This is a sample from The Trouble with Beasts (Howl for the Damned: Book One). Copyright 2020 by D. Fischer.
“Those who have one foot in the canoe, and one foot on the shore, are going to fall into the river.” —Tuscarora Native American Tribe
The smog is thick. It coats my nostrils with the wretched stench of burning oils that are made and puffed by the factories stationed at every turn. My lungs burn. Cramps are nestled between my ribs. My breathing is too quick to suck in enough fresh and clean air where there is none. Not in this wretched area of the city, and especially not when I’m running for my life.
My long black hair is loose and whips the side of my sweaty face, stinging as I round another corner. One mantra is being chanted in my head: Run. Run. Run. It’s the only thing I can concentrate on because if I focus on the burning in my chest, I worry I’ll break my determination in surviving this shit. There is no resting. There can’t be because my pursuer’s feet echo against the cement, not far behind me. His shoes patter against the cracked and uneven sidewalk in a steady drumming beat. Every second, the beat gets louder, closer.
Off in the distance, a constant song of police sirens sing, but not for me. Nobody knows I’m in need of saving. It’s the price of being alone where, if I don’t survive, no one will know I’m dead for several days.
The humans don’t know beasts of legends exist. I am one of those legends. Sort of. My pursuer is one of those legends, too, and I know deep in my bones that my own survival rests on my own shoulders.
Each puff of factory smoke lingers in the breezeless atmosphere. It’s an area burdened with poverty. Rust paints the tale of age, and the weeds as tall as hips proclaim years of neglect. It’s also an area where no one looks for anyone. No cops come here. No passersby would ever help the helpless here. It’s an unspoken rule that no one even comes out of their homes once the sun goes down. A person should never wander alone in this area, especially a woman; A woman who knows she’s being hunted.
It’s a crumbling, unkempt jungle, crawling with predators in search of innocent prey.
I continue to run while deriding myself for my foolish choices. I shouldn’t have stayed at the gym for so long. I knew people were after me – this isn’t my first run for my life. I don’t know what they want, nor why they continue to run me down throughout the last few weeks, but damn it, they keep finding me. It’s not like I can stop and invite them over for a cup of tea and ask what their deal is.
I curse under my breath as my shoulder scrapes against a brick wall. I should have called Cinderson Robins and had him pick me up. I shouldn’t have thought these men – whoever they are – had stopped searching for me just because there was a lull between this chase and the last one.
I’m an arrogant, arrogant fool with no sense of self-preservation.
Gritting my teeth, I propel my arms higher and force my legs to move a faster rhythm. The cracked pavement beneath the rubber soles of my shoes hold steady, a contradiction, a drumroll pounding in tune with my heart, which beats a frantic pace. I can feel the pulse of its thrums in my wrist and the thick vein in my neck. Heat pumps into my cheeks and sweat beads down my spine.
I look over my shoulder, knowing the predator shouldn’t be far behind in his chase.
He isn’t there.
All of my attackers over the past few weeks are shifters. Every single one of them who came before this asshole are shifters, possibly trained to do just this: Hunt. They’re ghosts in the wind, adapted to be nothing but swift, silent, and deadly. I never see them coming until they drop from seemingly nowhere, right on my heels.
None of them ever shift, though. When they try to kill me, they don’t resort to their wolf form. The glowing green eyes never emerge like the other shifters do when their wolf surges forward inside them.
Amidst my overwhelming fear in this moment, searching, listening, and running, I’m grateful for that. I don’t think I could take on a shifter in wolf form. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve heard the rumors about shifters. They’re ruthless. Deadly. Like me, every daughter of a witch has been warned away from them since the moment we could toddle and speak. My mother was adamant in reminding me every chance she got.
And even though my attackers don’t shift, to someone who has been taught to be wary of the species, I know how they behave. I’ve studied the one shifter I call a friend for weeks now. They all move the same. Graceful. Predatory. Superior.
From the shadows of a towering factory, a rat the size of a house cat turns panicked eyes to me, and as my feet pound closer, it squeaks in fear and skitters into a pile of twisted metal and junk. Normally, I’d run away from the critter too, but today isn’t the day to be frightened of rodents. I have other things to fear.
