Zeph doubled over, unable to breathe. He’d run all the way from West Lot and just couldn’t keep going. It took him a moment to realize his leg was covered in blood.
His knees buckled as warmth flooded his head. The next thing he knew he was slumped against a lamp post on Dan Allen, staring up at the halo of light above him.
When the spots in his vision finally cleared, Zeph examined his leg: part of his jeans were torn away and three gashes ran down his thigh. They didn’t look deep, just bloody.
He got up, glanced around, and when everything seemed silent, he began moving again. His head still spun. It was all a blur, so unreal — yet he’d seen it himself.
Zeph had just turned down Cates when he jerked around at the sound of a door thrown open behind him – but he only sighed when he saw someone running out of Bragaw.
Then Zeph realized the figure was running from something.
The newcomer noticed him and ground to a halt. “Zeph?”
Jake’s face flushed with relief. Then he noticed Zeph’s leg. “You’re bleeding.”
Zeph shrugged. “At least I got away.”
Jake looked around, then back at Zeph. “Where’s your car?”
Zeph cringed. “West Lot. A dozen tore through the place.” He felt dizzy again as images of overturned cars came back to him, the smell of iron, the color red splashed against the night …
“Sullivan’s gone,” Jake said. “Lee too. There was howling and — and screams. I didn’t stop till I saw you.”
Zeph glanced at Bragaw. It was still empty. For now.
“We should keep moving,” Zeph said. His leg was burning and he couldn’t walk fast, but he figured anything was better than standing still.
It took Jake a moment to run up beside him.
“I didn’t see anything,” Jake said, still looking around frantically. “What are they?”
Zeph shook his head as they passed the Student Health Center.
“I didn’t get a good look, either, but they were big. Angry.”
Jake shuddered. “Where’d they come from?”
Zeph clenched his fist. “They said the College of Sciences would bring us new opportunities at the interfaces of the physical and biological sciences — and they were right. Those things in Lee and Sullivan? That’s the future.”
Zeph had walked ahead a few feet before he realized Jake wasn’t next to him. He turned around and saw Jake colorless a few steps back.
“They were made here?”
“Close enough.” Zeph walked back to him. “They’re the result of some biochemistry project the University signed onto.”
Zeph pulled at Jake’s arm and the boy started moving.
“Come on, we can’t — ”
They stopped as a car sped up from in front of them and pulled to a stop. The window rolled down and a woman flagged them over.
Jake pointed and said, “That way, but — ” and the woman sped off, skidding to a halt across Cates. She kicked open her door and crossed in front of her headlights, out of sight.
There was a howl — distant, from the other side of Bragaw.
Zeph tugged at Jake. “Come on.”
Then there was another howl in front of them, but this one was further away.
Zeph turned and saw the woman’s car — her door was still open. He started running for it, but Jake grabbed his shoulder before he jumped inside.
“We can’t leave like that!”
“It’s her car, Zeph — we have to take her.”
Zeph gritted his teeth, but he guessed Jake was right. “Get in the car. I’ll grab her.”
Jake nodded and Zeph took off toward the woman.
“Hey!” he called. “We’re getting out of here.”
She glimpsed him for a second, then pulled on the door. It wouldn’t budge.
“Come on,” Zeph said. “We have to leave — now!”
“I can’t!” She shook the door again. “I have to stop this.”
“You — what?” Zeph’s mouth fell open. “No … you did this?”
She rubbed her temple and faced him. There was a dark glint in her eyes, like she’d been crying. “My name’s Amy Rejas. I wasn’t directly involved with the research, but — ”
There was a crash and suddenly the lights along Cates went out.
Zeph whirled toward Jake, who was pointing at her car: In the headlights’ glow was a pair of round, shining eyes. The figure rose up, howled, and then pounded down upon the car — the lights died. They were in total darkness. All they could see were its reddened eyes.
Zeph began backing away along Cates. “Keep calm,” he whispered. Then he started running. Jake and Amy were already ahead of him.
They passed a residence hall and two more jumped out from behind a car in front of them. Amy screamed as they slid to a stop and then shot up between Tucker and Owen.
They’d almost made it across the clearing when Jake tripped on a patch of wet leaves and yelped in pain. Amy kept going, but Zeph skidded to a stop next to Jake and pulled him up.
Jake ran off and Zeph turned to face the silhouette barreling toward him. The dark figure reared up on its hind legs, twice a man’s size. Its howl shook his bones.
Zeph backed away, feeling the burning in his leg, but he couldn’t think of anything else but to keep running. He saw the others flanking Carroll as they ran off, so he ran straight passed Owen. He blazed past Turlington, jumped over a low wall, and then slid under a statue in Wolf Plaza — there was a loud bang as the beast tried to follow him but couldn’t.
“Come on!” Amy shouted from the Free Expression Tunnel. Zeph jumped down the steps and followed them inside. It smelled of fresh paint. He coughed a little.
“You alright?” Zeph asked. Jake was limping.
“I think I sprained my ankle.”
