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                                           Too Late To Run
                                                                   By G. Allen Wilbanks


   Mason upended his beer mug, gulping down the last few swallows.  He placed the glass back on the
bar, wiped his mouth with the back of one hand, and waved to the bartender for a refill.  The bartender, a
stocky, older man with graying hair slicked straight back over his head, nodded in acknowledgement.  
Mason patted his pants and chest for a moment before recovering a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his
shirt pocket.  He tapped out one of the remaining cigarettes from the pack and placed it in his mouth.

   “Hey, you can’t smoke that in here,” the bartender told Mason, walking up behind him.  The older man
picked up the empty mug from the wooden bar and jerked a thumb in the direction of a side exit.  “You
have to take that outside.”

   “That door going to lock me out?” Mason asked, pointing at the same exit.

   “Nah.  It goes to a back alley.  The dumpsters are back there so we go in and out all the time.  You won’t
get locked out unless you stay out there ‘til after we close.”

   Mason gestured at the empty beer glass in the bartender’s hand.  “I’ll want another one of those when I
get back.”

   Stepping around the other patrons that had congregated at the bar beside him, Mason made his way to
the side exit, stiff-armed it open and stepped out into the cool, early-night air.  Although the sun was
already down, street lamps and a mostly full moon provided plenty of light for him to see.  As the door
swung shut behind him, Mason retrieved a plastic lighter from his pants pocket, rolled the striker under his
thumb and brought the tiny yellow flame to the end of his cigarette.

   “Got an extra one of those?” asked a voice from a few feet away.

   Mason looked up to see a slender, black man leaning against the wall just beside the door he had
exited a moment earlier.  The man had a shaved head and was a few inches taller than Mason, as well as
several pounds heavier.  He was wearing a dark, short sleeved, t-shirt that revealed muscular arms
completely covered by an eclectic assortment of tattoos.  Mason retrieved the pack from his shirt and held
it out.

   “Last one.  Help yourself.”

   The big man smiled and accepted the offered pack.

   “Name’s Teke,” he told Mason.  He put the last cigarette between his lips and dropped the now empty
pack onto the ground.

   “Mason,” Mason replied.  He tossed the lighter in a shallow arc toward his new companion.  Teke
caught it, lit his cigarette, and flipped it back.

   The two men smoked in mutual silence for a few moments.  Teke had returned to his previous position,
leaning against the wall beside the door.

   “Hey, Teke,” Mason spoke, staring at the glowing end of his cigarette.  “Know where I can buy another
pack around here?  I’m just in the neighborhood for a couple days and haven’t found my way around yet.”

   “Sorry,” said Teke after considering the question.  “Nothin’ close by.  There’s a gas station with a store
about a mile from here.

   Mason nodded and took another long drag.  “Fuck,” he muttered.

   Teke just smiled in sympathy.

   As the two men lapsed back into silence, a third figure in his late teens or early twenties wandered into
the alley, taking advantage of the shortcut between the two main city thoroughfares.  He was skinny and
pale almost to the point of looking sickly.  His pallor suggested he spent most of his time indoors, in fact,
he probably hadn’t seen more than ten minutes of continuous sunlight at a time in years.  Acne stippled his
face, and he wore a pair of thick, black-framed glasses high on his nose.  From the backpack slung over
one shoulder, he appeared to be a student from one of the local schools.  

   College, Mason figured.  Too old to be high school.

   “Hey, kid,” shouted Mason to the boy.  “You got any cigarettes?”

   The young man looked nervously at Mason, glanced at the cigarette already burning in the man’s hand,
then shook his head.  “No.  Don’t smoke.  Sorry.”

   Shifting his backpack to a more secure perch on his shoulder, he stared at the ground in front of him
and kept walking.  Mason stepped into his path.  “Well, if you don’t have a cigarette, how much money you
got on you?”

   Observing the confrontation, Teke stepped away from the wall.  He shuffled closer toward Mason and
the young student.  He was grinning broadly at the prospect of a little excitement this evening.

   “I … I don’t have any money,” the boy stammered.  “I mean, not much.  Please, don’t hurt me.”

   Mason held his arms out to either side and smiled.  “Nobody’s going to hurt you, buddy.  Just give me
what you have on you.”

   The kid reached a hand into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small, crumpled wad of bills.  
He held it out and Mason snatched it from his hand.  

   “Three bucks?” Mason growled, straightening the bills to count them.  “Not enough.  What do you have in
your backpack?”

   Without warning, the kid bolted.  He ran past Mason and fled through the alley as fast as his skinny legs
would carry him.

   “You letting him go?” asked Teke, still grinning.

   “Fuck that!” Mason swore, and they both began to run after the boy.

   The kid had a head start, but was moving slowly.  Either the backpack was heavier than it looked, or a
lifetime of sitting on a couch playing video games and eating junk food had left him with no coordination or
stamina.  Regardless of the reason, Mason and Teke were able to catch up to him without difficulty.  The
boy exited the alley and turned onto a larger roadway.  Unfortunately, for him, there were no pedestrians in
the immediate area to see what was happening.

   Mason grabbed the boy by his backpack, halting his flight, then dragged him off of the main street into
another secluded side alley.  With a push, Mason sent the kid sprawling onto the ground.

   In a panic, the youth scrambled back to his feet and tried to back away from the two men advancing on
him.  He glanced over his shoulder looking for another exit, but a chain link fence and a padlocked gate
blocked his path.  The only way out of this alley was the way he had come in, but he would first need to go
through Mason and Teke.  The two men standing in front of him did not seem ready to let that happen.

   “Please,” the kid whimpered.  “Just let me go.  Keep the money.  I won’t tell anyone.”

   “I don’t give a fuck who you tell,” Mason told him.  “Besides, it’s going to be tough talking through a
bunch of broken teeth.  First, though, give me the backpack.”