I hurl myself around a corner, then another, hoping the echo of my shoes bouncing off the tall walls of the factory confuse him.
Once, I considered my hunters to be rogues – shifters without a pack – but they’re too organized for that, too determined about the same outcome for it to be coincidental. Besides, rogues are so frowned upon in the shifter world. They’re put down, and every single one of these shifters has the same welt stamped on their necks.
At first, I assumed this mark was a birthmark, but after seeing it numerous times on just as many people. . .
The last time I was attacked, I had a closer glimpse of it. A streetlamp had shown against the tribal lines of the welt. I’ve drawn it several times hoping to discover what it means, but a diamond inside a diamond with a dot in thecenter isn’t exactly the best search terms for the internet. Tribal night ninjas was fruitless too.
The wind changes direction, a caress to my sweaty, heated cheeks. It tunnels through an alley up ahead. I seize a chance – a bet on my life, and skid into the opening. I slam my back against the metal wall and squeeze my eyes shut, cringing when the metal vibrates and echoes marking my location to anyone in the area. A noise like that doesn’t go unnoticed by a shifter.
I focus on my breathing, calming each frantic inhale and exhale, in hopes I’ll hear him before he reaches the alley. I have no plan, but running isn’t working anymore.
It’s only one hunter, Jinx. One hunter. Surely I can deal with the one. You don’t go to the gym for nothing. You don’t practice for nothing.
But he never comes. In confusion, I’m slow to open my eyes, reluctant to peek around the corner or believe he’s not nearby.
My back bumps against the metal once more, and a growl of frustration rumbles in my chest. A surge of adrenaline shoots through my veins and stiffens my joints when I see him. He’s right in front of me, not ten feet away.
His short black hair spikes around his head, and his bangs swoop across his forehead, covering his right eye. The dark casts a shadow across his features, yet his uncovered eye holds a mischievous, deadly glint. A smirk spreads his thin lips, exposing straight white teeth, and his hands are tucked in the pockets of his faded black jeans.
How long has he been standing there so silent? Waiting? Stalking? Better yet, how the hell did I not hear him?
Damn shifters. At least I can die knowing the rumors are true.
He reaches, swift, his fingers spreading to grasp my shoulder. I grab his wrist just as quickly, twist his arm, and spin my body. He flips in the air. The metal wall groans as his shoulder thumps into it. Stray rocks skitter across the pavement on his tumble to the ground. He’s fast, too fast. His body adjusts to the fall, and I instinctively anticipate his next move.
Without a sound, he lands on the ball of his foot and spins, using his other leg in an attempt to trip me. I jump, graceful. By the time I land on my feet, he’s back on his.
He swings his arm forward. I block. He swings another. I duck. Each move I make, every anticipation of his body’s actions is instinctual. It’s muscle memory from years of training. As a useless witch, a witch without magic, I have nothing else going for me than to hone my own body into a weapon.
Mentally, I curse for the freak show that I am. If I had magic, if I could use it, a spell would cross my lips faster than a shifter can blink. I’d probably already be on my way home, dragging a dead shifter by the toe while I whistled.
Using his foot, he kicks my abdomen, and I tumble backward. The air gushes from my lungs. He reaches into his pocket and pulls a circular silver object from its depths. There’s a moment, a sliver of victory in his smirk before he presses a button on the object; a throwing star. With a slicing sound, spikes emit. They sparkle in the light of an exposed, brief sliver of the moon.
Fear. My heart beats to an unwavering surge of fear, begging me to flee. I can’t fight a throwing weapon. I have no doubt his aim is true, and there is nothing to duck behind when it seeks my skin to appease its master’s command. The chances I’ll survive with it buried in my chest are little to none.
But then… then… oh God, no, not again.
“No,” I gasp. Not to him but to me. A plea with myself.
Every nerve along my skin pricks, a wave of agonizing sensation. I fight it, shake my head to try and dispel the out-of-body experience that suddenly, and familiarly, overcomes me. I open my mouth to scream for my life and because of the pain, but as soon as I do, a curtain of dark smothers my vision.
Series available for pre-order. All preorder proceeds for Book One will be donated to WOLF Sanctuary in Colorado.
Book One: mybook.to/HFTDONE
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