They made it halfway before a shadow moved over the tunnel’s end and a pair of red eyes looked in at them. When they turned around, the beast from before was staggering inside.
“We’re trapped,” Amy said as growling echoed around them.
“No,” Zeph said, looking up at the opening above them. “Jake, help me get Amy up.”
Jake nodded and they helped Amy climb out.
“You first,” Jake said, and he and Amy hoisted Zeph out of the tunnel. Zeph reached for Jake, but the boy backed away.
“I’ll slow you down.”
“Jake — ”
Zeph swiped at him but right then the beasts pounced. Amy screamed, pulling Zeph back and tumbling from the opening as Jake howled from below. A second later a claw swung up at them. They started running.
They made it to the Brickyard before stopping. Zeph threw up in the grass.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” Amy said.
Zeph wiped his mouth, staring at her, baring his teeth.
“You did this! You killed him!” He grabbed her arms and shook her. “You know how many people you’ve killed tonight?”
Amy didn’t fight back, but fell limp in his hands. Zeph saw the tears in her eyes and pushed her away before limping off.
“I was their government liaison.”
Zeph stopped and looked back at her.
“The project’s been in development for years — we just needed a suitable institute for our final tests. Your College of Sciences seemed perfectly suited to our needs for new subjects.”
“‘New subject’?” Zeph said. “You needed lab rats — you used us!”
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.” Her voice cracked. “We thought — ”
Another howl. Zeph looked around, but he couldn’t tell where it’d come from. A few more followed. He was sure one of them had come from Hillsborough Street.
When he looked back at Amy, she was rubbing her eyes.
“No one expected this,” she said. “The chemicals didn’t react like this in our animal subjects. We thought we were ready for full-scale testing.” She shook her head and laughed. “Now look at what we’ve done. We — we’ve ruined the place.”
Zeph closed his eyes, still seething, but he knew arguing would do nothing.
“You said you could stop this?”
Amy looked at him and her eyes flooded with fresh tears.
“I thought I could, but the station was locked.”
“The radio station. Each of our subjects were implanted with a computer chip for monitoring. I thought if I could reprogram the radio signal, I could activate a shut-down sequence and disable them until the antidote could be administered — but it was locked.”
Zeph grinned, gazing at the library towering over them.
“Can you hack into the signal directly?”
Amy looked flustered. “I — I guess I could, but — ”
Zeph pointed at the radio tower atop the building and Amy’s mouth fell open when she saw it. They ran to the entrance in a second and Zeph pulled open the door.
“I’ll keep watch,” he said. Amy nodded and went inside.
Zeph walked to the railing and leaned over, closing his eyes. He saw flashes of the monsters in the parking lot — its silhouette over him — Jake ripped apart by inhuman claws.
He had tears on his face when he scanned the Brickyard, but it was empty. He figured everyone had left by now or were already dead. The thought made him sick.
Then he stiffened as a dark shadow began moving toward him from Harrelson. At first he thought it hadn’t seen him, but then its eyes were fixed upon him — and it was running.
Zeph dashed into the library, but the beast burst right through the doors after him, glass flying everywhere. Zeph almost reached the stairs before remembering Amy was up there, so he ran behind the tables and jumped out of sight. He poked at his leg, wincing, but his wounds weren’t bleeding any more; at least he hadn’t left a trail of blood for the beast to find him.
He peeked between the chairs and could finally get a good look at it. The creature moved like a wolf, swinging its head back and forth as it sniffed for him, but there the similarities stopped. Its skin was smooth, the color of human flesh, but its body was broken with bulging growths like giant scars. Its face was stretched into a mangled snout.
Then it wasn’t there anymore.
Zeph heard its claws as it walked across the tables, heard the chairs as it knocked them over and cracking wood when it broke them. Worst of all he heard its breathing: raspy, guttural.
The sounds slowly got louder until Zeph was certain it was right on top of him. He stood up, grabbed a chair, and swung it around as hard as he could.
The wood splintered when it struck the beast’s head and it staggered off the table into a heap. It took a moment to get back up, then howled at Zeph, rising up and stretching its claws.
Zeph took a few steps back and hit the wall. He cringed.
Then he heard a yelp followed by a thud.
The beast was on its side, twitching, its eyes rolled back.
“Amy!” Zeph shouted, heading for the steps. “Amy, you’ve done it!”
He stopped when he saw the torn-up figure standing outside, covered in blood.
“Jake,” Zeph said, moving toward him.
Jake leapt back when Zeph got close, landing perilously on the railing.
“Stay back,” Jake said. “I might hurt you.”
“What are you talking about?” Zeph’s heart was pounding. “How’d you get away?”
“They didn’t want to kill me — they wanted to infect me.” He met Zeph’s shaky gaze. “It’s inside me, Zeph. And I’m not the only one.”
He pushed back and Zeph screamed, rushing to grab him. But it was too late. Jake’s mangled form lay unmoving beneath him.
Zeph jumped when Amy came up beside him and placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Let’s go back inside. I’ve called for the antidote. It’s over.”
Zeph looked her in the eyes. “No, it isn’t.”