By Cameron DeOrdio
As Nat chopped peppers, the thing on the counter watched, unseen. As she lifted the peppers up and over its knees – which it had bent carefully to avoid contact – the thing watched, its black, glassy, perfectly round eyes fixed on her as they always were. She moved across the tiny kitchen to the fridge, and the thing unfolded itself, all dark gray and black and hard and sharp angles, but still humanoid, and stood beside the stove, the long, thin black filaments extending from its fingertips waving lazily over the handle of the frying pan.
She looked directly at the stove, and the thing’s filaments stopped, sticking out straight, stiff and thin and diamond-sharp, ready.
Nat brought the meat over to the counter and began chopping, humming to herself now.
The filaments went back to their lazy wave for a moment before folding down to rest on the back of its hand. It circled around behind Nat, always maintaining a couple-inch cushion between them. A small puff of breath hissed out between its sharp gray interlocking teeth and rustled the hairs on the back of Nat’s neck. Her hand shot up to rub the spot, and the thing dodged smoothly, quickly, expertly, as in tune with Nat’s movements as her shadow.
The thing continued to circle to the other side of the kitchen, moving noiselessly on the white-tiled floor. Nat continued to cook.
Its long, thin forked tongue flitted out between where the top and bottom of its gray mouth met – there were no lips – and tasted the air, detecting each of the food’s chemicals and how they were changing as they cooked.
“Stella!” Nat bellowed, doing her best Marlon Brando, as she always did when she summoned her roommate for meals.
“You quit that howling down there!” Stella shrieked back from her room, which was, to her chagrin, on the same floor as Nat’s. The bit had worked better at their last place. She bounded from her room and down the hall to the kitchen, barreling for the doorway. The thing, which had felt the vibrations of Stella’s approach, planted a foot on the opposite wall and leapt up, curling into itself. It hung from the side of the refrigerator, anchored by its filaments, barely taking up any space. “Wow,” Stella said as she entered the kitchen, tilting her head back and sticking her nose as far up into the air is it would go. “Smells great. What is it?”
Nat continued to poke at the frying pan’s contents with a wooden spoon. “Dinner,” she said, as she always had when Stella asked. “Now grab the tortillas from the microwave, and let’s eat.” Stella complied, the women assembled their burritos, and the three made their way down the hall to the living room.
Nat and Stella sat in their trash-picked – but thoroughly disinfected, Nat had made sure – wooden kitchen chairs, sitting in relative silence as they ate, letting the TV fill the gaps. The thing crouched, perched like a bird on the back of Nat’s chair, its long, sharp toes wrapped tightly around the wood, its knees carefully placed to either side of her head, spaced far apart so as not to disturb her.
Once she’d finished eating, Nat stood abruptly, and the thing rolled down the back of the chair to its seat, deftly keeping the piece of furniture from tipping.
“I’m going to Della,” Nat declared, eliciting an immediate groan from her roommate.
“Why?” Stella asked, drawing out the vowel in a whine. “It’s mid-term break. The word ‘break’ is right in there. You’re familiar with the word, I take it?”
“‘Break’?” Nat replied in her best robotic voice. “Does not compute. What is this hu-man word ‘break’?”
“First off, it’s English, not a language for all humans, you uncultured swine. Second – ”
“Second,” Nat interrupted, “if I’m out of the apartment tonight, you and Alicia will have the place to yourselves.”
“Have I ever told you how much I admire your strong work ethic?”
“Not nearly enough.” Both girls grinned. Nat worked her way around the low unvarnished wooden table to pick up their dishes and continued: “Now you have a good time tonight. Make sure you’re in bed by ten.”
“Nine, if I can help it.”
“Anyway,” Nat continued through her laugh, “I’ll be back around midnight. Please remember that.”
“Sure, sure,” Stella said, following Nat to the kitchen. The thing, which had long since left the chair, pressed itself to the hall wall to let them pass, its finger-filaments extended and its teeth locked shut. “Now, you have a good time, too. Try not to end up on any watch lists.”
