an excerpt from the science-fiction/thriller XPERIMENT by Dan Skinner

Staying close to the trees as he ran, he found himself still splashing puddles. The force that hit him from behind came without announcement. It struck the middle of his back, throwing him off balance sending him skidding through the wet grass; falling hands-first into the humps of tree roots. He tasted mud and grass, felt it coat his arms and legs. Stunned, he rolled to his side looking quickly around for the source.

Rain fell like silver coins all around him. His eyes searched between the trees seeing nothing. He sniffed. He smelled nothing. That was confusing. With his heightened senses he should have been able to detect anyone who came at him. He didn’t just slip and fall. He’d been knocked to the ground but none of his defenses had been aroused.

He sat, wiping his hands on his shorts as his eyes made a three-sixty of the area. There was no one in sight. He searched the wet scenery behind him. The mowed lawn and wet clippings made it unlikely he’d detect footprints, including his own. Above him in the trees there was a rustling noise. At first, he didn’t so much see as feel something watching him from the cover of dripping leafs. His eyes searched elusive places between branches. His vision roamed through the limbs a second time when he noticed an odd shaped shadow. He stared at this a number of seconds before it blinked. Gold eyes stared as the rain whispered. It wasn’t hiding in the darkness. It was the darkness. It had no distinguishable form. It knew it had been seen. It moved further out on a large branch, the glowing eyes never leaving his. It sprung up higher in the tree moving with the speed and stealth of a leopard.

Geoff stood slowly, curiosity moving him for a better visual vantage.

Lightning zig-zagged through the cloud-cover. In the same instance the thing flew from one tree to the next. It took to the ground fifty yards from him sailing low and fast toward the avenue ahead. Whatever it was it had no discernible form.

Now intrigue overtook him. He had to see what it was. He took off in a sprint after it.

It wasn’t an easy thing to follow, this nefarious Snipe. Even with the advantage of night vision it was something that could move from one shadow to the next and become invisible. It was like watching a hallucination when it crossed paths with light, seeming to absorb it, like he’d blinked and imagined it. The rain didn’t appear to touch it. Its feet, if it had feet, didn’t splash in the shallow puddles. It waved in and out between the street lights. He’d never chased a shadow before and it was giving him a real challenge.

Rain pelted him like liquid bullets. He was drenched, shoes filling with small lakes. There was no disguising the noise he made as he ran, but it didn’t matter. It’d seen him; he’d seen it. They were horses in the same race.

It flew past the dark façade of a coffee house. No sooner had Geoff made the turn, he could smell something bad in the air. The two of them were heading straight toward it. This wasn’t good. He’d made his mind up to avoid those things.

The block was empty except for one lit storefront with two limousines parked out front. He’d lost sight of the thing and stopped. The rain was making it difficult to see. Another fork of lightning found it for him, crawling on the ledge of an upper story window of the building.  Stepping closer, he saw it open the window. It turned to him, their eyes meeting again. Then it folded itself like black wings and disappeared through the opening.

Slowly he moved in and as he did the foulness grew stronger. It was coming from the building. He walked past. The sign on the window revealed it was a headquarters for a senatorial candidate. Her slogan red: “Rose Fincher says It’s Time To Take Our Country Back,” painted in red, white and blue. He could see four people inside talking behind a counter. They were sharing cocktails in celebration.  He continued past, glancing occasionally to the open window in the second story for any sign of the mysterious creature.

Lights in the office flickered, went to black. For a few seconds there was no sound; then, the noise of hell breaking loose inside the building. A man shouted, a woman screamed; things broke. Another male yelled and then, gunfire – two shots. Something bounced on the inside of the front window. He couldn’t see but it was large enough to shake the pane in its frame without breaking it.

He backed fast to the opposite sidewalk darting in the doorway of a storefront as another gunshot rang out. Something hit the pane again this time crashing through. A body flopped, rolled onto the sidewalk – at least a portion of a body. It was missing an arm. He could hear the commotion inside the building more clearly now. A woman screamed again. A man barked orders, “Back up, back up!” and then another blast of a gun. The door banged open and a woman in a white business suit ran clumsily in heels to the first limousine. She yanked the door; it was locked. She shrieked, “No!”

A burly man in a suit with a bloodied face followed her from the front door. Geoff could see he had a gun, the car keys jangled from the hand. “Get in the car! Get in the car!”

“I can’t, it’s locked!” she squealed.

Car lights blinked as he unlocked it. He scrambled into the drivers’ seat and turned the ignition. She fell into the back seat pulling the door shut.

Small, short bursts of lightning shot across the sky bright enough to expose the thing swooping, flapping like a black flag from the office to the limousine. The car door flung open and it was inside as the car accelerated. Geoff heard the bumps and rattles of a ferocious battle in the vehicle as it lurched forward diagonally in the street heading in his direction. Everything was happening fast leaving him no time to run. He jumped back further in the doorway.

Metal slammed concrete as the car rammed the post in front of him. It rocked but held as the auto wrapped its bumper around it in a twisted metal bear hug, bringing it to a grinding halt. The engine hissed, rattled and died. Headlights blinked and went out. The airbag had deployed inside. There was another shout and the bag splashed red. Screams continued for a few seconds, then stopped. Whatever was happening inside the vehicle didn’t end with the scream. Not until every window was coated in a dark liquid curtain.




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