Lisa Melton is a typical college student: she studies at the campus coffee spot, stresses over tests and even goes to parties with her friends. But when she wakes up one morning with no memory of the night before, looking like the victim of an brutal assault, and starts seeing a giant black dog in her dorm room—everything around her starts to spiral wildly out of control. Suddenly, Lisa’s life isn’t so humdrum anymore as she meets a mysterious and handsome man who seems to know more about her than she seems to even know herself. Who is this man: is he simply a supernatural stalker or is he something more? Lisa has little time to decide what to think of him, before she is tangled up in a web of kidnappings, brutal murders, a pack of strange giant black dogs, and an ancient family feud that takes her overseas and within inches of her own sanity.
I was running. M y chest ached with the effort to inhale and exhale and I knew I was dead. There was no way I was going to get away. Whatever was chasing me—and I was certain I was being chased, although I had yet to see my pursuer—whatever it was would most certainly end my life. Even with the certainty that I could not escape, I continued to push harder. I ran faster. I raced ahead through the darkness. I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, afraid to glance back—afraid that if I happened to get a glimpse of the “thing” that I would certainly falter in fear and end the chase all that much sooner. Even with the certain knowledge that my death was imminent, I still felt that I could not give up. I have no idea what pushed me to keep trying, because the hopelessness that filled my heart was suffocating—almost hampering my breathing as much as the furious flight of my body. But, for some reason, I knew I had to keep going.
That’s when I felt it; hot, moist breath on my neck. I was sweating and exhausted from my run, dripping with perspiration, but still the sensation on my neck sent chills spreading from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes. This was it then. This was the end. I had lost. It was over and all I could hope for was a quick death. I still had no idea what chased me, but suddenly I realized that I deserved to know just what would take my life. Although the idea of seeing the attack coming was terrifying, it occurred to me that the anticipation itself and the unknown fear might be even worse. I forced myself to spin and face my attacker head on. I knew in my heart the end was near, and somehow I had made peace with the inevitable. Perhaps in facing my destroyer I could leave this world with some sense of dignity.
I could still feel the breath on my neck, so I knew as I turned that I would come face to face with the evil creature. As I spun around, I thought of my family, thought of the family that I would never have and the future that would never be mine now. I was sad and angry. I was almost ready to fight; to spit in the creature’s face. I wanted to fight instead of plead for mercy; although, deep down I knew that neither tactic would save me now. And still I turned, prepared for what—I had no idea. I had no idea what I would see, and no idea how I would handle my own demise.
My body felt light and unearthly. I decided to just get it over with, and so, as I spun around I looked up to where I knew I would look into the eyes of my destroyer. Nothing I felt in my head or my heart could have prepared me what I came face to face with. I was staring into the deepest, most incredible blue eyes. It was the face of an angel. Long black lashes fluttered over those amazing cerulean eyes. Although I could sense the angel’s face was strikingly beautiful, I could not look away from those eyes. They held me in a trance. I felt unaccountably safe, but at the same time, still understood that this creature had every intention of destroying me. From somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind I felt like I knew this creature, and at the same moment, also remembered that evil was often known to appear beautiful to lull victims into a false sense of security. Even knowing this, and even knowing that this creature meant me harm, I still could not tear my eyes away from that steely blue stare.
The creature was perfectly still, inhumanely still. The blue eyes bore into my soul, and I felt exposed and vulnerable. I regretted my decision to turn, and immediately wished that I could make my body move again in the opposite direction, but I was rooted to the ground like a hundred year old oak. It was actually comical in a morbid sense. Here I was, about to be destroyed by this beautiful creature, and I couldn’t even run for my life. Then it occurred to me. Did I hesitate to run because I was frozen in fear, or because I simply could not deny the beauty of the eyes that stared down at me from that hauntingly beautiful face? Either way, I knew I had little time left, and as I prepared for the end, I decided that I would indeed close my eyes. I would not allow this creature to read the fear that I knew was reflected there. I reluctantly allowed my suddenly heavy eyelids the freedom to drop. I wasn’t sure if I was hesitant to close my eyes because I feared the creature, or because I feared the knowledge that I would no longer be allowed to stare into the depths of those amazing eyes. I cursed my weakness.