“I think it’s too late for that,” Nat said, her shrug reflected in the thing’s black eyes.
About twenty minutes later, Nat swiped her ID card and entered De La Ville Hall. The door swung shut and locked behind her. She fumbled with her keys for a moment, struggling to untangle them from the cord connecting her earbuds to her phone, before unlocking the grad lab door. She’d been doing this for three years now, and she still refused to tape or otherwise mark her keys, confident (based on no discernible evidence) that she could pick out the right key for the right lock from the crowded ring she took with her everywhere.
She went to her workstation, unlocked the desk drawer, and pulled it out. She carefully removed a pair of notebooks and a copy of Thermodynamics with Chemical Engineering Applications from the drawer and reached into her bag, then stopped. High up on a wall, where a set of cabinets adjoined the lumpy white plaster of the wall, the thing crouched, watching.
Nat walked to the large windows and carefully closed each set of thick beige blinds, having performed the procedure often enough to navigate the room even in the deepening dark. Not until all the blinds were closed did she feel safe using the glow of her phone’s screen to find her way to the light switch by the door, flipping the lights on and flooding the room with harsh fluorescence. The thing in the corner blinked once, its translucent gray eyelids closing and opening slowly.
Nat returned to her workstation and removed a butter knife from her bag. She slipped the knife in between the back of the drawer and its false bottom, tripping the latch and gently flipping the light wood up and into her waiting hand.
She used the knife to pry a long, wide, shallow box that nearly exactly filled the drawer up and out. She again tried several keys before getting the right one and drawing out a small black volume, dozens of pages marked by brightly colored sticky notes. The front cover bore simple white lettering: “The Anarchist Cookbook,” the infamous book that was so volatile it could get you arrested for just having it in some countries, the infamous book she’d set out to verify the claims of as her master’s thesis, which her academic adviser had reluctantly approved on the condition she not tell anyone until her oral defense, scheduled weeks before his planned retirement. Maybe she was being paranoid with all this secrecy. But maybe not.
Nat selected a bright pink sticky note poking out from the top of the book and flipped to the marked page. She read the list of chemicals and other materials she’d need twice, the second time mouthing the words to herself to help her remember. Once she’d finished, she donned her rubber gloves and safety glasses and circled the lab, carefully selecting the chemicals from her list.
She lined up the various reagent bottles on the desk in front of her, double checking the labels against the book, and then unstoppered the first and lifted it to the edge of her station’s Erlenmeyer flask.
Nat stopped without pouring. She frowned and bit the inside of the corner of her lip, thinking. After a moment of chewing the soft tissue – a habit her mother abhorred – Nat’s face brightened. She removed her gloves and went to the back of the room, to the fridge whose front bore a pair of strips of masking tape marked in pencil:
DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID
Below the tape was a photoshopped safety poster, a black-and-white depiction of a woman with short hair, her eyes covered by cartoonish X’s and her mouth area a surprisingly graphic mess of blood, gore and shattered teeth. Large white lettering on the black background declared, “Carol never washed up thoroughly before eating. Now she doesn’t have to.”
Nat opened the fridge and took out one of the glass Classic Coke bottles she’d been saving for a few weeks. She levered it open on the counter edge and rubbed her thumb over the spot she’d used, hoping to smooth over the scrape. Nat took a swig of the Coke as she walked to the wide, deep sink and eye-rinse station in the corner. The thing pushed itself higher, its back bent low, pressed to the ceiling, well out of Nat’s way. She poured the rest of the Coke down the drain and rinsed it out thoroughly, humming along to the Taylor Swift chorus in her ears. Still humming, she returned to her workstation, put her gloves back on, and plucked a funnel from another drawer. She placed the funnel in the mouth of the Coke bottle and began to mix.
