Johann Schmidt has used many names over the centuries. Currently he was going by Adrian Jaeger, a young college student. But something strange has been going on at the university, something involving his old enemies that he only knows as shadows.
The big man turned and looked at us through mirrored sunglasses.
“Becki, how nice to see you. And this is?”
“Coach,” Jeff said, “this is a friend. Adrian Jaeger”.
“Jaeger?” The coach smiled. “That means ‘hunter’ in German, does it not?”
I shrugged. I knew quite well what the name meant but the youth I was pretending to be likely would not.
He held out his hand. “Aleki Ata.”
I did not hesitate. A shadow riding a human had to depart its human host to touch me. I took the hand.
“Pleased to meet you.”
Inside, my mind was racing. The coach, and now one of the team members, both clearly ridden by shadows. Had they known somehow that I was coming or was it just chance that I encountered a nest doing, whatever it was they do.
I tried to release Ata’s hand but he held tight. He jerked me close, so that his mouth was near my right ear.
“What a pleaseant surprise…Johann.”
My eyes opened wide. I pulled back. The lights went out. I tugged but Ata still held my hand fast in his grip. By the dim light spilling around the curtains I could see Ata reaching for his glasses.
I’d left the magnesium flare in my right pocket. Stupid. I could not reach it with my right hand secure in Ata’s mitt.
I am not a fighter. One does not live as long as I have by getting into fights all the time. I avoid fights. But neither does one live as long as I have without being able to fight at need. I lifted my left knee then stomped forward into Ata’s knee. I then raked the edge of my shoe down his shin. As his leg started to fold, I turned, twisting my right hand up. I continued to pivot and drove the heel of my left palm into Ata’s wrist. His grip, loosened in reaction to my kick, popped loose from my hand. I drove my hand down into the pocket of my pants and dove aside, hoping to avoid the tendrils of shadow that he knew were protruding from his eye sockets.
I succeeded. My hand wrapped around the magnesium flare, withdrew.
I struck the flare. Light blazed forth. Tendrils of shadow recoiled, not just from me. Some, I saw, reached for Becki but those too recoiled. Beck stood, her eyes wide for just a moment before her left arm rose to shield her eyes. Her right arm hung limp at her side. On the far side of the room Jeff stood, his mouth agape, his face cast into stark relief in the actinic light. Daryll still lay on the bed, his arms across his eyes, his mouth open in a soundless scream.
I had to think fast. The flare only gave me a few seconds of light. My first instinct was to run, get away before the thing riding Ata could recover. But the shadows kept their existence as secret as I kept mine. That meant Jeff and Becki…
“Run!” I shouted.
Neither Jeff nor Becki moved.
I dove onto the bed, reaching across to grab the front of Jeff’s shirt. I pulled. It was like pulling on a tree, firmly rooted in a mountain.
“Run,” I said again.
Jeff stumbled, his arm still shielding his eyes but he started to round the bed in the general direction of the door.
I pushed myself off the bed but pulled up short. Daryll had grabbed the edge of my sleeve. I jerked away, harder. Fabric tore. The sleeve came off in Daryll’s hand. I whirled and placed a hand on Becki’s shoulder, turning her toward the door.
“Run,” I said yet again. I moved my hand from her shoulder to the small of her back as I chivied her toward the door. We reached it just ahead of Jeff.
The fluorescent lights of the hallway provided what seemed a dim illumination after the brilliance of my flare. Bright purple after images from the flare rendered me nearly blind but I could hear people shouting, see others running toward us.
I turned in the direction I remembered for the exit and pushed Jeff and Becki in that direction. I did not have time to let my eyes recover naturally.
I pulled the vial of elixir from where it hid behind my belt. The lesser elixir of life would serve for this purpose but even so, I dared not waste the little I had. When I confirmed Jeff and Becki were moving, I twisted off the cap of the vial. I tipped it to moisten a finger tip then flicked a few drops into first my left eye then my right. My vision cleared immediately.
Hospital personnel were running for the room we had just vacated. Strangely, nobody was paying any attention to us. I moistened my finger with the elixir again and flicked some into Becki’s eyes, then into Jeff’s. They both stopped as their own vision cleared.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” I said.
“What…what was that?” Becki said.
“Later,” I said. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
I grabbed her by the arm and pulled. She followed me.
Jeff hung back. “But…”
“Later,” I said again. “I’ll explain everything letter. Right now, we’ve got to get out of here.”
The light leaking past the door to Daryll’s room died as the flare within burned itself out.
“Now!” I said.
Becki came with me. Jeff followed.
The lights in the hall went off. Gloom filled the hallway, broken only from the light leaking from open doorways along its length.
“Scheisse!” I whispered.
Door. Where was the door?