Michael Samuels parked his ambulance in the empty lot next to the 24-hour drive-through. The neon sign on the post above flashed back and forth between Liquor and Lottery. He closed his eyes and let the world alternate black and red.
A few days ago, the most interesting moments of his life wouldn't have been out of place in any average working man's. A bad day at work was when a pickup was pushing 500 pounds, were out of their mind on drugs, or both on a lucky day.
Now, he felt like he had taken a wrong turn. He found his mind running over countless miles of road, trying to think if he'd made a deviation he'd never made before. Maybe he altered his morning routine. Perhaps one day he put on deodorant before he brushed his teeth, and the alteration dropped him into another world where everything was the same, but wrong.
His child was missing. It had been several days, and the chance of finding him was plummeting. His ex-wife only talked to him enough to let him know he shared as much blame as she.
Then, the attack last night. The thing he saw. He could only think of it as a “thing.” It bore no resemblance to any living creature he'd ever seen. If he hadn't been parked out there after a transport last night, he knew he never would have believed the tales coming out of the place, but he'd seen for himself.
Aaron Russell had drawn on it first. He was a 4-year veteran of the Sheriff's department, and had come in to take a report on a disorderly who had checked himself in earlier. Michael knew Aaron going back years. Their jobs crossed paths plenty of days. They both hoped they'd never need the other's service, but were equally glad to know they were only a call away.
During the chaos, Aaron got his gun out, but he hesitated. He was probably still trying to make sense of the animalistic shape in front of him when its claws tore into him. Two sets of claws went into his torso, a set of powerful jaws went around his throat, and the man was in three pieces before he had a chance to gasp.
The thing had turned to lope after someone else, and Michael had run over to his dead friend instinctively. There was no need to take a pulse, of course, and by then the thing was turning around. Michael took Aaron's service revolver from the ground. The only thing he knew about this creature was that hesitation meant death. He fired off a single round one-handed, not even taking the time for a firing stance. The beast took the bullet squarely in the left temple, did a quick 180 degree pirouette, then plopped down on its chin.
Before Michael could cock the gun for a second shot, the beast was suddenly obscured by people fleeing the mental facility. By the time the crowd was passed, he had only a moment to glimpse it pulling itself over the cliff's edge.
Then, of course, the real shock. Michael doubted there would be many times when a rampaging beast would play second fiddle in the surprise department. He had seen the boy for the barest of seconds, and it was dark, but his size, the shape of his hair silhouetted in the night, everythigng about him was so similar to William. What was any young boy doing running around a psychiatric facility in the middle of the night? He was out of place, if nothing else.
Michael had been pulled away from the boy's trail bya co-worker and his sense of duty. Many people were hurt, and the idea that it could be William-- really be William, seemed impossible. He took the time to attend to the wounded until more help could arrive, then he left to follow the child's path.
He never found the boy, even though there was only one main road in and out of that area, and he thoroughly combed every side street. Whoever it was didn't want to be found.
And Michael still had the gun. He knew there were other parts of Aaron they never found. Eventually they would stop looking for it. It stayed in his glove box for now. He was confident that he might still need it, because he knew enough about dead bodies to know that they didn't drag themselves away.