More than forty minutes later, Nat pulled into the wide, barren paved lot that had, until recently, housed the long-abandoned and burnt-out textile factory that Stella had dragged her to last Halloween, certain it was haunted and willing to give up one of the biggest party nights of the year to prove it.
As they had drawn closer to the factory that night, their soft features had come into sharper relief. Their flesh had a blue tinge now, which was more disconcerting than the simple shadows they’d seemed from afar. One – Stella, it would come to know – dragged a pair of bolt cutters lazily behind her, letting one of the handles dangle free, levering up and down with each of her steps. They were almost at the door when Stella turned on her heel to look at the other, called Nat.
“You’ve got the booze, right?”
“OK, good. Because you’re nervous as shit, and it’s freaking me out. Take a shot before we go any farther.”
“Your mom was never this cool,” Stella replied, but the other was already slipping the bag off her shoulder and unzipping it. She took a swig and hid a wince. She held the bottle out to Stella, who shook her head. “Got a head start, and you need all the help you can get.”
As Nat slid the bottle back into her bag, Stella stepped forward and eyed the huge padlock that held the factory’s double doors together, holding the bolt cutters in both hands now.
“I don’t know what you’re so worried about,” she said, her tongue sticking slightly out of the corner of her mouth as she tried to decide where to apply the cutters.
“Breaking and entering, mostly.”
“Naw,” Stella said, lining up the bolt cutter’s jaw on a section of the lock, scraping the sharp edge carelessly along its length as she did so. “You were all antsy before this, too.”
Nat looked annoyed at this analysis. “It’s my thesis.”
“What about it?” Stella asked, opening the tool a bit, reconsidering. The lock was not going to make this easy for her, nor should it have.
“Exactly that. I don’t know anything about it. I’m supposed to do some sort of groundbreaking research, but everything’s been done. Twice.”
As Stella slid the jaw down the bar some, closer to the lock mechanism, rust flaked away and the metal hissed. “Well, what’s something a nerd like you wouldn’t normally do?”
“What?” Nat sounded confused.
“What’s something you wouldn’t normally do?” Stella repeated slowly, pressing down lightly on the top handle, testing the lock’s resistance, biting into the rust and leaving a mark in the metal. Stella lifted one knee and propped the bottom handle on it, gripping the top handle in both fists, ready to use her whole body to lever it downward and slice through the stout stretch of steel.
Nat clapped her hands, looking surprised and pleased. “Wait, I know! I never break the rules.”
“Now that’s an idea,” Stella grunted. “Do that.” She yanked down on the bolt cutters, and the lock’s bar snapped loudly, allowing the heavy mechanism to slam to the pavement, unbinding the factory doors.
Now it was open to them.
A once-hallowed temple of purpose-driven efficiency, a continued testament to unified effort under relentless direction, a physical manifestation of staunch service, finally coming to the end of its years of painful disuse, only to have its function ignored, forgotten, mocked by these trespassers.
Their disrespect was palpable, and their intentions were unclear, which only made them more abhorrent, more dangerous.
Its decades of efficiency, direction, and service under a watchful eye coalesced and seethed in the shadows, unheeded by those that would deny or destroy them. And thus, the thing’s watch began.
They hadn’t found anything, just as Nat had suspected they wouldn’t, but Nat had come up with the idea for her thesis, and they did get drunk enough that having broken into a condemned building full of outdated, rusty, sharp equipment had the potential to be an even worse decision than usual. They’d called Henry, Nat’s boyfriend at the time, a straight-edge visual arts MFA who was certain he did his best work after midnight – that is, someone who was bound to be awake and sober enough to drive – and got home safe. But Henry was long gone from her life now, even more long gone than the factory building.
She slowed, ensuring a smooth stop before parking, one eye on the lot and the other flitting between the Coke bottle pressed between her thighs and the large stoppered Erlenmeyer flask wrapped in newspaper and buckled into the passenger seat. Once the car was parked, she slipped the rubber gloves, also on the passenger seat, back on. She got out of the car, taking the Coke bottle with her, and went over to the other side to unbuckle and remove the flask.
