Without knowing where exactly she was—somewhere on the Upper Neck of the peninsula, but outside the range of her normal stomping grounds—she ran on instinct, sticking to the shadows. She followed the strip of undeveloped land along the river, past the train yard and houses until she reached a large expanse. White stone crypts and tombstones dotted the lawn that stretched out to the west. Not the best omen, she thought, but she could use the cover as she darted from crypt to tomb toward the other side of the cemetery. 

She wasn’t sure who she was hiding from or if anyone was even watching her, but the instinct to move unseen and unheard, to be vigilant about her surroundings that had emerged with the Change compelled her to do so. She honored it without question.

It was dark and had been for awhile, but she could still see. It wasn’t night vision exactly—the world was still dark—she could just see further through it. Shadows were deeper, objects were thrown into sharper relief in the darkness. 

Glad to be moving away from the river, she headed west. Her mind seemed to process extraneous detail from her mind faster, discarding anything less than essential. 

The world was alive with cicadas and the mating song of frogs, but besides for that, the grounds were quiet. She could hear no voices or footsteps. Only the sound of distant cars and gently lapping water over the nighttime chorus. 

The heightened sight, mental acuity, hearing, speed, strength, and endurance—her senses and abilities all deeper and more complex than before—still surprised her. But everything was happening so fast she had no choice but to accept them and use them to her advantage. She found that the more she used her new abilities, the more she grew into her new body. She was learning how to ease into the instincts, to fall back on that ancient primal part of her brain, and let them guide her. 

Movement registered the instant a new object came into her peripheral vision—the muscles of her body reacting before she knew what was happening, she spun towards the movement and zeroed in on it. A white memorial card flapped around the side of a tombstone were it was pinned by the wind. Scanning the grounds, she crawled to the paper and picked it up. 

One week. That’s how long she’d been gone, according to the recently deceased’s death date on the memorial flyer. And that was at the minimum. She had no idea how long this sheet of paper had been lying around for. She put the paper to her nose and sniffed. Perfume, potent and floral—overpowering to her newfound senses—still lingered. Maybe a day or two old, she thought. She didn’t know how to feel about that and was glad she didn’t have time to process it. 

A grove of trees lined the edge of the cemetery and she was quick to seek its cover after having hovered out in the open for a minute too long for comfort. She slid into the grove of live oak and red maple trees. It didn’t take long for her to move through it to the other side. She crouched, hidden in the safety of the tree line, her hand pressed against the rough bark of a live oak to steady herself. 

Across from where she hid, she could see a line of buildings and lots, separated from the cemetery by a railroad, a four lane highway, another railroad, and another four lane road.

Directly across from her, on the edge of an empty concrete lot, stood a grey two-story building with dark trim and crumbling shutters. Some kind of business by the look of it with an apartment on top. Through the large front window she could see people moving inside, the lights still on. To its left was a store that sold tombstones and gravesite accessories, the grassy lot surrounding it showcasing its selection. 

To the right was a strip joint—the King Street Cabaret—according to the red neon script sign across the front of the building. And next to that an auto body & paint shop with a sea of cars surrounding it in its chain-linked lot. Other that those four shops, industrial buildings lined the street as far down as she could see.

She waited and watched, knowing she’d need to make a decision soon. She needed water. She needed food—real food like chicken enchiladas or a massive juicy cheeseburger—not the gamey shit and secondhand rations she’d been living off of on the island. She needed a first aid kit—although surprisingly, she looked down at her legs, most of her cuts and scrapes had already started to heal. And most importantly, she needed sanctuary. She knew he’d come looking for her when he came back and found her missing, and she didn’t know how fast he’d be able to track her steps. She hoped, without knowing why, that the water would break the trail. 

Her clothes, although no longer dripping, were still wet and were in no threat of drying any time soon in the humid summer heat. The denim cut offs clung tightly to the curve of her hips and thighs and no amount of shimmying made the situation any less uncomfortable. Her long dark hair was matted with knots and stuck slick to the skin around her neck and face.  

The only people she could see were in the grey building and the bouncer taking a drag of his cigarette outside the strip club. She sniffed the air, smelling the cloying scent of cigarette smoke and nicotine, oil, metal, something she couldn’t quite place—something metallic—and blood. 

The cars were few and far in-between on the road and she waited for it to clear before crossing. Approaching the grey building from an angle, she pressed herself into the shadows created by the tin roof awning overhead. 

The arching black letters on the big barbershop window read Moss & Oak Ink | Custom Tattoos | By Appointment Only in smaller print underneath. 

Inside a tattoo artist cleaned up, collecting white disposable sheets, soiled with blood and ink, from the black leather reclining chair and throwing them away. He sprayed the chair with cleaning solution and the black ink on his bronze arms flexed as he wiped it down. 

Behind the tattoo room, through opened pocket doors, a boy of about fifteen sat at a dining room table, reading a comic book laid out in front of him, shoveling forkfuls of chicken, rice, and beans into his mouth. Her stomach growled at the site, her mouth salivating, as a pang of homesickness pierced through her.

Tattoo Guy began sweeping the floor, looking up at the younger one sitting at the table. “Jesus Christ Mateo, how are you still eating? Thats like your fifth meal today.”

The younger one, Mateo, looked up at him and shrugged, a grin on his face. Not a cocky one, but an innocent one. He had dark skin like Tattoo Guy, dark hair that fell across his forehead, and kind brown eyes behind his glasses. “I’m a growing boy?” 

Tattoo Guy shook his head and laughed, amused. He finished sweeping the hardwood floor around the purple and maroon Persian rug and headed towards the opposite window, lowering and shutting the blinds. She pressed herself flat against the wall as he made his way toward the window she stood next to. 

He was going to go for the door lock next, she thought, if he hadn’t locked up already. It was now or never. It was them or the bouncer next door. Or she could take her chances with one of the industrial buildings. She was sure she could find the supplies she needed in one of them. 

But looking at the two of them—they looked like her. They could be her neighbors or cousins. She felt a pull of familiarity towards them even though she was sure she had never seen them before in her life. 

Ultimately, that’s what decided it. Sprinting to the thick wooden purple door, she grabbed the handle and pushed. It gave way to her weight and she fell through the doorway and straight into Tattoo Guy.

“What the hell?” he said, holding on to the side of her arms to catch both his balance and her’s. “Are you okay? Do you need an ambulance? Should I call 911?”

“Help me,” she panted. “Please. I need your help.”