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Late For His Shift

By Peter G. Reynolds

Part 17

The girls had told him no one would remember what happened at the park, but he needed to see it. If he was being honest, he still didn't fully believe it. He followed Covent Hill to Hennessy Road, his stomach turning as he passed a restaurant named Za! The smell bringing back memories of too much pizza from just an hour ago. Dairy had never sat well with him, but he wasn't about to complain. The only thing worse than being Shiftless was being a lactose-intolerant Shiftless.

Wise Park, its name carved in stone at the fenced entrance, was tucked between a series of nondescript row houses and a construction site. It was empty and unremarkable. The morning rain had washed away any footprints. The only sign of the fight Kay had described was a broken tree about eight inches in diameter and the faint, lingering scent of fear and rage.

"Why can't I remember!" Ron said aloud, his only audience two shy Siamese cats quietly patrolling along the fence. He had really hoped coming here would spark some kind of memory. In truth, not because he might have hurt someone or that his secret had been revealed to the world, but because the fight Kay described sounded awesome. Like from a movie. That was the werewolf Ron always wished he was.

"It's over here," said a voice. Ron froze as he saw shapes approaching through the trees. He pushed his way through a gap in the fence and hid behind a particularly foul-smelling dumpster. From this vantage point, he could see there were three of them, all wearing matching grey rain ponchos. The ponchos' hoods were pulled over their heads, obscuring their faces in shadow.

They searched the area Ron had been standing in a moment ago, taking grass, earth and bark samples, the latter scraped off with what looked like an ornamental knife. One collected the samples and placed them in a red case, which opened like a fisherman's tackle box.

Ron stepped back, wanting to be anywhere by here right now, and knocked over a recycling bin full of glass bottles. The three looked up in unison. One of them immediately began moving toward the dumpster, ornamental knife in hand. Ron wanted to run, but it was like his legs had grown roots and wouldn't move. The stranger grew closer, and Ron could just make out something shiny around their neck, something that sparkled even in the din of the fog-covered street.

"I know you're there." Said a female voice carved from what Ron could only imagine was a lifetime of smoking. "Come out."

Ron closed his eyes, only to open them again at the sound of another recycling bin falling. One of the Siamese cats had knocked it over and was now purring at the legs of his would-be assailant.

"It's just a cat." The woman said, walking back to her companions. Ron's heart returned from its vacation in his throat.

"That was close," he said under his breath.

The woman turned around suddenly and looked directly at Ron. "He's here!" she shouted, moving toward the dumpster at a full run. Ron somehow tore his legs from their roots and began running himself, down John's Lane to New Street, past the Apple Market to Spring Garden Alley. Ron found his stride by the second block, and his pace quickened significantly. He passed Catherine Street, then Waterside, not daring to look back until he was sure he'd lost his pursuer. It wasn't until he approached a sign labelled "John's River" that he slowed his pace and dared a quick look over his shoulder.

The woman was right behind him, her footfalls silent on the concrete road. She reached out and grabbed his hoodie, yanking it back. Ron instinctively raised his arms above his head, like a lazy child getting undressed at the end of a long day, twisting around as the hoodie came up and over his head. The woman cursed, and Ron, now bare-chested, continued to run, his speed fuelled by sheer terror.

Got to find help. Ron thought between breaths. He'd never run this fast. If there was something he was good at, it was running, but every time he glanced over his shoulder, his shadow was just inches away. He first thought about returning to May and Kay's, but he couldn't quite remember their address, though he was sure it would come to him later.

The Inn. I've got to get back to the Inn!

The city again became a blur as he ran, the fog swirling around him. People turned and watched as he passed; some even shouted encouragement, cheering the race they imagined he must be competing in.

The Waterford Marina, the Court House, Pink's Cantina; he was getting closer. His legs burned, and he was drenched in sweat, but surprisingly, as life or death escapes go, Ron felt fantastic. Only a couple of blocks to go, and he'd be safe. The thought pushed him to run even faster, burning through every last bit of energy.

Why me? Ron asked himself as he zig-zagged between parked cars, tourists and couples pushing strollers. Why are they chasing me? Was it because of what I did in the park, or did someone not want me to talk to Gary?

The answer didn't matter, as the Inn was just around the corner. Ron put on one final burst of speed, turning down the narrow cobblestone street to the Scratch and Sniff Inn.

Only it wasn't there.

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