Standing next to the car, she guided the Coke bottle slowly, gently into the flask – the narrow neck was a tight fit – and restoppered it. She took a deep breath, exhaled.
Nat threw the bottle as high and far as she could. It sailed through the night air – the stars so much clearer here than by her apartment, she noticed – for what seemed like forever. Eventually, finally, it met the pavement. The first sound was that of shattering glass, as the flask and the Coke bottle both became hundreds, if not thousands, of sharp shards. In that instant, Nat wondered if she should have stood behind her car. Before the thought was fully formed, the second sound came to erase it: BOOM!
Flames erupted skyward from where the containers had smashed, and shards of glass of varying sizes shot outward and upward from the site. A few tiny ones caught Nat in the face, irritating her, but not breaking skin. Others bounced harmlessly off her fall jacket, while still more added what Stella would call “character” to Nat’s car’s paint job.
Almost as impressive as the explosion were the flames, a foot high, flickering a bright yellow-orange. They contained themselves to the immediate area of the explosion, never straying farther than a couple of feet, and Nat figured it’d stay that way until it burned itself out for lack of anything to feed it.
The thing clung to the car’s undercarriage, as it had for the entire drive from campus. The flames danced in its dead, black eyes. She had crossed a threshold. It could end this now, before she became more of a Problem. It had a duty, but it also had a code. Many were to be watched, but so few were to be taken. What did she respect? What did she fear? Were they enough?
Should the thing decide this girl was not merely a threat but an actual Problem with means and intent, all it had to do was reach out, extend a filament, and slice the girl’s hamstring. She would fall. No one knew she was here, far from everything. No one would look here for her. She’d either bleed out or die of thirst.
Its hand reached out, one filament unfurling, extending, stiffening. Impossibly thin and sharp, it swung forward, slicing through the air, through denim –
And that’s when it noticed the phone.
When the fire had started, Nat had taken her phone out to record it.
“Ow!” she exclaimed, pulling her leg up to rub at it. It felt like something had stung her, and when she put her hand to her calf, she felt a slash through her jeans. She wrote it off as a late glass-shard ejection from the fire and didn’t worry about it, ignoring the physics that largely ruled that out.
She got in the car; cast one last proud, giddy look back at the flames; whispered, “Coolest thesis ever;” and drove off, smiling.
The thing, rocking gently with the car’s movements as it continued to cling to the undercarriage, mulled its next course of action.
Nat rapped four times in quick succession on the apartment door, her and Stella’s agreed-upon signal for when they had company, before counting slowly to ten and opening it. Stella and Alicia were snuggled up under a blanket on the living room couch, watching some Schwarzenegger flick.
“Well look who’s back,” Stella said, smiling and awkwardly propping herself up on her elbows, trying not to disturb Alicia, who was mostly asleep.
Nat whirled, theatrically turning her head every which way, her gaze sliding past the thing in the corner twice. “Who?” she demanded.
“Laaaaame,” Stella said. “Anyway, you wanna join us, or are you going to bed?”
Nat dropped her bag on the living room floor. “Define ‘join us.’ Doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for group activities at the moment.” She nodded, pointing with her chin at Alicia, who was burrowing her shoulders deeper into Stella’s chest and letting out a small groan as she made herself comfortable.
“Well,” Stella said, stroking Alicia’s hair while training her eyes and a slight smirk on Nat, “you know we were hoping to turn you to our sinful ways.”
“Yeah, sure, don’t tell my mom.”
“Of course not. She’s my Tuesday night.”
“Burn.” Nat continued across the living room and to her bedroom door. “But if it’s all the same to you, I think I’m gonna get some rest.”
“That’s exactly what your dad said.” Nat shut her bedroom door behind her.
