Chapter 1: Chased
In the razed city he called home, now full of booby trapped debris and mines placed around by the infiltrators from Above, the Enclave was a lot more dangerous now than it had been since the rebellion failed.
The place had a name of its own once, but he’d been born into the time of war and had been too young to say it.
Now, it seemed no one remembered it.
They called it the Enclave of Paradise, as sarcastic and bitter a name as they could get without being openly profane, though he saw no reason they shouldn’t be.
At the moment though, Chase was panting for breath, running from the night jackals who were hunting him in a pack of four.
He could hear them spatter and splatter through the chemically laced ‘rainwater’ from Above.
The Night Jackals were new. No one had seen them come, and no one noticed them until their numbers were sufficient,
Then they went on a few tentative hunts, feeding mostly off animal strays.
They picked off people walking alone or drunk. If they happened to be both, it made for an early night when the alcohol hit the jackals’ bloodstream
He had a flashing thought that was supposed to be, of all things, humorous: They’re chasing Chase.
He dismissed it as not funny, and turned to see the pack of four coming for him.
What was even more chilling was the fact that they ran completely silent, with no warning. It happened so fast that it was effective in keeping down the neighborhood population.
The Night Jackals were killers in their own right, relentless, patient, and silent as Death’s reaper.
His gun was charged, but he’d lose ground for sure if he stopped to fire it, and he was no good at running and shooting simultaneously.
Chase’s breathing grew labored.
The jackals closed, beginning to yip as the excitement of the pending kill gave them adrenaline.
You’re not gonna make the gates, Chase. Take cover in the rubble.
He muttered a curse. The rubble was where the traps, bandits, other ferals, orphans, street people, and who-all-else-knew what was in there.
Still, it was now or never.
He changed course, and the jackals grew more cautious. They were clever animals, Chase would give them that much, but that’s as far as he wanted to take it.
He measured the jump into the pile of metal, stone, and glass.
Ready? Three steps.
Set? Two steps.
Chapter 2: Trapped
There was no cover, but he fell into a hole and gashed his arm on something spiky.
The thwarted pack of jackals growled in frustration, losing sight of him, but not his scent.
He realized, only after he bit his lip and wiped the tears of pain from his eyes, that he trapped himself.
He heard one of them climbing, carefully, picking its way up so as not to cut itself.
It had the luxury of time.
Chase went to pull his gun, but his arm was shaking and he couldn’t land a grip on the handle.
He couldn’t see it, but the other three jackals circled the heap to find another way in on the ground. What he did know was that he was losing precious seconds bumbling his firearm.
He gripped his right wrist in his left fist and breathed deeply despite the flaring pain along his forearm and biceps.
The jackal now scented the blood that ran from Chase’s wound.
It growled deep in anticipation of the feast, then slipped, losing its footing.
Chase heard it yelp, and the others answered.
After a tense silence, he heard them climbing, picking their way up once more as their paws struck tin.
He couldn’t stay there now even though he had the gun. Times were hard and they were hungry; they’d attack him as a pack even though space was tight.
Looking around, he saw nothing he could shove to dislodge them again.
Another low growl came from above, and a drop of blood fell on his gashed arm.
The alpha was staring at him, its paw dripping.
Having nothing to lose now, he screamed and fired.
Singed, the jackal barked, retreated, then growled low again.
The other three cleared the top, and Chase circled as fast as he could, still screaming, still firing.
He hit two of them in the face. One fell back down the heap as it died, and the other ran off with its lower jaw destroyed.
The Alpha peeked over again, and snarled,
Chase felt his arm going numb and his fingers tingling; he had no idea how he was still holding the gun, or how long he’d be able to keep it.
The Alpha’s face disappeared again, and while Chase watched, the night jackal behind him jumped.
Chase crashed into the opposite wall, the gun falling out of his hand.
It became a race for throats, and Chase barely won as the jackal’s neck twisted in desperation beneath his hand. The scent of blood seemed to increase the jackal’s strength, and its eyes went from gold to red as it thrashed to make its escape.
Chase managed to turn it on its side, lest the claws scratch his almost useless right arm.
Putting his full weight onto the jackal’s ribs, he squeezed its neck to limit movement.
It seemed to take a long time for it to die; had his right arm been good, he would’ve broken its neck. As it was, he was so focused on killing it he forgot about the Alpha.
