ZANE BLINKED AND THE man was facing the street again. All he could see of him was his back. No blood, no white eyes, just the man’s back. He was talking to the woman. They laughed.

Zane rubbed at his eyes with his fists, a clutch of something uneasy taking hold of his chest. His breathing became rapid with twin jets of steam shooting out of his nostrils like the exhaust from a race car. He tried to focus on something else.

Traffic had slowed to a crawl. He watched over the tops of the cars as a taxi cab pulled in at the curb on the other side of the street, directly opposite of where he stood. A thin plume of dirty smoked rolled gently from the driver’s side window which had been open just a crack.

Zane watched as the lit end of a cigarette emerged from the space between the top of the open window and the door jamb. The end flicked and grey ash fell to the snowy ground below. There was something about the taxi that sent a jolt of fear down his spine. It didn’t look quite right. It was a yellow taxi, but it seemed to lurk at the curb, watching him as smoke burped from the tailpipe.

He put his hand back in the pocket of the coat and clutched at the gun.

A bus rumbled by, blocking the cab from his sight for a moment and allowing the fear inside him to fade like the bubbles from an open can of soda.

Then his attention shifted to a tall, stooped man who strode with purpose from a building across the street. The man went right for the taxi and Zane felt drops of sweat form on the back of his neck. The man clutched at a briefcase and wore a long, dark coat with a grey scarf. Zane watched as he opened the rear door to the cab, pausing for a moment before ducking in. The man straightened and directed his gaze at Zane, glaring.

Zane’s breath caught in his throat.

The man continued to glare when suddenly his coat spread out at either side of him, forming the membranous wings of a bat.

He had to bite his lip to keep from screaming. The sweat on his neck ran down his back, causing a shiver to roll through him. Tears formed at the corners of his eyes and his breathing ratcheted back up to race car levels as the thing with the bat’s wings locked its eyes with him, hatred and fury beaming forth from its yellow cat’s eyes.

Zane began to feel light-headed and everything began to spin. His legs turned to jelly and he felt for a moment that the ground was about to rush up and meet him. He didn’t want to pass out. He’d be vulnerable there on the sidewalk, in the snow, surrounded by his watchers. But then his bus arrived, blocking the sight of the creature on the other side of the street, and his world slid back into normality.

He boarded the bus, his unease bubbling just at the surface as he entered the cramped space. The moment he reached the top step and faced the aisle, all conversation – which to that point had been loud and boisterous – ended as all eyes swept toward him. The eyes continued to follow him on the long walk down the aisle to the back of the bus and it wasn’t until Zane sat alone on the rear bench, that the whispering had begun.

The bus lurched forward and lumbered out into the busy street. Zane was finding it difficult to ignore the people around him. Each passenger had turned around in their seat to stare at him. Even the driver, Zane noticed with alarm, had turned around in his seat to glare at him as the bus moved along down the street. He waited for the inevitable sound of steel and glass crunching beneath the heavy bus as they were sure to hit something, but had been lucky so far.

His sweat glands flowed more freely as in icy chill fell over him. Why was everyone looking at him? What had he done?

A young couple near the front began to whisper to each other. They gestured threateningly in Zane’s direction and nodded their heads. It was if they had just made their minds up about something, he just wasn’t sure what, but their faces were set and resolute.

He ran his hands over his lap, over and over, as he tried to pull his gaze away from the other passengers. He turned to look out the window on the driver’s side of the bus. He watched the shops as they passed them by. The snow continued to fall.

The bus stopped for a red light and Zane noticed a man in a black hoodie dancing in place on the corner ahead, the cords of ear buds snaking out of his ears, coming together and ending at a small electronic device in his left hand. He suddenly stopped and turned in Zane’s direction. Their eyes met. He could see the hatred and the judgment in the man’s eyes. The man shook his fist violently in Zane’s direction. The man mouthed a curse. The man reached into the pockets on the front of his hoodie and slowly pulled something black and metallic free. It was a gun, a revolver just like Zane’s, a Smith and Wesson Model 36. Yet it wasn’t quite the same. The man’s gun didn’t look real. It was too big. Almost comically so.

The man in the hoodie pointed the gun in the bus’s direction and Zane dropped to the floor, screaming. The bus began to move again. The light had turned green.

Zane got back into his seat. He swiped a hand across his forehead. It was drenched in sweat. His hair was slick with it.

No one was looking his way any longer. The passengers were all facing forward in their seats. They were calm and quiet. Stoic. Dossal.

An old woman in the seat in front of him turned and smiled.

“They’re all going to kill you," she said, gesturing to the other people on the bus.

“What?” he said, his mouth going dry.

“You won’t live to see the next stop,” she said and turned back around without another word.

“Wait,” Zane yelled. “What are you talking about?”

He stood and grabbed her by the arm, pulling her violently to her feet.

“Talk to me,” he shouted at her.

“You’re hurting me,” she said through teeth clenched in pain.

The other passengers rose. The two or three near him shouted and grabbed at him. He threw the old woman to the ground and backed up.

“Stay away from me,” Zane screamed.

He felt something in his coat pocket. The gun.

He reached for it and pulled it out. It was cold and heavy, but it fit just right in his hand. It was comforting … relaxing.

Everything slowed.

A scream erupted from somewhere up front. The primal scream of a warrior on the attack. The gun in Zane’s hand rose and his finger found the trigger.

He squeezed and nothing was ever the same.


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