“Well played!” Stella called from the other side.
“Right?” Nat shouted back, briefly forgetting to control her volume in case Alicia was trying to stay mostly asleep. She shrugged at, she thought, no one.
Nat got into her pajamas and lay down, curled up to one side of her bed, leaving most of her queen-size mattress open. Her mother had scolded her for “wasting” money on a large bed when she slept like she was trying to fit in a carry-on suitcase. Her boyfriends usually liked that about her, though. Nat’s sleeping small gave them room to stretch out. And it gave the thing that watched her a spot to lie, its back pressed against the wall, also curled up small, their silhouettes almost identical in the dark room.
“Are we going to die?” Stella asked, eyeing the paper tabs Nat had lain out on their living room table.
“Well, eventually, yeah,” Nat said. It was one of her favorite stupid jokes.
Stella sighed loudly, directly into Nat’s face. “I mean, could this stuff kill us?”
“Doubtful. But I guess it could, like, make you trip balls randomly a ton of years from now. That’s also pretty unlikely, though.”
Stella shifted nervously in the big, peach-colored chair she’d had for five years and three apartments. “And you’re sure you made it right? Followed all the instructions?”
“Well, I’m kicking the shit out of chemistry grad school, so, yeah, I’m pretty sure.” She pushed her hair out of her face with her hand and fixed her gaze on Stella. “You don’t have to do this, though. If you’re not cool with it, it’s fine. No pressure.”
Stella shrugged. “Naw.” She snatched up one of the tabs. “Let’s get weird.” She placed the tab gently on her tongue. “’Ow wha’?” she said thickly, trying not to touch her tongue to the inside of her mouth.
“Keep it under your tongue, out of the way,” Nat said, slipping her own paper tab in under her tongue. “An’ we leh ih ‘oo i's ‘ing.”
They put on some Netflix sitcom and waited.
The first episode was just wrapping up when Stella’s eyes went wide. “What the hell?” she shouted, her voice cracking, her eyes glued to a far corner of the room.
“Hm?” Nat looked at Stella, then where she was looking, and saw nothing out of the ordinary.
Stella curled up in her chair, taking her feet off the ground, leaning back into the soft fabric. “Nat,” she said, her voice quavering. Then she jerked out of the chair and grabbed her half-full mug of tea, throwing it at the corner, where it smashed against the wall. “Nat!” she howled.
“What? What is it?”
“Shit!” Stella grabbed one end of the low wooden table and flipped it up, launching it across the room.
The table, a light, flimsy thing, pitched forward, then, Nat saw, slowed down considerably, slicing clean down the center and parting, still traveling so, so slowly, before tumbling gracefully through the air, toward the picture window, their movements perfectly in time with the show’s closing credits’ soundtrack. Nat followed the table halves’ movements for a long moment before Stella’s choked cries caused Nat to whip her head around.
Stella’s back was pressed to the bottom half of the chair as she sat on the ground, one hand gripping the chair behind her, the other swatting frantically at the air in front of her face. Her mouth was wide open, and she was gagging.
Nat didn’t understand. She stared at Stella. She heard the noises from Stella getting quieter. Suddenly, it clicked. Stella was choking, and Nat had to help her, had to move, but she couldn’t.
Nat’s mind filled with a swelling chorus of curses, drowning out thought. “No,” she said out loud, because there was no room for other words in her head, and this one was important. “No, no!” She needed control, she realized. Nat closed her eyes tight, mentally clawing through the wall of obscenities and confusion. She opened her eyes, and Stella’s once-flailing arm was now at her side, not moving. None of Stella was moving, she realized.
Nat felt cold, colder than she’d ever felt before.
And that’s when she saw it.
Tall, thin, seemingly made of black and gray bone, but not skeletal. A large, powerful hand clasped Stella’s jaw. A filament withdrew from her still-open mouth, long and thin and dripping. The thing’s head was tilted down, its round, shiny black eyes still fixed on Stella, waiting to see if she had survived.
