The dog growled again. Where it had come from Sylvie didn’t know and why the red-eyed creatures seemed scared of it was an even greater mystery, given there was only one dog and many of them. They had retained a perimeter line but it was metres away from the car now and retreating.
The steam rising from the dog’s mottled grey coat gave it an other-worldly look and she could believe for a moment it had come from place far beyond the known world to protect her. In twenty-three years she had come to understand the Universe worked in strange ways and she believed she was meant to be here, as much as she didn’t want to be, and that her time was not yet up.
The inhuman tide stopped. They weren’t far enough away to give her a head start on foot back into the city, escaping temporarily unseen through one of the doors facing away from them, but enough to give her a chance to retrieve the oxygen bottle-the only weapon she possessed against them. The canister lay between the dog and the eyes, but she had no idea if the dog would be hostile to her if she tried to step out. She could believe in a protective canine spirit out here in the never-world of the Dead Zone but finding it was actually real, another thing entirely. If she got out she might find the dog just a vicious towards her or a figment of her imagination from the knock on the head.
No time like the present.
Nothing happened when she tried to unlock the door. Nothing after a desperate round of thumping, swearing, reaching through to the handle outside and counter leaving of the inner lock, she remained imprisoned inside the car. Whatever had seized the engine had also done its worst on the locking mechanism.
Sylvie wanted freedom, she understood that only too well now, but it came at a price and now was the time to decide if she was willing to pay the ultimate cost – her life. She’d promised herself a new life when she walked away, so she’d fight. The thought of dying out here and the hands of whatever abomination they were, motivated her rather than mired her in fear.
Climbing back into the front she grabbed her backpack and stuffed her small arsenal in there, keeping the bottle of alcohol and matches in her pocket, along with the torch.
Knowing she could conjure fire was a small comfort, even though she knew it was doubtful there would ever be time to strike a match. Only now she realised she’d forgotten to utter an incantation to the fire spirits, asking them to help her with the bomb. Maybe if she’d done so it would have gone off. She was beyond the realm of known experience and running on pure adrenalin and instinct.
Sylvie looked out. The eyes were moving. Slowly. Carefully. Closing in again.
The dog held its mark, pacing side to side, keeping the same line and never giving an inch as the monsters drew nearer. Sylvie decided to take her chances along side the dog and fight out in the open where she had space, rather than be trapped with them in the car in the final moments. She wished now she’d taken some sort of self defence class or invested years in martial arts like Doug had, rather than teasing him about being a meat head.
Reaching inside the hoodie, beyond the layers of clothing Sylvie found the amulet which never left her neck and holding it a moment she uttered a prayer first to the Goddess for protect and then to the fire spirits before leaning back and kicking the rest of the glass out of the window with the heel of her boot. A safe, though awkward exit awaited her. Making a final check of the window to ensure she wasn’t going to stab by a stray piece of glass, she threw the bag out first, then with a final look back inside the car, she went out, feet first, dangling precariously half in and half, bottom on the window ledge, when her foot hit the running board. And she was out, with no grace or style, but in one piece standing in hip-high rag weed.
The air was still and so cold it tore at her throat with every inhalation. She flicked the torch on to find where her bag lay and bent down, pulling back with a sneeze, covered in ragweed seeds. Despite being in the dead of winter the weeds weren’t just growing, but flourishing, many adorned with flowers and their noxious pollen. Sylvie sneezed again, rubbing at her nose with the side of her hand. There wasn’t time to stop and pick off all the seeds. Worst things awaited her than a severe allergic reaction
The dog was becoming more and more agitated, running from side to side, barking and snarling in the clear ground beyond the grass. She threw the backpack over her shoulder and made her way out of the ragweed, standing a few steps back from the dog. The eyes had picked up speed.
Sylvie knew she had to get the oxygen canister ignited and then run for her life back to the other side of the wall, back into the city. Disappear for good.
While the dog patrolled the space ahead of her, she bent down, pulling open her back pack looking for something combustible. If she could get enough of a fire going the oxygen rich air would ignite. The fire spirits would see to it this time if she offered them up something in return for their help. Her fingers brushed the battered cover of her mother’s book. She hesitated for a moment and with tears blurring her vision, she started ripping the brittle pages from the book, scrunching them up and making a tiny pyre.
The dog yelped and growled, moving backwards towards her. Red eye-shaped cut outs in the darkness began to transform into human-like shapes, gathering speed, closing the half circle perimeter around them.
Sylvie emptied the bottle of alcohol onto and around the pile of paper and across in a line on either side as far as she dared to venture, making every last drop count. Then kneeling at the torn book, Sylvie struck a match and uttered an ancient incantation Maia had taught her.
The dog turned for a moment to look at her, then back at the malevolent crowd, converging on them with sickening speed. Seeing the fire the dog retreated and stood beside her. She roughly rubbed its head and they watched the flames greedily devour the last link to her mother and the noxious weeds around it, the line of alcohol lighting up in a pathetic barrier. The heat was building though and the flames spreading. The tide of red eyes but not stopped it. They had had less than five metres but Sylvie didn’t dare staying to see what happened when they reached the fire. Pulling the backpack onto both shoulders she turned to the dog and said, “Run.”
Incorporates the challenges from Paul Anderson (rag weed) and Diane (invocation of fire spirits)