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brianmartin

Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Fanged Frog - Chapter 6

The Body

 

The frog landed a good fifteen feet further down the street, and instantly sprang into the air again, disappearing into the fog.

 

“Come on!” Brenda yelled.

 

Their feet flying, Miranda and Jack took off in pursuit.

 

By the time the frog landed again on the pavement, Brenda had closed the gap between them by several feet.  Then it jumped again and suddenly Brenda found herself dropping even further behind.  She ran as hard as she could for two blocks, but it was always the same:  she felt like she was playing yo-yo and with every one of the frog’s leaps, the string kept getting longer.

 

Brenda glanced to her left as they passed the arched doorway of a warehouse.  A sign above the arch identified the building as Michaelson’s Imported Textiles, Inc.  She didn’t know the area as well as Jack (who’d spent the last few days pouring over maps of the area that Miranda gave him), but she knew that Michaelson’s was near the intersection with Coulston Street.  And that gave her an idea.

 

Their only chance of cornering the frog at this point, Brenda knew, was if one of them split off from others and came at it from another direction.  Brenda slowed down and looked behind her:  Miranda was coming up fast, but Jack was starting to lag behind.  If she and Miranda kept after the frog, Brenda knew that Jack could never keep up.  The thought of sending Jack off by himself wasn’t very appealing, but the truth was they were leaving him anyway--leaving him behind.  And it was their only chance.

 

“Keep going, keep going!” Brenda yelled at Miranda, as she turned and trotted back toward Jack.  Jack saw her coming and slowed down.

 

 

 

Jack was happy when he saw Brenda jogging back toward him.  He knew that he couldn’t keep up with either Brenda or Miranda and he had begun to think of alternatives.  Only one came to mind, but it made sense and it might work.

 

“I’ve got to go back!” Jack yelled when Brenda was close enough.  “There’s an alley--”

 

Jack stopped speaking as Brenda burst out laughing.  “What’s the matter?” he asked.

 

“Nothing,” Brenda said.  “I was just going to say the same thing.  I thought only Maximus could read minds,” she added, reminding Jack how Maximus had known his name without being told.

 

Jack smiled, waved, and turned back the way they’d come.  By the time he reached the entrance to the alley, Brenda’s pounding footsteps had nearly faded away altogether as she ran back to catch up with Miranda.

 

When Jack entered the alley, leaving the gas lamps of the street behind, the light dimmed considerably.  Goose bumps popped up on his arms, confusing him for a moment:  he’d never been afraid of the dark before.  Then he realized that he’d never been chasing a vampire before either.  He was glad the moon was out, and that here in Mozaic the moon shone more brightly than on the Waking world.

 

Jack was certain that by now Brenda and Miranda would be charging east down Coulston Street.  Coulston Street ran right into the end of Gaston Avenue, so their only choice (and the frog’s only choice) was going to be to turn south onto Gaston.  This alley, Jack knew, was a shortcut across to Gaston, and if he was quick enough, Jack was pretty sure he could get ahead of the frog, trapping it between himself in front and Brenda and Miranda behind.

 

The tricky part was the alley itself.  Jack well remembered the way he and Brenda had gone around in circles in search of the way back to Cooper’s All Night Drug Store and Fountain.  If that happened again, he’d never make it to Gaston ahead of the frog.  The frog would disappear into the night and, Jack thought, disappear forever.  After twice being nearly caught, he doubted it would hang around to give them a third chance.

 

Jack trotted past the first intersection he came to, knowing that it led to a dead end.  At the second, he turned right, entering a gloomier part of the alley than he’d just left.  One side looked neglected, the other looked forgotten.  The worst side was on his right.  Jack knew from the maps he’d studied that just on the other side of the fence a hill rose long and bumpy toward an enormous storage warehouse at is apex.  He could just see the top of it above the fence.  Miranda didn’t know much about it except the name--Coastal Laboratory Supplies--and that it was hardly used, probably deserted.  Jack believed it.  Further on, the verge beside the alley was overgrown with tall, tangled shrubs of a kind Jack had never seen before.  He thought maybe they were they only things holding up the fence, which looked rotten to the core.  In any case, the twisted limbs blocked much of the moonlight by which Jack had been navigating and cast the rest in fuzzy, jagged splotches across the pavement.  One patch of light, though, caught Jack’s eye.  Its edges were distinct and smooth; its shape a perfect circle.

