A brilliant shaft of light flickered against green brush and moved closer towards Talking Panther.
Her path was illuminated for just an instant. In a flash of brightness Robin saw her face was extremely pale. Neither that nor her age seemed to slow her. Her large frame moved through the underbrush with agility and speed. Robin was pressed to keep pace.
The woods were black as ink. Fireflies winked, tiny malevolent eyes stalking the path. The thickets ripped the radiant full moon into jagged, wicked reflections. Robin’s body struggled with the underbrush. He ran faster, crashing into brush, oblivious of cuts and scrapes that the palmettos lashed upon him. When Talking Panther finally slowed they were far inside the woods,
He was exhausted and gasping for air but Talking Panther was not even breathing heavily. “Who was that?”
“Quiet,” she whispered fiercely, “now is not the time for talking. They are Controllers. Answers will only be illusions they want us to see. Why didn’t we know they were coming? I was well hidden in the vibrations. How were we unmasked? We must survive, and we must find these answers.”
He took a deep breath. “How can they follow us in this brush?”
Talking Panther answered, her tone without emotion.
“These are Controllers. They have learned a technique that allows them to follow. I don’t know how so all we can do is run. Billy will be here any minute and then we must go.”
Billy Osceola stepped from the shadows. His high cheekbones, accented by charcoal stripes of paint, matched the green, black and brown camouflage clothing he wore. The war paint made him melt into the darkness and a twelve-gauge Mossberg hung from the crook of his arm. It had been converted into a riot gun with a shortened barrel of stainless steel that turned the moon reflecting onto it dull metal gray.
“Billy?” MacAllen asked.
His friend ignored him and spoke to Talking Panther instead.
“Over here, let’s go! Quick! We don’t have much time before they get this far. Then man, we’ll really be screwed. “Let’s get in the water. I don’t think they’ll be able to follow us through it.”
They stepped off the trail into a swampy area. Robin recoiled as the frigid water licked up his body. An icy chill bit at his waistline. A sour swamp smell filled his nostrils. The slimy thick swamp bed sucked the shoes off his feet. He groped blindly and followed dim forms that moved more deeply into the water. Something spongy touched him, pushed hard and bit at his foot. The water was nearly to his nose. He saw Billy raise the shotgun over his head.
What if an alligator or water snake?
The fetid smell grew stronger. Green slime lapped at his lips. He dug his toes into the sludge to rise just an inch. After an eternity, the water dropped and the moonlight shared the dim outline of Billy’s pickup.
The old Toyota was a creature of this swamp. Little else worked as well. Billy used hand signals. “Climb into the truck”.
Jumping in, he started the engine, put the rig into gear and swung sharply away from the swamp onto a hard dirt track nearby. The truck roared into the pitch dark ahead.
Billy craned his head, attempting to pierce the utter blackness. As the Toyota growled down the road, they sat drenched and smelling like the fou swamp. The Indian turned the heater full blast to dry their clothes and alleviate the rank smell in the tiny cab.
They rocked uneasily, sandwiched one against the other in the narrow confines of the truck. There was comfort from the heater and soft purr of its fan. Utter weariness took hold of Robin. He drifted in and out of sleep.
The pain, the fear, the long days and this unexpected dash had drained him. Unhindered by full wakefulness, the demons of unanswered mysteries rose to the surface and hunted him in his illusory world.
What was happening to Ian? How could I have been followed? Has Billy betrayed me? He slipped into a complex dream seeing piles of money – green, red, silver, gold. Bundles of money flowed from baskets. Buckets of hundred dollar bills danced in the air. A huge sign sat boldly over it all: DO NOT SPEND!
His mind’s eye opened. He sat alone on a windswept English Common. Little cottages flew by stacked full of pink newspapers. Incandescent orbs vibrated, pulsated and looked at him. They looked through him. Talking Panther grew closer, cackling, ebony and evil.
Robin jerked awake as the rusty pickup bumped on the swamp road. He turned groggily to face Billy and Talking Panther. He saw a flash of something outside the truck. He peered more deeply into the night and saw the flashes again. These were not lights but spots of darkness moving within shadows. They moved with deadly precision looking, observing and feeling, knowing that the truck was near. The truck was their target and they were closing in.
Billy kept driving and Talking Panther stared into the night, seemingly unaware of the danger. Robin was frozen in his half sleep as the vague shapes moved nearer.
Robin drifted again into sleep, and his subconscious recalled Ian’s words. His mind plunged again into sinister dreams, with a certainty that he had been pursued by murky shadows. And that they followed him still.