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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Five

       Last updated: Thursday, May 11, 2006 15:40 EDT



    She snarled at him, Tom thought – amazed he could think clearly in dragon form. He’d willed himself into being a dragon. Willed himself into it.

    He desired it and pushed. He knew she was going to have problems leaving. He knew she couldn’t fly.

    And he knew she was an idiot for even fighting. They had no chance. But then, neither could he leave her to die alone. She had taken care of him, when she’d found him in suspicious circumstances. She’d shown him more kindness than his own father had. And she was a shifter like him. They were family: bonded deeper than any shared genes, any joint upbringing.

    He shifted suddenly, unexpectedly, leaping in the air, and out of his corner so quickly the other dragons didn’t seem to register it. He had only the time to see that she was cowering, that the dragon above her would finish her. And then he was reaching for her, grabbing her, jumping out the open window, even as she turned to snarl at him.

    But the snarl – lip pulled back from vicious fangs – faltered as she recognized him.

    He held her as gently and firmly as he could. He mustn’t drop her. But neither must he hurt her. He could smell blood from her. He could smell fear.

    He unfurled his wings – huge parachutes. Above him, the other dragons hadn’t appeared yet. Perhaps she’d done more damage than he’d thought. Perhaps they had a few minutes. A very few minutes.

    Down in the parking lot, her car was a small abandoned toy. Her keys would be in his apartment, he thought, and shook his huge head, amazed at the clarity of the human thought in beast form. Normally he didn’t even remember what he’d done as a dragon. Perhaps because he was responsible for another? He’d never been responsible for anyone but himself.

    But they must run. They must get out of here very fast. And as beasts, he could not explain to her what danger they were in. He couldn’t even think, clearly think, of where to run. The dragon wished to crawl under a rock, preferably by a river, and hide.

    But Goldport was not so big on rivers. There was Panner’s creek, which in the summer became a mere trickle winding amid sun-parched boulders.

    He flew her down to the parking lot, slowly, landed by the car and wished to shift. He didn’t dare reach for the strength of the talisman to allow himself to shift. No. The dragons would sense, that.

    Instead, setting Kyrie down carefully, he WILLED himself to shift. He thought himself human, and shivered, as his body spasmed in painful shift.

    He was naked. Naked, sitting on the warm asphalt of the parking lot, next to Kyrie’s car and a panther. No. Next to Kyrie. In the next minute, she also shifted, and appeared as a naked, bloodied young woman, lying on the pavement next to him.

    “The car,” he rasped at her, his voice hesitant, difficult, like a long-neglected instrument. “We must leave. Soon. They will pursue.”

    She looked at him with confused, tired eyes. Her chin was scratched, and there was too much blood on her everywhere. He wondered how much of it was hers. Did they need to go to the hospital? They healed very quickly. At least Tom did. But what if these wounds were too serious? How could they go to the hospital? How could they explain anything?

    “I don’t have keys,” she said, and patted her hips as though looking for keys in pockets that were no longer there.

    Tom nodded. He got up, feeling about a hundred years old after two shifts in such a short time. His legs hurt, as did his arms, and his whole body felt as though someone had belabored him with sticks.

    But he was human now and he could think. He remembered.

    One eye on the window of his apartment, wondering how long he had, he said, “I’m sorry. I’ll pay.” Then he grabbed one of the stones on the flowerbed nearby – a stone bed, to tell the truth since he’d never seen flowers there. He smashed the window with the stone, reached in, unlocked the door.

    Sweeping the crumbs of glass from the seat, he smashed the key holder, reached down to the floor and grabbed a screwdriver he’d noticed there while Kyrie was driving him. “Remembered you had this here,” he said, turning to see her bewildered expression as her car started. And then “Get in. I’ll pay for the damage. Just get in.”

    Was it his imagination, or had he seen the shadow of a wing in the window above?

    He reached across to unlock the passenger door, as she jumped in.

    She fumbled with the seat belt as he tore out of the parking lot in a screech of rubber. Sweat was dripping from his forehead into his eyes. He was sure he was sitting on a chunk of glass. It had been years since he’d driven and he found the turns odd and difficult. The car his father had given him as a sixteenth birthday gift handled much better than this. Good thing there was almost no traffic on the roads at this time.

    He tore around the corner of Fairfax, turning into a narrower street and hoping he was only imagining the noise of wings above. He tried to choose the tree-lined streets, knowing well enough that it was harder to see into them from above. The vision of dragons seemed to focus naturally on moving things. In a street of trees, shaken by the wind, in which shadows shifted and shook, it would be harder to see them.

    Some of these streets were narrow enough – and the trees above them well over a hundred years old -- that it made it impossible to see the streets at all, except as a green canopy. He took one street, then another, then yet another, tearing down quiet residential streets like a madman and probably causing the families snug in their brick ranches to wonder what was happening out there.

    They passed two people walking, male and female, he tall and she much shorter, leaning into him. Shorts, t-shirts, a swirling white skirt, a vision of normalcy and a relationship that he couldn’t aspire too, and Tom bit his lip and thumped the side of the wheel with his hand, bringing a startled glance from Kyrie. He’d gone a good ten minutes and was starting to think they’d lost their pursuers, when he thought of Kyrie. He turned to her, wanting to explain he really would pay and that she should not–

    Her dark eyes gazed into his, unwavering. “How many cars have you stolen?” she asked. #

    The way he’d hot-wired the car, quickly – she swore it had taken him less than a few seconds – had chilled Kyrie to the bone.

    She supposed she should have known someone with a drug problem, working minimum wage jobs had to supplement with crime, but all of a sudden she realized he was more dangerous – more out of control than she’d thought.

    More out of control than the other dragons?

    And yet, after he’d driven like a madman for a while, he looked at her with a devastatingly scared expression in his pale face. Despite chiseled features and the now all-too-obvious dark shadow of unshaven beard, he managed to look about five and worried he’d be put in time out.

    “How many cars have you stolen?” she asked, before she knew she was going to say it.

    His expression closed. She would not be able to describe it any other way. The eager, almost childish panic vanished, leaving in its place a dark, unreadable glare, his eyebrows low over his dark blue eyes. He turned away, looking forward, and shrugged, a calculated shrug from his broad shoulders. One quarter inch up, one quarter inch down.

    “I used to go joy riding,” he said. “When I was a kid. I got bored.” And when she didn’t answer that, he added. “Look, I’ve told you. I’ll pay you for the damage.” And again, at her continued silence. “I couldn’t let us be caught. If they’d caught us, they’d have killed us.”

    At this, he stopped. He stopped long enough for her to gather her thoughts. She felt so tired that if she weren’t in pain, she would have fallen asleep. But she hurt. Her shoulder felt as if it had been dislocated in the fight. There was a slash across her torso that she prayed wouldn’t need stitches, and a broad swath of her buttock felt scraped, as though it had rubbed hard against a scaly hide. Which it probably had though she didn’t remember.

    “Who are they?” she finally asked. “Why are they after you?”

    “They’re a Chinese triad,” he said. “They’re members. A... crime syndicate. Oriental.”

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