Read Slayers Online

Authors: C. J. Hill

Slayers

BOOK: Slayers
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To my children, Asenath, Luke, James, Faith, and Arianna,
for the sacrifices they’ve made, and all the un-gourmet
meals they’ve eaten because their mom is a writer.
 
 
To my husband, Guy, who made many of those un-gourmet meals,
as well as helped me with car pool, scheduling, and everything else.
 
 
To my parents, for always supporting me. Thanks, Dad, for
trying to teach me grammar—even if it never stuck. (This is probably a good
place to also thank all the lovely copy editors who fix my grammar.)
 
 
Thanks to George Nicholson and Erica Silverman, who believed in my
dragons and, more importantly, believed in me. Also thanks to my ever-
tactful editor, Liz Szabla, for bearing with me through the rewrites.
The reason parents don’t tell their children about their nightmares
M
rs. Harriet Davis had never been afraid of dragons—until now. The dragon in her dream hovered above Washington, D.C., watching traffic. Against the fading light of the evening, its body seemed first brown, then maroon, then the color of blood. The dragon turned its head side to side, presenting a face that looked like a cross between a crocodile and a cat, although with more disdain than a cat and less patience than a crocodile. In size and wingspan it was comparable to a small commuter plane, but the similarities ended there. It darted toward the street, its batlike wings outstretched while it searched among fleeing pedestrians. It was all beast: a primeval predator with golden eyes that showed more than just hunger. Anger lurked there—purpose, something evil.
Harriet couldn’t see the faces of the people who ran down the street, ducking into building doorways or under parked cars. Their panic blurred together in her mind. Her attention was riveted on the dragon.
It picked up a van with its claws the same way birds pluck fish from the ocean. The dragon drew the vehicle to its face, viewed the screaming occupants, then with a growl of disappointment let the van fall. It
crashed into the street, the sound of glass and metal mingling with car horns. When the van finally stopped shuddering, it lay on its side, wheels spinning futilely in the darkening night.
The dragon dashed upward, turned, and surveyed the scene again. Dozens of cars clogged the intersections. The ones that hadn’t already stalled were rolling to useless stops. Harriet didn’t understand why this was, just as she didn’t know why the traffic lights had gone out.
The dragon swooped down, picked up a screaming blonde woman, and examined her. It seemed dissatisfied by her thrashing and dropped her.
Harriet tried to open her eyes, tried to make the dream stop. She didn’t want to see the woman fall, didn’t want to hear the sound that came when she hit the ground.
It didn’t work. The events unfolded in perfect clarity.
The dragon pushed upward again and soared toward the tidal basin.
And then the dream changed and Harriet was no longer just viewing the events, she was standing there underneath the cherry trees, a soft breeze pushing against her maternity nightgown and the feel of cold grass beneath her feet. The Jefferson Memorial was the closest structure, but it didn’t offer much protection. It was an outdoor monument with a huge bronze statue of Jefferson surrounded by columns underneath a domed roof. She didn’t have a lot of choices, though. The dragon was tearing through the sky in her direction.
She wasn’t sure how she’d gotten here or why she was out during rush hour in her pajamas. Time didn’t allow for those thoughts. She ran. She wasn’t fast. The baby, due in two weeks, pressed into her ribs with every step she took. Her already crowded lungs strained to take in enough air. Tourists rushed past her; one nearly knocked her down.
The monument was still a couple of minutes away and the dragon was drawing nearer. Screams behind Harriet drew her attention and she looked over her shoulder. The dragon had stopped long enough to scoop up another blonde woman.
Was there a pattern? Harriet didn’t know, but wished her own hair wasn’t blonde.
Her terror made her run faster. She stumbled up the memorial steps, breathing hard, then staggered the rest of the way across the stone floor. Once there, she huddled with two dozen people at the feet of Thomas Jefferson.
They weren’t protected. Not really. The memorial had no doors or walls, just the large, marble columns. But perhaps the dragon wouldn’t notice them here, out of the way.
She didn’t mind the press of people around her. They were warm, and the cold from the floor seeped through her thin nightgown. She shivered, shook really. Inside her, the baby kicked and pushed, seemingly as alarmed as she was. Could he feel her fear?
She peered through the columns into the night. Not much was visible. What had happened to the lights? It was late enough that they should have come on.
“Where did that thing come from?” a woman next to Harriet whispered.
“Shut up,” someone said. “We’ve got to be perfectly still. Perfectly quiet.”
No one else spoke, although how could the dragon not hear them when Harriet’s breathing was so loud, so fast?
The screams in the distance stopped. The sound of beating wings filled the air, and then silence.
Silence.
Silence.
She caught the whiff of something she couldn’t place. Something oily and unnatural. Did dragons have a scent?
Harriet wished she had her cell phone so she could at least text her husband, Allen. She desperately wanted to tell him where she was and that she loved him. Had she told him that today? She couldn’t remember.
A brownish red tail dropped down the side of the building. It swished back and forth. The dragon was sitting on top of the roof.
Harriet swallowed hard. Her pulse hammered in her ears, and she pressed her back farther into the foot of the statue. She could hear the domed ceiling above her creak as the dragon shifted its weight. Would the roof hold, or would they be crushed?
