Gina struggled to sit up in bed, and when her feet touched the cold floor, a chill sent goose bumps up her legs. She was ready to fall back onto her pillow when her cat, Mr. Bubbles, jumped up on the bed and nudged her arm. In cat language he was telling Gina he wanted his head scratched and a full bowl of kibbles. As she lifted her arm to fulfill his first wish, she realized she no longer felt nauseous.
For the past three mornings Gina had woken up sick, suffering from what she self diagnosed as the flu. Still feeling lousy, she debated whether cold clammy skin and a headache were enough to call in sick for the fourth day in a row.
Gina worked as a waitress three blocks south of her apartment at Pete's, a coffee shop her boss named after himself. Gina hated her job and her boss, who was almost as foul as her father. But she needed the money, and Pete would probably fire her if she called in sick another day. So she jumped out of bed to feed Mr. Bubbles and take a shower.
Fifteen minutes later, Gina whisked open the shower curtain, reached for a towel and cursed her landlord for cold water, despite the steam filled room. She wrapped herself in her favorite robe and walked back into her bedroom, where she found the clock reading six forty-five. As usual, she was running late and had barely enough time to put on her uniform and tie her hair up in a ponytail before she kissed Mr. Bubbles and ran out the door.
Rusty Price, Gina's neighbor from across the hall, was also running late. When the two simultaneously exited their apartments, they ran square into each other and Rusty was knocked off his feet. Feeling obliged, Gina asked Rusty if he was all right. When he said he wasn't hurt, she cut him off. "No time Rusty. Late for work."
"Me too," he said, still on the floor. "Drop by for a drink tonight."
After living across the hall from Rusty for the past two years, Gina had learned that being rude was the only way to keep Rusty at a distance. Rusty considered himself a player and took every opportunity he could to hit on Gina, so she wasn't surprised by his invitation. Gina could only shake her head while she though, Not in a million years Rusty. She ignored his invitation and ran down the stairs.
As Gina reached the second floor landing, she looked down at her watch and panicked when she realized she had only ten minutes before she'd be late for work. If she ran the distance, she thought she might make it on time.
Pete waited at the back door during shift turnover hoping to catch a late waitress, and if he was feeling generous he wouldn't fire her. Instead he'd belittle her, calling her every derogatory female name in the book while all the cooks laughed at her in the background. And he wouldn't stop until she showed at least a gleam of a tear in her eye. Not wanting to put up with that sort of treatment before starting a shift while sick, she hurried her pace down the stairs.
As she rounded the landing, Gina lost her balance when she met bright sunshine glaring through the entryway below. To steady herself, she grabbed ahold of the banister with one hand and used her other hand to block the bright light. She tried to squint to see, but her vision was blinded until she put on her sunglasses.
"You going to make it to work this morning?" asked Rusty as he caught up with her. His hand slid down the small of her back and around her waist.
Gina jumped and pulled away. "Rusty, stop, I don't feel good."
"I can tell. You look awful," he said, "and your face is so pale."
"Thanks," she replied sarcastically. "I have the flu."
Rusty positioned himself one step below Gina and grabbed the banisters on each side of the staircase to block her way. "Can I help you?" he asked. He touched her hand and smiled up at her, then quickly pulled away. "Oh my God, your hand is like ice."
"Rusty," she said while gritting her teeth. "I'm going to be late for work if you don't get out of my way." Gina could no longer hold back her temper and pushed Rusty with more strength than one woman could normally wield. Rusty smashed into the wall and Gina rushed past him.
Rusty mistook her forcefulness as playing and let out childish giggle while he ran down the stairs after her. "Don't forget. If you're feeling better. Drop by tonight for a drink."
This guy's as dense as he is desperate, she thought.
"Rusty, I'm sick, and 'm about to spend eight hours on my feet. I'm not coming over for drinks."
With a forlorn expression he said, "I understand." Still he wasn't about to give up. Rusty skipped ahead of Gina, grabbed the doorknob and blocked her way a second time. "I could make you some chicken soup and we could watch a movie on my new HD TV." Gina shrugged and sighed. "What do ya say? Soup and a movie?"
Afraid Rusty might never let her through the door, she decided to give him a semblance of hope that she'd stop by. "I'll let you know when I get home from work," she said.
