“But Debbie!” I protested, pulling my hand out of Victor’s grasp. And Paul… I added silently.
“Shit, yeah,” Victor startled me by agreeing. “We’ll drive around and pick them up.”
Wait, this guy knows Debbie? Belatedly, I noticed Victor’s hand was on the door handle of an ambulance parked as inconspicuously as possible in a shadowy back corner of the lot. I watched, open-mouthed, as he wrenched the passenger side door open and stepped back, gesturing for me to get in. Victor’s a paramedic? Not just any paramedic, my muddled mind supplied. It seemed Paul and I weren’t the only people Debbie had invited out tonight. “You’re Debbie’s partner?”
“Yeah,” he answered, his wide eyes betraying his surprise that I didn’t already know – either that, or just his panic over what we’d just witnessed in the bar. “Are you getting in or what?”
But my legs were already carrying me backwards. I heard a jingle as I adjusted the strap of my over-the-shoulder purse and remembered my battered oldsmobile. “No,” I told him. “My car is…” I scanned the lot and found it easily, much nearer to the front of the bar where I hoped I’d find Debbie waiting for me. “I’ll meet you there.”
Without a backwards glance, or the presence of mind to wonder why Victor had driven an ambulance to the bar, I left Victor and dashed across the lot, heedless of the puddles this time. When I reached my old car, I slid myself into the driver’s seat, grateful the door opened without a fuss. Struggling to slow my beating heart, I knew I was in no state to drive, but I felt better already with the firm solidity of the ancient car around me. I took a deep breath and turned the key. The car’s engine turned over and stuttered to life.
I backed out and righted myself, exiting the lot with the ambulance’s lights filling my rear-view mirror. A quick right turn and then another down the one-way street the bar faced put me right outside just as Debbie and Paul surged out of the bar to join a handful of other confused and scared patrons. I didn’t imagine it, then…
Debbie, seeing my car, tried to pull Paul toward it. He shook his head. I reached over, rolling down the passenger side window to wave them over when he said, “No way I’m leaving my truck. You go on, I’ll be right behind you.”
Debbie looked troubled, but at my frantic waving, she nodded. Paul headed off as Debbie made for my car, but before she could get there the unthinkable happened. Screams and shattered glass filled the air as that thing, whatever it was, came crashing through the bar’s front window. I felt my jaw go slack seeing it by the preternatural light of the stormy clouds that roiled above. No longer half-hidden by the enclosed darkness of the basement or bar, I could see that it was a cat, of sorts.
The creature was cat-like in that it stood on all fours with cat paws and a cat face, but it was also larger than any lion I’d ever seen, being easily taller than me, or even long-limbed Debbie. It’s muzzle was still covered in Howe’s blood and shattered glass decorated its reddish-brown fur, adding to its menacing appearance. And in addition to the large yellow cat eyes I’d noted before, it had a massive mane of what looked like porcupine quills, only they were too big and lengthy to have belonged to any porcupine in existence.
It was eating the bartender, the truth of what I had witnessed sunk in with a sick feeling as I watched it hunker down, its quills quivering as its growl mounted in intensity. Any moment now, it would choose a target and leap, tearing and biting with its over-sized claws and wickedly sharp-looking teeth.
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