With my eyes closed, I could feel the blue eyes still locked on my face. It didn’t seem to matter to the arrogant creature that I had shut my eyelids. It seemed to know that its beautiful eyes were still imbedded in my memory. There was no need to look into those blue eyes as I would forever remember exactly what they looked like. At this moment, forever seemed to be a limited quantity, and as I prepared for the end, I sucked in my breath in defiance—to let the creature know that I would take my last breath on my own terms. As I inhaled for the last time, a curious scent filled my nostrils. Actually, the scent wasn’t as curious as it was just ridiculous. I knew the scent, but I was having trouble making my mind understand what my physical senses had already figured out. It couldn’t be. I had owned at least one since I was a child; sometimes I had been the proud owner of two or three—depending on whether or not strays managed to find their way to my door—which they usually did. No, there was no mistake. The odor of the beautiful creature that was about to end my life was that of a DOG!
My eyelids felt like they were sealed shut. I wanted to open them but I didn’t seem to have the strength. I could feel the light on the other side, waiting to greet me. I wasn’t sure if I was in heaven or hell. I felt warm and dizzy, so I feared that my many mistakes in the short life afforded to me, had resulted in the worst possible outcome. Slowly, I managed to pry one eyelid open, again afraid more of the unknown—better to get it over with and find out the truth of my situation. I was completely surprised when I opened my eyes and discovered that my hell was in fact my small bedroom, and that the heat I had felt on the other side of my eyelids was just the midday sun streaming in from my open window. I was laying face down on my twin bed, and my body ached from too much drink the night before. Oh my God, what a dream. It had felt so real, so intense. As I tried to roll over, it came back to me in bits and pieces. I had been running, running for my life. I threw my arm over my eyes to block out the light and mercifully limit the pounding in my head. I knew I had drunk too much, but this was ridiculous. What did I remember? I knew I had gone out with some friends to a club, and then a party at someone’s house. I couldn’t remember whose house it had been. How had I gotten back to my dorm room? Oh my God, I hope I didn’t drive. Oh, this was bad—I couldn’t remember ever feeling this hung over. Had someone drugged me? The thought was terrifying, but it was possible. I wasn’t always as careful as I should be. My friends and I always partied without thought to our personal safety. We acted as though we were invincible—completely stupid.
My mouth was dry as clay. I had to get a drink of water, and hopefully find some Tylenol in my medicine cabinet. I slowly fell over the side of my bed and hit the cold floor with relief. I was at least fully clothed—in the outfit I had been wearing last night. What had I been thinking? What had happened to me? Mercifully, my roommate was nowhere to be seen, and thus there was no one to be humiliated in front of—except my own sad conscious; therefore, I began crawling towards the bathroom. As freshmen, we were quite lucky to have our own bathroom—otherwise I would have found myself crawling down the hall of the dormitory. The last thing I wanted was to be seen in this condition. The hard cold floor felt good, but my head was throbbing. I made it to the bathroom and managed to pull myself up to the medicine cabinet and a small glass, which was sitting beside the sink. Filling it with water, I downed four Tylenol.
I sat back on the floor in the bathroom and tried to think. Kelly, Alyssa, and I had gone to Club Ping. I remembered dancing and drinking. Yes, I was definitely drinking, but I didn’t drink this much—did I?
“Lisa? Lisa, are you here?” the call came from outside my dorm room door. It was Alyssa. Thank God. Maybe she would be able to shed some light on what the hell had happened last night. “I’m here,” I called back…. ouch, huge mistake. Raising my voice had not done good things for my head.
I pulled myself up against the bathroom wall and made my way slowly through the small bedroom and to the door to let Alyssa in. She sounded concerned and I knew I was. I also hadn’t taken the time to check my appearance in the mirror and I knew I felt like hell so whatever Alyssa was about to see might be her undoing. Before I could get to the door, Alyssa had apparently grown tired of waiting and she swung it wide open, nearly hitting me in the face with her force. Obviously, she was more concerned than I first thought. She stopped short when she saw me.