Her reply was enough of a promise for Rusty to perk back up. "Do you like chicken soup?" he asked and opened the door. "I can make tomato or vegetable if you don't like chicken."
Sunlight flooded through the door and Gina collapsed backward. Smoke billowed from her exposed skin as her flesh turned bright red.
"What the hell?" exclaimed Rusty.
"Shut the door!" Word Count: 988
Rusty slammed the door closed as Gina dove for the stairwell.
"What the hell was that?" Rusty yelled as he stared, wide-eyed, as Gina's skin stopped smoking and began to heal at an alarming rate.
"I don't know..." She trailed off with a worried expression. "But whatever it is, it sure as hell ain't normal."
Rusty slowly walked over to her before glancing at the door worriedly. "Want to stay in my place for the day? You know there aren't any windows in there, I'm always complaining about it." His usually flirtatious attitude was suspiciously absent. Gina looked up at himworriedly.
"Sure, I'm surprised I didn't open my own windows yet. Glad I didn't now."
They went up the stairs slowly, both lost in their own thoughts. When they reached the top Gina suddenly started to feel dizzy. She started to fall and Rusty caught her just before she hit the ugly beige carpet. He opened the door to his apartment and carried her in, setting her down on his couch after knocking some stray papers off with a well-placed kick. She mumbled an incoherent thank you before she passed out.
* * * * * * * *
When Gina woke up she was covered by a blanket and Rusty was asleep in a chair across the room. She stared at him for a few seconds, hunger gnawing at her stomach before sitting up and heading for the door. It was almost an hour past sunset, so she figured it was safe to go out.
She started walking down the street, aimlessly. After an hour or so she realized she'd been unconsciously heading for the docks. Some buried memory flickered in the back of her mind but she couldn't grasp it so she kept walking.
She looked down at her ugly gray pants and her somewhat decent green shirt. When she looked up again she realized she'd reached the docks and a male was standing not twenty feet in front of her. He seemed almost confused for a moment and then a slow, cruel smile slid onto his face. "Welcome back Gina."
*There was a pair of luminescent green eyes staring at her out of the alleyway. She thought she heard something fall behind her and spun to look, mace held out in front of her. Nothing. She turned back around and nearly screamed. A man, almost six and a half feet tall, at least five inches taller than her and menacing with a snarl across his face, was barely two feet from her. She hit the nozzle on the mace, he jerked back as it hit his eyes and she took off running down the street. She was beginning to regret having taken this deserted short cut.
She cursed as one ofthe heels her boss forced her to wear broke. She paused only long enough to jerk it off her foot and toss the secon, but it was enough time for the male to catch up. Luckily she'd turned around just before he hit her. Relying on instinct she dropped back and used her feet to throw him over and past her in a throw she'd learned in a martial arts class. He twisted in the air and somehow managed to land on his feet and start after her as she ran the other way, stumbling on the cracked cement.
She spun around the corner praying that one of the buildings she'd passed had an open doorway she could hide in. Luck was with her and she managed to dive in before the male turned the corner. Miraculously he seemed to have realized she hid as he started slowly walk down the street seeming to sent the air like a hound as he went. His gaze locked on her doorway and she quietly tried the door handle. It was unlocked. She dove inside and slammed it shut. Masculine laughter sounded outside as she desperately tried to find something to block the door. She jammed a chair under the handle and darted for the staircase across the room. She was halfway up the stairs when the door slammed open, the chair broken in one attempt and the pieces thrown by the force across the room. The male stalked in the door, still laughing and moved at a blinding speed to the stairs.Somehow she managed to get to the top and almost to the door before it reached her.
She was tackled into the door, the force cracking the door through-out the whole frame.
"So, you think you can get away from me? You are a pretty one though, aren't you." His grip was bruising as he pulled Gina back and held her to his chest, her arms pinned across her own chest. He made a sound that was almost a purr. She shivered in what she wanted to believe was fear but was somehow attraction. Something about him drew her to him instead of causing her to keep trying to escape as she should have been doing.
He tilted her head back and she felt his eyes lock on her throat but all she heard was his thoughts in her head.
'I will take you home, Gina. If you survive this come back to me, my pretty little toy.' His head snapped forward and his teeth locked into her throat. She got an immediate impression of thousands of years and memories before her eyes closed and she slipped into oblivion.*
"Hello Damian." He smiled.