Fight or Flight

The creature peered out of the shadows, its coarse hair dripping with a viscous ooze. Its  ears were pricked and pointed forward. Predator ears, she thought involuntarily. It had a low forehead and its eyes glinted as it looked toward her, reflecting a streetlight that suddenly flickered. Her breath caught in her throat, panic rising. Adrenaline was taking effect. Keep it together, she told herself, thinking of her early days of studying the effects of the neurotransmitter on rabbits, many of which had died of shock.

The creature moved its head from side to side in a feral motion, eyes wide. She thought of all of the animal attack stories she’d ever heard. Dogs. Bears. Wolves. Should she run or stand her ground? She couldn’t remember the advice, and she didn’t know if it would apply to this unknown creature, this city dweller, this mutant. The prickling sensation was coursing through her body. All of her own hairs were alert and at attention.

Stay calm, she told herself as she eyed the creature. Think. Its gaze never left her. It exuded a coiled energy. Her own muscles were tensed, awaiting a split second command. The streetlight flickered again and then went out. She began to move ever so slowly backward down the empty street toward light. The creature rose, and she realized it had been crouched over something. It was large, larger than any dog she knew of. Could it smell her fear?

On this busy Halloween Monday, she’d been forced to park a block away and walk to the lab. She rued staying so late. Not one to believe in the supernatural, she knew even a quiet neighborhood held its very real dangers. There was no otherworldly creature who struck fear in her quite like her fellow humans. Not until now.

She stole a glance behind her, looking for a place to run. The sleepy brownstones were dark, their  Jack-O-Lantern candles long since extinguished. Any parties had succumbed to the weeknight; the costumed revelers going home to get a few hours sleep before work or school. Joyous trick-or-treaters slept in candy-induced comas, face paint staining their pillows. Not a single late-night light illuminated the building’s face.

She looked back at the creature. It had its full attention on her now, eyes trained in laser precision, ears forward. She recognized the posture from her days in the field. She had seen it in wolves, in lions. The predator on alert. She was the prey.

She knew her bipedal body was no match for the spring of four muscular legs. The human brain had adapted to use thought and reasoning to survive. To hide, to create barriers, was the hominid protection. All of the barriers were closed to her now. If she could just get to her car.

There was a sticky sloosh as the creature started moving slowly forward through the thick puddle of ooze, each foot carefully placed in front of the other. Its head was low, shoulder blades alternating a slow up and down motion with each step. Her heart pounded in her chest. Another streetlight flickered.

She could see her car now. It was halfway down the block. Still backing up slowly, she pushed the panic button on her keys. Nothing. She must still be out of range. She picked up her pace, still backing up, always keeping her eye on the creature. It moved with her, slinking in the shadows, dripping, stalking.

Suddenly it stopped, alert, its attention drawn away from her. A small black cat darted across the road and into the creature’s path. In a flurry of fur and teeth and yowls, the creature and the cat became a violent ball of primal fury.

Now was her chance. She ran.

Grabbing her keys, she fumbled for the unlock button to the Prius. No time to look back now. A sudden silence told her all she needed to know. Grabbing the door handle, she yanked it open. She was just about to slide into the seat when the creature slammed into her, knocking her to the ground. Dazed, she found herself staring up at two soulless eyes at the other end of a blood-stained muzzle. Before she could scream, she felt sharp fangs lock around her throat. She pushed the panic button again.

The horn and lights of the Prius pulsed a bored and regimented alarm. Lights flicked on in the sleepy brownstones. As the minutes ticked by, doors opened and robed, middle-aged men and women peered out into the street.

One by one, people gathered around the open-doored, beeping car. They gasped and pointed. As if a giant sumi brush had come down from above, a dark red swath of viscous blood pointed back down the road toward the lab where, if one knew what to look for, a dark shape burdened with its prey was slinking back into the shadows.

In response to The Daily Post’s prompt: Eerie

Happy Halloween!

Chronicles of a Reaper

It was the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. He hefted his scythe and tested the sharpness of the blade one last time. An error his first time out would not sit well with the boss. He pulled his hood over his head and joined the throng of employees leaving for their shift. Business was up, employment outlook good, though the turnover was tremendous.

He thought of his previous job as a consultant. It had been intense, but nothing like this. This was life and death, literally.

The training period had been long. They had started on small, insignificant creatures, though to his new outlook no life form was really insignificant. He had finally realized that every life had value. It was a matter of availability, really. There were just so many of them. The trainees had honed their scythes and their skills lifting small souls from furry bodies. They would marvel as they watched them blow into the ether like dandelion fluff. Then they advanced to people’s pets, where technique was more important and a mess-up would sometimes require the experts’ attention. He had been assigned to the veterinarian, which was easy, boring really. The doctor would come and inject an old dog and he would just pluck that final tether, freeing it from pain at last.

He was a little worried about this first real job. Humans. He had been assigned to an area that held a lot of young people. He’d heard from older guys that these were the hardest cases, the ones that tugged at what used to be heartstrings and made you remember being human. They’d also said that plucking souls was like picking apples. Some just dropped into your hand, and some held fast, resisting, but all eventually ended up yielding in the end.

He was pulled out of his reverie by the call. Car crash on Highway 20. Two young people in a Honda and an older man in an old Ford. He ran to the scene. Two souls, one young and one old, were firmly ensconced in their bodies. They were definitely bruised, and one would have a scar forever. The third soul, the young driver of the Honda was floating above her body, connection frayed, strings of her soul flailing about like jellyfish tentacles with no goal or purpose. He looked at her body, mangled by car metal, though the phone was still in her hand, blinking incessantly. She wouldn’t be able to answer that text.

He plucked the last remaining tether with his sharp scythe. Her soul hovered low for just a moment. He sensed it was heavy with the deep sadness of a purpose unfulfilled, of regret, of desire to love and laugh and hold hands again, and then it slowly and reluctantly rose into the sky. It would be ten minutes before the responders would be on the scene, but already his alert was going off. He was needed somewhere else.

It was his first time, but it wouldn’t be the last.

Not by a long shot.


Picnic of the Gods

“That ambrosia was to die for!”

The gods laughed as they settled in to watch the sunset.

“Anyone got a Mento?” said Dionysus. Ares tossed him a pack.

Dionysus poured the whole thing down a crack in the rocks. Boom! The group cheered as lava exploded out and oozed into the sea.

Photo provided by Grammar Ghoul Press

What’s Hatching at the Egg Factory?

She looked at the writhing lump on the floor. Though she’d tried, she couldn’t stop the teetering egg from falling as the conveyor belt jolted. Now its slimy contents were at her feet.

With horror she noticed that the creature had swiveled its head around and turned its hungry eyes on her.

The Crepes of Wrath

As cereal swirled around them, the Toads patted their swollen wheat bellies and grabbed their insulin, then waved their last goodbyes to their former life. The prospect of all carbs forever sent them westward toward the promise of fruits and greens. As they turned toward California, the TV flickered a sad goodbye.

The Cereal Dust Bowl by Carl Warner, provided by Grammar Ghoul Post


Preparing the Way

My job here is done, I thought, glancing over my shoulder at the devastation. I flipped the switch. The pod lifted into the air.

I shrugged. They had done it to themselves, really. I’d only planted a seed. These humans were such volatile creatures.

I radioed home, “Planet Earth cleared for resettlement.”

Photo provided by Grammar Ghoul Press