“Oh my God,” she breathed the words out slowly, which confirmed what I had suspected—I looked like crap. “What happened to you last night?” she moved carefully in my direction, like she was almost afraid of me. That was odd.
“I don’t remember very much, Alyssa. I was actually hoping that you might be able to tell me what happened.”
Alyssa very gingerly helped me back to the bathroom where she carefully sat me on the floor and began to wet a washcloth. At this point, I was afraid to look in the mirror. Kneeling down, she softly placed the cloth against the side of my face. It was at that point that I realized the throbbing in my head might not be all hangover related. When she pulled the cloth back, there was blood on it—dried. At this point the concern on Alyssa’s face was so intense that I felt bad for her. I felt worse for her than I did for myself.
“Lisa, I’m so sorry. Kelly and I didn’t notice you were gone.” Alyssa started crying. “We were just partying and having fun. We didn’t notice—oh God, what happened to you?” She was sobbing at this point. Obviously, we had gotten separated at the party and her guilt of my current condition was more than she could bear. I wondered what had happened to me.
I had to help Alyssa get control of herself or I was going to lose it. “Alyssa, it’s ok. I’m fine. I probably just fell down or something.” I could tell from the look on her face that she could see my lie for what it was, but it didn’t matter because it did seem to help relieve her guilt to know that I wasn’t mad at her or blaming her for whatever had happened. I gently took the cloth from her and managed to stand by pushing my back up the side of the wall. The last thing I wanted was for Alyssa to see how dizzy or shaken I really felt. I couldn’t put off the inevitable any longer. I had to look in the mirror and see just what had Alyssa so concerned.
Carefully I peeked up at my image. Alyssa was standing beside me with her hand placed under my elbow, as if she were afraid that my reflection might be my undoing. Not even the fear and concern in Alyssa’s eyes could prepare me for what I saw. The left side of my face was severely bruised and my bottom lip was covered in dried blood, apparently the source of the dried blood now staining my once white washcloth. My left eye was also black and blue and yellow, a very odd shade of yellow that made my stomach lurch. I was afraid I was going to be sick, and the last thing I wanted to do was create any more panic for Alyssa. Obviously, she was seriously afraid that something terrible had happened to me, and maybe it had; however, somehow it seemed more important at this moment to comfort my friend. For some reason, I also felt the need to deal with this situation by myself. It felt personal, and I needed time to sort through my feelings and my memories to make some sense of what the hell had happened during the night.
I was about to turn away from my damaged face and try to sooth away the creases that I already knew were forming above Alyssa’s eyebrows, when suddenly something else in my reflection stopped me short. I hadn’t meant to look again, but some unknown force had pulled my eyes back up to my face once more. The detail was small but in my heart and soul I knew it was incredibly significant. For a moment I forgot about Alyssa’s presence. I leaned in closer to the small bathroom mirror, the mirror that I used every day to apply make-up, curl my hair, brush my teeth, pluck my eyebrows, and all the other little mundane tasks that now seemed so incredibly insignificant compared to this moment.
I turned my face slightly to the left, away from the damage. On my right cheek, low, close to my neck were tiny little scratch marks—marks that were nowhere near the significant wounds that marred the left half of my reflection. I looked even closer, Alyssa and the rest of the world completely forgotten for the moment. I reached my hand up gently and traced the tiny scratches.
“What is it?” Alyssa interrupted from behind. Her voice seemed to come from very far away, and at that moment, I was deeply irritated by her presence. Besides that, there was no way I could answer her… no way I could make my voice work. As I traced the tiny scratches lightly with my trembling fingers, I knew in my heart what the scratches were. The width and length of the marks left no room for misdiagnosis. The tiny indentations could be nothing else and the recognition hit me like a wrecking ball. Clearly, the lines indicated the sweeping motion of a paw—a dog’s paw.
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