Tam was fraught with paranoia. The man-or monster-lay dead, but the broken window behind her remained as an ominous breach in the house, and a torrent of rain still blew through, drenching the kitchen. To make things worse, the obviously more able of the two women was passed out on the floor, maybe dead. Tam quickly knelt and checked the woman's pulse. It was fast, but that meant alive. Her eyes darted back to the kitchen. It was almost pitch black now, save a pale sliver of moon light. Basic instinct took over. She wanted to be higher and she wanted to hide. Grabbing the sword, she sheathed it again and threw it around her chest. She'd have to drag the woman again, this time up the stairs in the anteroom. It was a struggle up, but they made it without casualty. She kept her eyes fixed to the front door as she lugged the deadweight up, step after step, for fear some phantom would crash through when they were most vulnerable.
In the second floor hallway, Tam started checking doors. Most of them were locked. One at the far end of the hall opened, though, into a small bedroom. She dragged the woman inside and closed the door behind them, turning a brass deadlock for good measure. With a heave, she got the woman up onto the bed, where she lay a long time without stirring.
Tam searched again for a light switch, but there were none up here, either. On the opposite wall from the door was a set of glass double doors that opened out onto a balcony overlooking the ocean. She didn't like that, but at least there were curtains drawn over them. She unsheathed the sword and sat cross legged by the bedside with the blade laying over her thighs.
An hour passed. The girl obsessed over the door, listening for any small noise creeping up from downstairs. As the minutes ticked on, she became restless. She stood and walked over to a vanity sitting along the northern wall of the bedroom. Her legs were still shaking.
A bedraggled face stared back at her from the mirror. Her blond hair had almost come undone from its knot, and she had no makeup on, making her look like crap. There were defined bags under her eyes she picked up from the bus ride. She searched around the vanity for some cosmetics, but it was barren, save a hairbrush. Why am I thinking about beauty at a time like this? With what I just saw downstairs? Tired of seeing herself, she resumed her position by the bed. Not so paranoid anymore, her eyes wandered the room. There was little to it. The queen-sized bed the woman was on, a vanity, an end table and a lamp beside it, and that was all. It must have been a guest room. But that said something of itself. Molly was rich, assuming this was her house. They must have passed several doors in the hall, not counting this one. It was probably a four bedroom home. There was a strange comfort in learning that even an affluent person could suffer the same unreal problems a city kid like her could.
Tam gave the woman another once over. She was certainly strange. Most people Tam knew would have been a little perturbed by a monster crashing through their kitchen window and nearly killing them, but she took in in stride. Was it adrenaline? How long had this been going on? She started to feel tired and she closed her eyes for a while.
"Were there any more?"
Tam looked up to see the woman sitting, running a hand through her short, black hair. It was still damp from the ocean.
"You're awake!" Tam stood and placed her hands on the bed. “I was starting to lose it! I don't know how many times I checked your pulse to make sure-”
"Were there more?" the woman asked more sternly.
"No, but the window downstairs is-"
"Yeah, still broken. I know. The windows are no defense, anyway. You saw it come through. They only attack if they sense movement. That was our downfall."
"What are they? Who are you? I have so many questions."
"I'm sure you do." The woman looked towards the door. "Is that door locked?"
The woman pulled herself back a bit and rested on the headboard. She looked up at Tam deadpan. "Go back downstairs and get the med kit."
"You're the one with the sword. Make it quick. You'll be fine."
The girl trembled as she went back down the hallway. Maybe it would have been better if the woman hadn't woke. This was ridiculous. She clutched the sword in her hands, holding it straight up and stood at the foot of the steps where a wall above them blocked view of the front door. She didn't like that, either. A deep breath and she raced down the steps and turned sharply into the kitchen. She snatched the red and white box and wasted not even a second jumping back to the anteroom. The monster from earlier was barely visible, laying in the dining room. It being dead mattered little to the petrified girl. She scrambled back up the steps, nearly impaling herself on the way. She knew what the confounded woman would say. Keep calm. Patience is better than speed. Or something like that.
The woman was sitting in her same position on the bed when Tam returned, eyes popping out from terror. The door slammed behind her and she slid down.
"Just give it to me," said the woman, holding out her hand. Tam tossed it to her and she went to work dressing the remaining wounds. "You did a good job on the leg, especially given the circumstances." she said.
"Do you need anything else?" Tam asked. There was an underlying bite to her tone. The woman must have ignored it.
"No. We should be good for now."
"Then start talking. Are you Molly, the woman I spoke with online?”
