Chaney fell, the asphalt tearing into her bare knees. She scrambled to her feet. From a white clapboard house just ahead and to her right, a woman and teenage boy stepped out onto their front porch.
“Get back inside!” Chaney shouted.
The woman on the porch shrieked, pulling the boy back through the screen door. Chaney could hear the Beast coming up behind her, its paws hitting the roadway, claws scraping asphalt.
The blaring of a car horn. A blue and white patrol car bearing the effigy of the State seal and the words IRONWOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT on its doors swerved past her, almost running her down in the intersection. Tires squealed as it slid to a stop. Coming from the side street in front of the Post Office, the driver hadn’t seen her. Or the monster that pursued her.
He saw the Beast too late.
It leapt up onto the hood of the car, its weight driving the front bumper down to bounce against the highway. One knotted foreleg drew back, yellow claws splayed.
The claw smashed through the windshield. The glass–holding together even as it shattered–folded around the man’s body like a shroud of crystal and spiderweb as the Beast jerked him out through the windshield. Chaney had a glimpse of the claws poking out through the man’s back–
*It tore right through him!*
–as the Beast shook the man’s body and the remnants of the windshield from its foreleg. The Beast’s thick, serpentine tail flayed the air. The Beast turned to look at Chaney Kidde. Its red eyes glowed like neon.
Go on, those eyes said. Run. I want to chase you some more. This is fun.
But Chaney couldn’t run. She understood now the impetus that kept the deer rooted in place before the headlights of the oncoming truck, the paralysis of fear experienced by the prey animal beneath the gaze of the predator.
Her legs gave. Her chest heaved. Her stomach threatened to disgorge itself of the popcorn and lemonade she had just consumed. Chaney Kidde *knew*.
*I’m going to die.*
She closed her eyes.
The clap of thunder, so loud, so close it caused her ears to ring. She opened her eyes and saw the Beast topple from the hood of the police car. It landed on its side, got up with a shake of its head.
Another explosion. A hole opened in the monster’s side, a black clump of fur blown away; blood as black as motor oil sprayed from the wound. The Beast roared, staggering.
Chaney turned towards the voice. A man. A man with a shotgun. She recognized him. Roosevelt Brewster.
“Go!” he shouted. He pumped the smaller cylinder beneath the gun barrel, up and down. The gun spat out an empty shell casing.
The Beast stood up on its hind legs.
“Lord Jesus!” Brewster said.
The Beast staggered back.
“Help me, Lord Jesus!”
Up and down. Another shell ejected, bouncing at his feet. Thunder. The smell of smoke. It stung her eyes, burned her throat.
Up and down. Click went the empty shell on the pavement. BOOM! Up and down. Click. BOOM! Up and down. Click. BOOM!
But the Beast did not fall.
Chaney watched as each new wound opened in the demon flesh. They would boil and foam and leak steam, and then the hole would be gone, closed over.
Up and down. Click. CLICK.
“It’s empty,” Brewster said out loud. Yet he primed the weapon and squeezed the trigger again anyway.
The Beast coughed, grunted. It dropped to all fours, retching. Its entire body shook. It vomited up a mouthful of foam and motor oil.
Then it spat out the handful of shotgun pellets.
They clattered against the pavement as the Beast shook its head, flinging froth from its jaws.
Brewster’s eyes went wide and white.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” he began. “I shall not want…”
And then the Beast attacked.
* * *