Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 2073
Dropping a cat from the top ledge of a ten-story office building wasn't the best way to remain hidden, but it was necessary.
Daniel Hutchinson assumed the cat was a shape-shifter--one of a thousand sinister prowlers roaming the streets, awaiting the proper moment to besiege him from a blind side and take him down.
As the cat dropped, its sinews and muscles popped, crackled. Falling, it shifted from its cat form into a hideous creature. The cat seemed to welcome its oncoming fate eagerly, without fear. With forepaws outstretched, it leaned forward toward the pavement like a high diver straightens to break through the water's surface. To Daniel's surprise, the impact against the concrete didn't kill it. Instead, the cat landed on its feet, rolled and pivoted around to face him, altering more and more until it became the creature that had followed him the past six exhausting days.
The cat's head twisted, stretched. Its snout elongated. The feline resemblance faded, replaced by a more pointed nose. Its muzzle contorted further. Sharp fangs sprouted over its small teeth.
A delighted purr rumbled in its throat as the shifter understood the damage it could inflict should it span the distance between them.
The shifter's paws swelled, growing larger and wider with thicker claws lengthening outward. Scratching the pavement with a raking swipe, it gazed at him with glowing red eyes, then it licked its forepaw with menacing mockery.
"You're a persistent one, aren't you?" Daniel whispered while searching his pocket for a cigarette. "What about me intrigues you?"
The shifter, he feared, would eventually catch him and rip those angry talons into his flesh and kill him, leaving his body an empty shell--useless, lifeless, dead.
The creature waited for him to make an error of judgment that left him vulnerable. The longer he trekked his mission without sleep, the more mistakes he'd make. Yet, he wondered why this shifter pursued him with untiring determination.
Normally, shifters stalked scavengers less than an hour before abandoning their pursuit, observing more from curiosity than anything else. But this one was different. Different because it studied him--his movements, his mannerism, and mostly, his fear.
A new fear possessed Daniel. The cat shifter had been the first to reach the rooftop. How long before others accomplished the same?
The cat sat on the rooftop when Daniel arrived. A yellow tabby. Friendly in its approach, it mewed and cried, which struck a nerve for him. the cat was identical to his cat, Morton, but Morton had died during Daniel's childhood years ago.
Daniel rubbed his tired, bloodshot eyes, trying to make sense of what he saw. Deep inside, he understood this wasn't his cat.
The beast offered its ploy--toying with his mind--and hoped he'd let down his guard, but he hadn't. No matter how tired and frayed his mind was, he had seen through the beast's weak imitation of Morton.
He called the cat. It pranced eagerly and leaped into his arms. He stroked the cat's neck for several seconds, satiating the creature's guise, before he tossed it over the ledge to prevent it from attacking him. Not a difficult undertaking for someone who'd allowed his emotions to shut down so he didn't have to deal with the depression of reality.
His true fear resided with the fact that shifters didn't die easily. The shifter he had flung off the building brushed itself off uninjured and sat observing him without fear.
Daniel shuddered. His solid, six-foot two-inch, muscled frame didn't provide any advantage over the shrewd intellectual shifter assaults.
Intellectual. That the shifters were. This troubled him, too. Recent shifter dissections had shown evolutionary advancements within their brain structures. Their brains were becoming more developed, like humans. This discovery made Daniel and Dr. Helmsby wonder if shifters were incorporating human genome into their own, granting them a more advanced intelligence.
Unlike other predatory animals, shifters set ambushes. They baited traps to snare humans, and in desperate circumstances, other shifters. Using tattered bits of clothing and mannequin parts, they constructed decoys in dark alleys to lure humans from the safety of the rooftops.
This trickery Daniel learned early on. If no reply came when he called to a decoy, he allowed no further investigation. It was a game of hunter versus prey. He wasn't sure which he considered himself.
Hunter or prey?
A cold breeze pressed against him, blowing his long, braided hair in riveting waves. His piercing eyes, blue like shimmering ice, studied the streets. Uneasiness rose inside him while he watched the dumpsters. His nemesis was no longer alone.
The clouded skies were lightless, and the streets, darker. Without electricity the alleys and streets were dens of ominous macabre devastation.
As the mist of evening settled, forming a thin layer of fog, all that penetrated through the haze was the bodiless, violent eyes glaring at him. They dared him to enter their shadowed domain.
Illuminating eyes. Eyes without visible bodies. Eyes that continually haunted him.
True darkness only came when the creatures blinked in unison. Soon, though, as nightfall came and the barometric pressure dropped, the mist would grow into a soupy thickness obscuring the brightness of their eyes and burying their gaze in an impenetrable darkness.