 

The closer he got, the smaller the circle became.  Jack was just beginning to realize how odd this was--it should have been getting larger the nearer he came to it--when the light suddenly expanded in all directions.  Jack slid to a stop.  Ten feet in front of him, a small ball of silver light floated five feet off the ground.

 

It seemed to be calling to him, and he could sense more than feel his feet move toward it.  In moments he was close enough to reach out and touch it, which, Jack thought, was what it wanted him to do.  A darkness like night on Earth was creeping across his mind and everywhere the darkness touched, another reason not to touch the ball of light disappeared.  Jack focused hard on the biggest reason of all not to reach out to the light:  Miranda and Brenda, and the fact that they were counting on him.  He didn’t want to let them down.

 

As he struggled against the light, his left foot struck something in the alley and he lost his balance.  One moment he was upright, the next he was on his way face first to the ground.  So abrupt and unexpected was the transition that it cleared his mind of everything but the instinct to save himself.  Both his hands shot out in front of him, just in time to cushion his fall.  When he rolled over, the strange orb was gone.

 

Scrambling to his feet, Jack glanced at the object that had tripped him up.  Even in the darkness he could tell what it was.  It was the body of a man about twice Miranda’s age.  Something about the man’s position, about the utter stillness of his body told Jack something more:  this man had been put to sleep.

 

Jack crept closer to the body, his eyes fixed on its neck.  He knew what he was going to find, but he had to see for himself anyway.  He suspected the slash he’d seen on Alison’s neck would be far worse on this man’s, deeper and wider and much uglier.  Still he couldn’t help himself.  When he saw nothing unusual on the side of the neck facing him, he reached out and slowly turned the man’s head toward him, revealing the other side of the neck.

 

At first he saw nothing, and for a moment he began to hope that he’d been wrong, that the man was still awake and merely resting.  All that hope drained away when he saw the marks:  two neat puncture wounds, just below the jawbone and directly under the ear.  Vampire!

 

Jack backed away from the body, his mind in a whirl.  Behind him he heard someone shouting his name, but his thoughts were occupied and it didn’t mean anything to him.  Vampire, yes, he was thinking, but those marks don’t make any sense.  The frog attacks by slashing.  It’s the only way he can drink the blood, by letting it flow over his skin.  But those marks were sucking marks.  So either the frog has learned to suck the blood of his victims or—

 

“Look out!” Brenda yelled.

 

Something large and heavy slammed into Jack’s back, hurling him forward and driving him into the ground.  Suddenly everything went very quiet.  Jack’s only sensation was of the weight on his back, keeping him pinned.  He knew what it was.  The frog must have reached the alley on Gaston and hopped into it, hoping to slip away from his pursuers in the darkness.  Instead, it found Jack blocking the way; but since his back was turned he made an excellent target.  Now it had him right where it wanted him.  Jack closed his eyes, expecting to feel the slash any second.

 

Nothing happened.  The frog didn’t move; he knew Brenda and Miranda hadn’t either or he would have heard their footsteps.  Only a faint wet slapping sound broke the stillness.  It was coming from somewhere up ahead.  Jack lifted his head as far as he could, squinting into the darkness.

 

Something was there, he could see it.  A large black lump of something.  And it was moving very slowly, very cautiously forward into a little patch of moonlight that had snaked its way through the shrubbery.

 

That wet slapping sound continued until the thing was bathed in moonlight.  Jack heard Brenda and Miranda gasp.  Seeing the body had only partly prepared Jack for what he now saw.  The fangs told him he was right:  another vampire had come to town.  But the warty face, the mottled brown body of the thing--these he hadn’t expected.

 

The frog’s vocal sac exploded, squashing Jack’s head against the pavement.  In the deafening croak Jack heard a kind of rage that could only come from long and bitter rivalry.

 

From the patch of moonlight further down the alley came an answering series of croaks that sounded like laughter.  Evidently, the vampire toad was enjoying himself.