He should have been back by now.
The words echoed uncomfortably in Desdemona Jaren's mind. They drowned out the merry banter of her two companions as they stood beside her in the vestibule of Mama Luigi's Italian Restaurant. She looked through the rain splattered window, into the greyish-black night, trying to control her growing unease. It was still raining outside. The city was waterlogged and shiny wet, providing a tempting incentive for people to stay indoors. The streets were deserted and she kept hoping she would see the dark cut by a swath of headlights. She pulled her phone out of her tiny purse to check the time. He'd been gone more than twenty minutes already. Something isn't right.
"Des, don't you think Chase should have been back already? I mean, we parked no more than five minutes away," said Mara, breathing life into the thoughts that were bouncing around in Des's head.
Garret, Mara's boyfriend, looked at his watch. He wrinkled his brow, a move he did so frequently, that Des was surprised it wasn't already permanently etched there. "Yeah, he should have been back. I wonder what's keeping him."
Des punched the speed dial button on her cell phone to call Chase. It rang several times and went to voicemail. She ended the call without leaving a message and went back to monitoring the activity on the vacant street.
She peered through the window, looking as far up and down the street as she possibly could. Impulsively, she pushed the door open and stepped outside. She immediately felt large raindrops make polka dotted patterns across her blouse, rendering Chase's act of getting the car to pick them up, completely moot. He'd be mildly annoyed that his sacrifice would be for nothing, but Des was worried. Mara and Garret followed her through the restaurant door and met with a similar, polka dotted fate.
“Something’s happened,” she stated. She was fighting to keep the panic at bay. Even though she had no real reason for the way she was feeling, the horribleness sat inside her like a stomach-flu induced knot. Something bad had happened.
“He’s fine,” Garret offered, reassuringly. “Let’s start walking towards where we were parked. We’ll meet up with him as he drives by. We’re already wet. Might as well.”
Des turned and walked briskly down the street with Mara and Garret behind her, walking the slow, staggered walk of the mildly tipsy and tightly snuggled together. The distance quickly separated between them as Des hurried anxiously ahead. She stopped suddenly, looking in front of her and then to the side. Mara and Garret caught up to her.
“What if he took the short cut back to the parking garage instead of keeping to the road?” Des wondered out loud. She didn’t bother to wait for an answer from her friends. “Mara, you and I’ll take the short cut. Garret, keep along the road and watch out for him. If you find him, just have him double back and pick us up at the parking garage.”
“I don’t know if I like the idea of you two on your own, going through the back alleys. It’s nighttime and it’s not exactly safe,” Garret said, protectively.
“That’s why Mara and I will go together. We have to cover both routes so we don’t miss him if he comes along. It’s the best arrangement and we have to find Chase quickly,” she said, urgently. The feeling in her stomach was getting worse.
“I don’t know…”
“Garret, there’s no time to argue. Come on.” Des grabbed Mara by the hand, pulling her away from Garret and off towards the alley. She glanced back to make sure Garret was following her orders. She noted with satisfaction that he was already down the street.
Des half-dragged Mara down the alleyway and turned the corner. In front of them was a startling display. They paused briefly, attempting to make sense of the scene in front of them. A dark figure hovered over another, crumpled figure dressed in Chase’s smartly tailored dress pants and ocean blue dress shirt. The head of the crumpled figure was cocked awkwardly to the side, while the dark figure’s head bobbed ever so slightly over top of it.
“Hey! Hey, you! What’s going on there?” Des yelled, as she dropped Mara’s hand and started running towards the unnatural tableau in front of her. Suddenly, she froze as white-hot terror coursed through her.
The dark figure lifted its hood-covered head. Instantaneously, there was an incomprehensible mishmash of horror. Pale, sallow, almost luminescent, ghostly skin. Sunken cheek bones on a disfigured face. Red, glowing eyes. Sharp, pointed teeth. And blood. Blood dripping from the pointed teeth. Blood gushing from the neck of the crumpled figure. Blood spilled onto the crumpled figure’s clothes, the path distorted by the small rivers born of the falling rain.
The crumpled figure was falling. By the time it hit the pavement, it was the only figure remaining in the grotesque scene. Des snapped out of her terror and ran over. She quickly kneeled down beside the crumpled figure and gently turned it over. It was Chase. Chase had been attacked.
“Dear God, no,” Des breathed. There were two puncture wounds on the side of Chase’s neck, where blood was gurgling out. With barely a thought, she ripped off her blouse and pressed it firmly to the side of Chase’s neck, trying to keep the blood from leaking out of his body.
“Oh my god, what is happening? What was that thing?” Mara shrieked. “What was that? Oh my god, what was that!” Mara was still rooted to the spot, throwing a hysterical fit.
“Mara! Stop freaking out! I need you to call 911,” Des commanded, trying her best to twist to look at her best friend, while keeping pressure on Chase’s wound.
Mara made no movement towards getting her phone. She stood mumbling in disbelief. “Oh, dear God in heaven, what was that?”
“Mara! Please, we can’t freak out right now. Call 911. He’s hurt badly,” Des begged her friend.