   Mason was right on top of the boy, now.  He held his hands out, expecting the kid to surrender the
backpack without a struggle.  The trapped student quietly slid the vinyl strap off his shoulder.  Then, with a
look of great determination twisting his features into a snarl, he swung the pack with every bit of strength
he had.  It wasn’t much, but the attack caught Mason by surprise, and the books in the backpack were
solid enough that they drove him back several steps.

   The backpack fell to the ground, and the kid took advantage of the small amount of space his moment of
bravado had bought him.  He turned and ran toward the fence.  When he reached the gate, he didn’t stop.  
The boy leapt up and began climbing, grabbing the links hand over hand and scrabbling for toe holds with
his sneakers.  In a few seconds, he was over the top of the ten-foot barrier and letting himself drop to the
ground on the other side.

   “Little fucker is full of surprises,” laughed Teke.  “You did get his pack, though.  We done?”

   Mason kicked the backpack across the pavement.  “We are a long way from done,” he growled.  “That
prick ran away from me twice.  This just got personal.”

   “Well, you’re in luck, then,” Teke told him.  “Ain’t nothing on the other side of that fence except brick walls
and locked doors.  Kid trapped himself in there.”

   Mason stalked up to the gate and peered through.  Just as Teke had said, the boy was still in the alley,
searching for an exit and pulling on door handles that refused to move.  He barked a short, very unfriends
laugh.  Mason climbed the fence with a cold deliberation, swung his leg over the top and climbed back
down.  Teke followed his example, close behind.

   The two men strode slowly, deliberately along the dead-end alley, side by side.  The boy, finally realizing
that there was nowhere left to go, had squeezed himself into a corner at the furthest point from his pursuers
that he could find.  He was caught, and he knew it.  As they approached, he stepped away from the wall,
his hands open, palms out toward his persecutors, pleading.

   “You already have my money and my backpack.  Please, just let me go.  You don’t have to hurt me.  I
don’t have anything left.”

   Mason stepped in front of the boy and balled up one fist.  “You’re done running,” he said.  He punched
the helpless young man, breaking his nose with a sweeping haymaker that knocked him sprawling
backwards onto the ground.  The boy’s glasses snapped in half under the impact and the pieces fell to the
pavement on either side of their stunned owner.

   The boy lifted a hand to his face, covering his damaged nose.  When he pulled his hand away to stare at
it, bright crimson streaked his palm.  Tears of pain and fear filled his eyes and spilled down his cheeks as
he began to search the alley around him for what remained of his glasses.  They were nowhere to be
found, but as he searched, the boy’s blurry gaze fell on Teke.

   “Please,” he begged, trying to find an ally anywhere he could.  He held out his bloody hand to show he
was hurt.  “Make him stop.  Help me.”  

   Teke stepped up behind Mason and put a restraining hand on the man’s shoulder.  “Hold up a minute,
man,” he said.  He moved Mason aside with a gentle shove, then smiled at the frightened, bleeding kid.

   Without warning, the smile on Teke’s face twisted into a vicious sneer.  He raised one foot and drove it
down hard on the boy’s knee.  The joint deformed grotesquely under the force of the blow, and there was a
loud crack, like the snap of a breaking branch.

   Oddly, the boy did not cry out.  He merely peered up at Teke with a curious, bemused expression.  “I
really thought you might try to help me,” the boy said.  Then with a casual shrug, “Ah well, what’s done is
done.”

   There was a squelching pop as the boy straightened his leg and the knee warped back into alignment.  
He wiped the back of his hand across his face, trying to mop up the blood from his nose before finally,
reluctantly, resorting to using his shirt.  The young man climbed to his feet and dusted at his clothing,
distastefully.

   “What the fuck is going on?” asked Mason.  Teke had taken a couple steps back from the boy after he
saw the kid’s knee snap back to its normal shape.  He apparently was no longer finding this confrontation
to his liking.

   The boy glanced at Mason; the myopic gaze of a frightened victim without his glasses now completely
gone.  His were now the eyes of a predator, locked firmly onto prey.  “Every few months or so, I am allowed
out to play,” he explained amiably.  “I get one night on your world to hunt, but I have to follow very strict
rules.  If I break them, I might not be allowed to come back.”  

   The boy’s face began to contort.  His jawline stretched forward, and his teeth protruded, sharpening and
elongating until they seemed much too large for his mouth.  His hands had also grown larger, his fingers
lengthening and tapering into dagger-pointed nails.

   “Wh-what are you?” asked Teke, shuffling sideways to keep Mason between himself and the … thing …
the boy had become.

   The creature ignored his question.  “Three times,” it said.  “Three times I gave you an opportunity to walk
away.  And three times you chose to pursue me.  When you caught me, you inflicted violence upon me
although I offered you no threat.  I followed the rules.”  He laughed; a harsh, unsettling rumble from deep in
his chest.  “That makes you mine.”

   Mason backed away, looking over his shoulder at Teke.  It was finally dawning on him that he was no
longer the one in control of the events unfolding, and that perhaps it was time to be somewhere –
anywhere – else.  

   “Oh, don’t run away,” the demon pleaded, chuckling again.  Then the creature cocked its head almost
comically to one side, as if reconsidering its words.  

   “Or … do.  Yes, actually, please run.  It will be so much more fun that way.”
   

END
About G. Allen Willbanks

G. Allen Wilbanks is a member of the
Horror Writers Association (HWA)
and has published over 80 short
stories in Deep Magic, Daily Science
Fiction, The Talisman, and other
venues. He has published two short
story collections, and the novel,
When Darkness Comes. For more
information, visit
www.gallenwilbanks.com, or check
out his weekly blog at
DeepDarkThoughts.com.