Darren glanced down at his Apple Watch, noting the fact that he had now been walking for over ninety minutes. He had done this to himself, punishing his aging body all because of a bad result on a heart scan. In the past three weeks he had dropped fourteen pounds, completely changed his eating habits thanks to a handy app that tracked his carbs, and overall felt better about himself.
His wife felt better about him, too. She had been worried about his health for a few years, ever since he had hit the big five-o. Today was a breezy seventy-five degrees in Oklahoma and he was going to take advantage of the late April warmth before a freak cold snap came in tomorrow. Oklahoma was always changing its mind as far as the weather was concerned. One could never quite predict how it was going to twist and turn, much like the path of its famous tornadoes.
He had walked from his modest home in the southwest end of his edition all the way across the highway and to the local park where he had visited the veterans memorial. His second trip there had been unlucky in that he again didn't find his father's name engraved there. He faintly remembered his father talking about it long ago before dying tragically of lung cancer, but he'd never thought to stop and see if it was really there. He only had ten more plaques to examine, wishing they had placed the names in alphabetical order. He supposed that was so that visitors would look at all of the names.
Now, as he walked the long sidewalk along the main road that led back to his house, Darren wondered if he would find it next time he made the two and a half mile walk to the memorial. It was a goal he was going to meet, just like his food goals and his exercise goals. A little bit at a time.
The sun was going down beyond the trees, casting long shadows across the sidewalk. The cars on the road to his left whizzed by, and he supposed none of the drivers payed him any mind at all, just as he did when he saw people walking along this road. To his right was the chain link fence he passed every day he walked this path, video surveillance warning signs posted every hundred feet or so. Barbed wire ran along the top of it, and he could sometimes hear a faint hum which told him that there may be a current running through it.
And then he saw something out of the corner of his eye.
It was a dark shape, something moving just beyond the fence. Probably a deer or something. But it crashed through the leaves and underbrush and banged against the fence, and what he saw was definitely not a deer. It was big, an ashen grey, and it had teeth. Lots of teeth.
As soon as he saw it, it was gone, bounding off into the forest beyond the fence. He didn't stop, but he found himself walking on the road side of the sidewalk, his feet moving faster through the thick grass. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, and the sweat stood out on his neck, the cool air sending a chill down his back.
He looked through the trees and could see two yellow eyes staring back at him, and they were spaced at least two feet apart. The fence where the thing had struck was undamaged, and he began to walk again, trying to speed up his pace, but his heart thumped in his chest. He looked at the cars passing by, but each was driven by a college student or someone trying to get home, none of them thinking to look just off the road, just past the fence where this creature stood waiting with dripping jaws.
Darren took out his cell phone, but then he heard the thing growling, a low rumble in the forest like the sound of gravel being rolled inside a metal barrel. He thumbed the phone awake, and started to dial, but that was when it hit the fence again and he dropped his phone on the sidewalk. None of the people driving by seemed to notice, and he wondered if he was imagining this thing, but then it raked one claw across the chain links, rattling them, causing the fence posts to shake.
He picked up his pace, nearly jogging even though his old knees complained and his feet, tired from the four miles he had already walked going to the memorial and back, were two spikes of electric pain. He could see it, just at the edge of the woods on the other side of the fence, following him, its bifurcated jaws opening and closing in anticipation of a meal.
It had at least six legs.
He let out a raspy groan as he noticed that just ahead, a place he'd passed before (why hadn't it appeared before?) a low place, a dry creek bed that ran under the fence. Someone had built some sturdy bars just under the fence to extend down into the creek bed, but now the thing was crouching just beyond. It was reaching up under the fence at the creek bed, digging at the rocky ground beneath. Darren nearly backed out into the street and a car honked at him as it passed, and now he was in a dead run, his right hip complaining in the language of arthritis.
He dared not look to his right as he passed the creek bed, and he could hear the metal giving way under the fence, the bars being shredded and bent back with ease. He turned for a second to see it get its head under the fence and snort out a blast of humid air from its four nostrils. He turned back, running down the sidewalk as fast as he could muster the energy, but he had spent it all walking to the memorial, and his body refused to move.
Soon he heard the screeching of tires as finally someone saw it, he supposed, but he wasn't looking back. He made it to the corner as he heard screams and cars crashing. He felt the heat of something like a ball of fire, and turned only to see the thing bounding across the street in a strangely playful manner. It had a motorcycle in its mouth, and it had made it to the other side of the road where it had curled over on its spiny back and was kicking at the back wheel of the Harley with one clawed foot.
Darren stood and watched the thing play with the motorcycle while two of the cars sat in the middle of the street and burned. He stood and watched as the fire trucks arrived and it swatted at them like a kitten swatting a ball of string, except that a kitten didn't cause fire trucks to wreck.
He left before the army arrived, finally making it home where his wife sat glued to the television, a helicopter shining a spotlight on the strange spectacle.
"I think I'll wait a few days to go back to the memorial," he told her. "Dad's name will still be there."