Mara obediently pulled her cell phone out of her purse and dialed the numbers with shaky hands. The phone wasn’t connecting. She tried dialling the numbers again, her hands becoming increasingly unsteady. “It’s not going through! I can’t get a signal,” she wailed.
"You have to run back to the street and get help,” Des instructed as calmly as she possibly could. She looked down at her blood soaked blouse against Chase’s neck. His face was devoid of color. She swallowed to keep the tears back, otherwise, she would never get the words out. “Please Mara, you have to go quickly. He’s dying.”
Des’s words snapped her out of the hysteria. Mara turned and ran as fast as she could down the alleyway. Des watched her until she turned the corner leading back to the main street. When she could no longer see her, she turned back to assess Chase's condition. She kept one hand firmly pressed against the wound and picked up his wrist in her other hand. She felt around for his pulse. She couldn’t find one. Stay calm, Des, she told herself and kept moving her fingers on his wrist, searching. She felt something. She pressed a little harder on the spot. There it was. A pulse. Faint, but still there.
“Please, Chase. Please hang on. You have to stay strong. Help is on the way. You just stay with me until it comes. Please Chase, stay with me,” she begged.
She couldn’t help the tears, which blurred her eyes and mixed with the streaming rain. She took a deep breath. She didn’t have the luxury of losing control right now. Chase needed her. She had to follow her own words and stay strong.
Chase stirred and let out a soft moan. His eyes opened slightly.“Des?” he whispered.
“I’m here. I’m right here, Chase. I’m not leaving you.”
“I – I’m sorry.” Chase struggled to catch his breath. “I wanted… with you… always.” Another struggle. “Love you.” He closed his eyes.
“Chase, I – .”
The only thing Des knew after that, was darkness. The inside of the ambulance came slowly into focus, as Des opened her eyes and adjusted to her surroundings. She was lying on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask on her face, that was making her nasal passages dry and sore. She struggled to take the mask off, to get some relief from the bombardment on her airways. She was met with resistance as she tried to take it off.
“Leave it on. It’ll help you. Just try to relax,” the ambulance attendant said.
What the hell happened? Des asked herself. She looked out the open ambulance doors into the alleyway. The rain was still coming down. Chase. She sat up and yanked the mask off.
“Where’s Chase? Is he okay? Please tell me he’s going to be okay?” Des pleaded.
“I don’t know. When we got here, you were the only one in the alley. Looks like someone knocked you out pretty good.”
The only one in the alley? Des looked down at her blood stained hands. Chase’s blood. She had no top on, she was only wearing her bra, also covered in Chase’s blood. She pulled the blanket back up to herself. “We have to find him. He’s badly hurt. He’s not going to make it if we don’t find him soon.”
“You should lie back down, Miss. The police are looking for him.”
“Where’s Mara? And Garret? Are they alright?”
“They’re giving their statements to the police. You should really just try and rest right now.”
“I can’t rest. Chase is out there somewhere and he’s injured. We have to find him.”
It was far from ideal, but there was no choice. She was running out of time. It wouldn’t be long before they were closing in on their location, but he was fading fast. His heartbeat was already so weak. She was afraid that he was already beyond the point where she could help him.
She kicked in the back office door of an abandoned industrial warehouse. Despite the stickers on the window, she was relatively sure that it wasn’t protected by an alarm service. She carried Chase into the building, listening for the tell-tale beeps of an alarm, prepared to flee if one went off. Grateful silence. She gently laid him down on one of the desks and relaxed slightly. If the space had been alarmed, it would have already gone off. She doubled back to the door, closed it, then flew over to her patient.
She lightly slapped Chase’s face. There was no response. She needed him to be conscious, even if only marginally. She couldn’t save him if he succumbed to the black oblivion.
“Chase! Chase, I know you can hear me. You have to wake up. We don’t have time. You need this. It will make you better.”
She raised her wrist to her mouth and savagely tore into it with her teeth. She pressed her opened wrist to Chase’s lips and let her blood flow past his slackened jaw, towards the back of his throat. Blood dripped out of the corners of his mouth and trickled down his chin. As it hit his tongue, it revived him and gave him the energy to form his lips around her wrist. Every mouthful made him a little stronger. He grabbed onto her wrist and held it tighter to his mouth, his lips now sealed around the wound so that not one precious drop of the life-giving fluid was wasted.
She pulled her arm out of his grip. He reached for her and made a small noise of protest. He wanted more. He needed more.
“That’s all I can give you. It'll have to do for now,” she said softly to him. “You need to rest. They’ll be looking for you, but I don’t have the strength to carry you any longer and you aren’t strong enough to carry yourself. It’s not the best of accommodations, but we’ll have to stay here for awhile.”
“Who are you?” he asked. Chase looked through weak, hazy eyes at the beautiful woman with flawless, caramel colored, porcelain skin and long, flowing obsidian hair. He was confused. He had thought he was still with Des, but this woman wasn’t her.
“Someone who needed to save you,” she replied.
Chase closed his eyes and went limp.