Chapter 2 Part 1

The gun went off with a bang, and I flinched. Well, obviously.

I also kind of expected to die. Or at least hurt a lot.

I didn’t.

Obviously the shot missed me. I opened my eyes again, surprised, the noise from the gunshot ringing in my ears, and saw…well.

My attacker was still there, but the hood had fallen back and he had both his hand in front of his face, trying to fend off the huge crow that was clawing at him. The crow was huge, and flapping wildly, screeching and clawing at him. He was covering his face with one arm while he swatted at the crow with his gun, but there were already scratches across his cheeks.

His gaunt face was a mask of fury, but he was not looking at me anymore. The crow’s attack, as freakish and surprising as it was, had given me a chance. Not much of one, but a chance.

I did not pause to think, I just moved. I staggered to my feet, pain lancing across my back muscles where I had hit the steps hard. I ignored it, and charged up the stairs.

I tackled the gunman like a football player, right across the torso, wrapping both my arms around him and slamming my shoulder into his stomach. It was not elegant, but it worked. He let out a grunt, a surprised whoosh of air. He was lighter than I expected, and we hit the ground hard. My knuckles scraped the concrete where we landed on the sidewalk, and I flinched, loosening my grip.

His elbow came down on my back, and his knee came up into my stomach. Pain lanced through me. The knee hit me again, and I let go of him, rolling away. He tried to scramble to his feet, but I kicked at him. He slipped, and it gave me time to get a foot under me and jump at him again.

This time I reached for his gun. I got my hands around it, but he wrapped his other hand around mine, and hit me with that damn knee again. I grunted, and I heard an unpleasant crunch from my ribs, but I held on.

He tried to knee me again, but this time I was ready. I twisted, bringing my thigh up between us, stopping him from getting the leverage he needed to hit me. I pulled, using my hand on the gun and my knee on the ground as leverage, and smashed my forehead into his nose.

“Take that, asshole!”

I felt his nose shatter with a satisfying crunch, but he did not let go of the gun. I pulled back and looked at his face, trying to assess the damage. I expected it to be covered in blood, hopefully getting in his eyes or something.

There was no blood.

His nose was shattered, all right. Not only shattered, but gone, entirely. I could see into his nasal passages, bone white and glaring, skin paper-thin and gray. It was torn around the edges of his nose, ripped away and flaking. His face was covered in a fine, gray powder, as if his nose had been make of old, dried paper instead of flesh and blood.

“What the FUCK?!?” In my shock, I loosened my grip on the gun, and he jerked it away.

He rolled away from me, and moved to aim the gun at me again.

Well, call me crazy, but I felt like I should keep from getting shot first, and deal with whatever the hell was going on here later. I pivoted on my hip on the ground, and lashed out at the gun with my foot. The tip of my shoe connected, and the gun went flying. It skittered across the road and under a parked car.

The guy watched it go, and stood. This time I let him. I clambered to my feet as well, watching him carefully, ready to dive for the gun if he did.

Instead, he just looked at me, dust from the freaky shattered nose drifting to the ground. We stared at each other for a second or two. This was the first I had had a chance to really look at him.

He looked…drawn, dried and hollowed out, like all the moisture had been sucked out of him. His skin was stretched tight over the bones of his face, his cheeks sunken. His eyes were sunken in deep sockets as well, but they were bright, and angry. Honestly, he kind of reminded me of a mummy, or a zombie. Something from an old horror flick.

Then he spoke, his voice gravelly.

“You are more trouble than you are worth, mortal.”

I stared at him. “And you tried to shoot me, you zombie-faced freak!”

He reached up, and touched his face, where his nose used to be. He looked angrier, if that was possible.

Suddenly, a siren started up in the distance. Thank god, some one had heard the gunshot and called the police.

Zombie-face noticed the siren too, and glanced the that direction.

“Enough of this!” He pointed at me, and said…something. It was not English, more like Latin, and they echoed weirdly, like they were coming from the bottom of a deep well, or from inside a tunnel.

Zombie-face looked like he expected something to happen, and his look grew puzzled when it did not. He said something else, more echo-y latin-sounding nonsense.

The sirens got closer.

He looked back in the direction of the sirens, then back at me, a look of incredulity on his face. “What are you?” he asked. Then he turned, and ran, loping down the street away from me.

I let him go. I sat down on the curb, my hand pressed to my side where my ribs were bruised, if not broken, and waited for the cops to show up.

“I’m a physicist,” I murmured. “What the fuck are you?”

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