Madness of the Moon, Madame Tan's Freakshow, book 2
I never worried about walking alone late at night. My building was safe, all of it, even the underground garage. Spacious and brightly lit, it never made me concerned about being on my own.
Tonight however, the uneasy feeling of being watched nagged at me the moment I climbed out of my car. I locked the car and headed to the elevator, faster than usual.
The clipped staccato of my high heels hitting the concrete floor echoed through the deserted garage. But there was another sound—an indistinct shuffling of someone else’s footsteps—that seemed to come from the row of cars parked right behind me.
I whipped around, scanning the vehicles and the space around them with my gaze, but saw nothing out of ordinary.
Another sound, a low rumbling, that appeared to roll in from all sides made my insides freeze. Fear brushed against the skin of my arms, pricking it with goosebumps. I darted my gaze between the rows of parked vehicles and the concrete support columns.
No one was there.
Yet when I started walking again—keys clutched in my sweaty hand—the sound of someone following me came again. I slid the narrow blades of the keys between my trembling fingers, fully intending to fight back if attacked.
A distinct sound of breathing behind me spurred my fear into panic.
There was no doubt left, someone was after me. And they were running, too. Their laboured breathing came closer and closer. Instead of soles of shoes, their footfalls sounded softer, like paws, with screeching of claws against the concrete floor.
Too terrified to glance back, I slammed into the closed elevator doors at full speed, frantically hitting its call button, again and again. The doors wouldn’t open, the elevator was slowly crawling to me from the upper floors somewhere. When it’d finally get here, it might be too late…
The hoarse breathing of my pursuer was now right behind me.
Cornered, I had no choice but fight.
I swiveled on my heels, lashing out with my hand—the keys clutched in my sweaty fist, their sharp ends sticking out between my fingers.
My breath choked me, lodging in my throat, when I came face to face with my pursuer.
It was no human.
Whoever or whatever it was, the creature must’ve come straight from a nightmare.
It stood on all fours, its great paws spread wide. Lips drawn back, it bared its white teeth—narrow, long, and sharp like rows of slightly curved spikes or needles. Saliva dripped from its mouth. When it hit the floor, it sizzled, sending tendrils of steam up in the air.
The creature’s large, red eyes seemed to glow in the artificial light of the garage—wild and unhinged.
And… Oh, my God… Were those horns? Sprouting, straight and spikey, from the side of its head?
What was this monster?
Unable to tear my eyes away from the hellish creature, I kept hitting the elevator’s call button mechanically, like a broken robot.
Would the elevator even help me if it came? Now, that the beast was barely a leap away from me?
It jerked my way. I jumped, squeezing out a pitiful, choked sound from my throat.
Instead of leaping at me, the beast shoved away from the concrete with its front paws then rose up on its hind ones.
It appeared even bigger now, towering over me, seven or eight feet of flesh and thick black fur.
Frozen in terror, I couldn’t scream. I could barely breathe. My knees shook, my legs growing too weak to support my own weight. I leaned back against the elevator doors. Did I even want them to open now? Even if I made it inside, the doors would never close fast enough to lock the beast out. Then, I’d risk to be trapped in the elevator with this murderous monster from hell…
Tipping sideways, I inched to the right, toward the corner of the wall that enclosed the elevator shaft.
The long things I’d mistaken for horns turned out to be the creature’s ears. They twitched, then moved back as the monster flattened them against its skull. Tossing its great head back, it roared. So loud, the deafening sound pressed against my chest. The parked vehicles around us appeared to shake.
How did no one hear this? Why was nobody coming to my rescue?
I staggered one more step to the right. The wall behind me ended abruptly, and I tumbled backwards to the ground. My ass painfully hit the concrete floor around the corner of the enclosed elevator shaft.
The ding of the elevator finally announced its arrival. It was followed by the swishing sound of the doors opening. Scrambling to my hands and knees, I carefully poked my head around the corner.
Was there any chance at all for me to sneak into the elevator and get out of here? The stairs weren’t an option—the monster stood right between me and them.
The creature remained on its hind paws. No longer roaring, it was sniffing the air in deep hurried breaths.
Could it smell me?
I ducked back, taking my cover behind the wall instead of trying to get into to the elevator in the monster’s plain sight. Even if the beast couldn’t smell me, my heart pounded so hard, I feared it would hear it.
“Get him! Now!” A male voice shouted out of nowhere.
I glanced out again to find a group of men surrounding the beast. Several of them held a black net stretched between them.
The animal must have escaped from the zoo or a circus. Thankfully, the people got here just in time to capture and return it where it belonged. That explained this whole thing.
I slumped against the wall, relief draining the fear and tension out of my body.
“The beast” must be a bear, a panther, a large wolf or something just as ordinary. Fear had simply made it look “monstrous” to me.
I didn’t know exactly what animals were housed in the Miami Zoo. Neither had I heard of any circus coming to town. But I worked a lot and didn’t always keep up with the events in the city.
Sitting with my back to the wall, I remained out of sight, waiting for my breathing to return to normal. This had turned out to be quite a night.
The roar of the animal tore through the garage once again. Sharp and loud, it reverberated under the ceiling, bouncing off the surrounding concrete.
I looked out of my hiding place again, to see whether it was safe to come out.
The men threw the net over the animal, wrapping it around. Red sparks flashed along the net where it touched the fur of the animal. It roared again—the sound filled with agony.
The poor thing was clearly in pain.
I gripped the concrete corner with my fingers.
The net obviously hurt the animal that growled and fought desperately against it. The red streaks of light that flashed along the thin black rope of the net left smoldering scorch marks in his fur.
Whether the net had electric current running through it or had been soaked in some kind of a chemical, why did these people have to resort to such cruelty? Why not just use tranquilizer to subdue the animal?
“Steady, loup-garou,” one of the men gritted through his teeth. “Do what you’re told and you’ll live, and so will your sweetheart.”
Sweetheart? What did he mean by that?
What kind of animal control people were these, anyway? I searched for any kind of lettering or insignia on their black t-shirts, and found none. They were incredibly similar in their appearance, I noticed. Tall and well-build, all of them were bald and had identical tattoos that covered their necks and right arms. Their behavior was closer to that of a gang than to the people who worked with animals.
Dread trickled cold down my back under my blouse. Whatever these men really were, it no longer felt safe for me to come out at all. They didn’t appear to have spotted me here, and I decided to remain hidden, furtively watching them while being unseen.
One man came closer to their newly-captured trophy, securing the net tighter around the tormented beast. The animal struggled against his bonds, then jerked his head, snapping his jaws at his captor. The red sparks appeared to jump off the net, running up the man’s arm tattoo.
“Careful, Dez! Watch out for his teeth,” another man warned.
Dez shoved the heel of his heavy boot into the animal’s snout.
“His teeth will soon add to Madame’s jewellery collection if he doesn’t smarten up,” he scoffed.
The elevator doors closed at that moment. Someone from the upper floors must’ve called the elevator up. I jerked back and out of sight once again.
“The girl?” Dez yelled. “Where did she go?”