Lethean Shroud

Rayanna’s joints ached as she slid into the back seat of the patrol car. She opened her mouth to protest, but had nothing to say in her defense.

How could I forget whether or not I had killed someone?

After shutting her inside, the officer fetched gloves from the front cab. He muttered some jargon into a handheld communicator, then clipped it back onto his uniform shirt and glanced back at her. “You just sit tight there. After I fetch your vehicle registration, I’ll be right back.”

He left the car and walked toward the SUV. She stared at her cuffed wrists. At least he’d fastened them in front of her instead of twisting her backward. She felt sore enough from the accident without twisting awkardly on this vinyl seat.

Rayanna inhaled a deep breath through her nose. And regretted it. Hints of urine and sweat tinged the air, mingled with some disinfectant. With added evidence of grime streaked across the gray pleather, she doubted the person who cleaned this car had staked any personal pride in the task.

The officer peeled off his blue gloves as he returned with a plastic-bagged document. After reporting more jargon to dispatch, he started the vehicle. “Registration there says Rayanna Nova. From Providence, Rhode Island? Let me guess, you don’t remember.”

Lips fixed in a wilting line, she didn’t bother to answer. The name did sound familiar, but will it help me to say so? The tires crunched on the graveled shoulder as he pulled out onto the vacant road.

“You’d be a long way from home if you were from there. Maybe seven hundred miles. But I’m guessing that isn’t where you really came from.” He sniffed and flicked a narrow-eyed glance into the rearview mirror.

She turned her gaze toward the shadowy, forested landscape. Pale mist slinked around gnarled, bare trees. Otherwise, the wooded roadsides whisked past them in varied shades of black.

From somewhere in the void beyond the headlight beam’s span, an inky mass darted into the road with an inhuman, snarling growl. Twice the size of a deer, and lower to the ground, the dark-furred beast sprang like a shot. Rayanna strained her neck and eyes. Peered through the windshield. The car veered, slinging her sideways.

Tires squealed. The officer grappled with the steering wheel, but the patrol car skidded off the edge of the road. Rayanna slammed against the window and onto the ceiling as the vehicle rolled. Pain burned through her. The last thing she heard was the vaguely familiar crash sound of breaking glass.

*** TO BE CONTINUED ***

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