Powerful jaws clamped his bicep and the fangs sent a fresh wave of pain through his arm as he cried out.
His arm jerked back and slammed the jackal’s head into the wall of junk surrounding them, hoping its head would get cut open, but instead it lost its grip and fell stunned to the floor.
Chase took the opportunity to stomp the other one’s ribs into its lungs, and it died with a loud yelp.
Hurriedly, Chase looked for the gun; he’d fire it left handed if need be, but he didn’t see where it had skittered under a pile of rusted tin and busted garbage bags the rats had opened nightly.
The Alpha was recovering.
Chase kicked it twice in the head, dropping it.
His right arm now hung useless at his side.
He had to finish this now.
The rats were gathering after scenting fresh blood, some of them already at the dead body Chase made.
He grabbed the Alpha by its tail and slammed it into a side wall of horizontal tin panels, cutting it.
The noise from the jackal was loud and piercing, hurting Chase’s ears, but he swung it twice more, slicing is back open.
Past the point of fighting, the jackal whimpered, its eyes turning red as Chase pushed its neck onto a rusted tin panel and scraped its neck back and forth in a sawing motion.
More chittering rats came as jackal blood spurted over Chase’s clothes and face.
A wave of exhaustion came too, and he found himself fighting to stay conscious.
Chapter 3: Escaped
The scent of blood and guts, the increasing boldness and numbers of the rats, and the fact that he almost died were beginning to take their toll.
Standing near a wall of rubble, he swatted at a rat that jumped on the wound in his arm. Slapping it off hurt it more, but it had to be done before the rat got its teeth and claws into him.
He just needed to get out, but couldn’t climb now without making a path through the rats.
For now, they were still concentrating on the jackals, but they were sniffing the air at his rising fear, and he had to kick the closest ones away to keep space around him. If they started to climb his body, he was lost.
Taking a breath, he carefully scanned for a handhold; he’d have to start with his right arm to see if it could take the stress. The climb wasn’t long or steep, but it would take effort.
The light coming through the holes in the ground above Paradise was starting to move west, and Chase knew he couldn’t afford to lose the light.
A movement in his peripheral caught his attention.
The rats were growing sluggish, even beginning to stand still.
What’s happening to them?
Clearing his mind, he went back to his search, and saw a space just above his head between two cast off doors that he could slip his hand through. If they held his weight, he’d use them to search for the next one.
The rats began chittering. Some had fallen on thier sides, and others on their backs.
The jackal’s guts….something’s wrong with them.
He grabbed the end of the door above his head, the gash in his arm sending pain that made him bite his lip and breathe heavily through his nose as consciousness feinted to elude him again.
Once more it passed, and he pulled at the door. It held.
He put his left hand in the gap, and stood on his toes. Moment of truth.
Taking another deep breath, he pushed off, finding a foot hold somewhere below just as a rat jumped onto his leg. In desperation he swung his leg back and slammed his boot back into the foothold, and the rat fell.
Chase pushed up on his arms, and began to climb, giving vent to a growl of effort that sounded a lot like the jackals.
He put his left hand in the gap, and stood on his toes. Moment of truth.
Taking another deep breath, he pushed off, finding a foothold somewhere below just as a rat jumped onto his leg. In desperation he swung his leg back and slammed his boot back into the foothold, and the rat fell.
Tensing as a couple of pieces dislodged and fell along with it, he kept still.
When nothing more crashed down on him, he began to climb, giving vent to a growl of effort that sounded not unlike the jackals.
Chapter 4: Freed
He lost track of everything but the next handhold and foothold.
Time faded, and the pain in his shaky right arm eventually numbed with adrenaline, but was still bleeding since he couldn’t bind it. It was slow, but it was there.
He was working against both as the last of the light faded and the adrenaline wouldn’t last.
Among the surviving rats, some began to pick the carcasses of their dead, and others tried to find a way up the pile to Chase.
He took a glance up, and liked his chances, but the rats were just as determined.
A beam of bright light lit the precarious catwalks above his head, and he muttered a mild curse of frustration as he lifted up enough to be able to reach the top.
Search party or patrol? Friend or foe?
He heard the sound of boots drawing close.
“He came this way.”
“Who knows? We’ll give it five more minutes. I don’t want to be down here when it’s dark.”
Chase knew the voices. “Over here, guys.”
The sound of boots came faster.
The yipping of night jackals could be heard in the distance.