So weird, I thought.
The sound came again, closer this time. In fact, it might have been just behind the backyard wall. There wasn’t much back there, other than a lot of hillside, trees and God knew what else.
Again, I automatically checked my firearm. Hell, any good cop would.
And, yes, park rangers were cops, too. Just not as cool.
The rustling sound had my full attention, and I tried to imagine what it could be. This last noise was closer to a grate, as in rocks grating over dirt. A big sound. Too big for a cottontail.
Deer? We had those here, although not many.
I’d worked in these forests for fifteen years now and little, if anything, made me nervous. I even knew how to stand down a mountain lion. It took nerves of steel, yes, but I had done it on a few occasions.
Why I felt the need to remove the Colt .45 from the holster, I didn’t know. Cop instinct, maybe. Nerves maybe. It wasn’t every day that meteorites crashed to Earth and infected humans with a bizarre illness. It wasn’t every day that one heard stories of people eating other people.
Either way, gun in hand, I crept toward the backyard fence, gun held before me.
* * *
Lieutenant Commander Michael Mendoza was having an extremely difficult time controlling himself, especially now that someone had exited the home and stood not more than fifty feet away.
Mendoza’s fingers curled.
Before this, he had always been a patient man. Hell, the military demanded it. As a lieutenant commander in the Navy, it would take weeks to reach destinations. Sometimes, his ship would be out to sea for nine months at a time.
And yet, now...
Now he couldn’t control himself. He felt so powerful. So goddamned powerful. Like he could do anything. Like he could easily leap this six-foot wall. In fact, he was sure he could.
He stood in the bushes and tuned his ears toward whoever had come outside. The person had been standing there, but now, he was coming toward Mendoza.
He was just on the other side of the wall.
Mike’s curling fingers formed fists...and now he was running toward the fence, picking up speed, running faster than he’d ever run before. He was powerful beyond all reason.
He leaped high into the air—
I hadn’t gotten halfway across the big backyard when I next heard the sound of running feet.
Not hooves, not paws...but running.
Perhaps even more strange, the sound appeared to be coming toward me—
A shape appeared over my fence, leaping high into the clear night air—
I swung my weapon up.
* * *
Mike was airborne.
Wind rushed over him as he arched high above the stone fence. God, he felt powerful, unstoppable.
Down below, he saw the man—the source of Mike Mendoza’s unrelenting fury. The man who had locked him up like a goddamned animal.
The park ranger.
The soon-to-be-dead park ranger.
As Mike braced for his landing, he wondered how the bastard would taste—
* * *
I couldn’t have been more shocked.
I’d expected to spook at most, a deer. Perhaps even a bum. I hadn’t expected this. No one could have.
I didn’t shoot, mostly because I hadn’t a clue what was happening, who was leaping over the fence, who was descending down upon me.
Had I known, I would have fired and kept firing until my weapon was empty.
As the flying figure descended rapidly, the moonlight caught his features. Interestingly, the first thing I saw were the red eyes.
No, he was not my brother. The flying figure was his Navy pal.
Where he had come from, I hadn’t a clue. How he had gotten airborne, I didn’t know either. It took all I had to dive to one side as the son-of-a-bitch came down on me.
As it was, his boots caught my shoulder and knocked me down hard into the back yard’s soft grass.
The blow was harder than anything I’d felt perhaps ever in my life. I felt as if a car had hit me. A car with combat boots.
I was too busy tumbling and skidding on my face to see what he had done, but before I could regain my senses, he was standing over me. His face was in shadow, except for those red eyes.
I had just enough time to think: Jesus, is that what I’m going to look like, before he picked me up off the ground by my collar, held me before him, and drove his fist hard into my face.
The burst of light in my skull bloomed magnificently. The burst of pain, not so much. Once again, I found myself tumbling head over ass in the very back yard where I had so often played catch with Anna...and barbequed our dinners.
From upstairs, above the hulking figure who was reaching for me yet again, I saw a light turn on.
A window opened.
A head popped out.
“Dad!” screamed Anna.
Lieutenant Commander Mike Mendoza swung his head up and looked, and smiled. I saw the son-of-a-bitch smile. And I saw the hungry look in his crimson eyes. It was the same look I’d seen earlier.
As if I didn’t exist, the bastard turned and headed for my house. He was stronger than anything I’d ever come across, and that included some wild animals.
He had me beat on strength, yes, but not on training.
You see, I was taught to never, ever let my weapon out of my sight, and I hadn’t now.
I was still holding it, even as the bastard had been pummeling me.
I was still doubled over in the grass when I yelled, “Hey, fucker!”
Mendoza paused in a pool of silver moonlight, turned and looked toward me, his eyes flashing red, when I pulled the trigger. The shot, I was certain, caught him in the upper chest. I pulled the trigger again, missed. A brick exploded on the back wall of the old home.
I pulled the trigger again, and might have caught him in the arm. Either way, Mendoza pitched face-first into the gurgling koi pond.
Mike’s body was still, face down in the water.
I realized that Anna had witnessed this. Oh, God. I looked up at her and saw something else that briefly startled me—not as much as a man flying over the fence—but startled me nonetheless. Jared was with her in her bedroom, looking out through her bedroom window.
They both ducked in as I picked myself up out of the grass. My fingers still gripped the weapons tightly. As I finally found my shaking feet, my daughter and her boyfriend appeared in the back yard, rushing through the back door.
They both looked at the Navy man lying face first in the water, and then my daughter broke free from Jared and ran over to me. “Daddy, are you all right?” She looked at the gun in my hand, and then saw my hand for the first time. The wound, after all, was bigger, now more than ever. And seemingly spreading faster.