Nat looked down at her hands, which had done nothing to save her friend. Her brain, no longer full of curses but of possibilities, explanations. The last few minutes – had it been minutes? – played back, and the world before her eyes grew fuzzy. Stella had been staring at the corner, had tried to do something. Had tried to stop the thing that was killing – had killed? – Stella. What had she been doing right before the attack? She’d been looking at the corner. Nat’s fingers clutched tightly at the fabric of the chair beneath her, frustrated. What is that thing? What happened? Why? She bit her lip, hard, closing her eyes, trying to focus all of her mental resources. Stella had been looking at the corner. Looking at the corner. Looking. At … that thing? What was it? Was it real? Was she tripping? It had to be real. Stella was dead. She’d been looking at it, and it had killed her, stolen her breath. She’d tried to attack it first. Nat bit the inside of her cheek. No. Stella had thrown her mug, and it had smashed in the corner, so it had no longer been in the corner. Why wasn’t it on her, on Nat, now? The mug smashed in the corner. It had been in the corner. But it wasn’t when Stella threw the mug. Where was it now that it was done with Stella? Was it coming for her? It had run for Stella before she threw the mug. It must have charged because of something before. What was before? Nat put her arms over her head, hugging her skull tight, trying to protect herself and trying to get herself to think. What had been happening before? Her brain usually worked better than this. Before the mug. Before the crash. Before the gagging and gurgling and the end of both. Before the table. Stella had been looking. At the corner. At the thing. It was looking, that was what set it off. That was it!
And that’s when Nat started hyperventilating. The curses were back, pushing thoughts out. Bile was rising in her throat, and she just couldn’t get breath in. Was it choking her now, too? She breathed faster, deeper. Something in her brain, something louder than the curses, which were growing in volume and variety, screamed, Stop!
Nat pulled in one large, deep breath, then held it high in her chest. She exhaled slowly. She breathed in through her nose, out through her mouth, which tasted of stomach acid and Easy Mac. She kept breathing, slowly, establishing a nice, regular pace, focusing on that. She forgot her arms were over her head, and they fell naturally to her sides. She forgot her eyes were closed so tight, and eventually her muscles loosened, still not opening the lids. She kept breathing. Soon, she knew what she had to do.
Nat opened her eyes, slowly. She stared straight ahead and just saw her living room, not her roommate’s corpse and not her roommate’s killer. Good. She stood, carefully unfolding her legs, which felt strange, either from her having sat on them for too long or from the drug, she couldn’t be sure. She wobbled slightly to her bedroom, and she knew she couldn’t drive. That was OK. She’d figured she couldn’t. Nat picked up her bag, keeping her gaze level, and put it on her back. She turned, slowly, back to her door. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a gray-black shape on her dresser, and she turned her head sharply the other way. She breathed, in through her nose, out through her mouth. She walked out of her bedroom and out of her apartment and down the stairs and out of her building, and she didn’t see the thing once, though she thought it had to be staying close.
Nat got on her bike and began pedaling toward Della. The way riding a bike made her vision sway slightly side to side with each turn of the pedals became nearly overwhelming for her, and she couldn’t believe she’d never noticed how strange it was before. Focusing on breathing slowly was harder now as she exerted herself, anxious to get to the grad lab. Cars’ side-view mirrors seemed to jut out feet farther than they ever had before, some of them actively reaching out to pull her off her bike and to the asphalt. She thought she heard jogging footsteps behind her, but she didn’t dare to look. She saw there were other things, just like the one following her – things peering out of the branches of trees, things clasped to the undercarriages of cars, things wrapped around lampposts, their round, black eyes fixed on their targets. She stared straight ahead as she pedaled, hoping none of them noticed her awareness of them.