"Yeah." The woman finished injecting herself with a hypodermic needle and tying off her arm. "They call me Mad Molly." She bit the band in her teeth, pulling it tight, then let it fall. "We saw you wandering aimlessly back in Chicago, swinging that sword at phantoms. It was only a matter of time before the cops found you and threw you in the slammer. Then, you'd be dead."
"How did you see me? Were you following me?"
"In a manner of speaking. When things started getting really bad around here, we started that forum you were on, just to see if it was an isolated case, or not. We got a few hits, but you were the first person to show up. You made news, you know? With the sword." She pointed to the blade in Tam's hand. "It's pretty conspicuous."
"Oh.” She stared at the shiny blade for a minute, thinking of something distant. “What are they? Why can only we see them?” Her voice trailed off.
"The monsters? We don't know that yet. We think it's by chance; there's nothing special about us. I'm a telemarketer with a fascination for Japanese swords. My partners are made up of accountants, office workers, and technicians, and as far as I can tell, you're just a student.”
"The more time passes, the more people see them. Probably everybody will be in our position before too long. It means their numbers are growing.”
"The way you talk, you make it seem like an invasion.”
"That is very likely. Everything we've seen points to a gradually increasing presence, as if the creatures we've encountered so far are a vanguard, or an early wave.”
"You don't sound like a telemarketer."
Molly gave her a hard stare, but didn't comment on the matter. "They're not invincible, though, as we first thought. They can be killed. You saw. It just takes a lot of effort."
"Who are 'we'?"
"You mean the people who see the monsters, or my group? A few of us here in Seaven banded together after they started appearing and people started dying under strange circumstances. Carter even lost his daughter. It was almost like a club, at first. It felt good to know we weren't crazy, but when the attacks began, we had to learn to defend ourselves. It wasn't safe to go outside anymore. Surprised you made it here without incident.”
“The town seemed pretty normal. A little quiet.”
“Don't expect that to last.”
"Where are they then?"
"I don't know. I'm pretty sure the diving team is dead. As for the boat, well, it might have gone down in the storm."
"What were you doing out there?"
"Searching. Patterson had a theory that these things were coming from the ocean. Some kind of Stephen King nonsense. I had my doubts, but we were getting desperate, so I went along, anyway. We scoured the sea bed around the coast, but turned up nothing suspicious, that is, until we were attacked. Even out there in the ocean, we weren't safe. I remember my SCUBA mask clouding up-guess I should have spit on it before going in-and Jones was motioning towards me. I'm pretty sure he was pointing to whatever was coming, but like I said, I couldn't see. There were three of us down there: Stev, Jones, and myself. Patterson and Carter were back on the boat. From what I could make out, it was big. Way larger than the humanoids we were used to. I saw a dark mass moving around, but I was practically blind. Jones had the harpoon gun and gave that thing one nightmare of a splinter, but the water kicked up and I was carried away from the others. As I struggled with the current, I felt something slashing away at me. I never got a good look at what it was. Too much blood. Then you showed up."
Tam felt sick. She ran her finger along the fuller of her sword and spaced out. It was a lot to take in at once. All this had been confirmation that it was real, and worse than she could imagine.
"I called them shadows," she said after a long pause. "The first one I was was when I was coming home one night from college. It was just a shadow then, like a black figure. Then again, it was night, maybe I-"
"You probably saw the same things we were. The mind can play tricks on you. As far as we can tell from the news, these incidents are occurring in other states, as well. Tell me more about your first encounter."
Tam sighed and took a deep breath. "There wasn't much too it. I saw the thing and ran home. I figured it was nothing, or at least nothing to worry about. Chicago is a strange place, anyway, but then a few days later I saw it again. It came in the house. No one was home, and I ran to my bedroom. It was dark. The thing forced its way in and I grabbed the sword my father bought for me. He always said I'd kill myself with that thing, and there it saved my life. I didn't even know how to use it. I just swung and it crashed out the window. My parents came home later that night and I was hysterical. They called the police and we filed a report, but you know what?" She was in tears now. "There was nothing there when we looked. Just the broken glass from the window, and they said I was seeing things."
Molly was ready to speak, but Tam stood and interrupted. "Don't tell me to calm down! It's screwed up!" She began pacing and dropped the sword to the floor.
"Come here." Molly's voice was less monotone now. It was almost comforting. Tam crawled into the bed and laid next to the woman as she sobbed. Molly put an arm around her and drew the girl's head to her chest.
"No one said you had to blindly accept this," she said.
"You seem to have."
"Well, I'm running on fumes."