She took hold of a man’s hand who sat next to her, even though she had no idea who he was. He squeezed her hand back. She put her other hand on her stomach, shielding her baby the best she could. They had already picked out a name for him. Ryker. Last week she’d stenciled it onto the wall of the nursery in flowing silver letters. She’d poured love into those letters, hope, promise, and now she couldn’t do anything to protect him. This hurt worse than losing her own life.
The baby kicked against her hand, agitated, as though he wanted to tell her something.
Then the dragon’s tail moved upward and disappeared.
Let it have flown away,
Harriet thought, but she didn’t hear the beat of wings.
Seconds passed. The dragon stepped down onto the concrete outside the monument. Each step made the ground vibrate. Harriet had to clamp her lips together so she didn’t cry out.
The dragon’s head came into view and she noticed for the first time that he had a white patch on his forehead, diamond-shaped, that stood out like a glistening tattoo. She didn’t consider it for long. The dragon turned two golden eyes on the crowd, searching, and then his gaze narrowed in on her. He let out a screech of triumph. It intermingled with the crowd’s immediate and unanimous scream.
The dragon lunged forward, pushing its head through the columns. Harriet stumbled to her feet, a shriek tearing at her throat. She had to get away.
The columns held the rest of the dragon back, and it snapped its
jaws in frustration. Its head reared back and breathed in a long, snarling breath. Harriet knew what would come next—fire. She, and everyone around her, scrambled to the other side of the monument. Some people ran out completely, but Harriet only made it to the far columns.
Then the fire came. Luckily Jefferson took the brunt of the attack. His bronze exterior blackened in the flames, his solemn expression erased in soot. The heat licked around Harriet, fluttering her nightgown against her leg and making her gasp. She raised her hand to protect her eyes.
Then the heat disappeared. And so did the dragon.
Where had it gone? More importantly, was it safer to run away or stay here? The night was growing darker, and she couldn’t see a single light, not anywhere in the city.
A few days ago she had heard a professor of medieval history—Dr. Bartholemew—on a radio program. He’d claimed that dragons were real and would be unleashed on humanity again. She had laughed and told Allen, “Well, at least Bigfoot will have someone to keep him company.”
But this Dr. Bartholemew was right. She wished she had listened to the rest of the program.
“Is it gone?” a man beside her asked.
Before she could answer, a searing hot claw grabbed her shoulder from behind.
Harriet gasped, let out a strangled scream, and found herself sitting up in bed.
Allen threw off his covers and turned on the lamp on their nightstand. His blue eyes were wide, but not quite awake as he jolted out of the bed. “What is it? Is the baby coming?”
She shook her head and drew her knees up, trembling, gasping. “A dragon grabbed me! Its claws burned into my back!”
Allen stared at her a moment, then laid back down with a thump and shut his eyes. “Okay, let me know when it’s the baby.”
Harriet clutched the blanket, her voice choked with emotion. “It flew through the city killing people, but it was looking for me. I know it was.”
Allen flipped off the light. “It was a bad dream. The best thing to do—”
“It wasn’t a dream.” She reached around him and turned the lamp back on. “It was real. I can still smell it. Can’t you?”
He took a deep breath. “Nope.”
“My shoulder burns like crazy.” She slid her nightgown away from her skin and gasped. Three long welts ran across her shoulder and down her back. “Look!” she cried. It was proof she would rather have not found. A wave of nausea swept over her.
Allen sat up, squinting at the welts. “How did you get those?”
Her voice spiraled upward. “I told you. It grabbed me.”
“That isn’t …” He was completely awake now and examining the place where she’d slept. “It must have been something else—something stung you and you had a bad dream.”
She would have liked to believe him, but didn’t. “What would leave marks this big? Do you think we have a colony of steroid-taking scorpions in our bed that just happen to sting in rows?” She pushed the covers off and swung her feet to the floor, then put one hand over her stomach, protecting the baby. She walked to the TV that sat on her dresser. Certainly the news would have something on about the dragon attack.
She clicked through the stations, flipping through infomercials and late-night movies—all regular programming.
“What are you doing?” Allen asked.
She turned back to her husband, puzzled. “Maybe the news stations don’t know yet. I think there was some sort of power outage.”
“Harriet …”
In the span of a sigh, her panic shifted to frustration and then to tears. “It was real and it was evil. It wanted to kill me.”
He got up from the bed, walked over, and pulled her into a careful embrace so as not to touch her welts. “Harriet.”
“You don’t even believe me,” she said, sobbing. Then she lay her head against his chest and repeated. “It wasn’t just a dream.”
 
 
The phone rang in Dr. Alastair Bartholemew’s house. He rolled over and hit the alarm clock, then hit it again when the noise didn’t stop. It took him a few more seconds to realize his alarm didn’t play Beethoven’s Fifth—that was the new phone. He blinked at the glowing numbers on the clock face: 2:11 a.m. If someone was calling him now, there must be an emergency. He clumsily grabbed the phone. “Hello.”
“I’m sorry to call you so late, Dr. Bartholemew,” a male voice said. “Especially since you don’t know us, but we listened to you when you were on
Coast to Coast,
and, well, my wife wants to talk to you.”
Alastair rubbed his eyes, and considered hanging up.
Alastair’s wife, Shirley, opened one eye to check what the noise was. He waved for her to go back to sleep. “Radio fans,” he whispered, his hand over the mouthpiece. Since the show last week, he’d heard from medieval buffs, people who thought they had been dragons in a past life, and people who thought they talked to invisible dragons.
BOOK: Slayers
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