The sky was that wide expanse of purply periwinkle only possible in that part of the world. A color somehow still possible despite everything else that had changed.
White light, bursting from an untraceable source, arched across the sky. It could have been from a storm hundreds of miles away or from the heavens themselves. It touched ground at some unseeable point in the distance and a boom of thunder followed.
The lightning did not stir the oldish woman, who puttered in the sparse garden in front of the shotgun house that was little more than a glorified shed. She had long grown accustomed to flashes that never ceased, day or night. The thunder, however, made her jump. Her partner, who watched from the shade of the covered porch, laughed.
“Dang near twenty-five years, Elise, and it still gets you every time.”
Beneath the wide brim of her straw hat, Elise scrunched up her face at the gentle ribbing. She had not always been afraid of the thunder, but two and a half decades of daily lightning storms had whittled away at her calm. Not the lightning. That was no threat. They always knew exactly where it would land—within the city limits—and what it would destroy—anything it struck. The thunder, though, that was sometimes so fierce and loud that it shook the house, the ground, hell the whole world around them, even though they were more than thirty miles away.
Elise stood and turned toward Atlanta. She wiped the film of sweat just below the rim of her hat as she gazed toward the skyline that was little more than a ghostly gray outline of decimated buildings.
“Seems like it’s happening more frequent the last few days, don’t it?” she asked. She turned toward Lyn who was now leaning against the banister. “They never did figure out what it is, hunh? All those geological and meteorological surveys and not a clue?’
Lyn’s eyes lit up and Elise knew exactly why. It was not often she got a green light to muse about the lightning storms. Strange as the lightning was, both in its constancy and destructive capacity, after twenty-five years, everyone around just accepted it as a matter of fact. For Lyn, it would never been that simple. She had been born and raised right in the middle of the city. She was a refugee from the lightning, when the always smoldering fire made the city too dangerous to live in. Too perilous to protect.
Before Lyn even said a word, the light drained from her face. A cloud, the only one for miles around, settled over her features. Her next words were a whisper.
“Elise. Get over here now.”
Elise didn’t hesitate even for a moment. Thirty years of living with and loving Lyn had taught her to read the woman like a book. She started to walk slowly toward the house, something in Lyn’s voice urging both calm and haste simultaneously. Fear leapt to life in her breast as Lyn’s concern coalesced into a low-grade terror. She did not look at Elise, but rather the woman’s gaze remained trained on something behind her.
As soon as she reached the bottom of the stairs, Lyn grabbed Elise, snatching her into her arms. Lyn’s heart pounded wildly, and Elise could see and feel the way she trembled. Her arms went around the woman, her own fear subsumed by her need to comfort her love.
“It’s okay,” she soothed. “I’m okay.”
Lyn’s grip slackened. Not much, but enough for Elise to look over her shoulder to discern to cause of the woman’s fear.
A dog-like creature, a bewildering amalgam of brown, hair-like fur and stripes, snout and claws, stood fifteen yards from them. Elise’s heart jumped. She turned to apprehend the animal more fully, which carefully considered them in turn.
“Is that a…hyena?”
The creature perked up, seemingly at the recognition.
“How on earth did that get here?”
The hyena didn’t know how it had gotten there either.
Standing on the line between soil and the hard, circular, black road that dead-ended at the house. It had no memory before that moment. No memory before the word hyena, partly a question, tethered its consciousness to this plane, this reality, this body. Where it had been before, what it had been, was ether.
It studied the women, entangled with each other, and sniffed the sharp tang that wafted from them, making them smell like food. White light crackled overhead….
…Different limbs, dark and sinewy, intertwine. Not just arms but also legs. Skin smoother than velvet and darker than the night sky….
…Thunder boomed. So loud the pebbles between its toes quivered. Pain lanced through the creature. That and the shaking ground was almost enough to bring it to its knees. Its anguished howl rent the air.
The women jumped and the mouthwatering smell grew stronger. The hyena considered them again, its eyes tracing the contours of their interwoven limbs, but its curiosity had diminished. A different kind of hunger called it now.
The one not called Elise backed toward the house. Without taking her gaze from the animal, she yanked open the screen door and shoved Elise inside. In the same motion, she reached for the shot gun that always rested near the door.
But before she could even get the chamber loaded, the hyena was already gone.
We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from L.M.'s story. Visit our website today and pre-order Terminus 2: Black Fantastic Tales from the ATL today. Release date: June 19, 2022