him on to give her a chance to escape. Chantal stumbled to her feet. She turned and raced away from the battle, heading toward the direction she’d come, the faint hint of train tracks along the ground helping to guide her.
Forgetting the possibility that the train could round the bend at any second or even the reason she’d followed a young boy in the tunnel to begin with, her mind had one purpose: Get out of danger.
She ignored the strange looks from the truant station attendant as she ,climbed onto the platform. Without a single acknowledgment of his hollered questions and threats of police involvement, she sprinted up the stairs toward the street.
As she ran, her mind went into sensory overload, reevaluating everything from her sanity to whether she’d been asleep this entire time. A boy who turned into a rabid beast? She was going mad, but it had all seemed so real.
Who was the dark stranger and where had he come from? Why did he seem so familiar to her, and why did she feel safe once he’d appeared?
Chantal tried to convince herself that she was dreaming, but when she rounded the corner that lead into her apartment complex, she knew the she wasn’t.
Monica approaching their building as well only confirmed what just happened was real.
“Hey, sweets! How did the interview . . . are you all right?” Chantal watched as her friend’s face morphed to abject horror.
“I-I don’t feel good,” Chantal said, shaking.
“Let’s get you inside,” Monica said, ushering up the stairs toward her apartment door.
Chantal let her mind go as her friend helped her inside and pulled her purse from her frozen arm, but she didn’t have the conscious effort to do anything to help. She stared straight ahead blankly, seeing nothing but the gruesome red eyes of the beast, and then the calming of her savior’s gentle gaze.
She heard Monica saying something, but she couldn’t make it out. Her thoughts were consumed with more pressing, life-altering events. Then her answering machine came on. Monica had probably been trying to tell her that the phone was ringing.
“Uh, Chantal, this is Tony,” the manager of the diner said, sounding very timid. “I’m sorry about earlier. You ran out of here before I could explain. I meant no offense, honest. I was testing your ability to take care of yourself, that’s all. New York is a dangerous place. You never know what may blow through the doors.”