Rabid Jack isn’t actually rabid, in the literal sense of the word, but it is an easy mistake to make. He has all the classic symptoms of the disease—aggression, lack of empathy, an inhuman manner of walking. He even foams at the mouth sometimes. But if he had rabies, he would have succumbed to it years ago; and, to my knowledge, none of the many people he has bitten here have ever contracted the illness.
I don’t think his real name is Jack, either.
While it may be somewhat reassuring, the fact that he is not contagious does not make me any more eager to get in his way. He could still tear me limb from limb, and once one is in pieces, rabies is unlikely to make any difference in the matter.
As I dart to the far end of the enclosure, trying to put as much space between myself and the monster as physically possible, I hear the onlookers gasp in mingled awe and horror. Against my better judgment, I look back over my shoulder. My empty stomach does a flip and I stumble into the wall of bars.
It seems that one of the poor, mumbling wanderers did not have the sense or presence of mind to clear out. Anyway, Rabid Jack has descended upon the unfortunate old fool as if he fancies himself to be a vampire; he is latched onto the back of his victim’s neck by his powerful jaws, ripping flesh and grating bone. The unlucky fellow’s eyes dart about in mild confusion before they glaze over in death. Rabid Jack drops him unceremoniously and grins, blood running from the corners of his mouth and skin caught in his teeth. For a moment, I feel a shudder of relief mixed with my revulsion and terror: he isn’t grinning at me, he is grinning at someone else. He isn’t going to come for me just yet. Then I realize who the recipient of the frightful sneer is in reality.
He stands there, motionless, rooted to the spot in fright. His blue eyes are wide and darker than I’ve ever seen them; he looks more childlike than ever before. Rabid Jack takes a lurching step toward him, the horrid, bloodstained grin still plastered across his awful face. The audience outside is cheering one of them on, but whether their pick is the favorite or the underdog, I know not, for I scarcely hear them. A noise like water has filled my ears, blocking out all unnecessary sound. Simon’s terrified eyes meet mine from across the enclosure, and his lips form a word that I recognize.
“Seoc,” he mouths. “Help!”
Something snaps inside me, and suddenly my senses align with staggering clarity. I can feel with peculiar distinction the texture of the ground beneath my bare feet, can taste the sourness of my own saliva. I can hear and identify the unique breathing pattern of everyone present, can almost see the heat radiating from their bodies. I can smell the bitter, salty smell of fear. I notice the subtle signals to which I never before gave thought; they tell me that Rabid Jack is tensing in preparation to pounce.
A twitch in his ankle is all the indication I need to spring forward.
I am flying.