It was later than she’d expected, and the sun was almost gone, setting at her back. The way the light played along the bottom of the clouds, though, smelled off, like bad eggs. She felt her stomach souring again and pedaled harder. The sound of footsteps sped up.
By the time she reached De La Ville Hall, Nat was standing, stomping on the pedals to propel herself forward, forcing people off the sidewalks. When she could see the hall’s front door, she leaped off the bike, letting it fall to the ground and skid on its side on the concrete walkway.
She sprinted for the door, swiped her badge, and waited for what felt like minutes for the red light next to the card reader to turn green. When it did, she yanked the door open, skirted around it, and pulled it shut directly behind her. Without looking back through the mostly glass door, she ran down the dark hall to the grad lab. She took her keys out of her pocket and saw that all of them were long, black, thin filaments waving at wicked speeds, slicing at the air around them. Nat’s jaw clenched, and she stared intently at the filaments.
“You’re not real,” she hissed at them. When they continued to be filaments, she slammed them against the heavy door, and they made metal-on-metal scraping sounds. She threw them at the door, over and over, hearing the scraping and seeing the filaments that had killed Stella. “You’re keys. You’re keys!” She stopped and looked at them. They were keys. She stared at them blankly, trying to remember which one worked the grad lab door. Her attention narrowed, only taking in the keys and the lock. Five tries later, she was in. She slipped inside, noticing the black-gray appendage sliding into the opening behind her and turning her head quickly away from the door before she could see the rest. She could feel the panic rising in her chest again, and she shook her head, denying its power over her. She dug her nails into her palms, letting the pain help bring her back down.
She was in control.
She went to the fridge and grabbed a Coke in a glass bottle, poured it down the drain, rinsed it out. She began mixing, no longer needing the cookbook, and the strain of working from memory kept her from thinking about anything else. When she was done, she scooped up the Erlenmeyer flask and the Coke bottle, stoppering the former and capping the latter, and she sprinted out of the grad lab and out the back door of Della, to the parking lot the small university’s entire faculty shared.
Nat kept sprinting until she was a good distance from the building, directly in front of the grassy median that divided the faculty lot from the student lot. That’s when she turned back. She stopped in the long shadow of the median’s sole tree, and she looked behind her. The thing had been running, too, a few dozen feet back. When she looked at it, it stopped.
“I see you!” she shouted, almost laughing now. The thing’s back straightened. “I saw what you did.” She unstoppered the Erlenmeyer flask and slid the Coke bottle inside. “And I bet you’ve seen a lot of what I’ve done.” She smiled as she restoppered the flask. “Or maybe this will come as a surprise.” Her voice echoed across the asphalt, bouncing off the distant brick of the science building.
The thing charged her, its gait fluid, its strides long. The distance between them closed fast.
“Come on,” Nat grunted. “Get closer, you shit.”
It was almost on her now, maybe ten feet away. Too close to miss.
Nat threw the flask, with the bottle inside, and dove onto the grassy median, rolling as she hit the ground and landing hard on the asphalt on the other side. She heard the explosion and pressed her body flat against the ground, hoping the curb, median and tree would prove enough to protect her from the percussive force. She felt an intense heat wash over her back and then disappear. She heard a crackling, like a bonfire at its peak.
She lifted her head, but she couldn’t see anything, so she propped herself up on her elbows and peered over the median.
The thing, rolling on the ground, was engulfed in bright, yellow-orange flames, flailing, screeching. Its extended filaments curled and crumbled in the intense heat, already becoming ash. One of its legs had been blown clean off in the explosion and was blackening a few feet away.
The flames danced, reflected in Nat’s huge pupils as she stood, staring.
Cameron DeOrdio lives in Astoria, Queens. He writes comic books and short prose stories, along with copy for business-to-business technology clients. His work has appeared in The Rampallian and V23 Magazine, among others. His comics credits include Archie Comics' Josie and the Pussycats. He received an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where he studied comic scripting alongside fiction writing.