Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 2073
Dropping a cat from the top ledge of a ten-story office building was not the best way to remain hidden, but it was necessary.
Daniel Hutchinson assumed the cat was a shape-shifter—one of a thousand sinister prowlers roaming the streets, awaiting the proper moment to attack from his blindside and take him down.
As the cat dropped, its sinews and muscles popped, crackled. Falling, it shifted from its cat form into a hideous creature. The cat seemed to welcome its oncoming fate eagerly and without fear. With forepaws outstretched, it leaned toward the pavement like a high diver straightens to break through the water’s surface. To Daniel’s surprise, the impact against the concrete didn’t kill it. Instead, the cat rolled and pivoted around to face him, altering more and more until it became the creature that had followed him the past six days.
The cat’s head twisted, stretched. Its snout elongated. The feline resemblance faded, replaced by a more pointed nose. Its muzzle contorted further. Sharp fangs sprouted over its small teeth.
A delighted purr rumbled in its throat as the shifter understood the damage it could inflict should it span the distance between them.
The shifter’s paws swelled, growing larger and wider with thicker claws lengthening outward. Scratching the pavement with a raking swipe, it gazed at him with glowing red eyes, and licked its forepaw with menacing mockery.
“You are persistent,” Daniel whispered while searching his pocket for a cigarette. “Why are you following me?”
The shifter, he feared, would eventually catch him and rip those angry talons into his flesh and kill him, leaving his body an empty shell—useless, lifeless, dead.
The creature waited for him to make an error of judgment that left him vulnerable. The longer Daniel trekked his mission without sleep, the more mistakes he’d make. Yet, he wondered why this shifter pursued him with untiring determination.
Normally, shifters stalked human scavengers less than an hour before abandoning their pursuit, observing more from curiosity than anything else. But this one was different. Different because it studied him—his movements, his mannerisms, and mostly, his fear.
A new fear possessed Daniel. The cat shifter had been the first to reach the rooftop. How long before other shifters accomplished the same?
The shifter, disguised as a yellow tabby, sat on the rooftop when he arrived. Friendly in its approach, it mewed and cried, which struck a nerve in Daniel. The cat was identical to his cat, Morton, but Morton had died during his childhood years ago.
Daniel rubbed his tired, bloodshot eyes, trying to make sense of what he saw. Deep inside, he knew this wasn’t his cat.
The beast offered its ploy—toying with his mind—hoping he’d let down his guard, but he didn’t. No matter how tired and frayed his mind was, he saw through the beast’s weak imitation of Morton.
When he had called the cat, it pranced eagerly and leapt into his arms. He stroked the cat’s neck for several seconds, satiating the creature’s guise, before he tossed it over the ledge to prevent it from attacking him. Not a difficult undertaking for someone who’d allowed his emotions to shut down so he didn’t have to deal with the depression of reality.
His true fear resided with the fact that shifters didn’t die easily. The cat simply brushed itself off uninjured and observed him without fear. Daniel’s solid, six-foot two-inch, muscled frame didn’t provide any advantage over shifters’ shrewd intellectual assaults.
Intellectual. That the shifters were and this troubled him, too. Recent shifter dissections had shown evolutionary advancements within their brain structures. Their brains were becoming more developed, like humans. This discovery made Daniel and Dr. Helmsby wonder if shifters were incorporating human genome into their own, granting them a more advanced intelligence.
Unlike other predatory animals, shifters set ambushes. They baited traps to snare humans, and in desperate circumstances, other shifters. Using tattered pieces of clothing and mannequin parts, they constructed decoys in dark alleys to lure humans from the safety of the rooftops.
This trickery Daniel learned early on. If no reply came when he called to a decoy, he allowed no further investigation. It was a game of hunter versus prey. He wasn’t sure which he considered himself.
Hunter or prey?
A cold breeze flowed around him, blowing his long, braided hair in riveting waves. His piercing eyes, blue like shimmering ice, studied the streets. Uneasiness welled inside him while he watched the dumpsters. His nemesis was no longer alone.
The clouded skies were lightless, and the streets, darker. Without electricity the alleys and streets were dens of ominous macabre devastation.
As the mist of evening settled, forming a thin layer of fog, all that penetrated the haze were the bodiless, violent eyes.
Illuminating eyes. Eyes filled with lunacy that continually haunted him. They dared him to enter their shadowed domain.
True darkness only came when the creatures blinked in unison. Soon, though, as nightfall settled and the barometric pressure dropped, the mist would grow into a soupy thickness obscuring the brightness of their eyes and burying their gaze in impenetrable darkness.
The mists had grown worse and showed no sign of relenting or receding. The area once thriving industrially was now smothered by continual dusk. Daniel wondered if shifters could see him even when the fog blocked them from his view.
Dressed in a tattered leather jacket, Daniel patted the jagged blade that hung from his belt. The action was more a taunting gesture to the shifters than for his self-assurance. Formed from scrap metal beaten into a sword-like tool with sharp flat edges, the blade gashed through a shifter’s pelt in one quick stroke.
Below, the red-eyed shifter hissed and recoiled, disappearing into the crowded darkness of the alley where its green-eyed companions waited.
Although Daniel occasionally carried a 9mm, the weapon didn’t offer the protection he needed to survive. Bullets left clean wounds that didn’t stop shifters during their attacks. Their unique metabolisms allowed quick recovery.
If you’d like to read more, Predators of Drakness: Aftermath is available to download from the Kindle store. You can also visit the author’s blog.